Looky Who I Met Yesterday

I attended a Russell Simmons book signing event last night at my old stomping grounds, Books & Books, and it was fascinating to watch. Here’s a somewhat lengthy account of what transpired, an edited version of this will appear later today on Riptide, the Miami New Times blog. And in case some of y’all didn’t know, I’m also the calendar editor there. Holla at me if you’re throwing a local event!

Some came dressed in club girl chic, barely-there dresses and look-at-me attitude. Some came in show-stopping hip hop gear, designed to demonstrate street cred. Everyone came with their business face on. Russell Simmons was about to be in the house, and the vibe at Books & Books was electric last night.

By 7:00 p.m., anticipation hung low and thick in the air. Simmons was already 20 minutes late for the televised interview he’d agreed to give NBC 6, and his event was scheduled to start. There was a crowd of fans, all clutching copies of Simmons’s latest book, Do You: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success. In order to meet Mr. Simmons, they needed to purchase a copy of the book at the counter first. Some fans weren’t feeling that. “He ain’t reading? He ain’t talkin? Forget it,” shrugged a young, dreadlocked dude as he turned away and left. For every one of him, there were at least two more ready to buy a copy.

Suddenly, he stood before me, wearing a faded blue teeshirt, jeans, and smiling that familiar smile as he apologized profusely to the Books & Books staff for his tardiness. I beamed with recognition. “Hey,” I said before Russell Simmons was whisked away. I followed the crowd into the store, where he was being spruced up for the television interview. They posed him in front of a sign that features a giant book cover, and proudly announces that Simmons’ tour is sponsored by Cadillac. Simmons asked his marketing manager: “Is this going to be a q-and-a session?” When the answer was no, he sighed in relief. I stood off to the side, pen and notepad in hand. He looked over at me.
“Hey, whatcha writing?” he asked.
“Any words of wisdom?” I replied, hopefully.
Simmons pointed over to the marketing dude. “He says there aren’t going to be any,” he replied with a wicked smile.
“I’m sure you’ll come up with something,”I responded.
By now, the eyes of the room were on me: That girl, with the notepad. She talked to Russell! She must be someone important! At least, I assume that’s what people were thinking  because shortly after, at least four people gave me their business cards, and asked me which magazine I worked for.

Note to the television reporter — watching the man’s prior interviews would have given you better insight as to what questions to NOT ask. Simmons just had a dust-up over at NPR of all places, and every reporter from Miami to Madagascar has asked him the same, exact questions. Even the CEO of hip hop gets tired of talking about bitches and hoes sometime. Needless to say, questions about Simmons book came at the beginning of the interview, and he grinned and pontificated about being a better contributor to the world, tapping into the peace of God that is within all of us, the connections that exist between all humankind. Then came the obvious questions about rappers, clean versions, banned words, and Don Imus. Russell shut that down quick. “When we see a rapper and notice the misogyny in his songs, we never look at ourselves and notice that we live in a totally misogynistic society,” he rebutted. He likened 50 Cent and Eminem to poets and painters who have always sought to express the realities of their lives. Then it was on to the fans and all of those books that needed signing.

A beautiful woman in a dress that was hardly there approaches the table first. She presses him for time, a commitment of some sort. Her eyes are pleading and her smile is bright and intermittent, like the camera flashes that illuminate the room. “Russell, I’ve been calling you all day,” she says. He commiserates with her briefly, placates her, signs a stack of her books, and she is gone. The crush of people swells as fans stream in with their books in one hand, their dreams in another. The entourage goes into action mode. One cool brother from Atlanta instructs fans to open their books to the signing page. He provides them with bookmarks that advertise Russell Simmons Jewelry. An assistant in a pink Baby Phat shirt stands besides Russell. Her job is to take all of the items that fans thrust at him, and place them in a shopping bag under the table. And everyone’s got something to give. CD’s, bound proposals, books, business cards.
“I’ve got SO many business cards,” cackles the cool brother from Atlanta.
“He personally goes through everything,” his marketing manager reassures me. I want to believe him. I curse myself out for not yet having an Afrobella business card.

One very intense gentleman presses a heavy bag of folded garments at him. “Nah, this is too much!” Russell protests. “I’ve come a long way to give this to you,” the man insists, sliding the bag towards him. One mother instructs her reluctant son to bust a freestyle.

After the fans get their books signed, many of them don’t want to leave. They stand off to the side, taking pictures, gawking, giggling. The room is practically packed. By this time, I’m standing at the back, next to three members of Russell’s entourage, all of whom are wearing the very distinctive Simmons green bracelet. They are cackling at those who have come in hopes of a handout. Simmons latest girl, the gorgeous model Denise Vasi, (** edited at 7:06 p.m.: Denise Vasi herself contacted me to contradict this statement. She was NOT in Miami last night. Also, she is not Russell Simmons’ girlfriend. Apologies, Denise!)

A gorgeous, golden skinned, green eyed model type sits next to a large gentleman who takes time between texting on his Blackberry to make snarky asides about the fans. She is wearing grey heels that look like works of art. She comes across as disinterested and self-possessed. Which is fine, she’s absolutely stunning and perhaps that comes with the territory. I didn’t get annoyed until I actually saw her roll her eyes dismissively at a hard-working Books & Books staff member, who apologized for blocking her view. I wondered to myself, are these the people that zen-master Russell Simmons chooses to surround himself with? Every day? The energy I felt from him was so positive. A wave of disappointment washes over me. I watch the model and two other entourage members make faces and laugh at people until almost all of the fans have left. Then it’s my moment in the spotlight. I’m being invited to take a picture with Russell.

I sit beside him as he signs a stack of books, which will be available for sale tomorrow. He smiles at me, and we pose for a picture. “I’m gonna post this on my website,” I tell him. “Really? What’s your website?” he asks. “Afrobella.com,” I respond, but he’s already turned away. I am suddenly shy, my hands are sweating. “I saw you on Bill Maher,” I begin, and he wrinkles his nose. “That was a bad interview,” he says. (Yes it was; the two couldn’t stop talking over each other). I press on. “And I heard about the NPR thing,” I continue. He laughs out loud. “That was even worse,” he says. “Well, how do you deal with that? With so many people coming to you with their own agenda? Asking you the same thing over and over?” He looks at me for a moment, Sharpie in hand, still signing as he considers an answer. Then he shrugs. “I don’t know. I definitely could have handled it better,” he replies, before another assistant draws his attention away from me. And just like that, it’s over. They whisk him out of the store, to the rental car, to the private plane, and on to the next city.

** Big thanks, love, and respect to everyone at Books & Books, and Susie J. Horgan, who took the picture of Russell smiling. I am greasy as hell in that first photo, damn. And Russell looks like he’s about to fall asleep.

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Comments

  1. Sisreese says:

    You look fab Bella!!! Work it Gurl!!! ;)

  2. Afrobella,

    You look fabulous. No worries because you have a glow not grease. Afrobellas aren’t greasy. Lol! I love your critique about Russel’s choice of entourage. It seems like the zen, vegan Russel would choose more Bohemian womyn. I am glad that you represented for the real beautiful, curvy, and intelligent Afrobellas. I am proud of you. Thank you sistah!

    -Sophia

  3. afrobello says:

    I CANNOT STAND this man’s rhetoric. He is an apologist for all the poison in hip hop from artists his empire must associate with to give it street cred. I saw the Bill Maher interview too, and it wasn’t a problem due to simultaneous chatter. The point at which Simmons slipped up and called a business associate a nigger was the low point I remember. His book is immaterial to me. I have to look at MYSELF to explain some dime-a-dozen rapper’s need to call women bitches and hoes? Oh, this “misogynistic society” is now MY fault, so their words should be quite common place (even in the mouths of children, from my experience). I wish you could issue idiots with a gag order just for the hell of it. We could call it “Russell’s Law.”

  4. You look great. Is his book any good?

  5. Karra – ha! Of course Russell had to ask me that too: “have you read the book?” No, not yet.

    Afrobello – I totally forgot about that in the Bill Maher interview! Oh no, that means that I’m gonna have to listen to it again. And I feel you, I think the days when rap was truly the “CNN of the streets” have passed, and the excuse of rap reflecting true life isn’t true for most of these cats anymore. But then all there is left to talk about is materialism and boastfulness. I’m ready for someone to come out of left field, with lyrics that really mean something. I want mainstream hip hop to not be as light and weightless as cotton candy. I still believe that a change is gonna come.

  6. I must really have a one track mind these days. I saw your pictures and read your article and all I could think was “Wow her hair cut is great!” haha! Is that your same DevaCurl haircut just growing out? It really looks fabulous and compliments your face shape nicely.

  7. bella, you look gorgeous! thanks for the real coverage for those that couldn’t be there, but could really get a sense through your article. his entourage laughing at people that keep them fed! hmph!

  8. I just want to add that I really wrestled with the entourage paragraph. I stood right next to them with a pad and pen in my hand, and I was really surprised. But I don’t want the bored antics of a few to reflect on Mr. Simmons himself, or the messages he was trying to deliver. He was very nice to me, and I appreciated being able to drink it all in.

  9. What a great time with Russell! I saw that you also did a review of Sweet Honeys in the Rock. Are you interested in doing any other music reviews, like Mandisa’s new album?

  10. Russell’s THE MAN. Hip Hop wouldn’t be where it is without pple like Russell who took it from the streets to the corporate world. Hip Hop isn’t dead, its just branched out into so many forms thats its become hard to keep track of. Thanks to pple like Yaris who are keeping the elements alive with their dj vs dj battle going on in a few cities including ATL, and is giving young Djs the chance to do their thing & get some paper at the same time. For more on this event check out http://www.yarisversusyaris.com/. I work with them thats how i know.

  11. WOW. So I’ve been contacted by Denise Vasi, who assures me that she was NOT the woman in question yesterday, and I was wrong to say those things about her. My sincerest apologies to Denise, I stared at this girl for a long time and I was pretty convinced that it was, in fact, her. This woman is just as beautiful, golden skinned, and green eyed. So my sincerest apologies, and I will edit this post as soon as I can. I guess more people read my site than I thought!

  12. MochaSiren says:

    Afrobella,

    Don’t worry, you looked great. What I can never understand is why Russell Simmons always looks so old and possibly sickly in all the photos I’ve seen in recent years. What is he? Late forties or 50, 51 tops? Plus, I heard him in interviews talk about his yoga and eating well so…what’s up?

  13. You have such a lovely smile Bella, and your hair looks nice too.

    I bothered that Russel is surronded by negative people as he professes to live such a zenand peaceful lifestyle but then again, no one is an angel.

    Maybe this is why he is having trouble puting his foot down with the rappers who rap about things which are in oposition to his spirtuality(sp).

    Good post dear

  14. Girl you look good. Thanks for the report, I felt like I was in the bookstore with you.

  15. i hate judging ppl period, but i must say he does come across as being flaky. im an avid listner of NPR and i kinda liked how the interview went. she pretty much asked the right questions. he cant expect to be preaching this holistic-granola talk as they call it, and still carrying on like a fool..come on now !!

  16. Ms Stella says:

    Afrobella, you look great. Do strangers ever touch your hair? I would never do that but, you have that hair that makes me want to just reach out and touch it.

    Your post on the Russell Simmons book signing was very insightful. However, I struggle with Russell. I’m sure he’s a complex individual so you can’t sum him up in one blog entry. Anyway, I was hoping his reply to your questions about the Bill Maher and NPR interviews would be something a bit more profound.

    Regarding the model girlfriend that wasn’t, maybe he travels with a decoy :).

  17. Hi, check out the new website for afro-women.
    The biggeset spanish online magazine for afro-women has just launched the first edition in English!

    have fun :-)

    http://en.caoba.org

  18. He looks as if he will remember you! even if you felt you were looking greasy…very proud of you & again it is good to see that you remember that without the Books and Books link you might not have been there at all…

    Get those business cards done & make them as special as you & this website so they stand out in people’s minds…

  19. BossipFolks says:

    If it wasn’t Denise Vasi, could it be….

    http://www.bossip.com/2357/is-blood-diamond-russ-hittin-this/

  20. seattlegal says:

    I have to agree – glow, girl. Nothing greasy looking about you. And the hair and makeup were lovely. I’m not buying the “rap” reflects the real world bit. None of the men I deal with use those terms like they are synonymous with female. At least they are smart enough not to do it when I’m around or if it will get back to me. If we don’t make it a point to challenge those assumptions and behaviors, no change will come. Thanks for all you do ‘bella.

  21. Wonderful Article Bella! I felt like I was there as a little fly on the wall. Nice Pics too!:)

  22. MochaSiren says:

    My personal assessment is that Bella wasn’t seeing things regarding Ms. V BUT I digress…LOL. If the sky is purple then I guess the sky is purple…;-)

  23. MochaSiren, BossipFolks… I am through with speculating as to the young lady’s identity! I communicated often with Denise Vasi yesterday, and she was super nice. The woman I stood near to was beautiful, green eyed, with honey colored skin, and she was wearing the Simmons green bracelet which to me indicated that she was part of the camp. But like I said, I got my hand smacked for reaching into the gossip jar once so I won’t be doing that again! Back to your typically positive Afrobella…

  24. Girl your hair and makeup was on point. You did the damn thang and loved your recap.

  25. Bella you looked FAB! Glad you at least got a chance to chat with him. Uncle Russy looks like he needs a steak and a good nap in that photo.

  26. Hi Bella,
    I think you look wonderful and the hair is the “BOMB”.
    The post about your meeting w/Russell, was a good read also….Bella, if I have a question where should I submitt it?

  27. byrdparker says:

    afro bella , you are wonderful writer and i love your hair … I think no need to write about him really, there’s nothing admirable there. bella if you want to know who the woman was go to bossip they have a photo of her with him ..

  28. I really look(ed) up to Russell Simmons, not just for his accomplishments in ghe music industry, but also for what seems like his commitment to veganism and other non-typical means of personal growth. (yoga, meditation, etc.) I love Run’s House and the dynamic Russell seems to have with his brother and his family. So this report, combined with the ‘blood diamonds’ fiasco, comes as a disapointment. Trully humble, grounded people do not chooose to surround themselves with assholes, and Russell has more than enough power to be able to be selective with his entourage.

  29. Can I just add right here that I am in love with Kimora’s ex-girlfriend, Kisha Batista? That woman is gorgeous.

  30. hey Bella,
    don’t beat yourself up over the mistaken identity. denise vassy looks just like the lady you described!

  31. Hey star! E mail me at bella@afrobella.com.

    D — I agree, he does have that power. But it occurs to me, maybe he doesn’t know. I’ve had some really low down people in my life, who I once thought of as friends. It takes a while, but eventually you can see everyone’s true colors if you look hard enough. And he was definitely batting even – I met three really great, smart employees of his. So the other two comedians who seemed to work for him and the lady who may not, don’t necessarily reflect on his humble or grounded nature as far as I see it.

  32. JUstMYwOrD says:

    I too watched the Bill Maher’s interveiw with Russell Simmons and agree that his use of the “N” word was where the conversation hit an all time low because of Russell’s undeniable contradictions. From reading your post Afrobella I see Simmon’s is staying true to form. As far as his entourage is concerned I think the old addege, “You’re known by the company you KEEP” would suffice. In response to his feeble attempts to advocate for the degredation being displayed by certain rappers in hip hop, his hypocrisy stinks to high heaven!! Misogyny isn’t the only problem in the lyrics!! The overall problem is apathy. Hip hop just doesn’t degrade women, it’s degrading to men as well, and it promotes materialism above the value of human life. Artist’s don’t glorify what they see, they portray what they see so others can interpret it’s value, that is not what some rappers in hip hop have done, they haven’t countered the problems they make money off of, they’ve compounded them and they are not artists in that sense of the word, they are just opportunists. If enlightment leads you to look down on others and see reaching out the same as a hand out, then keep your 12 steps to happiness Russell, cause it’s clear your only in it for the money. I’ve witnesses better points made by safety pins than your dizzying non-intellectual babble!

  33. MochaSiren says:

    Afrobella,

    I’m not really sure what to think about being lumped with a gossip website. I wasn’t even thinking in that mode when I made my comment. I was simply trying to offer support. I didn’t realize you had been “blasted” for a simple mistake.
    I don’t really care about this woman or Russell Simmons. He’s no “spokesperson” for anything to me. I’ve watched these “hip-hop” debates on various shows as most of us have. While it’s true that hip-hop itself is not be blamed for the monster that the record industry created, sometimes I just shake my head.
    I personally don’t consider hip-hop to be the musical representative for all black people or black music period. I was a teenager in the 80′s when hip-hop was first on the scene and at its best. What passes as “hip-hop” today is laughable.

  34. @UstMYwOrD – I could not have said it better myself. I think you start a blog.

  35. JUstMYwOrD says:

    Afro Noir-

    Thanks, I’m actually working on that. The only thing I would add to what I said, besides my apologies for the many typos (I go into hyper-type when I get worked up over an issue) is that I do not feel that the hip hop I see today is the same as hip hop the way I remember it growing up. We have definitely sold our souls and decided to become industry slaves rather than artists who portry a problem creatively and promote a positive reaction to a problem. Russell trying to justify the current condition of hip hop is irresponsible and just plain sickening.

  36. MochaSiren,
    I;m so sorry, it wasn’t my intention to “lump you in” with anyone — it’s just that it was easier to reply to both of those comments with the same answer. Yup, put on blast for a mistake, and I’ve learned my lesson. That’s what I get for trying to be Page Six. And I agree with you – a lot of the spirit’s gone out of the genre, it seems. I was just thinking about that when I was reading about Kanye West’s new album. I’ll definitely give it a listen, and when he first came on the scene I was so psyched to hear someone — anyone — with a fresh perspective. But it’s quickly devolved into money, hoes, and clothes again. I’ll just summarize this by saying I’ve been listening to A LOT of Stevie Wonder these days.

  37. JUstMYwOrD I’d love to read your blog! I’m all about more intelligence on the internet. If you’ve got questions, write to me at bella@afrobella.com and I’ll help you get started however I can!

  38. JUstMYwOrD says:

    Thanks Bella! Your offer is appreciated, I’ll be getting in touch real soon!

  39. berrybrowne says:

    as much as i love you bella, i really don’t love russell simmons. did you follow that whole “blood diamond” pr controversy? here they finally make a movie (not that it departed from the traditional hollywood Movie Made in Africa Starring White People format) about the horrors of the diamond trade and you’ve got simmons out in the media explaining away the gross discrepancies between the pennies the black Africans make on their diamond discoveries and the wealth hoarded by the diamond companies as a matter of salesmanship. are you kidding? plus (and i confess i didn’t follow up on this announcement) i read that he’d accepted money to be the diamond co.’s spokesperson to respond to the pushback they were getting after the movie. SO SO not a fan.

  40. Simmons does nothing for me. He’s a business man, and a good one and I can’t fault him for that. BUT I think that before you go around writing books to teach people to find their happiness, peace, enlightenment etc….you should be in a more peaceful and enlightened place yourself. Or at least figure out how to respond to the obvious disconnect between the yoga, vegan, centered place you profess to be in and the music to promote and the company you keep.

    Acknowledgement it all most want, but all Simmons seems to provide are excuses, scapegoats and psudo-history lessons wrapped in rudeness and self-righteousness.
    BTW afrobella – you look great!

  41. I’m not to fond of Russell Simmons but your hair looks hot girl!

  42. byrdparker says:

    Russel Simmons is just part of the machine , part of a disillusioned youth of american/ european rhetoric power = money . I saw the BM interview as well, and jmw u are on point . If you have a chance pick up the issue of sister 2 sister july issue , there is a great interview done by jaime , and some of the leading rap artists / r &b mothers . Jamie brings up the subject of language used in music today, i was not suprised by dichotic answers. We are now in a age of my turnism , money or morals?

  43. You are glowing in that picture! Just beautiful. Any tips on how to do that hair style?

  44. Not that my opinion matters to Russel but ever since the language in rap & hip/hop controversy started to a national discussion I have really not been liking Russel at all.

    I think he has sold his soul to the highest bidder!

    I saw the interview on Bill Maher & cracked up all the way through it because Bill was all over his ass. I also heard the interview on NPR (link: http://tinyurl.com/2n7keg) & he sounded like a damn fool & could not hold his own.

    I applaud Russel on all of his positive ventures no doubt but his star in my eyes is dimming.

    Lastly, I would dog him out for dating a woman like half his age but she is fine as hell so I shall not hate at this point.

    Bygbaby

  45. you do look fantastic! love it!

  46. Honey-Libra says:

    Now that had to be interesting. Good job!!

  47. I don’t know that much about Russell (I know, I know), but you looked great bella!

  48. This was a great recap, and Bella you are a glowing/afrocentricly/hot sista!

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  1. [...] I attended a Russell Simmons book signing event last night at my old stomping grounds, Books & Books, and it was fascinating to watch … was about to be in the house, and the vibe at Books & Books was electric last night. By 7:00 p.m. source: Looky Who I Met Yesterday, afrobella [...]

  2. [...] Look who Bella met earlier this week [AfroBella] [...]

  3. [...] Look who Bella met earlier this week [AfroBella] [...]

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