March 15, 2004, - 8:13 am

Hip-Hop Hypocrisy: Russell Simmons’ Def Sham


The Nation of Islam’s influence on Michael Jackson is disturbing. But it’s nothing compared to the group’s influence on someone much more important–hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

The founder and chairman of Def Jam Records, Simmons heads up the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).

Hip-Hop refers to the culture surrounding rap music. Simmons and his wife also recently sold the Phat Farm hip-hop clothing empire for about $140 million.

They appear in fashion and celebrity magazines. Writers gush over their 50,000-square-foot mansion and his wife’s two Bentleys, 25-carat diamond ring, and world’s largest collection of Louis Vuitton bags (numbering in the thousands). Reporters laud the former drug dealer’s yoga, vegetarian lifestyle.
Simmons is the most influential figure in the rise of hip-hop and rap and one of the most influential figures in American pop culture.

But in that role Simmons has surrounded himself with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his acolytes. At Farrakhan’s request, the Simmonses co-chaired the Million Family March Entertainment Initiative in 2000 and enlisted many celebrities. Simmons calls Farrakhan “a saint,” featuring him at HSAN events.

Simmons’s receptivity to Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic, supremacist views culminated in a dangerous voter registration and political drive launched in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Simmons announced his “One Mind. One Vote” campaign on ABC Radio. His aim to register millions of young urban voters might seem laudable. But Simmons’s HSAN is headed by Farrakhan’s righthand man and has supported some frightening, anti-Semitic candidates.

The individuals include Benjamin Chavis Muhammad. The president and CEO of HSAN, Chavis Muhammad was organizer of Farrakhan’s 1995 “Million Man March” and 2000’s “Million Family March.” In 1994, he was fired as executive director of the NAACP when he reportedly stole at least $64,000 to settle a sexual harassment suit.

He blamed his ouster on “right-wing Jews.” Rather than allow him to remain an anti-Semitic pariah, Simmons personally sought out and hired him. Chavis runs Simmons’s current hip-hop voter-registration drive.

The Cynthia McKinney and Earl Hilliard connection: HSAN was founded when the two, then members of the US House of Representatives, were invited by Simmons and Chavis Muhammad to the first Hip-Hop Summit in 2001.

Hilliard’s blueprint for a nationally and regionally organized hip-hop political movement became Simmons’s HSAN. Both were defeated in 2002 primaries when their anti-Semitic, Islamist statements became a national issue.

Will Mega: A contestant on CBS’s reality show Big Brother: Mega was an unsuccessful November 2003 candidate for the Philadelphia City Council. He announced his candidacy at the 2003 Philadelphia Hip-Hop Summit (hosted by Simmons) and is the Philadelphia delegate to the National Hip-Hop Political Action Committee.

But Mega was national field marshal for the New Black Panther Party and a close aide to its late leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a Farrakhan disciple. He organized and appeared beside Muhammad at both Million Youth Marches in Harlem–including the 1998 event, at which Muhammad called then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani a “cracker” and a “devil” and urged attacks on police. Sixteen policemen were injured.

In 2001, Mega called whites and Jews “evil and unrighteous,” and the enemy. His mentor, Muhammad, called Jews “bloodsuckers.”

Ras Baraka: The deputy mayor of Newark, Baraka is the son of ousted New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka. The elder Baraka’s poems claimed Israel and the Jews knew of and planned the 9/11 WTC attacks. He compared Giuliani to David Duke and Clarence Thomas to feces. The son, Ras, stands by his father. And Simmons stands by him, having featured Ras in his “Def Poetry Jam.”

Def Poetry Jam, Simmons’s touring Broadway show, now features Palestinian rapperette/poetess Suheir Hammad. Her rantings attack Christianity and Judaism and claim that even several Israeli lives aren’t worth the life of one Palestinian boy. Her act was covered approvingly by Al-Jazeera.

Ironically, also in honor of King Day, Simmons is embarked on a campaign to denounce anti-Semitism. He wrote an article in The New York Daily News protesting the wave of anti-Semitism sweeping Europe and the US. The article is co-written by Rabbi Marc Schneier, a frequent apologist for Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and, now, Simmons.

Simmons and Schneier wrote that King would decry the “moral laryngitis” of leaders who fail to speak out against anti-Semitism.

But, unlike Simmons, King strongly opposed anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in his famous “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend.” The loudest case of moral laryngitis he’d likely lament is that of Simmons, whose Farrakhan friends and hip-hop associates are the outrage everyone seems to ignore.

It’s incredible that Simmons would pretend, in Haaretz and the New York Daily News, that his hip-hop nation–rife with anti-Semites– is “the community that comes together as one… united in its condemnation” of anti-Semitism. Even scarier, that he wants to register voters mirroring his views.

Call it hip-hop hypocrisy. Call it chutzpah.

All the yoga and Bentleys in the world won’t change this: Russell Simmons’s hip-hop “enlightenment” is a Def-Sham.

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