Spit truth to power,” the other 11 laws are familiar bromides that read like page filler churned up by Madison Avenue book packagers. They include: “Have a vision and stick with it,” “Never give less than your best,” “Surround yourself with the right people,” “There are no failures, only quitters” and “Successful people stay open to change.”
The Russell Simmons Guide to Success Through Spirituality
RUSSELL SIMMONS, is a hip-hop mogul who personifies what he calls the “Nu American Dream.” After a misspent youth that included a stint dealing marijuana, he went on to make his fortune producing hit records, music videos, television shows, movies and clothes. He owns mansions, fancy cars and all sorts of expensive toys.
But he says he isn’t blinded by the “bling bling.” And, as he puts it, he still likes to “chop it up” with people in both Harlem and the Hamptons.
Mr. Simmons’s new book, “Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success” (Gotham Books, 320 pages, $25) is an obviously heartfelt, if often rather awkward, effort to share what he has learned so that other people can uplift themselves as he has done.
In the book, whose co-author is his longtime speech writer Chris Morrow, Mr. Simmons urges people in the hip-hop world to improve their financial literacy. But he does not offer specific investment advice or a point-by-point program for amassing wealth. And he provides only the sketchiest biographical details of how, from a middle-class upbringing in Queens, he came to create and rule over a multimillion-dollar multimedia empire.
The message of “Do You!” is unabashedly spiritual, which is both its strength and its weakness as a how-to manual for those who aspire to upward economic and social mobility. Mr. Simmons, 49, says he is a strict vegetarian and an avid practitioner of yoga who believes that material rewards come from living in accordance with an ecumenical notion of “God’s law” common to Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.
“The most fundamental law is a belief in the oneness of humanity,” Mr. Simmons declares. “Forget millionaires. If I know 15 billionaires, then I know 13 unhappy people. These people’s lives might be filled with mansions and yachts and private jets, but their medicine cabinets are also filled with antidepressants.”
Mr. Simmons has an eclectic roster of friends and philosophical role models. They range from hip-hop stars like Jay-Z, Sean Combs (now known as Diddy), and LL Cool J to Bob Marley, Vince Lombardi, Mahatma Gandhi, E.E. Cummings, Paramahansa Yogananda, Ike Turner, Louis Farrakhan, Eckhart Tolle, Ronald O. Perelman, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, who wrote the foreword to the book.
Mr. Simmons discusses the boom of hip-hop culture as a case study in the potential payoff of his spiritually centered approach. In the early 1990s, hip-hop appeared to be just another fad. He says that it is now embraced by over 45 million people who spend more than $12 billion a year with a collective voice “that makes the choices and sets the trends globally.”
“Hip-hop is much more specific and sophisticated than youth cultures that came before it,” he says. “Much of that is due to hip-hop’s visual power, being the first cultural phenomenon born in the video age.”
The most compelling of his 12 laws is the titular dictum “Always do you.”
By that he means “staying true to who you are and what you like instead of following trends.” He states several corollaries that are even more succinct and resonant. They include “Lasting success is rooted in honesty” and “Authenticity sells.”
Lest anyone doubt the dual financial and social benefits of outspoken authenticity, Mr. Simmons cites the marketing campaign several years ago for his line of Phat Farm Classic sneakers, which featured billboards demanding economic justice and reparations for slavery, issues that most ad agencies wouldn’t touch. “Most kids couldn’t even spell ‘reparations’ before the campaign, but now they’re much more aware of the issue,” he says. “It’s just part of the way we do business, as well as the way we live.”
By contrast, Mr. Simmons points to the ephemeral career of the white rapper Vanilla Ice: “His mistake was saying he was from the ’hood when he really wasn’t.” What Vanilla Ice should have said was: “ ‘I’m a white kid from the suburbs. I honestly love rap. I’m a good rapper and I made the best record I could.’ If he had had the courage to Do Him, instead of trying to be someone else, his career would still be going strong today.”
Unfortunately, most of “Do You!” consists of hackneyed material you could just as well do without. With the exception of the moderately defiant “Spit truth to power,” the other 11 laws are familiar bromides that read like page filler churned up by Madison Avenue book packagers. They include: “Have a vision and stick with it,” “Never give less than your best,” “Surround yourself with the right people,” “There are no failures, only quitters” and “Successful people stay open to change.”
Equally off-putting, if no less well-intentioned, are Mr. Simmons’s lengthy digressions on vegetarianism and yoga. It may be true that poor people suffer dire health consequences from eating too much fast food, and it is almost inarguable that meditation can help reduce stress. But we’ve heard all of that many times before in more instructive detail from much better-qualified writers.
EVEN so, I don’t want to undermine Mr. Simmons by closing on a negative note. To his credit, he uses his hard-earned authority to tell slackers and whiners within and without the hip-hop world how to keep it real.
“Please don’t tell me you quit your job, or you can’t get ahead at your job, because of a glass ceiling,” he writes, adding after an unprintable exclamation: “If you think there’s a glass ceiling holding you back, then you’re a slave.” Then he urges: “Shatter that glass, brush off the shards and get on with your vision.”
That’s what “Do You!” is all about.