Put down that remote! Russell Simmons, whose new reality show Running Russell debuts on Oxygen tonight at 10PM/EST, wants you to heed his call of action: “Don’t watch my show unless you vote first!” the hip-hop mogul demands. On the day of mid-term elections and the premier of his show, the entrepreneur, philanthropist, political and social activist, and yogi isn’t–contrary to what most might expect–concerned with garnering record-breaking ratings for the show’s premiere, especially when The Obama Administration needs us at the polls. Simmons opens up to Blackenterprise.com about the importance of giving back, why he’s not a papa that preaches and how his celebrity has helped him get past more than just a velvet rope.
Black Enterprise: You’ve done it all and now you’re living in a made-for-tv fishbowl. Has the success of shows featuring your brother, Reverend Run, and ex-wife, Kimora Lee, inspired you to take the reality TV plunge?
Russell Simmons: Absolutely. I was inspired by their shows because I helped produce and brand them.
BE: So what can we expect for Russell unplugged?
Simmons: It’s not a frivolous show. We discuss gay rights, animal rights, violence in our communities, as well as social and political issues. On the first show, my charity, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, partners with my dear friend supermodel Selita Ebanks’ charity, Angels for Africa, to raise money. We invited 200 Victoria Secret models and 100 rich men who spent a lot of money for a great cause.
BE: So you plan on preaching this pay-it-forward gospel to the masses?
Simmons: No, I’m not preachy. And unlike my brother you won’t see me in a pulpit because it would catch fire! (Laughs). There will be a lot of yoga and prayer because I’m a yogi. Expect some nudity and foul language, which is one of the reasons I won’t let my daughters see it. But there’s only one kissing scene. Even though my daughters are on the show, I think I’ll let them see it when they’re about 16 because then they’ll be able to appreciate and better understand what I did. I’m hoping that it will inspire and teach kids to meditate and become a little more fearless when they see some of the things that my friends and I stand up for.
BE: The show seems to showcase the women who support you in your business ventures. How important is it for an entrepreneur to have the right team?
Simmons: It’s all about your team. There is nothing else, and you can do nothing else if you don’t have the right team. And I do.
BE: What’s the secret to extending your brand strategically and successfully?
Simmons: I create new sh—t, period. You have to be resilient and know how to rebrand, especially with adult fashion or what I call the urban graduates who become professionals and need their look or attire updated.
BE: How does an entrepreneur make his or her business more appealing to others and do you still have a controlling say within any of your companies?
Simmons: Meditate and make it happen. Yes, I have a controlling say in those companies. I still have ownership with Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles in Def Jam enterprises but I don’t really need it; especially after they made that video game that I have no idea how to play that’s selling really well. I’ve been briefed and that’s all I need.
BE: How has the hip-hop game changed?
Simmons: Hip-hop is the same. The subject matter might change, but as far as its political undertones, that remains. I’m most proud that the essence of the art form hasn’t lost its potency. When I can attend Heidi Klum’s birthday party and young kids who didn’t grow up knowing the Christmas rap are dancing to the song, then I know hip-hop is timeless.
BE: How have you extended your celebrity effectively into your charities?
Simmons: This past Saturday in Bridgeport, CT I hosted the President at an event where we had 10,000 participants come out to encourage folks to make it to the polls today. I’ve done nothing to warrant that I serve as host to the President. Having celebrity helps tremendously because I was able to call on my friend Kim Kardashian who came to Africa to help me raise money for a school there and her presence helped get a lot of things done. So celebrity helps and goes a long way.