"Have you calmed down, honey?" asks Kimora.
Russell looks impatient. "I was never not calm.
"I'm 41, shit," he adds.
On Grammy night in L.A., Russell, Andre, and Kimora -- along with Kima and Keisha from the group Total -- arrive at the Universal Studios lot for a party for Universal Music. The party is dull and full of suits. Russell is wearing a Phat Farm baseball jacket and a baseball cap slung sideways on his head, but somehow he still looks elegant.
Kimora glances around. "Honey, let's leave!" she whispers.
But Russell has a frozen smile. Across the room is Edgar Bronfman Jr. "Should we say hello to him? We gotta say hello to him," Russell says, and we inch over.
The most powerful man at the party seems a bit uncomfortable in his own skin. His tenure as a media mogul has been embattled, with stockholders and journalists second-guessing him constantly.
Bronfman greets Russell stiffly.
"I'm doing a story on Russell Simmons," I tell him.
"Oh. . . . Why?" Bronfman says flatly; he appears to be making some sort of joke.
I turn around and, suddenly, Russell and Kimora are no longer there.
Soon after, we all get back in their limo, and Russell is mad, mad, about something:
"I'm talking to that name deleted who does the buying for name of shopping-mall chain deleted," he sputters, "and she says, 'Oh' " -- he makes his voice high and phony -- " 'we just don't want any jeans stores in our shopping centers.' Now, what does that mean?" He's frowning, waiting.
"Means she doesn't want a lot of little ghetto niggas runnin' up in there," he says.
We ride in silence a moment.
"Let's go to a real party," Andre says.
At midnight, amid the revelers at Andre's own Grammy party at Good Bar, virtually everyone who matters in hip-hop is there: Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, Mary J. Blige, Big Pun, top black executives from every label -- and Russell, Andre, and Puffy.
Everybody's talking, everybody's dancing, everybody's having a good time.
And Puffy's talking to Jennifer Lopez.
Russell, Kimora, and Andre are sitting on top of a booth in the center of the room, as slick boys and fly girls dance around their table, trying to be seen near them. This is the heart of the moment, which kids around the world are trying to reproduce at this very moment. "I came here to ball!" says Chris Rock, who got his start on Russell's Def Comedy Jam on HBO.
Someone who was at the Magic Convention (the clothing showcase) in Las Vegas in March relates this story: Russell, who had a large Phat Farm display at the show -- "We got a fence and a barn," he told me, pleased, on his cell phone -- was stopped by security guards when he went backstage to get himself a Coca-Cola from a cooler. The guards didn't know who he was and assumed from his dress that he couldn't be who he said he was, a clothing mogul. He was almost taken into custody until someone came by who identified him.
But his friends say Russell doesn't lose his cool over such things. "I was on a plane with him once," says Bobby Shriver, "and the steward was, I thought, treating Russell less than respectfully. I got all stressed out about it, but Russell said, 'Look, if I got that upset every time something like that happened, I'd be dead by now.' "
"He's a very progressive person," says Harris. "He has a tremendous sense of entitlement. He's looking at the big picture."