Russell Simmons Hosts Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball The co-founder of Def Jam Recordings endorsed Barack Obama during the election, and he'll be in Washington, D.C., to host the ball Monday. Here, Simmons discusses the role of the hip-hop community in raising social awareness for political change.

Russell Simmons Hosts Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Two days after Barack Obama was elected president, will.i.am went on the Oprah show to unveil a new song.

(Soundbite of song "It's A New Day")

Mr. WILLIAM JAMES ADAM (a.k.a. will.i.am): (Singing) I went to sleep last night tired from the fight. I've been fighting for tomorrow all my life. Yeah, I woke up this morning feeling brand new, Cos the dreams that I've been dreaming has finally come true. It's a new day...

I wrote it the day before the Election Day. What did Bono say? Bono said, Will, you know how to capture the zeitgeist. When he said that, I didn't know what zeitgeist was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I was going to ask you.

Mr. ADAM: A zeitgeist is a ghost of time, the energy that surrounds us. And there are some people that know how to paint that, capture it, blog about it, write songs about it.

SIMON: We'll hear more from will.i.am in a few minutes. But first, music mogul Russell Simmons. Of course, he's the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings and endorsed Barack Obama during the primaries. He'll be coming to town for the inauguration and the hip-hop inaugural ball. Russell Simmons joins us from our studios in New York. Thank you so much for being with us.

Mr. RUSSEL SIMMONS (Co-Founder, Def Jam Recordings): It's a pleasure.

SIMON: Tell us about the hip-hop ball.

Mr. SIMMONS: Well, we've been involved in the social and political landscape in this country in a very powerful way for a long time. I mean, the hip-hop community campaign to get young people registered and to the polls eight years ago. Then they went out again in another nonpartisan effort, and they had 50 summits. We had as many as 10,000 kids showed up in each summit. Eminem hosted Detroit; Snoop Dogg, L.A.; Will Smith, Philadelphia. All the artists worked to get young people registered, educate, and to the polls. And so they deserve celebration now.

SIMON: Mr. Simmons, when you get a demo from someone...

Mr. SIMMONS: I haven't signed a record in 10 years.

SIMON: Seriously?

Mr. SIMMONS: I have five charities. Oh, my God, I'm on the board of so many more. That's - those are my jobs.

SIMON: Well, there goes that question.

Mr. SIMMONS: And I work with lots of rappers on lots of things all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, let me put it this way then. When you hear a piece of music, what says to you this performer, this artist, has what it takes? What do you listen for?

Mr. SIMMONS: I wish I knew. You know, it's just a feeling sometimes. Some artists, tongue twisters and great voices - some artists, just their content is so powerful. You know, I turn on the radio and someone says, what's your favorite record? And I say, sometimes, the one on the radio. There's something inside them that we're looking for that makes them special and have a lasting and stable career. And I never know what that is until it hits me.

SIMON: Mr. Simmons, forgive me not knowing, you have met President Obama - President-elect Obama?

Mr. SIMMONS: Oh,yeah.

SIMON: And when you get his ear, what do you say to him, if we may ask?

Mr. SIMMONS: The president - now I haven't spoken to him since after the election. But I don't know, you know, what am I going to say? You know, prison reform. He said he liked retroactivity, where Senator Clinton didn't. Animal rights - 9 billion suffering farm animals. You know what, I think the arts in the schools - small - meditation in schools. The worst school in Detroit is now the best as a result of sitting still, quiet time. Little things he can promote, he could make a difference.

SIMON: And may I ask, Mr. Simmons, when you come to the inauguration, do you have to stand in line?

Mr. SIMMONS: Well, I don't - I haven't asked. You know, I'm not a celebration dude. Like when he won, I went home. I was at a party. Puffy had a big party. I was excited, I guess, but I went to sleep. You know what I mean? It was good. It's like the work is more important for me. I'm not going to get drunk and, you know, and go to... And I probably won't have to get on too many lines. That's probably true. I probably won't.

SIMON: Russell Simmons, speaking to us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us, sir.

Mr. SIMMONS: Well, thank you so much.

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