Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Russell Simmons & Carl Wilson

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Slowing Down "Rush": Russell Simmons on Building Hip Hop, Authenticity, and Finding Stillness

Russell Simmons is one of the few people that can honestly say he helped build hip hop. He was an entrepreneur early on, promoting parties and hustling fake cocaine when he was still a college student in the late 1970s. He was there one night at the Charles Gallery, when the headliner DJ Easy G brought on a local rapper, and Simmons felt Eddie Cheeba work the crowd into a frenzy.

It was his first real introduction to hip hop, and he could see that it would be more than just a passing fad. He went on to co-found the music label Def Jam Recordings with Rick Rubin and build a roster of hugely successful hip hop artists, starting with a teenage LL Cool J and the punk rock-turned-hip hop group The Beastie Boys. Simmons worked hard to build sustainable brands for his artists, and took pride in their authenticity. And he wasn't content to focus on music -- his ambition led him to create an empire, expanding into fashion, television, film, journalism, finance, and philanthropy.

Simmons' abundance of energy helped earn him the nickname "Rush", but he says he owes much of his success to inner tranquility and stillness. He's practiced yoga and meditation for over fifteen years, and in his book, Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple, Simmons seeks to demystify meditation for the average person, and explain its link to personal and professional growth.

He joins us to talk about the pivotal moment that he heard Eddie Cheeba and found himself sold on hip hop, building Def Jam, leaving drugs behind for yoga and meditation and finding inner stillness.

This interview originally aired in 2014.

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How We Decide What's Good... and What's Bad: Carl Wilson on Celine Dion and the Nature of Taste

Carl Wilson is a music critic. His job is to tell people why certain music is good, and why other music isn't. You could call him a tastemaker. But he started to wonder. How does taste even work? To find out, he immersed himself in the music, life and fandom of Celine Dion.

Wilson is the author of Let's Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste, a reissued and expanded version of the book he published in 2007. It's about Celine and her bestselling album from 1997, but more importantly it's an exploration of why we like some music and hate other music. Wilson's journey made him question how we place value on art, and has affected the way he approaches his work in music criticism.

He talks about Dion's Quebecois background (and why it matters), how she and her music relate to "coolness," and why experiencing a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas helped open him up to her true appeal.

Looking for Rich Juzwiak's "Celine Dion is Amazing" compilation video mentioned in the interview? We'll save you a Google search.

This interview originally aired in 2014.

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The Outshot: East Side Story

You probably know what a low rider is. But what do you know about low rider oldies? Jesse talks about the perfect music for driving low and slow.

This segment originally aired in 2014.

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Comments

absolutely blew my mind

I've never listened to your program before but when I heard the Celine Dion piece (that I understand ran in 2014), I was amazed, truly amazed at the arrogance and smugness of Carl Wilson. This actually would have made great parody or an improv skit mocking the self-proclaimed arbiter of taste who rarely is anyone who you'd want to hang out with. Having listened to the whole segment, though, I think the show actually and truly was meant to be serious. Carl Wilson as the judge of what is bad or good taste is like someone telling everyone else, "no, really I am cool." What a jerk. And shame on you for this travesty. It was basically a show mocking a whole demographic, not to mention a sensitive and talented woman, behind a thin veneer of acting like you were discovering some merit in Ms. Dion and her fans. News flash: they don't need your validation. She is not my taste, but she and her fans deserves respect as people. Smug, smug, smug -- not to mention dripping in hubris. Just who the hell do you people think you are.

absolutely blew my mind

I've never listened to your program before but when I heard the Celine Dion piece (that I understand ran in 2014), I was amazed, truly amazed at the arrogance and smugness of Carl Wilson. This actually would have made great parody or an improv skit mocking the self-proclaimed arbiter of taste who rarely is anyone who you'd want to hang out with. Having listened to the whole segment, though, I think the show actually and truly was meant to be serious. Carl Wilson as the judge of what is bad or good taste is like someone telling everyone else, "no, really I am cool." What a jerk. And shame on you for this travesty. It was basically a show mocking a whole demographic, not to mention a sensitive and talented woman, behind a thin veneer of acting like you were discovering some merit in Ms. Dion and her fans. News flash: they don't need your validation. She is not my taste, but she and her fans deserves respect as people. Smug, smug, smug -- not to mention dripping in hubris. Just who the hell do you people think you are.