Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons faces sexual misconduct allegations

Russell Simmons speaks at a press conference in 2010 (Photo: Rob Loud/Getty Images)Russell Simmons speaks at a press conference in 2010 (Photo: Rob Loud/Getty Images)
Russell Simmons speaks at a press conference in 2010 (Photo: Rob Loud/Getty Images)

Russell Simmons, an influential figure in rap and hip-hop during the 1990s, is facing accusations of sexual harassment and battery lodged by a former executive at Def Jam Recordings, the pioneering label co-founded by Simmons and producer Rick Rubin.

The plaintiff, identified only as “Jane Doe,” is described as a former senior music executive and video producer at the label. In a lawsuit filed in a New York federal court on Tuesday (13 February), she says her career suffered due to Simmons’s alleged harassment in the 1990s.

According to court documents, “Ms Doe’s career in the music industry was disrupted and derailed by a devastating experience at the hands of Mr Simmons.”

But who is Russell Simmons? What is he alleged to have done, and what is his connection to Def Jam Records? Here is everything you need to know.

Who is Russell Simmons?

Born in 1957, in Queens, New York, Simmons is best known for co-founding the pioneering hip-hop music label Def Jam Recordings, which played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of the music genre.

Simmons’ early life was marked by his immersion in the burgeoning hip-hop culture of the 1970s and 1980s. He became a key figure in the movement, using his entrepreneurial spirit to promote and elevate hip-hop music.

In 1984, Simmons and Rick Rubin founded Def Jam Recordings, which quickly became a powerhouse in the music industry. The label signed artists such as LL Cool J, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, contributing significantly to the mainstream success and cultural impact of hip-hop.

Beyond his success in the music industry, Russell Simmons is also recognised for his role in shaping the landscape of urban fashion. He co-founded the clothing line Phat Farm in 1992, which became a symbol of hip-hop style and streetwear. The brand’s success expanded Simmons’ influence, solidifying his status as a cultural tastemaker.

Simmons’ impact extends beyond the entertainment industry into the realm of philanthropy and activism. He has been involved in numerous charitable endeavours, supporting causes such as education, healthcare and social justice.

However, Simmons’ career has not been without controversy. In 2017, the music mogul was forced to issue a statement on Instagram saying that he planned to defend, after a New York Times story published claims by three women saying he raped them.

These accusations have led to a reevaluation of his legacy, with some questioning his role as a cultural influencer and entrepreneur.

What has he been accused of?

The “Jane Doe” plaintiff says that despite initially having a professional working relationship with Simmons, he eventually “revealed his true colours and, through his assaultive behaviour, disabled Ms Doe’s career at Def Jam, a job she loved, at the height of her success and financial viability.”

The complaint says that during one incident, Simmons requested her presence at his New York apartment to review a new video. He then began to “wrestle” with her “in an attempt to appear playful”, but the situation escalated into aggression, with him allegedly pinning her down on a bed.

“Ms Doe repeatedly told Mr Simmons to get off of her, but he refused,” the complaint states. “Mr Simmons proceeded to rape her.”

The plaintiff says that she struggled to fulfil her executive duties due to frequent panic attacks, depression and anxiety, and ongoing harassment by Simmons at Def Jam’s Manhattan offices.

The complaint details instances where Simmons would “sit on her desk”, “invade her personal space, make sexual innuendos,” and engage in inappropriate behaviour such as “rubbing the front of his pants”.

The harassment allegedly became so pervasive that a senior executive had to intervene, instructing Simmons to leave the accuser’s office. “Mr Simmons would follow Ms Doe to the door or block her path to prevent her from opening it again,” the complaint continues.

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