Expert Q&A

QA with ‘Super Rich’ author Russell Simmons


In a wide-ranging interview, the hip-hop entrepreneur promotes spirituality, peace and defends the fees on his prepaid RushCard

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Multimillionaire hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons says the secret to becoming super rich is to give it all away.

In his new check-your-head self-help book, “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All,” Simmons expands upon the quasi-spiritual life lessons he shared in his 2007 best-seller, “Do You!”

Russell Simmons, author,
‘Super Rich’
Q&A with author and hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons

Super Rich dust cover

In “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All,” hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons expands on the spiritual themes that made his first book, “Do You!” a best-seller. Too many people have forgotten, he says, that being a great leader first requires being a great servant, and that a “good giver is a good getter.”

The takeaway: Give away your best ideas and the universe will reward you. But it will cost you $22.50 to find out why.

These days, the co-founder of the Def Jam record label that launched rap pioneers Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, is a self-described yogi who credits yoga, Transcendental Meditation and the law of attraction (made famous in the best-seller, “The Secret”) with providing him the “stillness” to run his empire.

Rush Communications currently includes hip-hop fashion (Phat Farm, Baby Phat), a jewelry line, UniRush financial services, which issues his Visa RushCard line of  prepaid debit cards, the Huffington Post-style hip-hop Web site and Rush Community Affairs, a nonprofit that serves at-risk youth. (Disclosure: The RushCards are among the prepaid debit cards available in the card catalog.)

Contrary to the rap music that made him rich, “Uncle Rush” says it’s not all about the Benjamins after all, but rather attaining life’s true richness: wanting nothing. This book seems like a spiritual evolution from “Do You!”

Russell Simmons: Writing “Do You!” was kind of a personal cleansing, trying to simplify the teachings that had benefited me so much and give them to other people where they could digest them. I always thought my core audiences were the guys on the corner and the guys in prison. I like speaking at prison more than I do speaking at Harvard. I like speaking to people who are disenfranchised because that’s where I have value, having come from the same struggle. Yet your books are embraced by the Run-MBA crowd.

Simmons: I only got one bad review. Deepak Chopra’s book (“The Soul of Leadership”) and my book both came out at the same time, and we were both criticized by Bloomberg Businessweek for saying we had nothing to tell business people. It was one review for two books. That’s when I realized that they need it more than anybody. For them to say this is not for business guys, that business guys are not observant of these kinds of principles, well, some guys are not. The only way to really create a new business is to have a still mind. The only way to be creative or even have a moment of happiness is to still your mind. So the guy from Businessweek who says there’s no business advice in here, that guy and people on Wall Street who wake up deciding on what they’re going to get before they’re going to give, they need my book the most because they have the biggest footprint and hurt the most people with their actions. Did you recognize these principles in yourself before you found yoga and TM?

Simmons: Everybody has all of what is written in all the scriptures etched inside them. We are servants. So I woke up in the morning excited about what I was going to give. Whether I knew that was the principle that you had to live by or not is difficult to say. People can live by the principles and never discuss spirituality or religion, certainly. But we are spiritual. We can’t help it. If you’d picked up this book 25 years ago, would you have read it?

Simmons: I would have said, “Oh, this is good; this is what’s operating inside me.” Perhaps it would have moved me to have faith in these principles that are inside me a little faster. The idea behind the book is to speed up your evolution, to teach you who you are. How does that translate into business advice?

Simmons: The basis of our business practices is to make others happy; that’s how we get paid. The karmic responsibility falls on us that a lasting, stable happiness is what we give. You have a responsibility to give what you love and have faith in what you’re giving. The vegan cannot sell steak; you can’t do it. As you learn more, you give more. As you learn things that are less harmful to you, then you give the world less harmful things. All of this is a path toward being a good servant.

As you learn more, you give more. As you learn things that are less harmful to you, then you give the world less harmful things. All of this is a path toward being a good servant. The Western mind finds it difficult to grasp giving away something, such as a hit song, without thought to receiving compensation.

Simmons: Making a record, the melody, the sound may drag you toward God, or toward that space of stillness, and you can be producing a record and the only thing on your mind is that melody. When you lose focus, maybe you think for a second, “Wait till I give it to my friends to hear.” You never think, “Wait till I make the money.” So you want that same kind of focus in every action. This book is about moving you toward a space where you can change focus from the melody to listening intently to the accountant. It’s a practice, but practicing to be better servants and letting go of results. In scripture, it says you have control over your actions alone and never the fruit. It goes on and talks about what a distraction worrying about the fruit is. Which may explain why banks are not giving away free checking anymore.

Simmons: The thing is, the middle class is too expensive for the banks. They’re not making enough money from them. Technology is outdoing them. You offer one solution for the unbanked with your BabyPhat and Rush prepaid debit cards. Why did you venture into debit cards?

Simmons: For us, we figured out with our technology for transferring money around the world from one card to another using our card, we’re finding services that the underserved needed. Also, we’re now finding that the middle class is paying more for their “free” bank accounts than they would for our service. Our service was not created for the middle class; it was created for people who were locked out of the banks completely. UniRush was created only for those people, but as the technology evolved and the price kept going down, we looked up and saw that we were much cheaper than these major banks. Do you think banks are obsolete now?

Simmons: Noooo. I just think they have to be more creative. A bank will end up buying what I’m doing, or will buy one of our competitors. All of our competitors could be sucked in. If they stick around long enough, we’ll buy the banks and we’ll figure out how to use their business to aid our businesses, one or the other. Either we’re going to buy them or they’re going to buy us. Either way, we represent a new way to manage a lot of the middle class for now, and we’re going to create more new services.

If you’re a middle-class person, if you’re living check to check, a bank is not useful to you. RushCard has been attacked recently for being no different from bank debit card products. How do you respond to it?

Simmons: No, what they’re talking about, it’s nutty to me. What can I say? You’ve got to let the critics talk. It’s a surprise to me that people who are educated make some of these mistakes, and they actually print things that are untrue. At one point, the Washington Post tripled my fees and then put it out in the market, then Businessweek and Bloomberg picked it up and I saw it everywhere. You’ve got my fees tripled; you can’t read the website?

There are three different choices: one is up to $10, which they didn’t mention is a cap; you can pay $1 per transaction. One is $9.95 and you get two free withdrawals from an ATM machine, which is $5 right there. And you get unlimited usage. And they put them together and made them into one! They’re just wrong. And it traveled to a hundred Web sites. Look closely; it’s very transparent and it’s cheaper than most big banks for a great number of the middle class. (See the RushCard fee schedule.) How do you think the Credit CARD Act reforms will affect the underserved population?

Simmons: The banks are going to figure out how to get their money, no matter what. The banks can’t afford all these regulations already. It’s not good; some people need the banks. Some people need them. But you can build credit just playing with us though; you don’t have to talk to the bank. If you’re a middle-class person, if you’re living check to check, a bank is not useful to you. We’re way better. A virtual bank doesn’t cost as much as a brick-and-mortar system. It’s just simple: We’re cheaper. Lower overhead, we do a better job per customer, and we’re concerned with those customers because we actually make a profit. We’re not trying to figure out how to rob you. I shouldn’t use that word; banks are just trying to stay in business and they can’t afford to handle and manage some middle-class people. And those people fit nicely onto our system.

And I’m surprised. It wasn’t until the JPMorgan report that we found out — and I don’t want to name banks because some of them are funding my charities — that some of these banks cost two or three times as much per year as does my account with a certain income bracket. Two or three times as much? That’s ridiculous. It makes great sense that hundreds of thousands of people are migrating from those banks to our kind of service, if not our service directly. That’s our reality. What words of advice would you like readers to take away from “Super Rich?”

Simmons: The subject of consciousness. There is no greater gift that I could give someone than when they tell me I lifted their consciousness or connectivity with themselves by one degree. People say I change their lives because they read my book.

Imagine if only yogis voted. If all we allowed to vote was yogis, (Rep.) Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) would be president. We would have to deal with animal rights properly, 15 billion farm animals. We’d be more conscious about going to war; we would have a Department of Peace. We wouldn’t have any issues regarding the gay community. We wouldn’t have any of the issues regarding any of the things that separate us from promoting freedom for everyone and every being and every species. That’s what yogis would vote for.

See related:The spiritual side of debt counseling

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