Copyright 2005 Christopher Byrne
"With my first act in '79, people said hip-hop was dead. Now … 20 years later, the culture is so strong we're doing underwear." - Russell Simmons quoted on salon.com in 1999.
"I just try to see what's good. Spit out the bones. Let that shit go. Just try to plant good seeds. Promote good Karma. You're better off just fucking with God. Everything else is just bullshit."
- Russell Simmons from a Playboy magazine interview 2005.
Russell Simmons should not need any introduction to hip hop fans with even a passing interest in what happens behind the scenes. Business Week magazine have called him ‘The CEO of Hip-Hop’.
Russell Simmons has been involved in marketing / advertising the Coca Cola Company’s products on a regular basis since 1986 when he was the manager of Kurtis Blow: the first rapper ever to do an advertisement (for Sprite). Beverly Paige of Mercury / Polygram’s publicity department arranged it for Blow even though Simmons was rooting for his brother Joseph (a.k.a. Run)’s band Run DMC to do the ad!
Simmons’ company Rush Media produced the number one testing commercial among all youth for Coca Cola in 1996. Russell Simmons formed dRush Advertising in 1999 with Donny Deutsch and their clients included Coca-Cola before shutting down in 2002.
Bill O’Reilly, U.S Fox News television presenter condemned Pepsi in 2002 (and called for a boycott of their products) for having a national 30-second TV commercial featuring Ludacris, whom he said in his music “degrades women, encourages substance abuse and does all the things that hurt particularly the poor and our society”. Pepsi then withdrew the ad.
Russell Simmons through the Hip Hop Summit Action Network then in February 2003 announced it would call for a boycott of Pepsi due to their double standards (launching commercials featuring the foul-mouthed Osbournes after pulling the Ludacris ads). Simmons said on villagevoice.com in 2003, "When Ludacris was dropped my response was I went and bought a beverage company. I didn’t give a fuck. Ludacris didn’t care; they paid him … The problem came up with the inconsistency."
The boycott was to continue until three demands were met: that Pepsi issues a public apology to Ludacris and to hip hop culture, that the soda company donate $5 million to the non-profit organization Ludacris Foundation, and that the withdrawn commercial be reinstated over what it called Pepsi's, "cultural disrespect".
In the end no formal boycott was called as a formal settlement was agreed upon on the day that the boycott was due to be announced. It was reported on a UPI news wire report on 13/2/2003 that when Simmons was asked whether the company had issued a public apology, Simmons said, "The millions of dollars is pretty much the same thing."
Should the hip hop culture be protesting over a mere commercial endorsement when their country is at war and there is violence in their own streets?
It could be argued that Simmons’ plan (reported on reuters.com) to announce the boycott of Pepsi during a star-studded and high-profile weekend featuring NBA’s All-Star game in rival Coca Cola’s (and Ludacris’) home town of Atlanta was strategically timed.
Simmons is the founder and chair of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). It is led by Dr. Ben Chavis, former Executive Director of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). HSAN is in theory a non-profit, non-partisan national coalition of musicians, entertainment businesspeople, education advocates, civil rights campaigners, and youth leaders dedicated to harnessing the power of hip hop culture to be used as leverage for advocacy on education and social issues and to enhance the well-being of youth throughout the United States. Its agenda includes universal healthcare, a living wage, slavery reparations, and an end to mandatory minimum drug offence sentencing.
The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network hosted the First Annual Action Awards benefit and dinner, which took place in November 2003 at Laura Belle in Manhattan, New York City.
Pepsi-Cola North America President Dawn Hudson was one of those people awarded for their role in 'community activism and youth empowerment'. Tommy Hilfiger was also awarded at the ceremony (described as, “Simmons' friend” by Jeff Stark on salon.com in 1999). Stark wrote “It was Simmons who …introduced him to the rap stars and models who helped him create a billion-dollar empire.” Hilfiger was later a client of Drush as well.
The vegan Russell Simmons (who sells leather goods as CEO of Phat Farm with their shoe ranges etc) in 2003 in a private capacity joined the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals campaign against global restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken. He has appeared in adverts and twice publicly called for a boycott of KFC.
Why has Russell Simmons singled these two companies out for boycotts? Why is he not calling for a boycott of Reebok, who have recently withdrawn a commercial featuring 50 Cent from British television after viewers complained that it glamourised guns?
At the time of the Pepsi boycott Simmons was the President of Def Jam Records: Ludacris was one of his Def Jam artists. Pepsi (whose main competitor in the worldwide soft drinks market is Coca Cola) and KFC are both owned by Yum! Brands.
Pirelli Tires state on their website that they are a proud sponsor of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), a non-profit organization, “To this end, Pirelli has lent its patented slogan ‘Power Is Nothing Without Control’ to the HSAN effort.” Pirelli say their involvement in the movement is “born out of the very close ties between Hip Hop and the high-performance, customized niche of cars and SUVs where we have a significant presence.”
This is extremely worrying – the hip hop generation rallying behind a corporate slogan.
It was announced that in late 2004 Playstation 2 had teamed with the Hip Hop Summit Action Network to present the “Race to the Polls”, an event created “to help stimulate young voters to participate in the upcoming presidential election”. At a concert at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan on October 14, a crowd of 2,000 people got the chance to see a show by Mary J. Blige, Ludacris and Public Enemy. “Further unifying hip-hop and interactive entertainment to connect with today's young voters”, PlayStation 2 also hosted a celebrity gaming competition on the ‘ultimate driving simulator’, the game ‘Gran Turismo 4’.
Scott Evans wrote on metamute.com in 2004 that Russell Simmons had “raised eyebrows with his conspicuous use of product placement at HSAN events”, promoting Sony's PlayStation 2 to his own energy drink, Def-Con 3, which says it sends “a portion of the proceeds ... back to the community for building, restoring, and enhancing people's lives.” Russell Simmons' Def Jam Records went into business with Columbia Records / Sony Music in 1985. In 1995 Polygram Music bought out Sony's half-interest in Def Jam.
A March 2005 LA fashion show called ‘Prêt a PSP’ was part of series to launch the new handheld Sony PSP game console featured ‘one of a kind’ PSP accessories, including a pure gold PSP case with seven carats of yellow and black diamonds encrusted on the front and back from ‘Baby Phat By (Russell’s wife) Kimora Lee Simmons featuring Simmons Jewelry Company’ (sic). A joint venture of husband and wife may result in some long names. It reportedly retailed at $35,000.00…
[i]This is a sample extract from my book 'Soft Drinks and Hard Rhymes', which is currently being pitched as a TV documentary by an independent TV production company in London, England...
I am currently looking a publisher for this book. For more info, please contact:
[link=http://zebox.com/a4/hrasd_-_Warning.MP3] Spoken Word MP3 by Chris Byrne on Marketing / Advertising and Hip Hop Culture[/link]
[link=http://www.publicenemy.com/pb/viewtopic.php?t=23262] Hard Rhymes and Soft Drinks Compilation (LINK)[/link]
FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY.
Songs about sportswear, soft and hard drinks, cars etc….
Includes an unreleased Biggie Pepsi commercial, an MPEG of an Ice Cube St Ides malt liquor commercial, 929’s 1985 song ‘Felon Sneakers’ (the inspiration for Run DMC’s ‘My Adidas’?) etc. This is compressed as a RAR file so you will need WINRAR to unzip it.
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