Simmons -- a seminal figure in hip-hop during the 1980s -- had in recent years devoted more time to social and political activism than recording production and distribution. He announced last week the formation of Russell Simmons Music Group, a partnership with Island Def Jam Music Group.
As co-founder of Def Jam in the '80s, Simmons brought such influential hip-hop acts as the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Public Enemy to the marketplace. He sold Def Jam in 1999 for $100 million and has concentrated since then on enterprises including apparel lines, beverages and financial services -- in addition to political activism.
As chairman of the Hop-Hop Action Summit Network, Simmons sponsored a series of events with HSAN President Benjamin Chavis that promoted literacy, political activism and other activities intended to encourage young people to take responsibility for their lives.
In New Orleans recently, HSAN had its first Hip-Hop Summit on Financial Empowerment, using the slogan "Get Your Money Right" as its theme.
In an interview with United Press International, Simmons said a lot of young people need help in developing their financial skills.
"Most kids start out behind the eight ball," he said. "Even kids who get to go to college make a lot of bad mistakes."
The centerpiece of the program is a booklet titled "Get Your Money Right," which offers basic information on such matters as credit scoring, credit reports and the importance of maintaining a good payment history. There are also sections on creating wealth, budgeting, saving and investing.
To anyone who already has some understanding about such financial issues, "Get Your Money Right" might seem to be simplistic. Simmons said that's the idea -- to get the basics in front of people who know very little about how to manage money.
"This is not the most sophisticated stuff," he said. "The more we learned about this, the more we find that there are lots of resources that are being overlooked. We also find that people who are struggling are the ones who are exploited the most."
Simmons singled out check-cashing services, a popular choice among young and low-income people who want to get their hands on cash fast. Simmons said many consumers don't realize they are overpaying to get their checks cashed.
He said people lacking basic knowledge about managing their money are easy targets for predatory lenders.
"They'll take the deed to your car," he said. "There's all kinds of ways to get you."
The New Orleans summit included a career expo and featured workshops on such subjects as building and repairing credit, wealth creation, homeownership, auto financing and entrepreneurship.
Simmons said the HSAN summits are not intended as an antidote to a cultural phenomenon that many social critics have commented upon -- the romantic notion among inner-city young people that rap and sports offer them the best chance for prosperity.
"I don't get mad at kids that tell me they want to play ball or rap," he said. "Anybody who gets up and works for something has the qualities to be successful anywhere. He at least is focused and does his job."
Simmons' new partnership with Def Jam was announced in New York by Antonio "L.A." Reid, chairman of Island Def Jam. Just last year Simmons criticized Reid for the way he managed the label, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
The paper said Simmons has just two acts on his roster as he returns to Def Jam -- his brother, Reverend Run of Run DMC, and a new R&B group, Buddafly. However, the Times quoted industry players as comparing Simmons' return to the record business to the un-retiring of a hall-of-fame ballplayer.
"History has yet to catch up with the greatness of Russell Simmons and the extent of his contributions to our music and culture," said superstar rapper Jay-Z. "It is impossible to imagine the state of hip-hop today without accounting for Russell's visionary leadership over the past 20 years."
Jay-Z is also president and chief executive of Def Jam Recordings.
Hip-Hop Summit Action Network is a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of artists, entertainment-industry professionals, educators and civil-rights activists that promotes the use of hip-hop "to fight the war on poverty and injustice."
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