The Swami of Hip Hop

Russell Simmons Morphs Into a Mogul-Activist

"It might become fashionable. It might be the norm that not just kids with dreadlocks and alternative lifestyles are talking about political and social consciousness but niggas in baldheads, headbands and Phat Farm," said Simmons. "Mainstream black young people and mainstream white hip hop fans might think it's cool to be politically and socially conscious."

The impact of such a widespread awakening is not lost on Simmons. "What does it mean that 80 percent of our buyers are not African American and there's a connection now between the trailer park and the projects?" In Simmons's opinion, hip hop has a potential impact that extends far beyond the inner cities where it was created. "I'm watering these good seeds and doing what makes sense," said Simmons. "Somebody's got to know what they'll accept. Somebody has to help and support the idea for people who are leading to lead gently, accept where they are, and not to judge them."

But can political consciousness be packaged and marketed? "I don't know if you can market certain consciousnesses," said Mutulu. "I hope that you can, so that it could become infectious and make the ones who are faking it real. If the people have to be sold police brutality as a concept in order to fight against it, then, 'by any means necessary.' "

"If we utilize marketing skills that have been proven to be effective to engender social consciousness," said Muhammad, "and thereby lead to social change, then we see that as an affirmation. We're serious about change." Simmons sees this objective as the cornerstone of HSAN's efforts."The biggest piece of work we could do is this. The most important thing that we can do is make social and political consciousness cool," said Simmons. "Everything else is minuscule compared to having some greater percentage of the hip hop community interested in the social and political landscape of this country," he said. "I can't run the streets for every campaign. I do the best I can."

"I don't quit anything," said Simmons, "Phat Farm took six years before it sold enough clothes to be profitable. I lost money for six straight years. I don't expect to change the world overnight, but I loan my name and resources to good causes. I don't quit on 'em. The work doesn't end just because of one win."

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