Russell "Rush" Simmons is the Beastie Boys first manager and the person responsible
for signing them to Def Jam Records.
In 1984, Simmons and Rick Rubin established Def
Jam Records. Earning early hits with LL Cool J, the two were able to
increase Def Jam's net worth and move toward building a music empire. Among their smart business
decisions, they signed several of the rap groups that would define the "golden era" of hip hop, including
Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, 3rd
Bass, Onyx, and Warren.
With Def Jam's creation, Simmons also created Rush Artist Management, offering
management and publicity services to artists signed to Def Jam. Simmons took on the role as manager of
Beastie Boys. As manager, he was responsible for creating the Beastie Boys image. He and Rubin decided the
Beastie Boys image should be that of obnoxious, beer-drinking, skirt-chasing, VW badge-wearing characters.
They believed that the image would sell records--and they were correct. Licensed to Ill has sold more than 10 million copies.
In a February 22, 1987, article by the Washington Post, Beastie Boys talked
about what Simmons did for them at the beginning of their musical career:
"We started doing rap in our shows," says MCA. "We'd put down the instruments and rap for
half the show. Then we just decided it would be kind of exciting to be an all-rap band. And we met
Russell Simmons, and he was like, 'Oh, this is really cool. A white rap group's really cool.' So he
wanted to get down with it. And when we found out he was Run-DMC's manager, we thought, 'Wow!'"
"Russell was the first person to take us to black clubs," says Mike D, "where
virtually no one had seen a white person rap before, and we were going in front of the worst b-boy crowds.
This was real hard-core b-boy, up in the Bronx and the worst part of Queens. It was intimidating at first,
but once our singles started to come out, and they began to know us, it was like we were just another rap
group. It was almost like, 'Oh, those are those ill white kids.'"
Following the Licensed to Ill world tour, Simmons asked Beastie Boys to
return to the studio and record a follow-up to Licensed to Ill. Tired from touring and angry that
Simmons had not paid them royalties from their quadruple-platinum album, Beastie Boys told Simmons that
they were not interested in going right back to work.
Simmons, unhappy with the band's attitude and decision not to work on another
album, refused to pay them, claiming he had the right to withhold payment because they contractually owed
him another album and because he needed the money to handle claims of copyright infringement from their
sample use. When Simmons learned the band had been looking at offers from other labels, he terminated
their contract with Def Jam. Beastie Boys eventually signed with Capitol Records, ending all ties with Def
The failure of payment over Licensed to Ill has remained a source of
contention between the parties involved even to this day; however, time lead them to acknowledge that they
had a long history and friendship prior to the departure from the label and agreed business shouldn't come
between them. Beastie Boys, however, have continued to take lyrical jabs at Simmons in their music
throughout the years.
For more on Russell Simmons, see his biography Life and Def: Sex, Drugs, Money +
God published by Random House.