Russell Simmons and Rush Productions

By the time the Def Jam label started operations in 1984, Russell “Rush” Simmons had been an important figure on the rap music scene for a full five years. His Rush Productions was already managing Kurtis Blow when Kurt recorded “Christmas Rappin’” for Mercury Records in the fall of 1979. During the next several years, Rush’s roster expanded to include Jimmy Spicer, Whodini, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, Run-DMC and others.

In June of 1984, Russell was handing out the business card shown above. The color photo was shot on those premises—a two-room suite at 1133 Broadway, just south of West 26th St.—in the spring of 1985. Even earlier, before he finagled an office for himself in Manhattan, Russell was working out of Jamaica, Queens, as shown by the sheet of business stationery reproduced here (click on business card above to see stationery).

A self-contained, underground subculture during the few years after its 1970s birth, by the 1980s rap began attracting notable mainstream media attention. One of the early high-water marks of this coverage was a story in the Wall Street Journal dated December 4, 1984. The Journal, of course, is the business-minded newspaper that would shortly begin to advertise itself as “the daily diary of the American dream.”

Although the story’s headline and subhead were made to rhyme— a rare spasm of playfulness for the Journal—the story itself, true to form, kept its eye on the bottom line. It was pegged to the Fresh Fest, the first-ever national arena tour of rappers, which featured Kurtis Blow, Whodini, and Run-DMC—all clients of Rush Productions—on a bill that also included the Fat Boys.

At least one of the keys to the genre’s popularity was suggested in an interview with “a young white woman in red leather pants,” who was in attendance at the Fresh Fest in Charlotte, NC. “Rap is friendlier than rock’n’roll,” she said. The article went on to designate Russell as “the mogul of rap.” Duly alerted, the movie mogul Menahem Golan tracked down the rap mogul. Golan’s plan was to produce a rap movie.

By June of 1985, writers were tracking down Rick Rubin, Russell’s partner in Def Jam, too—and with good reason. Not only were his records making waves, but Rick himself was eminently quotable. “I’ll be co-producing the new Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys’ album,” he told RockAmerica Magazine. “It’s great because it gives us the opportunity to call everyone racist: the white stations that won’t play Run-DMC, the black stations that won’t play the Beastie Boys.”

Asked at the end of the piece about the future of rap, Rick answered with the kind of bravado common to rappers and pro wrestlers alike: “The future of rap music is quite simply me – me and Def Jam, Rush Productions, all the artists on our roster. That is the future of rap music!”

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