Russell Simmons: He is 45, wears a white baseball cap, a T-shirt with the words "40 Acres and a Bentley" on the back and a sweat suit manufactured by the $300 million clothing company, Phat Farm, he started a decade ago. Russell, teeth as white and big as freshly minted tombstones, is a man of extreme wealth, much of it made from the founding, and eventual selling, of Def Jam Records, the influential rap label that was home to Run-DMC, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Slick Rick and, later, Jay-Z and Ja Rule. He is also a political activist, having founded the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network in 2001. Russell, creator of HBO's Def Comedy Jam and Def Poetry Jam, is also involved with the National Urban League and a political ally of Benjamin Chavis, Hillary Clinton and Al Sharpton, among others, which doesn't stop him from criticizing his friends when he believes they have done wrong.
Joe "Run" Simmons: He is 38 but already a weary veteran of the streets and the stage. Since 1982, he has been best known as Run, one half of the pioneering rap duo Run-DMC, which he co-founded with Darryl "DMC" McDaniels and Jam Master Jay. Their albums include King of Rock and Raising Hell, the first rap album to go platinum. After a spiritual awakening several years ago, he became "Rev. Run," and though he recently toured with Run-DMC, opening for Kid Rock and Aerosmith, the band is likely finished. He dresses in all black, still sports a wide-brim fedora and drinks Pinot Grigio. He will antagonize his brother, who will return the favor, but their love for each other is evident.
Journalist: He is 33, bald, bespectacled and very white. He says little throughout the production, letting his tape recorder do most of the work.
SETTING: The entire production takes place on a patio outside the Four Seasons Hotel and Resort in Las Colinas. Russell and Run are in Dallas for a Hip-Hop Summit, but also to go to a local mall to promote a new line of Phat Farm tennis shoes. It is a crisp fall afternoon. Stage right, a table of white golfers dine, waiting for their tee time.
SCENE 1, ACT 1
A well-dressed hotel manager, aware of who Russell is, arrives to take his order. Russell spends four minutes ordering his meal of pasta primavera, a green-vegetable shake, a fruit smoothie and vegetarian patties. At the same time, he is on his cell phone. We do not know to whom he is speaking, but a woman's voice can be heard on the other end, laughing.
RUSSELL (into phone): What's so funny? Hell, you probably go to lunch and order an elephant's asshole. All right, I gotta go do an interview. (Hangs up phone. Speaks to Journalist.) We all have a natural affinity for meat. We watch TV, they teach us a lot of bullshit, we live by it. It is good to try to reach for guidance. Anything running from you and you gotta catch that motherfucker to eat it? It's not right.
JOURNALIST: Did you start being a vegan when you started doing yoga?
RUSSELL: Yeah. About seven, eight years ago. At least. A year later, probably. I started being a vegetarian then, then a little right after that went vegan. It's funny. I got a lot of people going to yoga, and they immediately become vegans. I think that I'm spending more time around my friends who are interested in their spirituality.
Run approaches. He takes off his hat and places it on table.
RUSSELL (to Run): Took off the collar. Are you looser?
RUN: You want my collar back on?
RUSSELL: No. Why? You spoke well at the summit. I should be there now. Ben Chavis has been to yoga every single day. He's lost 30 pounds. He was first a famous Christian minister, very positive and powerful...
RUN (interrupting): Christian? And then he went Muslim? I didn't know.
RUSSELL: He was Reverend Ben Chavis when you met him and he booked you to do Rap the Vote years ago and he almost got fired.
RUN: He'll go back.
RUSELL: To what? Christ?
RUN: Of course. And Minister Louis Farrakhan is coming back. He wants to. They know. It's all the same. Whatever. One God.
RUSSELL: You say "one God," why you gotta convert 'em then? Why don't you let them do they thing?
RUN: I ain't convertin' them. They keep saying they're coming back.
RUSSELL: I never heard that.
RUN: You know I'm a one-God man.
RUSSELL: How about they all quit that and become...
RUSSELL: Well, that would be OK, too. It's all right to stand on your head and let the blood rush.
JOURNALIST: How often do you two travel together?
RUSSELL: Lately a lot on these sneakers. You know the purpose of these sneakers? Economic justice. You heard that shit? We sold a million pair of sneakers. Economic justice. People are so into racial issues surrounding reparations, and there are none. It has nothing to do with race. You think there's a white person responsible for slavery? They're dead. But there are companies that have balance sheets, and their balance sheets are affected dramatically--have been--and they have a debt, which is the way companies operate. They have longer debts, longer karma, longer issues. But those people, all they could ever do is maybe underwrite a couple of education programs or some job-training programs, and then they'd be fine. (He will expound for a while about the poor state of public education.) I was raised in public school. I got too much paper for that shit. I'm not doing that. Fuck I'm doing that for? I made all this money, my wife spends tons of money on nothin', and we could afford some of that...
RUN: You say that a lot.
RUSSELL: About Kimora?
RUN: You have a grievance with that?
RUSSELL: Constantly. Course I have a grievance with that. You out of your mind? My wife spends so much money.
RUN: Can you stop her?
RUSSELL: No, I can't stop her. (He laughs.) The honest truth? No, I can't. How about that?
RUN: I respect it. I can't stop anything either. I try.
RUSSELL: What, you try? I thought you said end of suffering, Buddhists, acceptance?
RUN: I talk to Kimora, and more and more she's sounding like you every day. I feel your influence on her. Give her more. Anyway. Sorry.
RUSSELL: The reverend's advice for the day.
RUN: Russell's house cost $16 million, and he didn't need it. His wife made him do it. See, he don't wanna hear it. You only need yourself.
RUSSELL: But what do I do? How do I sleep better? I give away a lot. I enjoy it, and I think that's the only way I'm gonna survive. Not personally, my own shit. If I'm gonna have any happiness here, it's gonna be because I enjoy working with other people and I learned something else.
RUN: I have a philosophy about that.
RUSSELL: What about that, Reverend?
RUN: That you've been giving your whole life. You've given us hip-hop...
RUSSELL (interrupting): You always say that.
RUN: Russell says he's been greedy his whole life. Not greedy, really, but self-consumed.
RUSSELL (grinning): Selfish. A selfish son of a bitch.
RUN: But I found through my studies--I read all day long--I found that Russell has been giving his whole life.
Russell pushes away from the table. He stands up, then bends forward and folds himself in half, yoga-style. He lets out a small sigh. Run ignores him and continues.
RUN: Why has he been giving his whole life? Because he gave us Run-DMC, gave us Jay-Z, gave us the Beastie Boys. He gave us. So in the midst of his taking, he's been giving. His thing is now, "I'm gonna start giving," and I want him to know, as my older brother, that he's been giving his whole life, and he's never stopped giving. For him igniting other people's careers, in turn, he's been rewarded...
RUSSELL: I helped support other selfish motherfuckers. (He laughs.) Naw, I'm just playin'.
Russell talks politics for a while, about the president and the reasons for war with Iraq. Again, note to actors: This can be improvised, but it needs to be made clear Russell is against war with Iraq. It must pick up with the following.
RUSSELL: I'm not angry about anything. I'm passionate. I believe in going to work every single day with my head down, no matter how good or bad the situation is. At the end of the day, I don't wanna say, "I made three, I lost two." I don't wanna attach myself to results in my work. I just wanna do the work. I do love to see moves in the right direction, but I don't get all excited and dance on the table when shit goes well, and I don't get upset when things go badly. Sameness as much as possible.
RUSSELL: Reverend, thank you for that.
RUN: Bob Marley said something very important: Don't let nobody pick you up too high or bring you down too low. Sameness. Sameness.
RUSSELL: Everything I do is about giving and about being compassionate and giving back to people and stop being selfish.
JOURNALIST: Was that all about the awakening several years ago--going to yoga, becoming vegan?
RUSSELL: Yoga, I went there for the pussy. I used to go because there were so many girls who were fine in the class.
RUN: Are you proud of that fact?
RUSSELL: That was a good way to start. Steve Ross, my first yoga teacher, told me, "Look at that girl's ass."
RUN: I gotta breathe when Russell starts talking about stuff like this, because he told me it's OK to do whatever he wants.
RUSSELL: That's not true, Joey. I don't know why you always say that.
RUN: I feel like you feel proud of your inconsistencies.
RUSSELL: No, I try to move...
RUN (interrupting): You rationalize a lot of things, correct? Not a lot.
RUSSELL: No, Joe. I know it's wrong to get indiscriminate pussy. I don't think it's right. I'm not promoting it as a positive thing.
Lunch arrives. Russell asks for more tomato sauce. Run takes one of Journalist's veggie patties. Russell and Run talk about going into business with each other for a little while. They are eating and arguing, but playfully.
JOURNALIST (to Run): Why didn't you have a good time on the Aerosmith-Kid Rock tour?
RUN: I did well. I did well.
RUSSELL: Tell him who you were.
RUN: What I told you this morning? That I was a tyrant?
RUSSELL: No. That, too, but...
RUN: What are you talking about, Russell?
RUSSELL: The Monkees.
RUN: OK. This is what I told Russell this morning. I came in his room at 6 o'clock screamin' at him. He woke up, but he enjoys it because he's as crazy as me. Probably crazier. Run-DMC, I am not sure of this, but whatever we've done has been a great thing for everybody concerned. I believe that. We came out there, we opened the show with "Walk This Way," we closed with "Walk This Way," in the middle we did "King of Rock" with Kid Rock. Major fun show. And I just felt like, "OK, this is great," but that's not the reason I don't wanna do this anymore. Russell's making me tell you that we came out, critics would love it, and they would love it in a major way. But I felt like The Monkees, the O'Jays even.
RUSSELL: You don't wanna be the Delfonics, goddamnit, with a fake member singing the bass parts.
RUN: Exactly. The bottom line is I wanna work with my brother and serve God. Russell said our whole life will be doing God's work, and I believe my brother.
Russell drinks his green shake, which consists of pureed broccoli, parsley and spinach. He chugs it in a single gulp.
RUN: Gotta get it over with. Jesus. Spoonful of sugar make the medicine go down. He don't even need the sugar. That's how great he is.
RUSSELL: You shit out cancer drinking that.
RUN: You do. Russell says I'm a fat piece of loser. I'm on my way to winning. He said I looked good the other night. I was very proud.
Note: This should go on for 45 more minutes, more or less. An assistant will arrive to show Russell how to use his new cell phone, which plays Def Jam songs. Russell should expound, at length, on the state of black leadership in America and how Louis Farrakhan is the only real leader around, but he has "too much baggage." Anyway, you get the idea--once the actors get into their roles, the improv should flow. Play should end with brothers getting into rented Suburban, which will take them to mall and, later, a private party, which is what Russell Simmons' life is anyway.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Dallas and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.