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Russell Simmons—Getting Out the Vote
By Genet Berhane

Russell Simmons, right, accompanied by his brother Reverend Run (Joseph Simmons) of Run DMC fame, gestures during a news conference at the National Press Club. (Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh/AP Wide World)

October 2004—In the world of hip-hop, Russell Simmons is a legend. Since hip-hop first appeared on the music scene in the 1970s, Simmons has been at the center of the action. Now he's using his influence to mix it up with politics. Simmons is using hip-hop as a bridge to reach voting-age youth across the country and bring them to the polls on November 2.

Get Out the Vote

So how does one of the most important figures in the world of hip-hop get kids to accomplish this goal? First, he put in a few calls to some famous friends. Among the artists who jumped on board were Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Eminem, Nelly, P. Diddy, Ludacris, Kanye West, Will Smith, Nick Cannon, and LL Cool J.

Next, Simmons planned a series of Get Out the Vote (GOTV) concerts for youth at hip-hop summits, or meetings, in cities across the country. Admission was free—sort of. To get in to see the show, fans had to register to vote.

Since the first concert in 2003, GOTV has been bringing in the big numbers. In St. Louis, Missouri, nearly 9,000 young people showed up on the day of the concert to register and rock with Simmons.

"We're proud of the artists who donated their time and energy," said Simmons, "and we're very proud of the thousands of youth who responded in such record-setting numbers to register to vote."

Russell Simmons gets some help from music executive Damon Dash and recording artist Beyoncé at the Houston Hip-Hop Summit held at Texas Southern University. (Photo: 2004 Hip-Hop Summit Action Network)

Hip-Hop on the Road

GOTV Bus Tours have been on the road since October 1, visiting 26 cities in 10 states. They will continue right up until Election Day on November 2.

Simmons said the tours are designed to remind people of the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, when young people fought to defend their voting rights. Rallies are held wherever the buses stop, complete with DJs and town-hall meetings.

One of the perks of catching up with a GOTV bus is the complimentary CD, Wake Up Everybody. The CD was produced to get young people excited about voting. Musicians on the CD include Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliot, Brandy, Jamie Foxx, Ashanti, Omarion (B2K), and Wyclef John. The CD also comes with a full length DVD and includes performances from many other artists.

Hip-Hop Summit Action Network

Russell Simmons with Dr. Benjamin Chavis (President/CEO of HSAN) pictured in front of the GOTV bus. (Photo: 2004 Hip-Hop Summit Action Network)

Throughout his career, Russell Simmons has spread the influence of hip-hop. In 1995, he expanded his focus from the entertainment business to include community service when he founded the Rush Philanthropic Arts Network. Then, in 2001 he started the Hip Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), an organization that educates society about issues important to young people who are at risk. Simmons brought major figures in the hip-hop community together for what would become a historic meeting—the first Hip-Hop Summit.

According to Simmons, hip-hop culture is not just about the music. "Hip-hop is about giving back to the community," he said.

According to census numbers, only 36 percent of people ages 18-24 voted in the last presidential election. Simmons wants to see these numbers grow.

"This is the best generation the world has ever seen," said Simmons. "What they will see in November is that this is the most powerful generation the world has ever seen."

Check out the Web site for the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network to vote in an online poll.

Find out if the GOTV Bus Tour will be stopping in a city near you:

October 28—Cleveland, OH
October 31—Philadelphia, PA
November 1—Miami/West Palm, FL