PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now, the game where we invite on people who've done big things and ask them little questions. Our guest today has influenced every facet of hip-hop culture. He launched rap and hip-hop stars with his label Def Jam Recordings. He launched comedians with Def Comedy Jam. He changed fashion with his label Phat Farm. By the time I finish this intro, he probably will have started a car company and built an amusement park. His new book is "Super Rich." Russell Simmons, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

RUSSELL SIMMONS: Wow.

SAGAL: Let's talk about the book. The book is called "Super Rich." And you are, as everybody knows, pretty wealthy from all your success in all your various things. But you say in the book that the rich you're talking about is not monetary wealth.

SIMMONS: No, not at all. I think when you're very dedicated to something and you're engaged fully, you become a giver. And the book is about learning to make people more productive or promoting to people that, you know, waking up and deciding on what you want to give is a great practice as opposed to waking up and deciding what you're going to get. That's where you really find your focus, or you tune out the noise and have some...

SAGAL: But you write about meditation in the book. You're an enthusiast in mediation. One of the things you write about that I thought was interesting was before you got into more formal forms of meditation, you used to do something different in your early days to sort of relax. You write about how you used to go to the steam baths.

SIMMONS: The Russian bath, yeah.

SAGAL: And you did business meetings.

SIMMONS: I still go there.

SAGAL: You used to do business meetings at the Russian baths in New York.

MAZ JOBRANI: Is that the one on 10th Street?

SIMMONS: That's correct.

SAGAL: So you'd tell people to meet me down on 10th Street and you'd be sitting there inside the Russian baths in a sauna with a towel around and do business meetings?

SIMMONS: Yeah, that's not so odd. I've seen that in movies. That's like...

SAGAL: Well, usually in movies, the people I've seen in movies having meetings in the Russian baths are mobsters.

SIMMONS: Well, I used to fancy myself a bit of a mobster.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You started, I think not uncharitably, from nothing. You were a guy growing up in New York, in Queens was it?

SIMMONS: Yes.

SAGAL: And you ended up - I want to describe accurately the role you play in the world of hip-hop. You didn't invent it. You're not a singer or performer yourself, but you're kind of like the Bill Gates of hip-hop. You took it and made it available to everybody. Is that about right?

SIMMONS: Well, I was there, the company that started everybody from Jay-Z to Run DMC and L.L. I watched a lot happen. And I was very fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of very talented people.

SAGAL: Yeah.

SIMMONS: So that's been my role. And also, my role has been, I think, to get them to use their celebrity, my last 15 years, certainly, to get them to use their celebrity for social and political causes that matter in their communities. I've been very fortunate that they've - so many have done so much good work.

SAGAL: Back in those days, you weren't producing the music, you weren't making the music. What was your talent? You had an ability to see these guys and know how good they were?

SIMMONS: I produced Run DMC. I produced some early records, lots of records early on. But it was just the lack of - you know, we made records that didn't sound like anything else at the time.

SAGAL: Right.

SIMMONS: And I don't mean just because they rapped. I mean musically, I produced records that sounded dramatically different from what was on the radio.

SAGAL: Right.

SIMMONS: And I kind of knew the tone that needed to be set, and then the really creative guys came along and took over. But records like stuff MC I made or it's like that or Rockbox or Walk This Way. I made different sounding records.

SAGAL: Right.

SIMMONS: For hip-hop.

SAGAL: But it was hard because I remember - you write in this book and you've written about it before that at the time people were listening to funk, people were listening to R&B, nobody wanted this stuff. How did you...

SIMMONS: I don't think I have any good experiences of what people wanted what I was doing. I had that experience forever. (Inaudible) is the courage of Jamie Fox and Cedric and Bernie Mac and Chris Tucker. These guys were nowhere and HBO didn't want them. No one wanted a reverend and five A students on MTV. That was a weird thing.

SAGAL: You have your own reality show. Your brother, Rev Run, who has been on our show, has his own reality show. Do you ever get competitive about that?

SIMMONS: Well, my ex-wife has a show that just started again, her fifth season

SAGAL: That's true. Kimora Lee Simmons, yes.

SIMMONS: And my nieces had a reality show. So we've all had shows, and we've all been on each other's shows many times. We kind of, you know, just cheer each other on. I don't think there's a competitive bone in any of our bodies in that regard.

SAGAL: It saves time. Instead of calling up your relatives to see how they're doing, you just turn on the Oxygen network and watch their show I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, we are delighted to have you with us today, Russell Simmons. And we have invited you here not just to talk but also to play a game.

SIMMONS: Okay.

SAGAL: Today, we are calling this game?

KORVA COLEMAN, Host:

Let's say farewell to fat.

SAGAL: Now, since you are an important cultural figure who has the wellbeing of America as his goal, we thought we'd ask you about another such person, weight loss guru, Richard Simmons.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMMONS: I've told you how many times that I've been called Richard Simmons...

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: You guys get mistaken for each other?

SIMMONS: Oh my God, honey, come here. Come look at this. Oh my God, he's here. Look, honey, it's Richard Simmons.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMMONS: I get that all the time.

SAGAL: I think that's...

SIMMONS: And I've never met. It's amazing as many as I've been called his name. But I wondered if he's ever been called my name.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JOBRANI: You guys should do a reality show together.

SAGAL: That'd be cool.

MO ROCCA: Yeah.

SAGAL: The Simmonses.

SIMMONS: Yeah.

SAGAL: Well, if you answer two out of three questions correctly about Richard Simmons, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Korva, who is Russell Simmons playing for?

COLEMAN: Michelle-Shari Kruss of Lake Oswego, Oregon.

SAGAL: Now, I just want to point out that when your brother, Rev Run, was on the show, he got zero for three.

AMY DICKINSON: Whoa.

SAGAL: Just laying that down as a marker.

SIMMONS: Okay.

SAGAL: Ready to try this?

SIMMONS: What's my question?

SAGAL: Here's your first question.

SIMMONS: Let's go.

SAGAL: Your first question is: Richard Simmons has dabbled in a lot of businesses, including which of these products? A: the Richard Simmons Home Dentistry Kit? B: Richard Simmons Salad Spray? Or Richard Simmons White Man's Afro Sculptor?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMMONS: Well, it had to be number two. I think B.

SAGAL: You think the salad spray? You're a businessman...

SIMMONS: Yeah, I'm right about that one?

SAGAL: You are. You are absolutely right about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: The salad spray.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SIMMONS: By the way, that was so simple, anybody could figure that out. Give me the next one.

SAGAL: All right. The idea was that, you know, you could spray your salad rather than douse it in oil. Did you ever, yourself, get into food products? That seems like - is that a business you've gotten into amongst your many?

SIMMONS: No, I have not. But I am on a green juice fad, so I haven't had any solid food since January 1st.

SAGAL: Since January 1st? How do you feel?

SIMMONS: Yeah. I'm in a restaurant now with a green juice watching everybody eat.

SAGAL: Is that tough sometimes?

SIMMONS: Yeah, it's happens relative. What's the next question? Let me...

SAGAL: He wants to win, he wants to win, all right. Another of Richard Simmons' enthusiasm is dolls, and he sells a line of them on his website. Among the custom made Richard Simmons dolls you can buy on Richard Simmons' website is? A: Roku, the Diet Ninja? B: Jake, the Undertaker? Or C: Bobby, the Personal Stylist?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMMONS: Bobby the Personal Stylist.

SAGAL: You think so?

SIMMONS: I think so.

SAGAL: It's actually Jake the Undertaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It is. Apparently, Simmons has created dolls representing this family in a small town. There's Norman, Norman's unmarried sister Miss Bea, and Aunt Della Mae, as well as bother Jake, the Undertaker.

SIMMONS: All right. I could still get a 66.

SAGAL: You can do this.

SIMMONS: And 65 was passing when I went to school.

SAGAL: Yeah, two out of...

SIMMONS: Give me one more shot.

SAGAL: Two out of three wins on this game, so you can still do it.

DICKINSON: Thank God, you're not competitive, because that could be a problem.

SAGAL: Yeah. All right, here we go. Richard Simmons has dabbled in acting, including which of these roles? A: The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come in a stage version of "A Christmas Carol." B: Assassin number two in the 80s action movie, "Blue Steel." C: an obese extra in Fellini's Satyricon.

SIMMONS: I would guess A.

SAGAL: I don't know about A.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: I mean, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, he's a sinister figure, he never speaks, he's very still. It's hard to imagine Richard Simmons in that. I'm just saying.

SIMMONS: I'm happy with A.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROCCA: That's commitment.

SAGAL: You're going to go with A even though I suggested that's probably not the right choice. You're just going to do it?

SIMMONS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You know, who am I to gainsay Russell Simmons, I want that to be true. But no, actually the answer is C, an obese extra in Fellini's Satyricon.

ROCCA: Wow.

DICKINSON: No.

SIMMONS: Oh.

SAGAL: Yeah. The story is that Simmons was quite obese back in the 60s and he went to Rome as a student and was picked as an extra for the famous film about ancient Roman excess. Korva, how did Russell Simmons do on our quiz?

COLEMAN: Well, Peter, Russell got one out of three answers correct. He did not win the prize for Michelle-Shari Kruss.

SIMMONS: Oh no.

SAGAL: Oh no.

SIMMONS: Oh no.

SAGAL: But you did get one more than your brother, which I'm sure is important the next time you see him.

SIMMONS: I got one more than my brother. Okay, so I wasn't competitive, just with him.

SAGAL: Right. I understand. I've got to ask you something. You've done so many things, has anybody ever come to you with an idea that you said no, that's too - I'm not going to do that. That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard?

SIMMONS: I don't know, four or five times a day.

SAGAL: Really?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Russell Simmons is the founder of Def Jam Records and the author of the book, "Super Rich."

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Russell Simmons, thank you so much for being with us.

SIMMONS: Thank you for having me on your show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.