Russell Simmons on Obama, Hip-Hop, and Why "This Guy Romney Is Against the People"
That's why we here at Crossfade recently met him at a Miami Beach hotel for a vegan breakfast and a rollicking, in-depth discussion of hip-hop, politics, health care, the value of voting, and Obama vs. Romney.
Crossfade: Why is it important that every eligible American voter cast a ballot in this presidential election?
Russell Simmons: It's simple. That's how a democracy works. You want people from all walks of life voting so you can get a real sample of what America's thinking. The government needs our lead. The government is the people. So if all the people vote, then we have a clear indication of the direction we all want to go in.
Why should the average voter pick Obama over Romney?
For me, I want the people to govern this country, not the corporations. And President Obama is in favor of campaign finance reform. He's opposed to Citizens United.
Almost every piece of legislation that disempowers the poor comes about because of lobbyists. But the president wants to restore our democracy. He understands that legislation is supposed to be for the people and not the corporations, not for exploiting the people but empowering them.
That's the number-one reason to put President Obama back in office: He will represent the people.
What's the number-two reason?
To keep Mitt Romney out of office. So we don't continue to support the old ways of working against the middle class and the poor.
You know, poor is not a popular word. Because everyone thinks they're not poor. But all of America's underserved communities, including the middle class, will be disenfranchised if Mitt Romney is elected.
Already, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. There is a lack of educational opportunities and health care ... This stuff is barbaric. No country in the world should tolerate it. Yet we keep saying that we're "number one." I won't knock the president or Mitt Romney for saying it on television. But they're not telling the truth.
We are not number one in education. We are not number one in health care. We need to improve. We need to educate our middle class. We need to take care of our sick. Those are big issues for me. And unlike Romney, I think the president is working and will continue to work for the people, moving toward all those goals. And that's why I go to work for him.
The '80s and early '90s was a sort of golden era for hip-hop in politics. But is rap today as politically active as it should be?
It comes in stages. But you can't put the whole community in one box. We've gotten people involved in so many issues. All the work that Jay-Z has done to fight anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Then there's Diddy and his efforts to change drug laws. And we're not only political, we're very socially engaged.
Every rap artist has a charity! I don't give a shit what name you come up with ... Chingy for Change, the Ludacris Foundation, Daddy's House, the Shawn Carter Foundation, the Shady Foundation. Rappers are way more social, they do more in their communities than the average elected official. You can name all these charities for every rapper. But you can't name no charity for none of these congressmen.
There's always this burden put on rappers: Why don't these guys do more? Well, they do a lot. They don't escape their communities. They don't try to. They're always working for the people.