One evening recently, Russell was on his way to yoga in his new black Mercedes Benz. He's been doing yoga for about three years now. "When I took him to his first yoga class in L.A.," says Shriver, "he came out and said, 'If I keep doing this, I'm gonna lose all my money.' Which is a great insight into yoga. But Russell's only managed to make more money."
We were driving east on Houston Street, and Russell was looking out the window at the East Village. "I think where we are right now in the East Village is probably the best American melting pot," he said. "This is where American culture comes together. People can understand each other here, people bump up against each other, the fusion is honest here.
"There's a whole communication, a dialogue amongst youth, going on in this city -- it's a big deal," he said.
"You know what the Jerry Springer Show proves?" he went on, turning around and looking at me. "That white people are niggers, too. It's important. People don't realize it when they live in a different world, but a lot of those people are uneducated, they have the whole same set of experiences, they have the same lifestyle, and now, because of hip-hop, they're all dressing the same and they're using the same language." Seven out of ten hip-hop records are now purchased by non-blacks. "All those people on Jerry Springer listen to it," Russell said.
But "hip-hop didn't cross over from black to white," he added. "It crossed over from cool to uncool. There was always alternative white people into it." Russell scowled.
"People aren't threatened by black people getting 'economically empowered.' That's too much thinking. They're threatened by rappers saying that shit about we gonna rob you! They're threatened they might get robbed, too! 'Thank God, I wish they'd be successful, and not rob me -- if that's all they want, please, somebody give them niggas some money!' " He laughed.
"But when Jay-Z's saying, 'I'm gonna rob you,' he's saying, 'I'm gonna rob you if shit ain't right.'
"Rappers are spokespeople for the people who have nothing. We really can't empower them all," he said.
He went into his class in the Jivamukti Yoga Center. The wide, smooth room where he laid down his mat was filled with limber girls with henna tattoos.
The room fell quiet, and the teacher started telling the story of Ganesha, the Indian god who as a little boy was cursed with an elephant head. "And so, Ganesha teaches us how to deal with obstacles," the teacher said.
Every day, Russell Simmons stands on his head.
It's another night at Moomba, "the regular spot": Russell and Andre, Gary Harris, J. Luv, and Andre's date, a young woman named Erica, are spread out over a booth. Russell's wearing a Phat Farm jacket with the company's mascot on the back, a jaunty cash cow called Money Moo. Andre is all in white -- Calvin Klein.
Marilyn Manson is sitting long-faced in the middle of everyone, hands on knees, in white makeup.
"I got an idea," Russell says. "A restaurant chain . . . a Def Jam Cafe, like a hip-hop Planet Hollywood."
"Who would go there?" says J. Luv. "You wouldn't go there. Do you go to Justin's?" -- Puffy's place.
"Yes," says Russell, "and yes, I would!"
"That's a onetime visit," says Erica. "People don't go back once they see the stars aren't really there."
"Oh, I'd get 'em in there." Russell nods vehemently. "We'll have everybody up in there -- and all my artists' videos playing on the TV screens!"
Shoshanna Lonstein is coming by in tight jeans . . . tight everything. Russell's eyes light up. "Every Jewish guy in New York is in love with that girl," he says.
She crouches before him, smiling her wide, easy smile. Her dark hair gleams; her cleavage heaves. "Hey, Russell, whassup?"
"Hi, sweetheart," says Russell.
They talk business.
"Smart girl," Russell says approvingly as she moves away.
"You're feeling her -- and I'm feeling you," Harris teases.
"She is a smart girl," Russell says. "Making a whole business out of her titties!"
"They're not that big," remarks Erica.
They keep talking; Russell lays down some more plans for the Def Jam Cafe.
"I think it could work," says Andre.
"Of course it could work," Russell says.
He isn't going to give up until everyone agrees with him.