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Hip-hop legend Russell Simmons talks post-racial America: Tech Industry

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Tech Industry: Hip-hop legend Russell Simmons talks post-racial America

10:35 /

Music mogul and entrepreneur Russell Simmons speaks about ADD, his new original content YouTube channel, which aims to move culture forward.

-Welcome back to the CNET stage here at CES. I'm Paul Sloan, executive editor, and I'm excited to be joined by two people at the cutting edge of media, video, music, and its rapid transformation as we all watch and listen anywhere and anytime. First, Russell Simmons often called the hip-hop mogul and business magnet who got his start when he teamed up with producer, Rick Rubin, to create Def Jam Records in the 80s bringing us everyone from the Beastie Boys to LL Cool J and Public Enemy. He's done much more, of course. He has creative fashion lines, TV programs, movies, even financial service products to name a few. And now, he's running ADD, All Def Digital, which is an original content YouTube channel aimed at what he calls a post-racial America. Next to him is Brian Robbins, a film and TV director and producer who runs Awesomeness TV, which is one of the first original channels launched on YouTube. The two are now part-- partnering on All Def Digital. Thank you so much for joining us. -Thanks for having us. -Thanks for having us. -Russell, I understand it's your first time here at CES. I know you haven't had time to walk around, but impressions why you're here, tell us what you're for. -Well, I'm here primarily-- I mean, my YouTube channel is about the same pursuit I've had from the beginning like discovering talent for us and get to do different media and this is the place to be. So, I'm here because I basically have to. I mean, it's what I've done my whole life and I'm a little late, I think, being here, but it's funny that I'm late, but the industry itself seems to have this huge wide space where all this integration that happened through hip-hop and in media have not happened really, you know, online as much as it could. So, if you take, for instance, you know, there has not been one black comedian sensed to have Comedy Jam who's emerged as a crossover. I would say Kevin Hart, but he hasn't yet either. So, the Hollywood and media in general has not, like advertising, like music, like other industries have embraced a new America. And so, for me, I want to buy a TV network, but they wanted to offer me very minimal subs and start crawling and I thought, I don't really want a young person telling me what content to release or what to expound on. And, so, this, for me, is my network. This ADD, All Def Digital, All Def Music, All Def Poetry, All Def Comedy, All Def-- You know, this whole space of America is underexposed. And, so, for me, building this network and with YouTube's help and Brian who I've known for 20 years-- at day two? -Yes. Well, that's right. -But doing this, for me, is the next most obvious thing to do. So-- -ADD, by the way, is, I think, one of the great names just for this ADD generation. -Yeah. Yeah, right. Online for this moment, you're looking things and if it doesn't happen this second, you press the button,-- -Right. -but you're watching TV show for 15 minutes, and after 15 minutes, you'll say I hate this, this sucks, and you sit there for 15 more minutes to be sure that you hate it, but I think people are learning to broaden, you know, the appreciation and-- -Right. -more content is being viewed for longer periods of time. -So what will we expect to see and when? I mean, you said it's focused on the cool side of pop culture, BET for YouTube. What does it all mean? -I don't like the BET there. Every time they say black, they say diversity. They say the more black stuff. I mean, it needs to be more black stuff, but this integration that Hollywood, they're all really nice people, but they don't really understand that America, if you watched Jerry Springer and the rest of the world in the suburbs of Cleveland is integrating. And if it does-- if it's not a post-racial America, there's a potential and that's what people wanna see. Hollywood should be in the front, and since Hollywood is not, the internet is. I signed yesterday, for instance, Spoken Reasons-- -Uh huh. -like he could be the next Chris Tucker. All right, he's online. He's like the number online video blogger in the urban space, but they don't see him. And so, I'm here to kind of like integrate and move forward culture. -You know, but for all of these new channels and new opportunities, isn't that these industries are still driven by hits? Are you not-- -I like hits. -What does that mean, Brian? -Yeah. -I mean, what's the opportunity for YouTube channel? -It's a giant opportunity. -So you're gonna tell us from your experience. -You know, never-- 25 years ago, no one knew what ESPN and MTV and Nickelodeon, CNN. No one knew what cable-- what's cable and you had to go, you know, operator by operator through the country to get clearance. Today, on YouTube, there's 850 million unique people on the platform. -850 million, you're able to reach from day one. -[unk] some like older or younger person who knows nothing about what you're doing and tell you what to do and it's exciting. -And how do they find you? -I'm sorry if I won't catch you up. Huh? -How do they find you? How does it grow? -That's what I do. I make people-- I mean, take something that's emerging and spread it across all forms of media and through this genre just to do-- -The world-- The world changed a lot, right? So, when I made-- launched Smallville, for instance, on the WB, we had a huge outdoor campaign and commercials everywhere and stuff like that. Today, on Awesomeness TV, my audience is all teens and tweens and I know how to reach them. I don't need a bus and a billboard. I can tweet to them. I can Instagram to them. They're on Facebook. I don't need a $20 million of marketing campaign to launch a video or television show anymore and it's proven, like, we're up, you know, six months with 60 million viewers, 300,000 subscribers from zero six months ago. -This is the Awesomeness TV you're talking about. -This is Awesomeness TV. The same thing will happen with ADD. I mean, Russell has 2 million something Twitter followers, you know. -Right. -These artists on YouTube that you don't know, he said Spoken Reasons. You probably have no idea who Spoken Reasons is, right? He's a kid, a comedian on YouTube, who has a million subscribers, a couple hundred million views, but he's undiscovered. -Well, we're gonna rediscover him and let the world know who he is. -So, is this how new genres are gonna happen? I mean, could-- when Def Jam came around when you guys-- -New genres, yeah. I mean, this is the opportunity to let the people speak and also to, you know, if you're paying attention and nurture talent, which is my whole life work, you know, to nurture talent and that emerges [unk] record business long ago stopped developing artists. They set in waiting for artists to develop themselves and they'd fight over that when they got hot and it's about curating because you'd find out when to chase them. You know, if you don't have it in your heart, you have-- you can just look at numbers and so that's the reality that entertainment, you know, it's becoming more user friendly and user generated stuff is becoming the key. I mean, we don't have a Justin Bieber. We don't have, you know, Diggy, my nephew. He didn't call me and say, Rus, how do I get a record deal. I saw his video that he made for a nickel on TV and he was a star. I called my brother and like, hey Rev, you know, you're son is on TV. He's like, yeah, I heard. Like so, you know, that's real tough. I mean, people are doing, you know, on their own and I think they need a help obviously, a navigation through the whole media world and they need to take what they're doing online and spread it and they need to broaden what they're doing online as well. -Yeah. So what's your view with the music industry now? -We're gonna start a music company as well. All Def Music will be music from, you know, people. We're gonna curate and build out a multichannel network and we're gonna help people, you know, build their own and that's gonna be part of our process. So, the music thing-- we just partnered, but we haven't announced it yet, but we just announced today our partnerships, so-- -Right. -only one announcement a day, right? But I think it's important that people nurture them too. I think the record companies, they don't realize it's a 360 business. I'm an entrepreneur. I used to look at the contracts that artists would break even, though I left the record business. So, they wanna own a piece of your snicker. Well, they don't make snickers. They wanna own a piece of your film cut work, but they don't know how to produce a film. They wanna do TV with you, but they don't really know anything about television. They're kind of a stagnant business. It's not entrepreneurial. -Uh huh. -There's people who work in a record-- it's still called the record business. I mean, they have a little-- So, I think that there's a music to exploit people's position in the music business or a brand in the music business, broaden their brand and music for all the people wanna be is a business, but it's not really been monetized in the ways that-- I'm sure there are ways to monetize music that are coming and there's always new ones, but, you know, until they figure out how to monetize music, they're not a 360 business. -Right. -Yeah. -Are you fans of Spotify, Pandora? These services seem great for consumers but musicians. -I think that, you know, the musicians themselves can find ways to monetize and they direct more and the brick-and-mortar system that the music business has at this moment is not benefiting, but as music gets exposed, more artists should get, you know, greater benefit and they will. -And so what's it all looked like a couple of years from now? -I can't-- I'm not-- That's a question I'm not sitting to try to analyze everyday. I don't see every innovation that comes in, that-- -Yeah, yeah. -pushes. So, I [unk] and say why don't you talk to these guys. They're like we won't talk to him. I said okay. And I was-- by that time, I was almost done. So, you know, I saw it. I remember that this is kind of a stagnant, but they learned a little bit, I guess. After iTunes and all these things kicked their ass, they learned. -They were forced. -Yeah. -They were forced, desperation. -Yeah. -Look, you've done so many different kinds of businesses. Is there a thread that ties them together? -Well, my partner, Brian, what he built with Awesomeness is not to be-- it's unbelievable and I think that what's gonna happen online is gonna really have synergistic value for anything that I do and it already-- they have [unk] that company. I do have a content company, which I built up over the last few years called Global Grind and I see this thread is next to America and that company is a proof of concept, but there is this integration and business core community that needs to be spoken to, but not segregated. So, I'm already doing that and I think that's what I'm looking to do now with ADD. -Okay. There's so much more, but unfortunately, we are out of time. -I didn't say nothing. He's-- -You know-- He was welcome to jump in. -Sorry. -It's okay. -He's-- I'm sorry. -All right. I'm excited. Thank you. -Thanks. -Thank you Russell Simmons and Brian Robbins. Thanks so much for being here. We'll take a quick break and CNET UK's Jason Jenkins will be here with the panel he calls The British are Coming! Stay tuned.

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