Russell Simmons, born on October 4,1957 in Queens, New York, has accomplished an unfathomable amount of success in the relatively short timeframe of his life. His story begins in the same way as that of many other African American kids in New York. Simmons grew up in Hollis, Queens across the corner from a number of illicit activities; gangs, drugs, and violence permeated the area and a young Simmons was pulled towards the lifestyle, being arrested twice before the age of eighteen. If not for the benefits of the education he would soon acquire, and the talent of the people enrolled in his college, Simmons may have just become another victim of the circumstances facing the ghetto.
In 1975, at the age of eighteen, Simmons' father insisted that he enroll at the City College of New York and this was where the beginnings of his success would be found. His first foray into the music business was facilitated by the City College, when Simmons used his connections at the school and the education he acquired to host his first concert. The event was headlined by Curtis Walker, a disc jockey at the college radio station, who would later go on to become known as Kurtis Blow and achieve considerable success in the music industry.
Simmons continued hosting concerts and parties, until one even he hosted fell through and left him penniless. His mother gave him a $2000 loan to keep him afloat until Kurtis Blow's album dropped on the market. This would get him back on his feet, and Simmons later remarked that this was one of the most significant moments in his life as it gave him the confidence to bounce back and succeed.
"It was a tremendous push, because it wasn't the money, it was the investment in me. It was the belief in my future," Simmons would say.
After his initial setback, Simmons was reinvigorated by his mother's investment and would soon meet a student named Rick Rubin from New York University, setting the stage for his ultimate success. Together, they launched Def Jam Records in 1985, with the office located in Rubin's dorm room at NYU. The label's first single was LL Cool J's "I Need A Beat," and the company would go on to debut countless chart toppers.
The success of Def Jam made Simmons a multi-millionaire and allowed him to expand into other industries, starting a 'Def' empire of clothing companies, a movie production house, sneakers, an ad agency, and various online projects. Simmons believes that the most attributable element to his success was the confidence he had in his practice, and this was provided through his education, both in and out of the classroom.
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