Russell Simmons & Hip-Hop Struggle With Clinton / Obama Endorsement

As the country picks a side in the presidential race, Russell Simmons, the music and business entrepreneur, finds himself torn between his heart and his brain. Guess what? He’s not alone. Russell Simmons’ logical side and his emotive half are at odds with each other. And he wants to talk about it. “I have been […]

As the country picks a side in the presidential race, Russell Simmons, the music and business entrepreneur, finds himself torn between his heart and his brain. Guess what? He’s not alone.

Russell Simmons’ logical side and his emotive half are at odds with each other. And he wants to talk about it.

“I have been struggling. I’ve been to yoga twice with John Edwards and I’ve been on the phone with him at least once a week. I really like his ideas. I’ve had Bill and Hillary Clinton’s personal phone number for 10 years, mobile numbers,” the Hip-Hop impresario told as he watched his Argyle Culture collection on display at the GM Style fashion show in Detroit.

The energy of Election 2008 has increased exponentially after the Iowa caucus kicked off on January 3, which saw Illinois Senator Barack Obama defeat the popular New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Many young Americans find themselves in a similar predicament as the Def Jam/Phat Farm founder. African-Americans, as a people, have largely grown to know and respect Hillary Rodham Clinton, and have gone so far as dubbing husband Bill the unofficial “first Black president.”

“So, its difficult for me to go with somebody I don’t know. There are some real hard issues. My brain has been with Hillary Clinton a long time and I’m trying to get my heart…I met with Barack once,” he says visibly conflicted.

Simmons’ announcement comes at a moment when Rodham-Clinton’s position within the African-American community is strained. In a speech she implied that Barack Obama was a better speaker than leader and inadvertently made a disparaging—and perhaps misconstrued—comment about Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The former first lady told the Fox News network on Jan. 7 that “King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964” and that “It took a president to get it done.”

Clinton may be in disfavor with some, but Simmons said that the New York Senator’s longstanding work in public service overrides a misplaced statement. He’s got his own philanthropic efforts as proof, he says.

“When I needed to fight the governor on prison reform, Hillary ‘cut the commercial’ and helped us bring those 100,000 people out and spoke…and got into a [verbal] fight with the governor publicly,” Simmons recollects of his 2004 efforts against the Rockefeller Laws.

The 51-year-old businessman continues, “And then when I had to fight education cuts, Hillary Clinton got in, ‘cut the commercial,’ showed up at the rally and got into a fight with the mayor. So, she’s got into a fight with the governor and major, city and state government with me.”

Additionally, Simmons feels that he’s heard more specific bullet points from Hillary Rodham Clinton on what she would do for the environment, conflict resolution and to fight poverty in America. “That’s very important to me,” he says.

The 42-member Congressional Black Caucus is split 15-15 between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of those that have formally endorsed a candidate. Both Obama and Hillary have strength nationally within the White and African-American communities and many of those polled have stated that race plays no part in their overt decision making process.

This is where Simmons finds where his heart lies.

“I’d love to see a Black president. I’d love my kids to see a Black president,” he admits.

While people may deflect them, race and generational matters have rapidly become key factors in triumph or defeat according to experts and new headlines.

Although the older generation that Simmons speaks of adores the Clintons, the youth statistically favor Obama, even if they are not the focal point of the Sentator’s campaign. Young Democrats participating in the Iowa caucus leapt 135%, according to Time Magazine. Simmons admits, “A lot of young people want me to run in and endorse Barack.”

Vanessa Simmons, Russell’s 24-year-old niece and daughter of Rev. Run, is undecided as well but appears to be leaning towards Barack Obama.

“There are a lot of good choices, a lot of good options out there this time around,” she states.

When pressed, without fully committing, the model and budding businesswoman yelps, “Of course Barack, I think it’s unbelievable.”

Rapper Bun B told that he’s still looking to see what facts will emerge on both Senators, but was looking towards voting Obama based on what he knows now.

“I’m still waiting to see. I think its still a little early,” says Bun B, of the legendary group UGK. “I’m really, really leaning that way [towards Obama]. I’m sitting back and seeing who’s going to do what. I don’t know enough about Barack and it would be ignorant of me to get just behind him just because he’s Black. But I’m not saying Barack ain’t down.”

But more than differences in race and age, Barack represents a paradigm shift in the way that politics is moving, much as Bobby Kennedy did 40 years ago, prior to his untimely assassination in 1968.

Obama wears the hat of reformer, and an agent of change and offers a very enticing alternative to tradition. Conversely, the elders have often benefited from traditional political alliances, and tend to defend their established position.

Simmons concurred, but doesn’t necessarily agree that the Clintons will win simply because they have collected high-end favors over the years.

“I know that there are a lot of the Black caucuses out there, the Bob Johnsons (billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Network], the Cathy Hughes [Radio One], [but poet] Maya Angelou doesn’t have any political needs. I don’t have any political need. I’m not a politician,” he says countering. “You have to have political resources and personal relationships to make the change you are talking about happen. You gotta spend time with them. These people are concerned about their community, especially Black leaders. Community is first. You don’t have too many selfish Black leaders. Business leaders in other communities are sometimes worried about taxes.”

Although leaning towards Hillary, yet presently delaying any endorsement, Simmons is certain that he absolutely does not want the alternative in the White House come November.

“I think it’s critical [that we have a Democrat in office]. If you look at the Republican debate, it’s an embarrassment to the American people to think that they want to go down these same horrible paths,” he chides.

For Simmons, the Republican elephant represents the worst scenario, making Obama a decent alternative should Hillary lose the primaries.

Late last year, Obama and Simmons briefly jousted over lyrics, something the mogul now dismisses.

“About Hip-Hop lyrics? That ain’t nothing,” he mentions with a slight chuckle. “I think he’s a nice enough guy. His comments on censorship and Hip-Hop are no different than all the politicians. They all say that. It don’t matter who that came from.”

“It looks like I might just go in and endorse the candidate that wins on February 5th on Super Tuesday.”

Until he decides, Simmons says he and his Hip-Hop Summit Action Network will simply continue to encourage voters to vote, even though they may not be certain who they are voting for.