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Primary Sources: Russell Simmons: You Adapt to Us
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The impresario who turned a minority culture into a worldwide phenomenon -- and a multimillion-dollar empire -- reflected in his memoir about economic opportunities for African Americans.

His business philosophy was a contemporary addition to a long-standing American dialogue about the pros and cons of black separatism or integration, from Marcus Garvey and his Black Star Line to President Lyndon Johnson's call for equal opportunity.

My life has largely been about promoting the anger, style, aggression and attitude of urban America to a worldwide audience. I have helped sell the culture of hip-hop by identifying, nurturing, and promoting artists -- rappers, comics, designers -- who can take life-defining moments... and turn them into commercial products that, at their highest level, become objects of art. Instead of becoming a low-level criminal with a thick jacket of felonies and gunplay, I've taken the entrepreneurial energy I was putting into drugs and created a business that didn't even exist a generation ago... With the help of many I built the business of hip-hop from the ground up to a multibillion-dollar industry. There was no long-term vision then. We were all just making it up as we went along. But over time I developed a sense that this culture offered opportunities for economic, social and artistic growth like no other aspect of African-American culture....

There have always been two types of black businesses in this country. First, there are those like Johnson Publications or Essence Communications (or black hair care or cosmetics companies), which cater to black consumers... Ebony and Essence... portray a middle-class black version of American reality.

Then there's the Motown model... Motown sold black pop music, written and performed by blacks, for consumption by all Americans regardless of their color.

My philosophy takes a little from both, yet differs fundamentally from them. Unlike Ebony or Essence, my audience is not limited by race...

And unlike Motown, I don't believe in catering to the so-called mainstream by altering your look or slang or music. I see hip-hop culture as the new American mainstream. We don't change for you; you adapt to us.

Excerpt from Russell Simmons, Life and Def. New York: Random House, 2001, pp. xiii, 3-4.

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