The music mogul helped define hip-hop – but after a spate of women accused him of sexual harassment and rape last fall, his legacy may be changing
Since November 2017, hip-hop icon and business mogul Russell Simmons has been accused of more than a dozen cases of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. Simmons has responded by admitting “inappropriate conduct” in some instances, “apologiz[ing] for the instances of thoughtlessness in my relationships with women,” stepping away from his business interests and converting his “studio for yogic science into a not-for-profit center of learning and healing.”
But at the same time, he has disputed the allegations of non-consensual sexual interactions. “I vehemently deny all these allegations,” he told The New York Timesafter the paper published the accounts of four women, three of whom alleged that they were raped by Simmons. “These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual.” Simmons also denied all the allegations against him to Rolling Stone. (Read his full statement below.)
On January 24th, Jennifer Jarosik was the latest woman to accuse Simmons of rape; she filed a suit against him asking for $5 million in damages. In light of the latest accusation, here is a timeline that, based on the past few months of allegations, chronologically shows when said incidents would have taken place in the course of Simmons’ long career.
Early 1980s: Simmons is becoming “the face of hip-hop.”
In the early Eighties, Russell Simmons was already a powerful figure in the emerging rap industry. He worked as a promoter, managed several budding hip-hop acts, including Run-DMC, Whodini and Kurtis Blow, and also did some production work at the time. “He was already established in the music business,” Rick Rubin explained in a 2011 interview with NPR. “Even then he was the face of hip-hop, even before Def Jam he was the face of hip-hop. It’s true! If you had a club and you wanted to hire a hip-hop artist, you called Russell and he would get you a hip-hop artist. Or if you were a record company and there was a hip-hop artist you were interested in signing, you’d call Russell.”
1983: Simmons allegedly rapes Sherri Hines.
Sherri Hines was a member of the rap group Mercedes Ladies, so she had met Simmons as a fellow participant in the hip-hop scene. In a December interview with The Los Angeles Times, she alleged that she ran into Simmons at a club, where he invited her to visit his nearby office. When she stopped by, she said, he pinned her down and raped her. She later used the alleged incident as the basis for a rape scene in her 2008 novel Mercedes Ladies. “I felt embarrassed, I felt used, worthless,” Hines told Megyn Kelly. “The way I felt at the time was … I can’t believe this man just violated me like I was nothing.”
1984: Simmons joins Rick Rubin to create pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam.
Simmons, then 27, joined with 21-year-old NYU student Rick Rubin on an independent label named Def Jam. “I saw Rick wanted to start a record company as an independent company, as opposed to some distribution deal, and it made sense,” Simmons explained in 2011. “I put the money in with him – it was only a few dollars – and the first record, [LL Cool J’s] ‘I Need A Beat,’ sold so well. And it was not the sales of the records; it was the sound of the records that inspired me to be [Rubin’s] partner.”
1988: Def Jam reaches new creative heights.
This was a banner year for the label, which released a pair of hip-hop classics: Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. Both went on to sell over a million copies. It was also the year that Rubin parted ways with Simmons, who had branched out into working with bands from different genres. “If he’s making Slayer and I’m over here making Oran ‘Juice’ Jones, where’s the common thread?” Simmons said during a 2016 interview.
After Rubin’s departure, Simmons was running Def Jam with a new partner: Lyor Cohen. Simmons also started to expand his footprint outside of music by founding the Simmons Lathan Media Group in 1989, which would go on to create several successful TV series.
1988-1989: Simmons allegedly assaults both Lisa Kirk and Toni Sallie.
In a December interview with The Los Angeles Times, Lisa Kirk alleged that Simmons followed her into a nightclub bathroom circa 1988 and attempted to assault her. “I smashed into the wall,” Kirk said. “It tore my clothes.” She had previously dated one of Simmons’ friends, but she was scared to tell him about the alleged incident. Instead she hoped to “make it go away, to keep on trucking.”
The same month that Kirk came forward, Toni Sallie, a journalist who knew Simmons through her work for the magazine Black Radio Exclusive, alleged to The New York Times that Simmons assaulted or acted inappropriately towards her twice during this period. In 1988, Simmons allegedly invited her over to his apartment under the pretense that he was throwing a party and then sexually assaulted her. “He pushed me on the bed and jumped on top of me, and physically attacked me,” she claimed, adding that she believed it was rape. Sallie also alleged that Simmons followed her into a woman’s bathroom at a music conference the following year, when she was an employee for Warner Bros. She managed to escape to her room, she says, where she barricaded the door.
1991: “A difficult year” for Def Jam.
Public Enemy’s latest record, Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black, sold another million copies and was voted the second best album of the year in the Village Voice critic’s poll. But “for Def Jam, it would be a difficult year,” wrote Stacy Gueraseva in Def Jam, Inc.: Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin, and the Extraordinary Story of the World’s Most Influential Hip-Hop Label. “Lyor and Russell would miscalculate single choices and the timing of releases.” In particular, this hurt the career of Nikki D, the first female rapper signed to Def Jam, who told Gueraseva the label “fucked me up.” After disappointing sales on her first album, Daddy’s Little Girl, she never made another record.
1991: Simmons allegedly sexually assaults four women.
In a November interview published by The Los Angeles Times, the model Keri Claussen Khalighi alleged that Simmons coerced her into performing oral sex on him at his apartment when she was 17 while director Brett Ratner watched. In a guest column published by The Hollywood Reporter in November, screenwriter Jenny Lumet alleged that Simmons raped her in his apartment, also in 1991. Then in December of last year, another woman who wished to remain anonymous alleged that Simmons also assaulted her at his apartment during 1991. She met with the NYPD to provide information about the alleged incident.
Like Hines, Tina B was an aspiring artist – she sang backing vocals on records by Madonna and Bruce Springsteen – who met Simmons at a nightclub in late 1990 or early1991. Last December, she told The New York Times, “he invited her back to his apartment to discuss her career.” Once she arrived at his apartment, she added, “it all got really ugly, pretty fast,” alleging that Simmons overpowered her and raped her.
1992-1996: Simmons continues to expand outside of music.
Simmons launched a series of ventures outside of music with great success during the 1990s. In 1992, he helped launch Def Comedy Jam, a new series on HBO devoted to black comedians that ran through 1997. He also co-founded Phat Fashions, a successful clothing business, and was increasingly involved in producing movies, including the 1996 Eddie Murphy vehicle The Nutty Professor. In addition, he discovered yoga. “I went [to my first class] because there were a lot of hot girls and no guys, except for gay guys who didn’t want the girls,” Simmons told The New York Times in 2016.
1994: Simmons’ label parts ways with Sony Music.
Despite Def Jam’s cultural clout and the work it had done to push hip-hop into the mainstream, Simmons’ label was facing financial trouble. By 1994, Def Jam was deep in debt, and Simmons had a falling out with Sony, leading to a new partnership with PolyGram.
Though Def Jam got out of debt when it was purchased by PolyGram, the label had another contentious business relationship with its latest partner: In The Los Angeles Times in 1998, “former PolyGram chief Alain Levy dismissed Simmons as a professional whiner ‘who has made a career out of being a malcontent.’” The same year, sources also told The Los Angeles Times that Simmons’ label had lost $20 million since 1994.
1994: Simmons and Ratner allegedly harass aspiring model Tanya Reid.
In a November interview with The Los Angeles Times, Reid alleged that she encountered Simmons and Ratner at a hotel in Miami where she worked, and they proceeded to call her and verbally harass her. “I remember this very, very clearly, the exact words [Simmons] said on the phone,” she recalled. “He wanted me to come upstairs so Brett could hold me down and he could [perform oral sex].” She also alleges that Ratner later coerced her into performing oral sex on him.
1994-1995: Simmons allegedly sexually harasses and rapes Drew Dixon.
Simmons hired Drew Dixon as an A&R in 1994, and the following year she was tasked with putting together the soundtrack for The Show, a new hip-hop documentary. The soundtrack debuted at Number Four on the Billboard 200 albums chart and spawned the Method Man and Redman hit “How High.” Dixon remembers that Simmons offered her a small raise and promotion as thanks. “I just felt used, demoralized,” she told Gueraseva.
Speaking with The New York Times in December, Dixon alleged that Simmons also repeatedly sexually harassed her at work. Fighting his explicit advances “was exhausting,” she said. “It was like making a record while swimming in rough seas.” She also alleged that Simmons overpowered her and raped her at his apartment in 1995. “The last thing I remember was him pinning me down to kiss me on the bed,” she said. (She told the Times that she does not believe she was drugged, but that she had blocked out the experience.)
1996: Simmons allegedly tries to coerce Natashia Williams-Blach into performing oral sex on him.
In a December interview with The Los Angeles Times, actress Natashia Williams-Blach alleged that Simmons attempted to force her to perform oral sex on him after the two attended a yoga class together. Williams-Blach, then a freshman at UCLA, said that to escape the situation, she informed Simmons she had to attend a study hall.
1999: Simmons and his partners sell off their stake in Def Jam for $100 million.
“I build shit and then when everybody’s smarter than me, I get out the way,” Simmons told DJ Vlad in 2016. Accordingly, he sold his stake in Def Jam, along with his partners, to Seagram for around $100 million in 1999. “It was perfect timing,” Simmons explained to DJ Vlad. “I sold just in time. If we were seeking money, we got out at the right time. Everything crashed after that.”
2002: Simmons launches another successful TV series.
In 2002, Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry debuted on HBO. The show, hosted by Yasiin Bey (then known as Mos Def), aired between 2002 and 2007. It was also transformed into a Tony-winning Broadway production.
2004: Simmons makes a fortune selling off Phat Fashions.
Simmons negotiated the sale of Phat Fashions to Kellwood for $140 million, according toThe New York Times. Simmons stayed on as chief executive.
2005: Simmons allegedly exposes himself to massage therapist Erin Beattie.
Simmons booked Beattie for a massage while staying at the Alexis Hotel in Seattle, The Los Angeles Times reports. Roughly halfway through the hour-long massage, Beattie alleged that he exposed himself to her. “He was like, ‘Do you want to work this out?” she said. “He just expected that that was what was going to happen… He couldn’t believe I would say no.”
2008: Simmons fashions himself as a self-help guru.
That year, Simmons published Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success – Donald Trump wrote the book’s foreword – and followed that with Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All in 2011. He would publish two more self-help books in 2015, one on living as a vegan and another on the value of meditation.
2013: Simmons expands his footprint in media.
Simmons co-launched the company All Def Digital, which began as a YouTube network, in conjunction with DreamWorks Animation’s AwesomenessTV.
2014: Simmons allegedly gropes Christina Moore.
In a December interview with The New York Times, Moore alleged that Simmons pretended that he was showing her and a friend the way to the bar of the Soho Beach House in Miami but instead guided them to his apartment. Then Moore alleged that Simmons ran his “hands all over my body, up and down.” “I felt assaulted,” she added. She and her friend ran away from the room. “I would hate to think what would have happened if I were alone,” she said.
2016: Simmons opens Tantris.
Simmons transformed his interest in yoga into another business venture by opening Tantris, an 8,000 square-foot, L.A.-based “wellness center” with an accompanying athleisure line. “My intention is to give them yogic science and make it fun,” Simmons told
2016: Simmons allegedly makes inappropriate comments to Amanda Seales and allegedly rapes Jennifer Jarosik.
In a December interview with The Los Angeles Times, Amanda Seales, known for her role on the HBO hit show Insecure, alleged that Simmons made inappropriate comments to her during what was supposed to be a business meeting at All Def Digital in 2016. Seales accused Simmons of using “vulgar language to ask if they had ever had sex.”
In January, aspiring filmmaker Jennifer Jarosik alleged that Simmons asked her to meet him at his L.A. home in 2016 to discuss her career. She alleges that he “pounced on her … and proceeded to rape her.” She is suing him for $5 million in damages.
2017: Simmons steps down from his businesses.
Following Lumet’s account of Simmons’ alleged assault in The Hollywood Reporter, he announced plans to step down from his various corporate roles. “This is a time of great transition,” he said in a statement. “The voices of the voiceless, those who have been hurt or shamed, deserve and need to be heard. As the corridors of power inevitably make way for a new generation, I don’t want to be a distraction, so I am removing myself from the businesses that I founded.”
HBO also severed all ties with Simmons and removed his name from All Def Comedy.
2018: Oprah removes Simmons’ quotes from her advice book.
Simmons was one of several contributors to Oprah Winfrey’s 2017 book The Wisdom of Sundays. However, Winfrey and her publisher recently announced that Simmons’ passages will not appear in future editions of her book.
2018: Jarosik drops her $5 million suit again Simmons.
Simmons responded to Jarosik’s suit, filed in January, by arguing that the sexual relationship between the two was consensual. Weeks later, Jarosik changed tack and filed a joint stipulation of dismissal along with Simmons. “Mr. Simmons is hereby dismissed with prejudice from this action in its entirety including all claims asserted by Ms. Jarosik in the operative complaint,” the document read. An attorney for Jarosik did not reply to a request for comment.
Russell Simmons’ full statement to Rolling Stone:
I vehemently deny all the allegations made against me. They have shocked me to my core as I have never been abusive or violent in any way in my relations with women. I am blessed to have shared extraordinary relationships, whether through work or love, with many great women and I have enormous respect for the women’s movement worldwide and their struggle for respect, dignity, equality and power. I am devastated by any reason I may have given to anyone to say or think of me in the ways that are currently being described.
I have separated myself from my businesses and charities in order to not become a distraction. I have re-dedicated myself to spiritual learning, healing and working on behalf of the communities to which I have devoted my life. I have accepted that I can and should get dirt on my sleeves if it means witnessing the birth of a new consciousness about women. What I cannot accept is responsibility for what I have not done. The current allegations range from the patently untrue to the frivolous and hurtful. I have submitted myself to multiple lie detector tests. I denied forced sex and sexual harassment allegations brought against me in each test; I also answered no to the question, “Have you ever physically forced any woman to have sexual intercourse?” I passed all of the lie detector tests.
We have also provided a great deal of detailed evidence to various publications, but have chosen not to make it public, in part for my family and in part out of respect for the millions of women who have suffered sexual abuse, so as not to entangle a critically important social justice movement with every instance of my legitimate right to defend myself. Nevertheless, the presumption of innocent until proven guilty must not be replaced by “Guilty by Accusation.” I have conducted my life with a message of peace and love. Although I have been candid about how I have lived in books and interviews detailing my flaws, I will relentlessly fight against any untruthful character assassination that paints me as a man of violence.