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||The cofounder of Def Jam Records was among the
first to understand the incendiary potential of hip-hop as an agent for social change.
Russell: First of all, Fuck the police. They are abusing people. Fuck 'em. People say, "Oh, hip-hop, look, they made that song 'Fuck The Police.'" I'm very proud of that song. That became a very important theme song for the people in Compton who are suffering from police brutality. Truth is always important. It became a call to arms for the community. It also helped support a lot of reform, and so there is a little bit of a better atmosphere because of that song.
Mike: So you consider hip-hop a
Russell: I'm not saying that it's had
a dramatic effect. We've got a lot of work to do. But it has had an effect
in bringing issues to light. People say that rap is so offensive you can't digest it, that the language is unbelievable. It's people's perception that profanity is in the language. Really, profanity is in violence, in poverty, and in the condition in which people in America are left in. That's profanity. That's what I'm confronted with.
Mike: You don't think that songs
with violent messages promote
violence in any way?
Russell: Jam Master Jay was killed in Hollis, Queens. I'm from Hollis. There's so many mothers in Hollis, Queens, it's ridiculous. But Run-DMC never uttered a violent word, they only rapped about going to church, going to school. Their message was get your education, and don't take drugs. That was Run-DMC.
Jam Master Jay's passing was an example of a person who had become successful, but decided to build his studios in his community, buy houses in his community, and be at risk to the violence in his community, the same as other people who live there, or maybe even more so, because
of his success and his high visibility.
He was always at risk walking through Hollis. His passing is another reason for us to look at conditions and see how we can change them.
Mike: So who is the enemy, specifically?
Russell: I think the target is all of the selfish motherfuckers who believe that it's not their job to uplift those people in our country who are suffering.
You know, blacks overwhelmingly vote for those who are liberal those that are dedicated to uplifting those who are in poverty. This time we lost the voters because we didn't have a Democratic Party that gave a shit about us. If you don't want to raise the minimum wage, I don't fucking trust you. Don't tell me to give the rich a tax break, and give corporate welfare
Mike: you mean the Democrats?
Russell: It's not only the Republicans. They can't afford to raise the minimum wage? We're going through a tough period in America, and they can't
afford to raise the minimum wage?
I'm an American and I can afford not
to get a tax break. Shit, I got a thirty-thousand-square-foot house, what the fuck do I need a tax break for?
Mike: So what is hip-hop doing to make a difference?
Russell: Think about the power of the rappers: Jay-Z is more well liked around the world than Colin Powell. Puffy is a much better image and promotion man to get ideas to young people around the world than George Bush is.
Mike: Well, a lot of people wouldn't necessarily consider Puffy a role model . . .
Russell: You can say he's not a great role model, but you know what Puffy is? Compassionate. Puffy writes checks to charity. I checked out these politicians. I was trying to figure out who to support for mayor in New York City. I'm looking at what they did for charity, and not one of them has given away more than one percent of his gross income. There's not a rapper in the fucking world who gave less than five percent in gross to help uplift other people. But not one of those Democratic candidates gave more than one percent.
Mike: What about Bloomberg? He's a Republican and he gives his dough away in truckloads.
Russell: I'm just saying that rappers are very compassionate, giving
people, more than their rock'n'roll predecessors. When they take control, they all want to give back. Last night
I had a fund-raiser. I'm the secretary of the board for the Foundation For
Ethnic Understanding. Rabbi Snyder runs it. It's about black-Jewish relations, and it's about outreach. I had a
meeting set with the heads of the World Jewish Congress and Farrakhan. They all backed out except the Rabbi.
Mike: Farrakhan has never been popular, to say the least, with the Jewish community. How do you close that rift?
Russell: I look at the last ten years of his career. And I also look at his overall message to the black community.
Fighting with Jesse Jackson over Jesse's presidential aspirations didn't help relations between blacks and Jews.
Mike: Because of Jesse or because of Farrakhan?
Russell: Farrakhan. Compared to
Farrakhan, Jesse is not relevant
when you talk about the big picture of black America. Neither is Reverend Sharpton. When Farrakhan says do something, they do it. When he says vote, they vote. When he says come to a march a half-million people show up at a march that they said no one came to. I was there, I saw it. When Jesse speaks at his marches, it's "okay, next." Sharpton and
Jackson I love those guys, and they're visible on issues that matter but really, they only affect the grassroots. I remember the Million Family March. They had a twenty- or thirty-foot Jewish star lit up, along with a Muslim star, behind Farrakhan. He's a member of the World Islamic Congress, he talks about love and not war, and he talks about it regularly,
and black America knows this.
The important thing is, he is making
statements and people believe.
He says love, they practice love,
just like that. I've watched him
save the lives of hundreds of
thousands of African Americans.
Mike: How's that?
Russell: I don't want to defend him,
I have to do that often enough.
But he's changing lives. The point is, I think it's great that Rabbi Snyder took that meeting. I think that the work that the Rabbi does, his outreach,
is important. His outreach doesn't only work on black-Jewish relations,
it works on fighting anti-Semitism.
I think that's an important initiative we have to undertake right now.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise and we have to do whatever we can.
Mike: There is definitely a connection between the black and Jewish
Russell: I think there's a commonality, there's a common thread between blacks and Jews that has to be made clear. I think a lot of times we miss that opportunity.
Mike: They tend to vote the same,
Russell: I'd rather have the tension be between us and the far right. I'd rather all of us be united in an effort to make the country better, or what I consider better. I'm sorry I have an opinion.
Mike: Why don't you run for
political office? You're a leader of the community.
Russell: I'm always too fucked up, I can't run for office. I want to tell the truth. I don't believe in the death penalty. I'm not going to run for something and have someone say, "If you don't believe in the death penalty, people are going to think you don't care about crime." I'm going to support people who are helping as much as I can. If I can really build up a base, it's a much greater thing than me running for Congress. That's my job, go to work everyday and hopefully contribute something. Encouraging people to vote, encouraging people to take responsibility, and reminding them that their vote is every bit as big as Bill Gates' vote.
Russell: When they decide it's cool to vote, when they decide, hell no we won't go, war is fucking over. Young people are the key to our future. They have been the nucleus of every great movement this country has seen. But I also have to connect the older guys, who are a little bit self-righteous. They forget they used to wear afros and dashikis. Sometimes they forget that they were different, too. Some of these leaders, especially in the black organizations, the Urban League, the NAACP, and all that,
they think, "Why won't these kids act right?" I say, "Why don't you reach out for them properly? Why don't you not judge them so much?" It's the fault of old people that young people are not involved. I don't know how you can blame young people for anything. I remember when Dr. Benjamin Chavis ran the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network and was the president of the NAACP. He used Run-DMC
to register voters. Don't use drugs, go to church, and survive that's all they talked about. He almost
got fired, the board of directors of the NAACP were so upset.
Mike: Would you consider that a lack of vision?
Russell: I've got my friend here,
who works in politics, he says,
"You better be careful, they'll twist your words around."
Mike: No, no, I wouldn't do that to you. I would tend to agree with you.
Russell: Agree with me? How do you survive? I'm working hard at being the next Fox whipping boy.