On the eve of his Chicago Bulls Gala appearance, Rev Run talks rap, reality TV and his real-world wisdom.
Joseph Simmons, aka Rev Run, is the kind of celebrity who means something different to everyone. To hip-hop fans and those who came of age in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he’s one-third of Run-DMC, one of the most influential rap groups of all time. To MTV viewers and those who grew up in the 2000s, he’s the patriarch from “Run’s House,” the reality series that ran on the network from 2005-09. To some of today’s youth he’s a beacon of spirituality, a Pentecostal reverend who speaks at religious institutions and colleges. To others, he’s simply known as the father of burgeoning rapper (and teen heartthrob) Diggy Simmons. And the hits just keep coming: He’s recently reached the DIY Network crowd with his new show “Rev Run’s Renovation,” and has tapped into the book world with two best-sellers. It’s the culmination of a more than 30-year career, which the 49-year-old Simmons looks back upon with gratitude and self-awareness. “I love when I’m wearing my Adidas suit or if I’m wearing my clerical collar,” he says. “I think I have a firm grip on who I am at this point, and I’m grateful.”
Whatever he does, music is still in Simmons’ DNA, and Feb. 12, he’ll showcase his skills as guest DJ at An Evening with the Chicago Bulls, the annual benefit for the Chicago Bulls Charities. “I love to DJ,” he says. “I did it with Run-DMC, but this is different. I’ll be DJing with my partner, DJ Ruckus, and I’m excited. I’ll be scratching and cutting and it’s going to be great.” (The evening will also feature host Tim Meadows, a comedy set from Chicago-born comedian Hannibal Buress and more.) While he’s looking forward to his DJ set, and to exploring Chicago with his wife Justine, he’s most pleased to be able to offer an assist to the Bulls Charities, which support community programs focused on youth education, wellness and violence prevention. “For me, giving back to youth is everything,” he says. “I had somewhere to go as a kid — I used to go to the Police Athletic League. It was just a place to keep kids off the streets after school. So we’re always aware and willing to help youth steer a good course.”
Simmons’ own course began in Queens, New York. He’s one of three brothers who all grew up to make a mark in their respective industries: Daniel as an artist, poet and author; Russell as the co-founder of Def Jam Records. Joseph, the youngest, co-founded Run-DMC in 1982 along with friends Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels and Jason “Jam-Master Jay” Mizell. The group is widely credited with pioneering both the sound and the style of hip-hop music: They combined intelligent lyrics with minimal but powerful beats and shunned the more glam style of predecessors like Grandmaster Flash in favor of Adidas tracksuits and other street wear. The trio’s 20-year career was filled with milestones, and they paved the way for modern hip-hop as the first rap group to permeate the mainstream music scene, garnering the first gold record and Grammy nomination for a rap album. After Mizell was tragically killed in 2002, the group called it quits but their influence lives on today, and Simmons still reunites with McDaniels for several concerts a year. “I understand my lane. I don’t try to think that I’m the newest, youngest rapper, so if I do something, it fits me,” he says. “A Run-DMC concert, I can do that. DJing, I know how to do that.”
In 2005, Simmons found a different sort of fame — and a new group of fans— with “Run’s House,” the MTV reality show that chronicled the life of his family, including wife Justine and kids Vanessa, Angela, JoJo, Diggy, Russy and Miley. On the show, Simmons cast aside his hip-hop persona and revealed himself to be a gruff-but-loving father. It was here that Simmons, a minister since 1994, introduced his Words of Wisdom, inspirational thoughts or lessons that he usually delivered via voice-over from the bathtub. Those inspiring thoughts have since been turned into a book, and have helped Simmons accrue a massive following on Twitter, where he continues to spout wisdom. He finds people need the boost more than ever. “ ‘I wake up and I listen to your words, thank you, Rev.’ I must read that 100 times a day,” he says.
The Simmons kids have followed in their father’s successful footsteps, but are carving their own paths: Vanessa and Angela design and run the shoe brand Pastry, while sons JoJo and Diggy are rappers, the latter recently scoring a deal with Atlantic Records. (Russy and Miley are still in school.) “You are your environment,” Simmons says. “I watched my mother and father and the way they worked hard and the way they kept their life together, and you see more than you hear. A parent can be in your ear all day long, but when you see them doing, it’s not just talking the talk but walking the walk. And you end up walking that walk too.” He also cites spirituality as a foundation of his parenting approach. “I believe that if you stay involved with your kids, and you pray with them and teach them about God, they can have a relationship with him. And when you know that you have somebody you can rely on, it gives you that strength.”
This year is poised to be big for Rev. His family is once again in front of the camera on “Rev Run’s Renovation,” which chronicles the top-to-bottom revamp of their Saddle River, N.J., home. “We really love ‘House Hunters’ and ‘Property Brothers’ and all those shows, and my wife likes decorating and putting things together,” he says. “I know it’s a reality show, but it’s a passion project. We love this stuff.” His book with Tyrese Gibson, Manology, is coming out in paperback; he’ll continue to travel and speak about spirituality at various institutions; and later this year, he and Justine will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, a milestone he attributes to making time together. “We go on date nights, we travel alone, and you take that time and you refresh and you remember why you got married in the first place.”
On top of it all, the legendary rapper will soon become a grandfather for the first time: Daughter Vanessa will give birth to a baby girl this month. According to Rev, he’ll be the same kind of grandfather as he is a father. “The only difference is that at the end of the day, Vanessa takes the baby home,” he says.
Life is pretty good for Simmons, and he’s grateful and content to keep growing what he’s cultivated. “I like doing the reality show I’m doing now, and it’s fun to be involved working with my family,” he says. “I don’t have many changes [to make]. I just want to perfect the things I’m doing.”
While he’s known for many things, to his more than four million Twitter followers, Rev Run (@RevRunWisdom) is best known for his Words of Wisdom, a stream of inspiring and motivating quotes that he posts each day. “Usually what you’re getting is pretty prophetic because it has to do with what I’m dealing with,” he says. “And most people are dealing with the same thing, whether it’s relationships or money. … So I send out that word of wisdom and it inspires me and inspires you at the same time.” According to Simmons, the statements result in some of his most memorable moments with fans. “I was coming out of a restaurant recently and a young lady came up to me and said she was going through a very tough year, and the tweets got her through and she’s back on top,” he says. “I was teary-eyed. It felt good.” Here are a few of his most recent Words of Wisdom.
Jan. 27: Life is what you make it. Be responsible for the energy u carry around with u! Take the wheel. Take control of your life.
Jan. 24: Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect, it just means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections in life
Jan. 22: A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you won’t get very far unless you change it
Jan. 20: Remember —> A negative mind will never give you a positive life
Jan. 16: When life gets hard and you don’t know what to do, keep goin!! Remember– When you rest, you rust
Jan. 15: Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace
Jan. 12: Recipe for happiness … Let go of what’s gone, be grateful for what remains & look forward to whats coming