The unsolved murder of rap legend Jam Master Jay on Oct. 30, 2012, still sticks with Def Jam Records and Run-DMC founder Russell Simmons.
But the business mogul and social activist said he’s more concerned about the Black Lives Matter Movement and young African-Americans who aren’t celebrities who are being killed every day.
“Biggie, Tupac and Jay, well [Oct. 30] is Jam Master Jay Day, but what I’m worried about now is that Black children are being killed,” Simmons said during an exclusive interview with National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Washington Informer. “Fifty kids got shot on a recent weekend, and almost every week in Chicago children are being killed.
“I don’t want to look for one girl missing in Brooklyn,” he said. “Look, I think what’s happening with the animals is an abomination, but I don’t want to go to Japan and swim with a dolphin. I care about dolphins and all of the animals. There’s a lack of consciousness to love living beings not to abuse living beings, and we are destroying the planet.
“There are concerns, and I care about humanity. I can’t work on the things I care about right now because of the last few weeks with the RushCard. But lives are being lost – Black lives. That’s why we must focus on what’s important.”
Simmons was not dismissing the pain of losing Jay, the iconic turntable wizard from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rap group, Run-DMC.
While it’s important for investigators to still work the cold cases of Jay, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., African-Americans have a lot on their collective plates considering the continued violence in inner-city communities around the country, he said.
“I got my shell-top Addidas, my gold chain, my Run-DMC hat,” said Simmons, who has been heavily involved in pushing President Barack Obama’s prison and criminal justice reform agendas.
And, he said, he was amazed at how the White House immediately reacted to Justin Bieber after the young Canadian-born star joined a chorus of celebrities in pushing for the reform.
At Simmons’ urging, Boyce Watkins and a coalition of celebrities that included Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Scarlett Johannson, Ron Howard and many others, urged Obama to do something about mass incarceration and drug policy reform.
Simmons, in 2013, pushed the president to nominate a drug czar to prioritize reducing the federal prison population and undoing racial disparities and to issue directives keeping federal law from interfering with state efforts to regulate marijuana instead of criminalizing it.
“We had (then-Attorney General) Eric Holder, Valerie Jarrett, the White House calling us, calling my office saying that they’d do something but to hold off on the letter, hold off period,” Simmons said.
“We were like, ‘We’re not your friends. We are your supporters. We’re not beholden to you. We want something done.’ I mean Brad Pitt signed it, the NAACP signed the letter, the Urban League, Rev. Sharpton, Rev. Jackson and Valerie Jarrett was calling saying don’t sign the letter because we’re not ready to move on this,” Simmons said.
“Then, Justin Beiber got involved with the cause. He tweeted out that this was the new Jim Crow, the prison industrial complex and immediately when they saw Justin Beiber tweet that out, Holder called us within two hours and said don’t worry we’re getting it done right now. What got done was that first-time offenders would be tried differently and not under old federal jurisdictions.”
Simmons, whose RushCard prepaid credit card had come under fire because of a glitch in the processor, said the idea that celebrity matters is real, particularly when a star is still young.
“The RushCard situation has kind of refocused me in some way. It shows that what you do with your celebrity is important,” he said.
“Very few people when they get older can still use their celebrity status. When they are young, they can move the agenda in so many ways, and all of those who are underserved can benefit by the young celebrity.”
In most cases, when a star gets older, the power greatly dwindles.
“A young rapper has so many who love him, and they can shut down a company; they can move Black America and the underserved,” Simmons said.
“But, by the time you get the wisdom with the age, the celebrity status is almost lost. You don’t get to be Kim Kardashian forever. She once tweeted out that she was Muslim for a day at a time when Congress was doing Muslim inquiries and it shut down Congress because she’s Kim Kardashian,” Simmons said of Rep. Peter King’s inquiry into the radicalization of Muslim Americans in 2011.
“The idea of a Harry Belfonte supporting something is meaningful to the activist community but a Justin Beiber is who makes it pop and more.”