Russell Simmons was on Last Call with Carson Daly on Friday where after pimping his Phat Farm merchandise, he talked about his businesses, the controversy with Pepsi, Ludacris and Bill O’Reilly, his anti-war commercial that because of its graphic nature (dead Iraqi children) hasn’t found a network to air it, and his thoughts on the war. Read on for a transcript.
Carson: Did phat farm start from rev. Run, your brother, and the
sort of success that run-D.M.C. Was having with just taking — like everything
you said, it started with adidas and then sort of —
Russell: That’s an interesting thing. I mean, starting that company
was — and starting the clothing company was very funny. The hip-hop community
really looked to the american dream always. So ralph lauren and tommy were
the only thing, and the idea that I might be part of some american dream
idea 11 years ago was a joke. I’d bring the guy from bloomingdale’s, and
he’d look at me. Yeah, classic american flavor. The new american dream.
They said, “you?” And this is the same place. This country, where ralph
lipschitz had to change his name to be the american dream to “lauren,”
as you — I don’t know if you know that.
Russell: So it was a kind of a difficult sale, even to the hip-hop community,
that we could develop our own clothing company, and then even the sneaker
business, people thought that maybe you could only wear nike or adidas,
and those are great companies, but most of the people don’t know phil night
that well. He’s not necessary a better image. You know, he’s a great company.
I’m not knocking it. I’m just saying that, you know, why couldn’t we have
our own sneaker company? And now, that sneaker’s actually broken through
a glass ceiling. We’ve sold millions of pair of the white on wh classic,
Carson: Right. It’s amazing what the influence of that has become, and
it sort of stems here, as many things that are close to hip-hop that penetrates
outward. We have a lot to talk about. I want to get right to a couple of
things. First of all, I know you’ve been in the news lately for the planned
boycott of pepsi after they dropped the ludacris ad thanks to —
Russell: That’s resolved.
Carson: What is the final resolution of that?
Russell: We’re best now. Pepsi sporting the ludacris foundation and
a bunch of other community-oriented programs, the ones that are cost-effective
and smart, and I hope it’s a trend that all corporations — they don’t
just like write checks to big bureaucracies that don’t necessarily do good,
’cause they all want to invest in the community. And so pepsi is being
a big supporter of a lot of good causes, and I’m very proud, you know,
to be their partner. But you know what my first response was? When they
dropped ludacris —
Carson: This is because, you know, there’s bill o’reilly —
Russell: You know the story of ludacris?
Carson: We had bill o’reilly here —
Russell: That’s what I meant.
Carson: I can’t believe this guy’s talking —
Carson: — About, like, ludacris. And he’s like, “the rap is horrible.”
I mean —
Russell: Ludacris is the same as, maybe, somebody on “american pie.”
You know, he could be the lead in “porky’s” or the lead in “not another
teenage movie.” He’s not a threat to anyone.
Carson: Yeah, no, not at all.
Russell: Now, 50 cent is a gangsta rapper, all right? He’s a gangsta
rapper. He’s not a threat to anyone, either, but his lyrics are about his
suffering, his pain, his struggle.
Carson: How do you feel about that, real quick?
Russell: About his lyrics?
Russell: Well, you got to look at it this way. 50 cent was shot I don’t
know how many times.
Russell: No, nine times once, but he’s been shot other times.
Russell: He’s got a long history. His mother died when he was 8. He
sold drugs when he was 12. He’s been in and out of jail. He’s lucky to
be alive. And whatever his struggle — I mean, he’s the kind of person
you don’t want to hear from, but the fact is there are kids in our communities
all over this country, in trailer parks and in projects, who live like
50 cents. And so he doesn’t really owe you anything. He doesn’t owe your
kids anything. He can say whatever he wants. His poetry expresses a suffering
that we generally ignore. So when the old gangsta rap records, my favorite
being “‘f’ the police” —
Russell: — That was an important record. It gave us a dialogue about
the way the police department at that time was treating that community.
Russell: So the truth has to come out, and 50 cent’s another truth teller.
Carson: How come people say — because people like 50 and em have sold
so many records, I’ve actually heard people say that that’s been bad for
Russell: Well, thing about hip-hop is we like the american dream. When
there’s success, we buy into it.
Carson: But when the ceiling goes that high — this is the worst time
right now in the record —
Russell: They should be thrilled. 50 cent and eminem are helping to
pay all the bills in this cold record business, but they’re hot, and all
the hip-hop is still hot. So they shou be thrilled.
Carson: I just don’t understa why some people are mad at it, saying,
“we can’t get a shot now selling anything, because you guys are selling
Carson: I agree.
Russell: You’re selling everything. It’s all good.
Carson: Outside of hip-hop and outside of your entertainment empire,
a lot of things that are on our minds, as I’m sure is yours, is the notion
of going to war. And I want to air something right now, and this is —
I don’t know, just watch it, but I also want to mention that it’s — you
know, it’s a little bit difficult to watch, so if you’re at home, you can
shut off the tv for a second. Check out this ad.
Russell: George bush says it’s time for war. What’s the rush? Iraq’s
been contained for 12 years. Hundreds of thousands don’t have to die. Tougher
U.N. Inspections can disarm iraq. It’s the old who get us into war, but
it’s the young who end up in body bags.
[ Gunshot ] Stand up, demonstrate and have your voice heard. Send a
free fax to congress at truemajority.Org.
Carson: Have you had a tough time getting that on television?
[ Applause ] Did you lighten some of the — ?
Russell: Well, you know, I think there’s — there’s a problem with that
and many other ads getting on television. But the fact — what I want to
say is there’s $200 billion they’re thinking about spending on war. What
can that do against the war on poverty and ignorance? That’s the war we
need to fight. You know, liberating iraqis, well, that’s not — you know,
liberate the poor people in america. $200 billion —
[ Applause ] — Is a lot of money. We’re talking about equal, high-quality
education. We’re talking about really important stuff they say we’re not
addressing properly, and we’re going to war, you know? And it’s against
the — and I think we should, right now, instead of getting in a big fight
with george bush, maybe we should all compliment him that he’s put the
world’s attention on iraq, put the world’s attention on iraq. He has started
the process of disarmament, which is working. We can take yes for an answer.
We don’t have to go and kill hundreds of thousands of people, and put our
whole country at risk around the world. You won’t get to go anywhere, because
everyone’s upset with us, and I don’t want us to continue down this process.
I want us to operate more from love than fear and anger. And I think that’s
where we’re working towards — fear and anger. So I’m very much against
the war, and a lot of musicians are. And as the whole campaign, “win without
war,” because we are actually winning.
Russell: You know, we don’t have to kill people now. You know, so that’s
just my opinion. I want to voice it every time I get a chance.
Carson: Right. You’re more than entitled to do that.
[ Applause ] Do you wish that hip-hop — and I asked jay-z when he was
here this question. Do you wish that hip-hop would get a little more politically
Russell: Well, that’s my mission, to encourage people to tell their
truth. You know, it takes for them to learn more truth or have your things
on the forront of your mind. You know, I noticed that the poetry thing,
which we’re gonna talk about, I’m sure —
Russell: The poetry thing is an example of what young people are thinking
about. If I go to a high school or a junior high school in any kind of
inner city, and I ask how many kids write poetry, 70% or 80% of the kids
will raise their hands. And it’s important to me, because silence is golden.
I , I know it’s part of any spiritual practice. You must know that silence
is critical. You know, connecting with something inside versus a distraction.
So when kids are writing from silence, from their heartbeat, as opposed
to distraction, they’re writing a much higher truth.
Russell: You know, they’re more important, and so I wish that what’s
coming out of the poet’s mouth — and I wish I’d see it coming, it’s evolving,
and I think, you know, jay-z has signed on against the war, puffy has signed
on, you know, and I see there’s a real rising in consciousness already.
And I think that, you know, there are gonna be — think about the fact
that jay-z is more well-liked and well-known by young people across the
world than colin powell. That puffy is more well-liked, certainly, and
well-known, by young people —
Russell: — Across the world than george bush. These voices are powerful,
and we want to try to, you know, let them speak their heart. You know,
most of the hip-hop — hip-hop community is about compassion.
Carson: What about the “def poetry jam”? It’s on broadway. If we —
let’s say we do go to war. Will they reflect that in the poetry as it’s
done in the next few months?
Russell: Well, I don’t know. There are some poets coming out today,
Russell: Yeah they talk about, things that are important to them, and
you know, again, things that are on their heart more than just the worldly
things, and of course, you know, war and violence are subjects that they
— subject matter that they deal with quite a bit. So I’m excited about,
you know, about this change in young people, and I see it coming, and it’s
rising, and I’m trying to do all I can to support it.
Carson: Well, you’re certainly doing a good job of that. And nobad with
the watch to the host. That was awesome.