Russell Simmons Has Money on His Mind

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Hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons leads a lavish, bling-filled lifestyle — but his most recent exploit is advising youth on how to save their money, not spend it. Commentator Jimi Izrael says he doesn't believe Simmons intentions are entirely altruistic. Izrael is a columnist for the Web site AOL Black Voices.


I'm Farai Chideya. Next time on NEWS AND NOTES, the civil rights icon you've never heard of: Clarence B. Jones was the legal mind behind some of Dr. Martin Luther King's victories, and he wrote some Dr. King's most important speeches, including I Have a Dream. That's next time on NEWS AND NOTES from NPR News.

Hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons is now trying to get youths to saving money, instead of spending it. But commentator Jimmy Israel(ph) is suspicious of Simmons' motives. Israel says the celebrity entrepreneur's top dollar lifestyle just doesn't jive with what he's telling the next generation.

JIMMI IZRAEL reporting:

The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, chaired by Russell Simmons, is following up on a last year's Get Your Money Right initiative, by touring select colleges. Sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and Chrysler, the goal is to get hip-hoppers to take the subject of financial literacy and empowerment seriously.

Now, Simmons, hip-hop impresario and entrepreneur is best known as the founder of Def Jam Records and Phat Farm clothes. He has a bad habit of jumping on bandwagons for less than honorable intentions. Take when he set out to activate the hip-hop electorate and ended up feeding them a lot of free mix tape and promotional swag for, surprise, his clothes and his artists on his record label. Simmons is something of an opportunist, and he isn't what most of us would think of as a spendthrift.

He's well known for his appetite for the finer things in life. Back in the day, his gold-plated Rolls-Royce was easily spotted tooling the streets of Manhattan, and the MTV Cribs tour of his New Jersey mansion showcased marble toilets, gold-plated ceilings and excesses most of us could only dream about. Frugality probably isn't his strong suit.

Now, I can't front. I like nice things as much as the next dude, probably more; but Simmons, the king of bling, encouraging young people to learn how to save and harness their economic strength, comes across as a little disingenuous and hypocritical. Essentially, now that he's cashed in selling kids music that encourages conspicuous consumption, Simmons wants to admonish kids to learn something about money management skills? That creates a real disconnect between message and messenger. It's like Imelda Marcos encouraging women to shop at Pay Less. Sorry, Russ, but you got to walk the walk. You marketed and sold music about the high life that became wildly popular and profitable, and there's no putting that genie back in the bottle.

For me, the idea of focusing a billion dollars spending power of hip-hop is towards responsible companies that give back to the community makes much more sense than trying to convince them to suddenly change their spending and savings habits. Instead of that, maybe Simmons could convince his rapper friends to stop yapping about liquor brands, spinning car rims, and diamond-encrusted teeth, and start rapping about mutual funds and penny stocks. That would likely have a greater influence than Suze Orman trying to get down with the hip-hop set.

You know, something doesn't ring true about Simmons' motives. He's a businessman with a street hustler's mentality, and that means he's always looking for the angle. Call me a cynic, but I suspect his aims are less altruistic and more opportunistic. Remember Simmons' foray into banking with Universe Financial and the Rush Card, a prepaid debit card for people with little or no credit for banking experience? Rush Card profits by attaching one-dollar fees every single transaction, so as it turns out, Simmons is really about touring colleges and signing up kids for credit cards, just like every other banking company.

Now I don't mind consuming his product. As a matter of fact, I think the Rush card is genius, but he's got to keep it real about his motives.

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CHIDEYA: Jimmi Izrael is a columnist for the Web site AOL Black Voices.

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