More Women Accuse Russell Simmons Of Rape, Sexual Assault

Dec 15, 2017
Originally published on December 15, 2017 6:03 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In some ways, Russell Simmons has lived a classic American success story. He took an idea, hip-hop, and he helped transform it from street art to big business. He co-founded the record label Def Jam and turned it into a global influence on music and culture. Now Simmons is at the crossroads of a very different cultural movement, #MeToo. Several women have come forward to accuse Simmons of harassment, assault and rape. Joining us to talk about these allegations, Rodney Carmichael. He's NPR's hip-hop writer. Hi, Rodney.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. How are you?

MARTIN: Doing well. How would you describe the significance of Russell Simmons' career and influence?

CARMICHAEL: Well, he's a godfather of hip-hop. He's one of the first who had the foresight and the hustle to really transform the culture into capital. He went from managing early acts, like his brother's group Run-D.M.C., to building what's really the first important hip-hop label in Def Jam - acts like LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy. And, you know, he went on from that, kind of left music specifically and really built out his empire into comedy...

MARTIN: Yeah.

CARMICHAEL: ...Into fashion, even yoga.

MARTIN: He was everywhere (laughter).

CARMICHAEL: Everywhere, yeah.

MARTIN: Briefly, can you explain the accusations against him?

CARMICHAEL: Well, at least three women have accused him of rape. And several more have alleged sexual assault to varying degrees. The latest is fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone, who says he tried to rape her in 1991, Page Six reported overnight. These women - a lot of them were women who knew Simmons or had some sort of professional relationship with him.

MARTIN: Yeah.

CARMICHAEL: And the incidents pretty much range from the late '80s to as recent as three years ago.

MARTIN: What is Simmons saying about this?

CARMICHAEL: He stepped down from all of his businesses, like, after the initial round of allegations came in. And he apologized for being thoughtless and insensitive. But yesterday, he began defending himself, saying that he will prove without any doubt that he is innocent of all rape charges. And he posted a hashtag, #NotMe, to Instagram to proclaim his innocence.

MARTIN: So hip-hop has actually - it's long been criticized as a genre for misogynist lyrics, for somehow nodding to violence against women. Where did Russell Simmons stand on that? I mean, how did he talk about that?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, well, misogyny is definitely prevalent in hip-hop. There's no doubt about that. Misogyny is prevalent in rock. It's prevalent throughout the music industry. Simmons has been "out of the industry," quote, unquote, for about two decades...

MARTIN: Yeah.

CARMICHAEL: ...Since selling his interest in Def Jam. I'm not sure if he ever spoke to criticism directly about misogynistic lyrics. But during and after his time as the head of Def Jam, he's always defended hip-hop and the music and the culture as something that, you know, represented the underbelly of society and echoed the harsh realities that these artists lived.

MARTIN: All right. Rodney Carmichael is NPR's hip-hop writer. We're talking this morning about the allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, even rape against hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Rodney, thanks so much for coming in this morning.

CARMICHAEL: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.