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The Mix Master


"That's why we have to get inside the building," Russell's telling him. "We could never compete with Jimmy Iovine," the powerful head of Interscope Records, "or these other people who are buying up acts -- we can't spend that kind of money to buy shit. That's Titanic money!"

He bops away.

"I'm very sad about selling Def Jam," confesses Cohen, a large, melancholy man with steely blue eyes, who's known for his fierce management style (he's about to become the co-president of Universal's Island/Def Jam Music Group). "Russell says, 'Oh, Lyor, don't worry, you'll be doing Phat Farm or films with me.' But I don't need to be doing a million things. I love what we've done here. These are my artists, these are my people." From a "classic hippie Jewish family," Cohen talks passionately about "the first time I heard the beat." He sighs. "I love the music," he says.

"I love it, too, Lyor!" says Russell, returning.

But now Russell has to leave.

"Lyor Cohen doesn't mind me being the chairman and never coming to work because he gets to be involved in everything," he tells me, half joking.

"Donald has the best plane I ever seen," Russell says, sitting with Andre at Trump's restaurant, Jean Georges, in the Trump International Hotel and Tower one sunny day. "Some of these planes, you're there sleeping with your mouth hanging open for everyone to see -- but Donald's plane? It has bedrooms."

Trump -- blue suit, orange hair -- arrives late. "White guy in the middle," he says, angling for the central seat.

"That looks staged," observes Russell.

"It is staged," Trump observes cheerily. The occasion is a Vibe photo shoot.

"These guys," Trump says, indicating Russell and Andre, "have done more for respect than anything."

Their friendship, oddly enough, seems to be based on a great familiarity with the same things: money, models, nightlife, publicity, and the social network of New York City. "Ever since the early nineties, Russell's been building a power base with these Upper East Side-type white people," says one friend of his. "He knew that the success of hip-hop depended on bringing together all different elements of society," says Monica Lynch.

"He can tell a 50-year-old Jewish man what's good about hip-hop -- and make him laugh," says Gary Harris. "And then go on a vacation with him."

"Russell is the man!" says Ronald Perelman (whom Russell even persuaded to perform drums on a hip-hop track). "If you look at this music," says Perelman, "which started out real segmented -- it's now almost mainstream. Rap, urban city dress, is mainstream. These guys today are really -- mainstream."

"I went to a Phat Farm fashion show. I go to all the top shows," The Donald says. "It was different from what I'm used to. But it was very awakening to me, because I saw this is not a niche. You have to say, now, Yves St. Laurent? That's the niche.

"Russell knows the market, he sees the future, and that's the ultimate businessperson," Trump says.

Andre coughs. Lately he's been thinking about investing in some real estate, maybe uptown. The Donald counsels: "Best views of the park in Manhattan, on 125th Street."

The photo shoot is over, and Russell and Andre go out into the bright day together.

Trump says thoughtfully, "I don't give them that much advice. I don't think they need it."

Russell and Andre are best friends. Andre was a rapper called Dr. Jeckyll and a salesman for WINS radio when Russell persuaded him to come to work for Rush Management, the former moniker of Def Jam, in 1985. "Andre was always booking himself above all the other artists. He booked himself in a show in the Beacon Theater on top of L.L. Cool J!" Russell says with a laugh. "Super tie, extra fly, it's Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde," he raps Andre's old rap.

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