"To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go."
- "The Impossible Dream," from "Man of La Mancha"
HIP-HOP MOGUL Russell Simmons hit Philly last week to reveal the truth as he sees it about how to create authentic personal happiness and success.
Simmons seems to have achieved the impossible dream. Approaching his 50th birthday this fall, this New York native, born to middle-class parents, has undoubtedly taken hip-hop from the margins to the mainstream and in the process has become one of the most influential men of our time.
While many of you may be familiar with Simmons' many accomplishments - co-founder of the Def Jam record label; creator of the Phat Farm clothing line; HBO's "Def Comedy Jam" and "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry"; and founder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network - you may be surprised to know that he is a dedicated yoga practitioner and strict vegan.
Last Saturday, Simmons spoke at the Penn Bookstore on the University of Pennsylvania campus and at the West Philadelphia Enterprise Center, a small-business incubator at 40th and Market streets.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with the down-to-earth Simmons at the Enterprise Center for a heart-to-heart discussion about yoga, vegetarianism, and his new book, "Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success" (Gotham Books, $25).
Q: What was your inspiration for the book?
A: It was a young man by the name of Jinx Da Juvy, a rapper. He was 15 when I signed him to Def Jam, and he's been through tremendous struggle. He's been shot three separate times. I've watched him from 15 to 22 grow into a man. I also . . . watched a lot of his friends die, and saw some friends go to jail. But I also watched him graduate from college. I'm very proud of him. He's an inspiration. He taught me lot.
Q: In the book, you talk about 12 laws to achieving happiness and success. What are some of those laws?
A: The teachings are very similar to what you might get from the Bible, Koran, the Torah or the Yoga Sutras [of Pantanjali]. It's nothing new. It's about making the obvious truth more accessible. The karmic laws are unbreakable. Your thoughts are your prayers. Your imagination is God. But we don't all practice fine-tuning our minds. This book is about consciousness and listening to your inner voice.
You inner voice is the strength you need. But one thing about the secret, it does not work without God.
Q: When you say "the secret," are you referring to the book ["The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne]?
A: Yeah, the famous book about the laws of attraction. It doesn't work unless you are connected to your inner self, your higher self. You have to focus.
Q: How do you get people to focus?
A: You find the dharma [truth] and pay attention to it. Think about what are you going to give in the morning as opposed to what you are going to get.
Q: When did you get involved in yoga?
A: About 15 years ago. I went to check out the cute girls.
Q: You're kidding me!
A: No, I'm not. But now I do yoga every single day. Yoga has taught me clarity, meditation and how to be still.
Q: What are your five favorite books?
A: "Autobiography of a Yogi" [by Paramahansa Yogananda], "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," "The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali," "The Bhagavad Gita" and "The Power of Now" [by Eckhart Tolle]. That's five isn't it?
Q: When did you become a vegan and why?
A: About eight years ago. I didn't want to eat anything that could run from me. That had a mother.
Q: Who do you want to be most inspired by this book?
A: People like Jinx Da Juvy. If I can just get it out to people like that. To young people.
Q: I know that you are very passionate about economic empowerment. What are your thoughts on the state of our health?
A: I don't like the idea that we abuse the planet, the animals, and we abuse our bodies. Obviously, I would encourage anyone to try a vegan diet. It's spiritually more rewarding than people know, and it's a very good choice. I would love for everybody to practice yoga. But I also want people to live their truth and allow them their freedom to make their choices.
Q: Who's been your biggest influence?
A: My father. He became a professor. He was a good father. I was very lucky. I would also say Minister Louis Farrakhan. You know, it changes. Jinx Da Juvy is one, too.
Q: Lately, there's been a lot of controversy about statements you made regarding the removal of certain offensive words from rap music. Let's set the record straight.
A: What I said is that we should treat those words like other profane words and deliver to mainstream radio clean versions [of songs] without "bitch," "ho" and "n- - - - -" in it.
Q: Ultimately, what is the single message of your book?
A: The book is about how to contribute. You get back from the world what you give the world. *
Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1ultimatefitness.com).
E-mail her at