When he got his first check for “Christmas Rappin’” is when Russell Simmons finally moved out of his parents’ house. Kurtis Blow had done the actual Christmas rappin’, but Simmons had brokered the deal. It was the first rap song ever released by a major label, only the third released by any kind of label at all. That alone made it a novelty; that it was also about Christmas made it novelty cubed. Thirty-five years later, that’s the status it retains. Christmas raps are still a novelty, and this, of course, is still the first. But what it opened the way for was something so much larger and more substantial.
Today he’s renowned as the co-founder of the Def Jam empire, but back in 1978, when he first met the Billboard writer Robert “Rocky” Ford, Simmons was nothing more than a local party promoter from out of Queens, looked down upon by hip-hop insiders from rap’s red-hot centers of Harlem and the Bronx. This meeting—which Simmons in his memoir Life and Def calls “[m]y first positive encounter with the recording industry,” as well as “my most important”—occurred when Ford got curious about all the “Rush Productions” stickers he’d been seeing on his commute home to Queens.