The opening scene of “Life and Def: The Autobiography of Russell Simmons,” paints a vivid illustration of Simmons’ early life on the streets of Queens, N.Y. He witnesses a brutal shooting, which alters his outlook on life. At that point, he decides to focus on music and building an empire rather than dealing drugs.
The book reads like a novel rather than an autobiography and his accounts of rising in the ranks of the music industry are fascinating. “Life and Def” is extremely realistic and honestly written with descriptive portrayals of every aspect of his business life, and includes every failure as well as triumph.
The book shows how Simmons matured as hip hop matured as an art form. He chronicles his career starting with Def Jam Music Recordings, which introduced such significant acts as Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J, DMX and Jay-Z. He also discusses how he went on to produce Def Comedy Jam, which brought Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock, Bernie Mac and Steve Harvey to the forefront of the comedy scene. In addition, he explains how he helped produce films like “The Nutty Professor” and created a fashion empire called Phat Farm clothing.
After looking at an overview of his successful career, readers can see how influential Simmons’ projects have been to black culture. Some of the events in the book lead the reader to believe he is a beneficiary of his flourishing surroundings. Because he was able to recognize the emergence of a new culture, he has been able to make millions of dollars.
His true brilliance is demonstrated in his ability to seek and take advantage of the opportunities around him. By telling his rags to riches story, he seems to make readers more aware of their own potential to become successful, which makes “Life and Def” a profound and inspiring piece of literature.
Not only does Simmons provide readers with insight and advice about the music industry and the business world, he also allows readers into his personal life, which holds heaps of knowledge. Because the book documents how he single-handedly shaped the image and attractiveness of the ever-expanding popular hip-hop culture, it also serves as a hip-hop history book.
Hip hop has become a global force, which will forever alter the way people talk, dress and even think. Simmons is largely responsible for this phenomenon. “Life and Def” is not only the autobiography of a brilliant and influential hip-hop mogul, but it is an autobiography of the hip-hop culture.
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