By Josh Weiner
Without Russell Simmons, there might not be mainstream hip-hop as we know it. That is how significant the birth of Run-DMC and the founding of Def Jam Recordings remain, three full decades later. During that period, Simmons has also maintained a consistent “good guy” image, advocating vegetarianism, encouraging rappers to tone down the explicit content of their music, and appearing all-smiles in most of his public appearances.
These qualities makes it also the more shocking and disappointing for the hip-hop mogul to become the latest in a long line of celebrities of late to be subject to accusations of sexual assault. The dismaying news was broken last month, when Jenny Lumet— a Hollywood screenwriter best known for the 2008 hit drama Rachel Getting Married— described an encounter she had with Simmons in 1991. According to Lumet, Simmons had a chauffeur bring her to his apartment against her wishes, where he made unwanted sexual advances against her.
Similar claims were echoed by model Keri Claussen Khalighi and hotel employee Tanya Reid, who say that Simmons once pressured them both into non-consensual sex. In the brief time since these accusations emerged, the consequences have quickly ensued one by one.
While Simmons has denied these precise accounts— “I completely and unequivocally deny the horrendous allegations of non-consensual sex against me with every fiber of my being”— he has also dealt with them responsibly by issuing formal apologies and voluntarily stepping down from his businesses, including Def Jam Records and other media properties. HBO has also removed Simmons from All Def Comedy, a revival of the Def Comedy Jam stand-up comedy series which Simmons produced in the 1990’s.
It will now be seen whether criminal charges are to follow. The New York Police Department has announced its intention to formally investigate Simmons in response to the allegations which have been brought forward in recent weeks. Brad Rose, the attorney representing Simmons in this matter, assured that his client would cooperate with the law enforcement and that he “is confident of a swift resolution.”
But no matter what comes of this investigation, it is certainly painful for the hip-hop community to witness one of its most cherished icons fall from grace in such a drastic and unforeseen manner.