Russell Simmons, Hip-Hop CEO, at Books & Books
Some came dressed in barely-there dresses, armed with look-at-me attitude. Some came in hip-hop gear designed to demonstrate street cred. Everyone came with their business face on. Russell Simmons was about to be in the house, and the vibe at Books & Books was electric. At 7:00 p.m., Simmons was already 20 minutes late for the televised interview he’d agreed to give NBC 6, and his event was scheduled to start. There was a crowd of fans, all clutching copies of his book, Do You: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success. Suddenly, he stood before me, wearing a faded blue T-shirt, jeans, and that familiar smile; apologizing profusely to the Books & Books staff for his tardiness. I followed the crowd into the store, where he was being spruced up for the television interview. They posed him in front of a sign that featured a giant book cover, and proudly announced that Simmons’s tour is sponsored by Cadillac. Simmons asked his marketing manager: “Is this going to be a q-and-a session?” When the answer was no, he sighed in relief. I stood off to the side, pen and notepad in hand. He looked over at me. “Hey, whatcha writing?” he asked.
“Any words of wisdom,” I replied.
Simmons pointed over to the marketing dude.
“He says there aren’t going to be any,” he replied with a wicked smile.
“I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” I responded.
By now, the eyes of the room were on me: That girl talked to Russell! She must be someone important! At least, I assume that’s what people were thinking – shortly after, at least four people gave me their business cards, and asked me which magazine I worked for.
Note to the television reporter – watching the man’s prior interviews would have given you better insight as to what questions to NOT ask. Simmons just had a dust-up over at NPR of all places, and every interviewer has asked him the same, exact questions.
Even the CEO of hip-hop gets tired of talking about bitches and ho’s sometime, dude. Needless to say, questions about Simmons’s book came at the beginning of the interview, and he pontificated about being a better contributor to the world, tapping into the peace of God that is within all of us, the connections that exist among humankind. Then came the obvious questions about rap music today, clean versions, banned words, Don Imus. Russell shut that down quick. “When we see a rapper and notice the misogyny in his songs, we never look at ourselves and notice that we live in a totally misogynistic society,” he rebutted. He likened 50 Cent and Eminem to poets and painters who have always sought to express the realities of their lives. Then it was on to the fans and all of those books that needed signing.
The crush of people swells as fans trickle in with their books in one hand, their dreams in another. The entourage goes into action mode. An assistant in a pink Baby Phat shirt stands besides Russell. Her job is to take all of the items that fans thrust at him, and place them in a shopping bag under the table. And everyone’s got something to give – CD’s, proposals, books, bags of clothing, business cards. “He personally goes through everything,” his marketing manager reassures me. I want to believe him.
After the fans get their books signed, many of them don’t want to leave – they stand off to the side, taking pictures, gawking, giggling. The room is practically packed. By this time, I’m standing at the back, next to three members of Russell’s entourage, all of whom are wearing the very distinctive Simmons “green” bracelet. His latest girl, the gorgeous model Denise Vasi, sits between a large gentleman who takes time between texting on his Blackberry to make snarky asides about the fans. She comes across as disinterested and self-possessed. Which is fine, she’s stunning and perhaps that comes with the territory.
I didn’t get annoyed until I actually saw her roll her eyes at a hard-working Books & Books staff member, who apologized for blocking her view. I watch them make faces and laugh at people until almost all of the fans have left. Then it’s my moment in the spotlight. I’m being invited to take a picture with Russell.
I sit beside him as he signs a stack of books. He smiles at me, and we pose for a picture. I am suddenly shy, my hands are sweating. “I saw you on Bill Maher,” I begin.
He wrinkles his nose. “That was a bad interview,” he says.
“And I heard about the NPR thing,” I continue.
He laughs out loud. “That was even worse,” he says.
“Well, how do you deal with that? With so many people coming to you with their own agenda? Asking you the same thing over and over?”
He looks at me for a moment, Sharpie in hand, still signing as he considers an answer. Then he shrugs. “I don’t know. I definitely could have handled it better,” he replies, before another assistant draws his attention away from me. And just like that, it’s over. They whisk him out of the store, to the rental car, to the private plane, and on to the next city.