Russell Simmons Gets Real
Conversing with Russell Simmons on the phone is a bit like listening to the rap music that the hip-hop impresario helped turn into a global phenomenon back in the day. He’s sharp and quick, full of big ideas, and hardly shy about expressing his views, whether discussing the negative impact of drug sentencing laws on Black America, the joys of fatherhood, or his passion for yoga and a vegan diet.
These days, the 57-year-old visionary behind Def Jam Records, Def Comedy Jam and Phat Farm clothing no longer lives in his native New York; instead, the mogul is making moves from Los Angeles. “Uncle Rush” has some 3 million Twitter followers and his Global Grind website has a loyal following. And recent projects include launching the All Def Digital channel on YouTube, a Wednesday night stand-up series at Inside Jokes Comedy Club in Hollywood, and a new music label, All Def Music, among other entrepreneurial and philanthropic ventures.
Simmons is also excited about his third and latest book, Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple (Gotham Books) which drops Tuesday. Penned with journalist Chris Morrow, the slim volume offers a basic introduction to Transcendental meditation, which Simmons has practiced for about 15 years.
Sharing candid anecdotes from his life and noting celebrities like Oprah and Forest Whitaker who meditate, Simmons promotes the ancient practice as a modern method for people to live a calmer, healthier, and more mindful existence. It’s the key, he believes, to a more spiritual and successful life.
JET: For anyone who is unfamiliar, what is meditation?
Russell Simmons: Meditation is simply a technique to access the stillness inside of you. It’s about pushing past distractions, letting the mind settle and being totally present. When we take away the noise and go into that stillness, we can experience real bliss. Many people think of meditation as some foreign thing. My book is meant to demystify it, so people will try it.
JET: You stress in the book that meditation doesn’t conflict with religion.
RS: Every great religious doctrine—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, the Jewish faith—teaches that good things arise from stillness. In Christianity, it’s known as “Christ Consciousness.” The yogis call it living in samadhi. All the great prophets taught that there’s a sense of peace and purpose in stillness. I believe it’s a way to strengthen your relationship with God.
JET: You’re open in the book about past recreational drug use, chasing women, and a few poor choices over the years. How has meditation helped?
RS: When people aren’t conscious, they use all kinds of things to quiet the mind. That could be alcohol, or drugs or food. But there’s a saying, “Meditation over medication.”
I meditate daily: 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. I think more clearly. I’m more mindful. I pay more attention to what I’m putting into my body. I am more in-tune with everything around me. Meditation makes people good givers and great getters.
JET: You introduced your daughters [Ming Lee, 14, and Aoki Lee, 11] to meditation, right?
RS: We meditate together before I take them to school each day. They are lucky to have a great mother, and they’re developing well emotionally and scholastically. They are gifted intellectually. I think meditation helps them in terms of being able to focus.
JET: President Barack Obama recently launched a new initiative for African-American and Latino males called “My Brother’s Keeper.” Do you think meditation can enhance the lives of youth facing real societal challenges such as poverty, violence, etc.?
RS: I do work with the David Lynch Foundation, which is doing programs in schools and jails. We want it installed across the country. In the hood, where young Black and Latino men are facing the scourge of violence, meditation can dramatically help. There are studies which demonstrate that meditation has been shown to decrease violence, anxiety, lower blood pressure, increase brain function and improve creativity.
One of life’s goals is happiness. I believe meditation is a great gift and one of the greatest tools to achieve greater peace and freedom.
Donna M. Owens is an award-winning multi-platform journalist whose byline has appeared in such outlets as The Chicago Tribune, NPR, Essence and MSNBC’s TheGrio.com. A graduate of HBCU and Ivy League universities, the globetrotting journalist splits her time between New York and her hometown of Baltimore.