Russell Simmons is incontrovertibly one of the most important figures in the history of hip-hop. His impact on urban and popular culture is incalculable. The country, and the world, are still feeling the residual impact of the multifaceted empire that he built 30 years ago in New York.

Moreover, a legion of rappers owe their colossal wealth to Russell, who built the blueprint for turning their budding skills into a vast financial portfolio.

Today, Simmons heads a multimedia conglomerate built on the pillars of rap music and hip-hop culture. In the 1980s as cofounder of the pioneering record label Def Jam, the first bona fide rap label ever built, he had a hand in launching the careers of a number of iconic artists, most particularly as Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. His empire includes a clothing line and even an energy drink, but it is his social activism that has caused some to say he might one day make an ideal mayor of New York City. His ability to make money and discern revenue generating streams is so acute that Simmons has been featured on the creme de la creme of American magazines, including Newsweek and Business Week. He is often described as the man who made black urban culture a part of the mainstream, but Newsweek ‘s Johnnie L. Roberts observed that “in the view of many, he is now emerging as potentially the most credible and effective leader of the post-civil rights generation.”

terry shropshire