Russell Simmons grew up in Queens, around the changing culture from disco to hip hop of the late 1970s and into the the breakdancing phenomenon of the 1980s. From then forward, Simmons emerged himself in urban culture; in gangs and hip hop.
In 1984, Def Jam was created by Russel Simmons and Rick Ruban to provide rappers in New York a record label so they would be respected for their craft. Today, Def Jam represents artists such as Nas, Iggy Azalea and Big Sean. But, alongside the growing empire of music artists, Simmons had another passion that lied among urban culture, comedy and skits that tailored to the inner city community. So, Def Comedy Jam was born.
On March 7, 1992 Bill Bellamy, Laura Hayes, Gigorge, and Ted Carpenter performed their standup skits in front of the first Def Comedy Jam audience. The HBO show was the first show on television to highlight comedians that were primarily minority race. Def Comedy Jam upon release was highly criticized for the language (read the NYT’s article titled, The Curse of the Incessant Cursing), due to the use of urban language from the individuals on stage.
Several comedians got their start on the DCJ stage including Tracy Morgan, Kevin Hart and Dave Chapelle. Because of Russell Simmons’ desire and drive to bring his native neighborhood, comedy and the hip hop industry could be drastically different today.
2017 marks 25 years since that first numbingly hilarious episode premiered, so to celebrate the innovative mind of Russell Simmons, an award show-inspired event was held to reflect back on the series that moved African American culture into the mainstream media. Guests included comedians of the original show like Adele Givens to say thank you to Simmons and briefly make us laugh by recreating their original skits, such as “I’m a fucking lady!” or the famous Michael Jackson impersonation by Eddie Griffin.
You can watch the 25th anniversary special of Def Comedy Jam on Netflix now, see the trailer below.
Photo courtesy of Variety.