Amidst the public backlash against the “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape” spoof on his Def Digital Youtube channel, Russell Simmons did an in-depth interview with the HuffPost’s Black Voices about it all.
He explained where he dropped the ball with the controversy, what he, as an old school hip hop head, thinks about Kendrick Lamar and where the newest generation of hip hop artists are failing….
After his public persona was dealt a crushing blow with the “Harriet Tubman” Sex tape spoof backlash, Russell Simmons attempted some damage control with an in-depth interview with HuffPost where he explains how he interpreted the spoof and why the controversy went over his head (initially). He also talked about working on series-like projects about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman (hmm…), and why he wishes the new generation of rappers were socially conscious like Public Enemy.
Oh, and he talks about all the threats he dealt with during that Public Enemy era. Here are the highlights:
You made headlines stemming from a Harriet Tubman sex tape parody that surfaced on your All Def Digital channel. Were you surprised by the backlash?
I was surprised by how big it was. I expected “B-Rock” and some of the other stuff on the channel to cause controversy, but I still maintain that comedy should push the edge. I misunderstood the underlying implications and I’m deeply sorry for that. Because I thought the slave took advantage of and blackmailed the slave master. That’s what I thought. “Django,” whatever…and I liked “Django.” I’m not Spike Lee. I ain’t a hater. I thought “Django” was good. And I thought that’s what that was.
And then once someone explained to me what it was, for the first time in 30 years I took down some content. I never took down a piece of content in my life. They shot up my office over Public Enemy. They had people under the desk hiding. Snipers were outside of my office. I was told not only would they throw me out of Columbia Records if I didn’t get rid of Public Enemy, but that no other record company would take me. And I didn’t quit. And now Public Enemy is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…So I’ve been through it. But in this case I understood how hurt people were, especially black women. And it just made me feel like, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be that kind of source of pain for that many people.” So I pulled it down instantly when I understood it. So it is what it is. It’s behind me, I hope. It’s a different world.
As a father of two daughters, are you concerned with how the message from the clip may be perceived if they viewed it?
I didn’t understand the clip as being nothing but her taking advantage of the slave master. One of the activists who had planned on boycotting me was at my house along with some students and I said, “You know, I didn’t understand the rape thing.” She said, “what about the implication that a woman has to sleep with someone to get ahead?” And I don’t think that’s what it said. Instead, she was taking advantage of the slave master. That’s what I thought. I totally get if it reminds you of the previous rapes, because obviously it appears that she’s seducing him. But it implies the previous rapes.
And so, making that jump I didn’t do it. I might have a sensitivity chip missing. I made a horrible mistake and I’m deeply sorry.
Aside from the controversy, you’re also in the process of developing projects based on Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
I’m doing a seven-part mini-series on Frederick Douglass. With serious support to develop that. And now because of this public discussion I’ve been talking to the family [of Harriet Tubman] and they said why don’t we develop something…why not, I’m reading with every writer in Hollywood that can make Frederick Douglas, they are the same writers who can make Harriet Tubman. I have a take on Frederick Douglas, I think. We have to develop that take on Harriet Tubman. It probably won’t be a mini-series. It might be. But i think it’s easier to really tell a story to more people through television. People are saying it’s a documentary because I mentioned it on Twitter. But no, I’m interested in doing a feature or a mini-series on a television network.
What are your thoughts on Kendrick Lamar’s much-talked-about verse on Big Sean’s “Control”?
I thought it was ok…It was good. I liked Jay Electronica, too. He’s great. I like Kendrick Lamar. The verse was good. It’s pro wrestling. It’s not hurtful. Nobody got mad at him. It just gave us the chance to talk about who’s the best. That’s what a big part of rap is about, competition.
What’s the one thing that you would like to see happen among today’s hip-hop generation, musically, that’s lacking from previous years?
When I first started out was one thing, but there was a moment in time where Public Enemy inspired a whole generation of people to be more conscious of what they can do for other people. More conscious of the struggle of their community. More conscious of the oppressors. I would love if they woke up in the morning and say that corporations run the country and not the people. That the politicians work for the corporations instead of the people. That this became a really normal subject matter. That the way poverty is growing, and the rich are getting richer.
I would love for all the rappers to talk about civil rights, animal rights, gay rights. I would love for them all to become progressive voices…But I’ve learned to accept people as they are.
Read the full interview here.