Music Mogul Russell Simmons Is Accused of Rape by 3 Women
Posted December 13, 2017 8:21 p.m. EST
In 1995, Drew Dixon was working her dream job as an executive at Def Jam Recordings, helping to oversee a chart-topping album and a ubiquitous single by Method Man and Mary J. Blige. But as her star rose, Dixon, then 24, was spiraling into depression, she said, because of prolonged and aggressive sexual harassment by her direct supervisor, Russell Simmons, the rap mogul and co-founder of the label.
On work calls, he would talk graphically about how she aroused him. At a staff meeting, he asked her to sit on his lap. He regularly exposed his erect penis to her. Late that year, Simmons raped her in his downtown Manhattan apartment, Dixon said. She quit Def Jam soon after.
“I was broken,” she said.
In recent interviews, four women spoke on the record about a pattern of violent sexual behavior by Simmons, disclosing incidents from 1988 to 2014. Three of the women say he raped them.
In each case, numerous friends and associates said they were told of the incidents at the time. The women said they were inspired to come forward in the aftermath of the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, as victims’ stories have been newly elevated and more often believed.
Told in detail about the rape accusations and other misconduct, Simmons, 60, said in a statement: “I vehemently deny all these allegations. These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual.”
He added: “I have enormous respect for the women’s movement worldwide and their struggle for respect, dignity, equality and power.”
Last month, Simmons — a forefather of hip-hop who went on to great success in fashion, media and more — apologized for being “thoughtless and insensitive” and announced he was stepping down from his companies after screenwriter Jenny Lumet became the second woman to publicly accuse him of sexual assault at the time.
“I have re-dedicated myself to spiritual learning, healing and working on behalf of the communities to which I have devoted my life,” he said in his statement Wednesday. “I have accepted that I can and should get dirt on my sleeves if it means witnessing the birth of a new consciousness about women.
“What I will not accept is responsibility for what I have not done. I have conducted my life with a message of peace and love. Although I have been candid about how I have lived in books and interviews detailing my flaws, I will relentlessly fight against any untruthful character assassination that paints me as a man of violence.” The most powerful men and companies in popular music have thus far gone largely unscathed in the national reckoning over sexual abuse. A major reason: Sex and debauchery are built into the music industry, where the boundaries between work and play blur in late nights at clubs and studios, and many women have scant power or incentive to complain about being mistreated.
These women still face powerful industry gatekeepers like Simmons, whose pedigree and ability to make or break careers allowed his abusive behavior to go unchallenged for decades, his accusers contend. “Russell was like the king of hip-hop,” Dixon said.
Dixon said she was later harassed by another boss, L.A. Reid, the music legend known for his work with TLC and Mariah Carey, driving her from a business where women had little autonomy. In a statement to The New York Times, Reid did not address the specific claims but apologized if his words were “misinterpreted.”
Black women, especially, felt powerless against Simmons and his cohort in the small world of urban music, with several saying that misconduct against them could go unchecked because their place in the industry was so tenuous. They feared being ostracized, or worse.
Three of the women now accusing Simmons were pursuing careers in the music industry that they said were disrupted or derailed in part by their experiences with him.
“I didn’t sing for almost a year,” said Tina Baker, a performer who said Simmons raped her in the early ‘90s, when he was her manager. “The second he agreed to work with me, my budget increased, the label was paying more attention to me,” Baker recalled. But after the assault, she said, “I went into oblivion.”
‘He Pushed Me on the Bed’
First known as a hyperactive party promoter turned manager from Queens who helped boost Run-DMC, Simmons was among the first to view hip-hop as a big business and cultural force. In 1983, with producer Rick Rubin, he made Def Jam the defining rap label of its era, with hits by the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Public Enemy.
Even after Simmons sold his remaining stake in Def Jam for a reported $100 million in 1999, he served as an ambassador for hip-hop through comedy (“Def Comedy Jam”), clothing (Phat Farm) and activism. Today, his company Rush Communications oversees an array of businesses and nonprofits, including the politically minded media company Global Grind.
In 1987, Toni Sallie, a music journalist for the trade magazine Black Radio Exclusive, met Simmons while on assignment. She found him to be a charming, if gruff, playboy. They ended up going on a few dates before Sallie, then 28, decided they were not a match.
But the two remained cordial, Sallie said, and in the fall of 1988, Simmons invited her to his Manhattan apartment for a party he said he was hosting for his girlfriend. When Sallie arrived, the place was empty except for Simmons, she recalled. Saying he wanted to show her the apartment, Simmons led her to his bedroom.
“He pushed me on the bed and jumped on top of me and physically attacked me,” she said. “We were fighting. I said no.” He raped her, she said. Two friends, Sheila Brody and Arlene Hirschkowitz, and a colleague confirmed that Sallie told them about the assault around the time it happened.
Through his lawyer, Brad D. Rose, Simmons acknowledged that he had dated Sallie but denied any nonconsensual sex.
Sallie said she was too afraid to report the assault: “If I went to the police, I didn’t know how that would turn out.”
She also worried about her burgeoning career. “You have to understand, I was very much in a man’s game,” Sallie said. “Black women were just starting to break into the field.”
About a year later, at a music conference in South Florida, Sallie, who was then working for Warner Bros. Records, said she encountered Simmons in a hotel lobby. When he tried to lead her to a dark beach, she resisted and he attacked her, grabbing her by the hair, she said, and even chasing her into the women’s restroom before she escaped to her room, where she barricaded the door. (“At no time did Mr. Simmons conduct himself inappropriately,” Rose said.)
To this day, Sallie said, “I don’t feel comfortable in a room full of men.” Music executives she told about the hotel incident brushed it off, she added. “I felt alone for 29 years,” she said, “like nobody would listen to me.”
Following the reports of alleged misconduct by Simmons in November, Sallie said she contacted the Manhattan district attorney’s office to accuse him.
A law enforcement official confirmed that a woman contacted the district attorney’s office to report an incident from 1988 and added that a different anonymous woman had recently reported an incident from 1991. The official said the incidents had occurred so long ago that the statute of limitations had lapsed and the crimes had not been prosecuted. There are no details about the woman from the 1991 incident.
But the official said the women had been referred to the New York Police Department’s Special Victims squad so that there would be a record of their complaints if more recent allegations were to emerge.
‘I Shut My Eyes and Waited for It to End’
Baker, the singer, thought Simmons could elevate her career as her new manager. She had performed as a backup vocalist for Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, and, as Tina B, released pop and dance records in the 1980s.
One night in late 1990 or early 1991, she ran into Simmons at a club, and he invited her back to his apartment to discuss her career. “I didn’t think anything of going,” Baker said, having been there many times without incident.
This time, though, “it all got really ugly, pretty fast,” Baker said. As soon as they entered, Simmons started pouring drinks and trying to kiss her, leading to a scuffle, she said. She recalled “him on top of me, pushing me down and him saying, ‘Don’t fight me,'” Baker said. She was pinned on the bed. “I did nothing, I shut my eyes and waited for it to end.”
She cried the whole way home, she said. In interviews and email, her ex-husband, Arthur Baker, a music producer; her psychologist, Dr. Robin Goldberg; another therapist; and a former roommate all confirmed that she told them she was raped.
Simmons, through his lawyer, said he had “no recollection of ever having any sexual relations with Ms. Baker.”
After the assault, Baker remained tethered to Simmons professionally, she said. She returned to his apartment for a meeting; Simmons liked to conduct business while working out in his penthouse. But as soon as he stopped exercising, she said, he pulled out his penis and moved toward her. She fled. Amid strife with her label, she tried to extricate herself from her contract with Simmons, she said, but he ignored her. Her music — two years’ worth of songwriting and recording — languished. “I went into a deep depression,” she said, and her recording career foundered.
Simmons said he “did everything he could to professionally promote her career” while Baker was signed to a label and then stopped representing her, according to his lawyer.
The events took a heavy toll on her romantic relationships. “I didn’t have sex with a man for almost nine years,” said Baker, now a lawyer. “I went into a cocoon.”
‘I Was Cornered’
Drew Dixon left Stanford University in 1992 to join the hip-hop revolution.
After about two years on the fringes of the business, Dixon — whose mother, Sharon Pratt, was mayor of Washington, D.C., from 1991 until 1995 — had a professional breakthrough: Simmons, whom she had met through friends, was looking for a new A&R executive at Def Jam to scout talent and coordinate hit records.
She said he was a decadent figure, complete with a Rolls-Royce — the “living, breathing personification of hip-hop and glamour mixed up” — and his sexual advances started right away and became relentless. At a restaurant, Simmons pushed Dixon into a broom closet, she said, and tried to kiss her. At work, he would close the door to her office and expose himself, leading her to give a copy of her key to a male co-worker.
“I was like: ‘If I ever buzz you, don’t pick up, don’t call me back — just open my door. That means Russell is in here and he whipped his'” penis out, she said.
Through his lawyer, Simmons acknowledged that he engaged in “inappropriate conduct” with Dixon while she worked at Def Jam.
Fending him off “was a full-time job,” Dixon said. “It was exhausting. It was like making a record while swimming in rough seas.”
At the same time, Dixon knew Simmons valued her expertise. She had an ear for emerging talent, even bringing a rising Notorious B.I.G. to the office.
“I didn’t want to cut off my one conduit to having any hope of a career,” she said. “I thought if I could survive long enough to have a hit — a real bona fide hit with my name on it — I would move categories,” from sexual object to respected colleague.
In 1995, Dixon thought she had found her lifeline. Her first major project — a soundtrack for the music documentary “The Show,” featuring Tupac and A Tribe Called Quest — went platinum. She and Simmons were listed as executive producers.
One night, as she left the Bowery Bar near Simmons’ apartment to get cab money from an ATM, she ran into him. “You have the No. 1 record in the country; I’ll order you a car,” she recalled him saying.
Waiting for the ride, she let her guard down and entered his apartment. “I remember realizing I was cornered,” said Dixon, who said she rejected Simmons’ sexual advances that night directly — “many ways to say no” — as well as explaining that she had just had a gynecological procedure and could not have sex. He told her he didn’t care, she said, “and I just blacked out.”
“The last thing I remember was him pinning me down to kiss me on the bed,” she said. The next thing she recalled was being in Simmons’ hot tub, both of them naked and Simmons gleeful. (Dixon said she had not been drinking and did not think she had been drugged; rather, she said, she had disassociated from the experience.)
Denise Gayle, a friend who was then staying with Dixon, recalled her coming home in a daze. “She pretty much told me right away that he had sexually assaulted her, that she had told him no, cried and that he didn’t seem to be interested in stopping,” Gayle said. “She mentally deteriorated instantly.” Three others confirmed that Dixon told them about the assault and harassment around that time.
Simmons “emphatically states that he did not have sex with her,” his lawyer said. Soon after, Dixon said she composed her resignation letter to Def Jam by hand, humiliated and in a panic, crossing out her mistakes rather than starting again. “I was going to give up,” she said.
Dixon considered escaping to graduate school. But the success of “The Show” soundtrack had made her taste a commodity, and she started at Arista Records, as an A&R executive under Clive Davis, in 1996. She enjoyed more success, helping to orchestrate smash singles like Whitney Houston’s “My Love Is Your Love,” Aretha Franklin’s “A Rose Is Still a Rose,” and Santana’s “Maria Maria.”
But even at Arista, the long shadow of Def Jam remained, partly over a dispute about what she said were unpaid business expenses. Dixon hired a lawyer and threatened to sue Simmons for sexual harassment, as well as outstanding bills from the label. In 1997, the parties settled out of court. Rose, Simmons’ lawyer, confirmed the settlement.
Dixon said she accepted about $30,000 — around $3,000 for the expenses and the rest for legal fees — and stayed quiet. “I was like, ‘I do not want to be famous for being sexually harassed by Russell Simmons,'” Dixon said, citing the lingering criticism of black women like Anita Hill, and Desiree Washington, who accused Mike Tyson of rape. “I want to make records and be famous for that.”
Dixon hoped to move on with her career at Arista. But in 2000, L.A. Reid replaced Davis atop the label. Reid began sexualizing her, Dixon said, and would turn cold when she denied his unwanted overtures.
Dixon said she tried to parry his come-ons as best she could without offending him. But when she openly defied his demands — declining his invitation to meet him late at night at his hotel; wearing jeans when he insisted on skirts — she worried that her artists would receive short shrift.
“It was a quid pro quo: ‘I have power, you want access, sleep with me — or I’m going to be really mean to you the next day. And there will be consequences,'” she said.
Reid left this year as the chairman of Epic Records following accusations of sexual harassment. Told in detail of Dixon’s allegations this week, he said in a statement to The Times: “I’m proud of my track record promoting, supporting and uplifting women at every company I’ve ever run. That notwithstanding, if I have ever said anything capable of being misinterpreted, I apologize unreservedly.”
In 2002, at the top of her game, Dixon left the music industry for Harvard Business School. She concluded that no matter how many hits she had, “I could not have success in this industry unless I slept with somebody — a gatekeeper,” she said. “And the fact that I would be doing it to advance my career, I would hate myself.”
‘The Truth Is Coming Out’
Post-Def Jam, Simmons rebranded his image from high-rolling modelizer, partying with Donald Trump and Naomi Campbell, to “Uncle Rush,” a spiritual yogi and elder statesman. He released books like “Success Through Stillness” and “The Happy Vegan,” while focusing on philanthropy and political advocacy.
Dixon said that years after her experience with Simmons at Def Jam, he apologized to her at an industry event. “He said, ‘I have daughters and I do yoga now, Drew, and I know what I did was wrong, and I’m sorry,'” Dixon said.
Yet this Simmons is not the one that Christina Moore said she encountered in Miami at Art Basel in 2014. Moore, who was 26 at the time, and a friend bumped into Simmons in the elevator of Soho Beach House.
The women were meeting friends at a bar there but were lost, Moore said. Simmons suggested he knew where to go. Moore and her friend followed him; he led them to his room. “I felt duped,” she said.
Immediately, Simmons began to run a bath, Moore said, and then pushed her up against a column in the room — “hands all over my body, up and down,” she said. “I felt assaulted.” He told Moore that she was a bad girl and threatened to tie her up, she said. Moore and her friend bolted.
Simmons recalled meeting Moore and her friend. He said the women followed him to his room of their own accord and asked him about getting into parties. His lawyer said running the bath was Simmons’ “signal to Moore and her friend to leave.” He denied any misconduct.
The whole interaction lasted about five minutes, Moore said, but it stayed with her. “I felt a lot of shame and guilt at ending up in that situation,” she said.
When reports of Simmons’ alleged sexual misconduct began circulating, Moore grew more alarmed and decided to come forward. “I would hate to think what would have happened if I were alone,” she said.
Baker, too, spent years feeling guilt over how she handled the situation with Simmons. After the Weinstein revelations, “I started to get very agitated and emotional,” Baker said, scanning for mentions of misconduct by Simmons. She concluded that she had a “moral duty” to tell her story.
Sallie said speaking out was a form of affirmation, and relief. “I still cry,” she said. But, she added: “I’m happy that the truth is coming out. I’m ready.”
The professional price Dixon paid was steep, she said. She cannot listen to the taste-shifting music she helped create; it’s too emotionally taxing. Her promising career was curtailed, her ear for talent wasted.
“I gave up something that I loved to do,” she said. “I erased myself.”
Now, “I want people to know why.”