Russell Simmons, Def Jam Creator, Speaks at HLS

Russell W. Simmons and two other record industry executives credited religion and God as the keys to their success in the entertainment industry at a discussion at the Harvard Law School Saturday.

The Harvard Black Law Students Association and the Hip Hop Entertainment Law Project hosted the event, titled “Be the ULTIMATE BALLER: How to be Your Best Self.”

An entertainment and business tycoon who co-founded Def Jam Recordings, Simmons joined fellow panelists Drew Rives, a regional marketing manager for Island Def Jam Music Group, and LaRonn Harris, an Atlantic Records regional promotion manager.

Harris spoke primarily about the role religion played in his path to success.

“The major thing that I wanted to communicate today is that God is real and you have to have faith in everything that you do,” Harris said.


Upon joining the panel 45 minutes late, Simmons echoed Harris’ earlier sentiments about the critical importance of religion, referring several times to his most recent book “Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All.”

Simmons signed copies of the book for audience members after the discussion.

Simmons also attributed hard work, dedication, resilience, and focus as other components of success.

Alea J. Mitchell, a second-year student at Harvard Law School and member of HBLSA, said the speakers were inspiring for a crowd eager to learn from the panelists’ achievements.

“When Mr. Simmons finally came and he was speaking about peace and looking within, it’s the stuff that mentees need to hear,” Mitchell said.

The panelists opened up the discussion to questions from the audience, and Simmons also addressed the entrepreneurs and writers in the crowd.

To the aspiring music writers, Simmons advised them not to hesitate to express their sentiments in their work.

A mentee of Simmons, Rives said he appreciated participating in the event alongside his “father” Simmons and “brother” Harris.

“The audience was very interactive,” Rives said. “I enjoyed the questions and even got a couple laughs,” he said. “I thought everyone would be serious.”

High school students participating in a Tufts University volunteer program also attended the event.

Second-year Law School student Sean A. Hill, who coordinated the event, said HBLSA chose Simmons as a panelist because the group wanted to attract youth from the area.

Hill said “there was a lot of ‘real talk’” coming from the panelists, who overcame social and financial obstacles to achieve success in the entertainment industry.

“That’s great because a lot of kids can relate to that,” Hill said. “A lot of kids can relate to the background of Mr. Simmons and Mr. Harris.”

The event was part of HBLSA’s 28th annual spring conference, this year titled “Empowerment: Effective Leadership Within and Outside Our Communities.”

—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at