Russel Simmons is hip-hop's O.G. mogul he was running the game before P. Diddy and Master P were outta diapers. Twenty-five years ago, Simmons began his extremely lucrative relationship with rap music, managing, producing, and releasing records by artists like Run-D.M.C. (of which baby brother Joseph "Reverend Run" Simmons was a third), Whodini, and Kurtis Blow. He co-founded Def Jam Recordings in the '80s, and started with a roster that included the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. Today, Simmons' Rush Management company is the base of an empire that encompasses Phat Farm clothing, dRush (an urban-focused advertising agency), and the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which works to give disadvantaged kids access to the arts.
In 1991, Simmons inaugurated his Def Comedy Jam special on HBO. The show launched the careers of comedians like Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence, Steve Harvey, and Jamie Foxx. Last year he dipped into what sounds like a shakier proposition, at least financially, with the debut of Russel Simmons Presents Def Poetry, hosted by rapper Mos Def, on HBO. A tour with a cadre of poets followed, and this year Simmons is on his second edition of both the television show and the tour.
Spoken-word and slam poetry don't have the audience here that they do in cities like New York, but the roster of talent appearing at the Celebrity Theatre on Thursday makes the package enticing even to those disturbed by the idea of something so bohemian as a poetry slam. The concept is tangentially related to hip-hop, with artists spanning ethnicities and urban perspectives and approximating the role of MC.
The poets featured include Beau Sia, a Chinese-American with multiple Slam titles; GA.ME (pronounced "Georgia-Me"), an Atlantan mother prone to uplifting meditations; and Suheir Hammad, author of Born Palestinian, Born Black. Her performance on HBO's Def Poetry caused a stir with "First Writing Since," her first pen-and-ink excursion after September 11.