NET WORTH: $325 million, estimated
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Rush Communications, Def Jam Records
FUNDING AREAS: Arts & Culture, Human, Civil, and Animal Rights
OVERVIEW: Russell Simmons has been a longtime supporter of human, civil, and animal rights, using his voice to help combat slavery and sex trafficking, encouraging young people to vote, and fight poverty in New York City. Along with his brothers, he runs a NYC nonprofit that provides arts education programs to disadvantaged youth and supports emerging artists.
BACKGROUND: Russell Simmons grew up in Queens and attended the City College of New York. Starting out as a promoter for NYC musicians, Simmons eventually teamed up with Rick Rubin to create Def Jam Records, signing artists such as the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and Run-DMC. Building a media empire under Rush Communications, Simmons went on to create the Phat Farm clothing line, numerous films and TV shows, a magazine, and an advertising agency. In 1996, he sold his stake in Def Jam to Universal Music Group for $100 million, and in 2004, he sold Phat Farm to a company called Kellwood for $140 million. Simmons also cofounded 360 Hip Hop, which was eventually sold to BET, and currently owns a majority stake in the website Global Grind.
ARTS & CULTURE: Simmons started the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation in 1995 with help from his brothers, visual artist Daniel Simmons, and Joseph Simmons, better known as Rev. Run of Run-DMC. The organization supports arts programs for toddlers all the way up to high school students, serving more than 3,000 disadvantaged urban youth annually. It also runs several galleries, supporting the work of approximately 100 emerging and community-based artists each year, with a focus on artists of color. Simmons has put at least a few million into the organization himself, but it now generates the revenue it needs to operate through fundraising events.
HUMAN & CIVIL RIGHTS: Simmons is responsible for helping create the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, bringing together entertainers, industry leaders, and civil rights groups, using hip hop as a catalyst to advocate for education and other issues that affect youth, and encouraging them to vote. In 2002, he became chairman of the board for the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. In 2009, he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. Slavery Memorial. He is a non-religious practitioner of yoga, as well as transcendental meditation, and has supported the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, and also supported the Somaly Mam Foundation, and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.
Simmons has also been known to help raise money for anti-violence programs, particularly those that focus on kids. He’s donated at least $10,000 from his own pocket to Life Camp, and supported numerous organizations that work to fight poverty, mostly in New York City, including the Robin Hood Foundation, Chrysalis, the Doe Fund, and ACE Programs for the Homeless.
ANIMAL RIGHTS: Simmons practices veganism, and has been known to support organizations such as PETA, Farm Sanctuary, and the Humane Society.