• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 7:00am

Russell Simmons

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 October, 2011, 12:00am
 

ART OF GIVING 'The more I give, the more happiness I get.' I say that every day, using differ- ent words. I send out tweets to that effect all the time. I have five founda- tions that I am very actively involved in [Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, the Rush Foundation, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, the Diamond Empowerment Fund and the David Lynch Foundation] as well as my cloth- ing business and media companies. I haven't been involved in the day-to-day workings of Def Jam in a long time. In terms of supporting young artists, I enjoy helping them set up charities and support their efforts in giving back. I honour them as much as I can. Through the Rush Foundation, which underwrites arts education in the United States, we've honoured many artists who give back to the community, including Mary J. Blige, Sean 'Puffy' Combs, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Swizz Beatz, Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson. If you name a rapper or music artist who has come from hip hop, you'll find that they have a great charity of their own. Keys' Keep a Child Alive charity is a pretty significant thing in Africa. Swizz Beatz has a charity similar to our Rush Foundation, where he empowers people through art education.

PROMOTING PEACE The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which I co-founded with [civil rights leader] Dr Benjamin Chavis, began in my community in New York and now there are hundreds of programmes around the world. It's about starting dialogue between the Jewish and Muslim communities for greater mutual understanding - by getting rabbis to speak at mosques and imams to speak at synagogues. I'm not a Muslim or a Jew, but I see it as giving others what I want for myself: tolerance and understanding. The idea of getting the imams to help fight anti-Semitism and getting rabbis to fight Islamophobia to promote freedom from fear - there's nothing better than that.

JEWEL PURPOSE I was starting a jewellery company and I didn't want to do it unless I found a way to give back to Africa. In Botswana, where I first went to research, I saw tremendous support and economic growth for the country as a result of the diamond industry. So it made sense to go to work in that area. We formed the Diamond Empowerment Fund [DEF] in 2007, and we raise funds within the industry to support our educational programmes in Botswana and South Africa. The fund-raiser in London last year was so successful, the chairman of Chow Tai Fook wanted to get involved, so this year, I came to Hong Kong to chair the Diamond in the Sky charity gala, benefiting DEF and a Chinese children's charity. I've been able to spend time with the students there and teach them meditation techniques - it is a lot of fun. I'm on the board of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-based Education and World Peace, and Transcendental Meditation [TM] is important to me. I practise it twice a day. It helps calm the mind. You gain a kind of clarity. It calms the nervous system and you get sick less often. It's well documented how [a child's] performance in school improves as a result of TM. It expands the mind, they learn more and it helps get rid of [attention deficit disorder]. We call it 'quiet time', because we don't want to scare the parents.

STRETCHING LIMITS I practise yoga every day; I started about 18 years ago. During my trip to Hong Kong, I went for a class at Pure and had a great teacher. He had an understanding of Jivamukti [a style of yoga] - which is what I practise - and great scriptural knowledge. I've written a couple of books on the practice. The most recent one is called Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All. It's about needing nothing - which is the state of yoga. If you need nothing, you have everything. Mostly, it's based on scripture; I quote the Bhagavad Gita quite a bit. I look at yoga sutras as a science for happiness. The yogic philosophy is science to me. I'm a vegan; I have been for 12 years. I try not to eat any animal products. Every so often, I might take a bite of someone's fish fillet, but I don't eat diary. I don't miss steak and I don't miss chicken. I started with yoga - teachers will often advise you to eat what is beneficial to your practice. Over time, you become less interested in things that are hurtful; you break free from old ideas and you get distance from them - they become less desirable. Sometimes they become even repulsive. In some way, everything I do should have a component of empowerment, that way when I go to work, my intentions can be purified through it.

LESS IS MORE Whenever I tweet about needing nothing for happiness, I often get reactions like, 'Well, that's easy for you to say - you have a Maybach.' In life, you get patted on the back a lot for having junk. Sometimes you ascribe value to the junk for the pats on the back and it becomes a cycle that causes more chitta vritti ['inquietude in the mind']. On any level in life, it's about the challenge of feeling like you have less - because you see something on television that you don't have, or because people are telling you you should have this and that. I've changed a lot since the Def Jam days. But I still think it's funny how the mainstream media has always put the burden of material aspiration on hip hop. From day one, people pointed their finger at rappers for being ostentatious. I just think it's different ways to say the American dream. It's what's being sold on TV every day. Remember when Run-DMC made it to MTV? There were no black people on mainstream music channels. Well, except Michael Jackson - but he's a different story. Then, suddenly, this underserved community had this big voice and they said what was really in the hearts and minds of a lot of people - and the mainstream was shocked by the words. But they are just reflections of what society at large is selling and promoting. Poets and artists have always been shocking. We kind of forget who we are until we hear it from the rappers' mouths. The truth is we are materialistic, sexist and racist and homophobic and our governments are gangsters. And rappers remind us about the truth sometimes.

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