Johnnie L.

Stories by Johnnie L. Roberts

  • Divorcing Disney

    After months of contentious negotiations, Disney and its estranged film bosses, Miramax brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, reached an agreement today to formally divorce, ending the bitterest chapter in one of the most successful independent film ventures in Hollywood history.The long-anticipated settlement--in which the Weinsteins will receive an untold sum of cash and the highly successful Dimension film label as well as share with Disney certain existing high-profile projects--ends one of the most tumultuous relationships in Hollywood, marking the disassociation of two of the industry's most volatile personalities. But the Weinsteins and Disney CEO Michael Eisner will be setting off on dramatically different paths. Eisner is preparing to exit the stage in an inglorious end to his Disney tenure. Meanwhile, the Weinsteins are poised now to immediately begin to try to replicate their storied triumph in the film industry with a new startup forged from the detritus of Miramax, which...
  • More Woes for Warner

    Edgar Bronfman Jr.'s Warner Music Group is quietly reassigning its chief comptroller, NEWSWEEK has learned, drawing renewed attention to problems with its systems for paying artists their royalties. Last week, Cher sued the company's music publishing arm, Warner/Chappell, alleging that it failed to pay her $250,000 in royalties over the last four years, though it is unclear whether the dispute is related to the systemic problems.Both developments come at an inopportune time as Bronfman, a scion of the Seagram liquor fortune, and his financial backers are reportedly weighing a plan to take the company public. Barely a year ago, Bronfman led an investment group that purchased Warner Music, whose roster ranges from Led Zeppelin and Madonna to Sean Paul and Josh Groban, for $2.6 billion from Time Warner. In a regulatory filing last December, Warner Music itself first warned that the problem might pose a risk for potential public investors. Warner Music noted that outside auditors were...
  • FINE TUNING A NEW ACT

    TV has stretched the "makeover" genre of shows from humans to houses to entire towns. Now the Black Entertainment Television network is going a step further: making over itself. In January it unveiled a new tagline, "It's my thing," after jettisoning "Black star power." It refashioned its familiar star logo and installed a sleek new set for "106 & Park," the daily countdown music-video hit. The countdown to the biggest change in BET's history is also underway. Next January, CEO Robert Johnson's contract expires with media giant Viacom, which made him the first African-American billionaire when it bought BET in 1999. In a NEWSWEEK interview, Johnson put to rest speculation that he might retain ties to the network he founded. "I don't plan to continue in my current capacity," he says he's told Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone. He has other projects in mind, including his NBA Charlotte Bobcats team. "I'm sure I have a second act in me.''As BET begins a yearlong celebration of its silver...
  • FCC'S POWELL CALLS IT: GAME OVER

    At least he'll be able to enjoy the upcoming Super Bowl. Now that Michael Powell, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, announced that he'll step down in March, he can focus more on who's winning, rather than on the halftime show. It was Powell, after all, who kicked off an indecency backlash following Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the game last year by calling it "classless, crass and deplorable" and slapping CBS with a $550,000 fine.But his legacy extends far beyond keeping a story alive for writers of tabloid headlines (BOOBY TRAP). Powell devoted much of his four-year tenure to expanding digital and wireless services. Last week he gave himself high marks, noting in a statement that the use of cell phones, digital TVs, video recorders and the like "is exploding."But Powell, whose father, Colin, bade farewell to the State Department last week, also triggered explosive debates because of his zeal to deregulate. He pressed for a far-reaching rewrite of rules to...
  • STRIKING A HOT MATCH

    Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and Gwen Stefani, superstar lead singer of No Doubt, may seem an unlikely pairing. But there they were, center stage at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, bantering for the audience about the new Harajuku Lovers digital camera, whose exterior was designed by Stefani. Fiorina complimented "our hippest product engineer," and Stefani described her camera fashion accessory as "very, very cute and very Japanese-inspired." HP will introduce it in May with a splashy ad campaign, timed to the release of the video for the next song from Stefani's debut solo CD. To capture the picture-perfect marketing moment onstage, Stefani held the camera at arm's length, leaned in next to Fiorina and snapped a shot.Perhaps the only person flashing a wider smile in the overflowing 1,600-seat theater was Steve Stoute, the hip-hop-attired man in the front row who played matchmaker to these stars and who has built a remarkable record of arranging fruitful...
  • CBS: 'CSI' TO NEWS: DROP DEAD

    Heads rolled at CBS News after a report assigned blame for the controversial "60 Minutes II" story about President Bush's National Guard service. Senior news staffers tell NEWSWEEK the inevitable fallout from the story was worsened by an earlier incident that hurt the division's standing. Last November CBS News broke into the hit show "CSI: New York" to announce Yasir Arafat's death, after being told beforehand not to interrupt regular programming. CBS fired the news producer who made the call, apologized to enraged "CSI" fans and re-aired "CSI." Many within the news division felt CBS boss Les Moonves might have been less harsh over the guard story, but after the division ignored the order about Arafat's death, he "went ballistic," says one producer.
  • PARENTHOOD: UNMAGICAL KINGDOM

    Nine months have passed since shareholders exploded in an angry meeting that signaled the end of Michael Eisner's reign as CEO of Walt Disney. But the tensions remain fresh in my mind. On that mild March day, more than 3,000 Disney shareholders--from professional investors to grannies and truant kids--trekked to Philadelphia to declare their independence from the company's corporate management. I felt uneasy and wondered why. It wasn't as though I hadn't covered plenty of other shareholder-meeting meltdowns. But the pending showdown inside the cavernous convention center was personal for me. The messiness was being spilled at Disney, my 4-year-old daughter Lily's preferred source of entertainment. The shareholder-management crisis was the antithesis of everything she experienced on the Disney Channel. "Stanley," "The Koala Brothers" and "The Wiggles"--all Playhouse Disney stars--would never let a situation disintegrate into a crisis before a reasonable resolution could be found....
  • WISHING ON A STAR

    You can imagine the pitch CBS News might make to Matt Lauer: for the first time in years, he'd be able to eat breakfast at home at a regular hour, instead of rising in the dark every morning to cohost "The Today Show" on NBC. The trade-off, of course, would be his absence at dinnertime, when he might be anchoring the "CBS Evening News." A similar pitch could be made to Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press"--he would have Sunday mornings off for a change. Long-shot scenarios? Perhaps, considering that NBC has locked up those two stars with long-term contracts. But NEWSWEEK has learned that Lauer's and Russert's names are on a wish list of outsiders that CBS has considered for successors to Dan Rather, who announced last week that he would accelerate his retirement by a year and step down next March after 24 years in the anchor chair. For now, according to senior officials of parent company Viacom, CBS execs have decided to move on to other potential candidates. Among them are...
  • A MOGUL'S MIGRAINE

    When Rupert Murdoch arrived at the election-night party at his Fox News network in Manhattan, he was met by long faces. His executives worried that Murdoch, the president's biggest booster in the media, was in for a disappointing night. After all, the early polls had showed John Kerry ahead. But Murdoch wasn't buying it. "Those exit polls are wrong," Murdoch declared, in his thick Australian accent, to the crowd. By midnight, George W. Bush was ahead, and Murdoch was festive. He had plenty of other reasons to celebrate, too: That day, an Australian court cleared the way for Murdoch to transplant his News Corp. empire to the United States, with its shares shifting to the New York Stock Exchange. The stock was up, he was set to announce strong earnings the next day, his satellite broadcaster DirecTV was signing up record numbers of new customers and he was planning a new business channel for next year. He was even anticipating a new generation of potential heirs--his oldest son,...
  • TV'S NEW BRAND OF STARS

    Each week, the cast of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" faces a tough task--completely rebuild and transform every room in a house in just seven days. An even tougher task, it seems, would be to make hardware and appliances a heart-tugging emotional sell. Yet this reality hit, which airs at 8 o'clock on Sunday and is watched by 14 million to 15 million viewers, manages to do just that for Sears, its main sponsor. The chain's Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools play front and center as the crew goes to work and designers go shopping. At the end of a recent episode, host Ty Pennington unveiled the completely rebuilt home of the Vardon family of Detroit (lucky families are sent on a vacation while the work is done). The emotional payoff for the family--the parents are both deaf, and one son is blind and autistic--is authentic and effective. And so is the marketing ploy for Sears, whose research shows that viewers are 25 percent more likely to shop at Sears after the show. The...
  • Media Mogul Maelstrom

    Should media moguls refrain from endorsing presidential candidates? After all, their empires include television networks and other properties that provide news coverage of the campaign. And much--if not all--of their business is regulated by the federal government. The question has gained new urgency in New York and Washington after Sumner Redstone, who controls CBS-parent Viacom, enthusiastically endorsed President George W. Bush. From a "Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal," Redstone told an audience of CEOs in Hong Kong in late September, "because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on." In the widely-reported remarks, he added: "I vote for what's good for Viacom." (Viacom also owns MTV, an assortment of other cable networks and Paramount Pictures.)Redstone's endorsement came just as CBS News and anchor Dan Rather were wrestling with the controversy over forged documents related to...
  • Here's The Rub, Sony

    It was a bold, down-to-the-wire move that would do Agent 007 proud. At the last minute, Sony elbowed Time Warner aside to win the bidding last week for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owns the James Bond movies, for $3 billion. The story line seemed clear: Sony gains MGM's prized 4,000-title library, gaining heft in dictating future movie technologies, such as the next generation of DVDs.But this script may be in for a major rewrite--there's quibbling among some of Sony's co-investors in the bid, NEWSWEEK has learned. Sony's would-be partners include private investment firms, such as Providence Equity Partners and Texas Pacific Group, as well as Brian Roberts of Comcast, the opportunistic cable king who lost his bid for Disney this year. Despite their agreement "in principle" to buy MGM from Kirk Kerkorian, the equity firms are still pushing to structure the deal so they can cash out quickly with a big profit. Providence and Texas Pacific Group are set to invest a total of $750...
  • DEF JAM'S NEW TUNE

    It's near midnight on a recent Wednesday, but for Antonio (L.A.) Reid, the new CEO of Island Def Jam music--he took over in February--the workday isn't done. He's spent hours with young staffers critiquing music to be released soon on Def Jam, the hip-hop label. He's dancing in his seat and issuing sharp opinions on everything he hears. "I like this record, but sometimes he gets too wordy," Reid says of a cut by rapper Joe Buddens. Despite his take-charge approach, others are openly skeptical about Reid. For one, Russell Simmons, the hip-hop icon who cofounded Def Jam but sold it years ago, worries the stylish Reid may be ill-suited for the scrappy world of hard-core hip-hop. "L.A. Reid is one of the best record men in the business, but he doesn't hang out with [Def Jam artist] DMX. I'm with rappers every day. Managing them is a cultural process," says Simmons. "These are the things that made Def Jam."Now Reid gets to remake Def Jam in his image. It's a challenging transition in an...
  • DEF JAM'S NEW TUNE

    It's near midnight on a recent Wednesday, but for Antonio (L.A.) Reid, the new CEO of Island Def Jam music--he took over in February--the workday isn't done. He's spent hours with young staffers critiquing music to be released soon on Def Jam, the hip-hop label. He's dancing in his seat and issuing sharp opinions on everything he hears. "I like this record, but sometimes he gets too wordy,'' Reid says of a cut by rapper Joe Buddens. Despite his take-charge approach, others are openly skeptical about Reid. For one, Russell Simmons, the hip-hop icon who cofounded Def Jam but sold it years ago, worries the stylish Reid may be ill-suited for the scrappy world of hard-core hip-hop. "L.A. Reid is one of the best record men in the business, but he doesn't hang out with [Def Jam artist] DMX. I'm with rappers every day. Managing them is a cultural process,'' says Simmons. "These are the things that made Def Jam.''Now Reid gets to remake Def Jam in his image. It's a challenging transition in...
  • THE LIONS' REIGN

    The opening shot of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" isn't an image of a clueless President Bush. It's a logo: a stylized drawing of the constellation Leo the Lion, the emblem of the film's distributor, and it's getting deafening applause. "The audience [knows] what we went through to get the picture to the marketplace," says Tom Ortenberg of Lions Gate Entertainment. By now we all know what the independent Canadian studio went through. Conservatives wanted to boycott the movie. Disney wouldn't let its Miramax subsidiary, which made it, distribute it--even after it won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Into the maelstrom stepped Lions Gate. "Smart, edgy, sophisticated fare--it's our sweet spot," says vice chairman Michael Burns. Talk about a branding opportunity. In its opening weekend, "Fahrenheit" took in $23.9 million, a record for a documentary.When Disney barred Miramax from distributing the politically sensitive film, it exposed an unseemly industry truth. The most prominent among...
  • ONE MAN'S FLIGHT OF FANCY

    This was it: the moment to celebrate. About 250 executives from Hollywood studios and home-electronics companies gathered at the Bellagio in Las Vegas earlier this year to toast their soaring fortunes, thanks to the phenomenal success of the digital video disc. Major studios sold a stunning $9.4 billion worth of DVDs to retailers last year, proof that DVDs now bring in a majority--52 percent in 2003--of Hollywood's revenue. Everyone noticed when the man most responsible for their good fortunes arrived: Warren Lieberfarb. The former chief of Warner Home Video deserved a round of cheers for doggedly pursuing his vision of the new format. Lieberfarb, more than any other person, merits credit for making the DVD a reality. He didn't invent the technology. More important, he saw its potential to transform the industry. So he cajoled, strong-armed and bargained with industry players around the world to set aside their parochial interests and sign on to a universal standard for the new...
  • KEEPIN' IT REAL--REAL TANTALIZING

    The spinmeisters at Miramax Books are busily manufacturing buzz about "Bling," the first novel by 31-year-old Erica Kennedy, for which she got a reported seven-figure advance. (Of course, she had to give Miramax the film rights.) This voyeuristic close-up of the hip-hop industry has already made it into the New York Post's Page Six gossip column--not once, but twice. Music-biz playas are supposedly scrambling to get galleys to see if they can recognize themselves in any of the characters, and Naomi Campbell is supposedly bent out of shape over the novel's portrayal of a temperamental, fading supermodel. "I sent a copy to her," Kennedy coyly told NEWSWEEK. "I hope she likes it.""Bling" centers on hip-hop mogul Lamont Jackson (Def Jam boss L. A. Reid--or not), whose motto is "If it don't make dollars, it don't make sense." In order to sell his Triple Large Entertainment label and succeed his aging mentor (Clive Davis--or not) at the major label Augusta Music, he must find a crossover...
  • Mickey's Makeover

    It's standard equipment for any TV-programming whiz: a giant scheduling board, with magnets bearing names of all prime-time shows. Execs spend hours moving magnets from slot to slot in search of the perfect lineup. Lately it seems that the brass at Disney, particularly president Robert Iger, could use a second board to keep track of the ever-changing lineup of bosses at Disney's ABC network. Last week Iger replaced the entire starring cast at fourth-ranked ABC with executives from Disney's successful cable- and TV-production units, the fourth team since Disney acquired ABC in 1996.Yet many believe the problem isn't with ABC's prime-time lineup but with Disney's. The network's woes are ammunition for angry shareholders who want to unseat Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Cable giant Comcast Corp., which in February made a bid for Disney, is telling Wall Street it can do a better job of running ABC. Eisner is wounded--stripped of his chairmanship last month--and Disney is promising...
  • THE MAGIC IS GONE

    The drama inside the Philadelphia convention center last Wednesday was worthy of a Disney epic. The audience of 3,000--many of them looking like folks dressed for a day in Orlando, Fla. --sat spellbound as Michael Eisner and his nemesis Roy Disney, nephew of the fabled Walt, launched into a pitched battle of words. The prize: the hearts and minds of the shareholders. Laying out his plans for a Disney turnaround, a hoarse Eisner delivered a speech that only a Wall Street analyst could love. "This is the precise strategy that separates the Disney and ESPN brands from their competitors, allowing us to generate returns that exceed our cost of capital," he said. For emotional effect, Eisner added, "I love this company. The board loves this company. And we are all passionate about the output from this company." But the audience was passionate about Roy Disney. Looking and sounding eerily like his Uncle Walt, seemingly back from the dead after nearly four decades, Roy took the microphone...
  • Musical Chairs

    Lyor Cohen, one of the music industry's most successful and brash executives, is joining Warner Music Group in a top role, abandoning a 20-year career at Def Jam, the rap label he helped to establish as one of the industry's most successful companies. Cohen is stepping into the new post of CEO of Warner Music's U.S. operations. As such, he becomes a chief lieutenant of Edgar Bronfman Jr., the Seagram scion who is spearheading the $2.6 billion purchase of the music company from Time Warner.In opting for the new job, Cohen spurned a $50 million pact to remain at Vivendi's Universal Music Group, the world's largest recorded music company, where he was CEO of the Island/Def Jam division. But his new package is believed to be even larger, including a stake in the soon-to-be independent Warner Music.The weekend announcement instantly propelled ripples across the industry, with speculation raging about Cohen's potential successor. Antonio "L.A." Reid quickly emerged as the top candidate....
  • This Son Also Rises

    James Murdoch, younger son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, didn't want to trade on his last name. So, unlike his brother, Lachlan, who joined his father early on at News Corp., James initially struck out on his own as an entrepreneur. Yet he eventually joined the family firm and is making up for lost time. In November, after running the Star TV division in Asia, he was hired as CEO of British Sky Broadcasting. Suddenly he's a player in News Corp.'s succession drama. Says a Rupert Murdoch confidant: "There are two capable family members in the business. It is clear that Rupert's druthers are that the most qualified person succeeds him--and that it be one of his children."James was always considered the smartest of the six Murdoch kids. After a rough start with News Corp. at 15 (as an intern at the Sydney Mirror, he was snapped napping at a press conference by a rival paper), he studied film and history at Harvard. He left without graduating in 1995 to cofound Rawkus Records, a hip-hop...
  • Prime Time For Parsons

    Just 18 months ago, Richard Parsons faced a mass of angry shareholders at his first annual meeting as CEO of AOL Time Warner. Their list of complaints was long: a plummeting stock, strategic gaffes, even the shimmering headquarters project that one said was "replicating the Taj Mahal.'' But recently, Parsons was holding court in the almost-completed building, and much had changed. He had added the chairman title, the company had dropped AOL from its name, and Parsons felt confident enough that he could share a few grand thoughts with his audience of minority and women construction contractors. The gleaming 80-floor structure, with its two crystalline towers, is called Time Warner Center, he noted, because its location at Columbus Circle is literally the center of New York City. What better spot for the world's largest media company than at the heart of the world's capital of big media companies? "I predict this will be the most famous building in the world," he declared.It was a...
  • Corporate Changes

    Kenneth J. Novack, Time Warner vice chairman and a chief associate of the discredited former AOL boss Steve Case, quietly retired his executive post last week. One of the highest ranking officers of AOL before its disastrous acquisition of Time Warner, the 62-year-old Novak remains a Time Warner director. Time Warner confirmed Novak's retirement, which he announced in an email addressed to friends and colleagues on Dec. 4.In the email, a copy of which was obtained by NEWSWEEK, Novak said he had privately told colleagues in early 2001 of his plans to retire this December after turning 62. "I will continue to serve on the Time Warner Board," he said, "and I will do all I can, as an outside director, to contribute to the success of the company." Noting the disappointments of the past few years, Novack added: "I remain a strong believer in the potential of the merger, in the promise of AOL, and in the future of our company."But insiders at Time Warner, which recently dropped AOL from...
  • Black Eye For Conrad Black

    Conrad Black was doing his best last week to promote his just-released book--a massive tome, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom," that he penned as a sideline to his day job. But for all his efforts to talk up FDR's New Deal, the only deals people wanted to know about were Black's. The Securities and Exchange Commission has some pointed questions about $15.6 million in unauthorized payments to Black and other top executives of his company, Hollinger, a media empire with newspapers stretching from Chicago and Canada to London and Israel. Those payments came from buyers of newspapers that Black divested between 1999 and 2001, and those millions weren't for the assets--they went directly to Black and other Hollinger brass for guarantees that they wouldn't compete directly with the papers they had just sold.Black is a famously controlling and determined personality with little patience for anyone who complains about how he runs Hollinger, the publicly traded media empire...
  • Pay 2 Play

    There's no shortage of comeback acts in the music business these days--Simon & Garfunkel, Duran Duran, Fleetwood Mac. Now, add Napster to the list. The online music service, which was shut down in 2001 after losing a courtroom fight with record labels incensed by its free-music-for-all ethos, is relaunching itself as a legit company to sell songs online. Its $20 million marketing blitz will be noteworthy for what's missing: any mention that the new Napster actually charges to download digital tracks. "We don't want to over commercialize the brand," says Chris Gorog, CEO of Roxio, Napster's parent. Trying to cash in on the freedom-loving spirit of the familiar Napster name is a smart move--competitors clearly feel threatened. Rob Glaser, CEO of RealNetworks, which owns the upstart Rhapsody download service, hopes consumers will think the Napster name is tainted by its freewheeling past. Selling a Napster download, he says, is like hawking "a porterhouse steak under the Purina...
  • Out Of Tune

    The threat of a PR disaster was huge. What if, perhaps, they caught a handicapped, homebound downloader who found joy only through free file sharing--someone who would generate a lot of sympathy? Senior executives from the Big Five music labels--Sony, Universal, EMI, AOL Time Warner and Bertelsmann--were meeting recently on their weekly conference call, and imagining everything that could go wrong with their planned lawsuits against serial downloaders and uploaders. They knew the names and addresses of their 261 targets, and nothing else. "When you fish with a net, you are going to catch a few dolphins," a top music spokeswoman later said. "We were prepared for big headlines, and lots of different PR issues."Sure enough, the offensive started badly. The New York press seized on one of the lawsuits' targets, Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old who lives in public housing in Manhattan, as the poster child of the issue, seemingly helpless in the face of the industry's bullying. But within...
  • Nbc's New Script For Hollywood

    General Electric's current marketing slogan is "Imagination at Work." Imagine, indeed, all the possibilities if the proposed merger of GE's NBC division and Vivendi's Universal Entertainment goes through. Universal's theme parks burn through a ton of light bulbs, which they could no doubt buy on the cheap from GE, which would control 80 percent of the combined NBC Universal. Another payoff: the NBC network would start paying itself when it shells out the reported $8 million per episode for "Law & Order" and its spinoffs, all owned by Universal (too bad about the $13 million NBC pays Warner Bros. for each hour of "ER'').But it will take all of GE's powers of imagination to work through the toughest issue--whether GE can rein in Hollywood's notorious excesses by applying its rigorous "Six Sigma" system, six principles for managing quality control and customer service, among other things. The biggest challenge: breaking the habit of overindulging talent. Director Martin Brest, for...
  • Selling Cds For A Song

    50 Cent just got devalued. Responding to the music industry's prolonged business crisis, Universal Music Group, the world's largest record company, last week abruptly slashed the price on rap star 50 Cent's CDs by as much as 32 percent. The same goes for virtually all of Universal's roster, including Mary J. Blige, No Doubt and Eminem, not to mention the recordings of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. When the price cuts take effect in October, shoppers can buy CDs from Universal Music labels--Geffen, Interscope, Def Jam, Island and Motown--at a suggested retail price of $12.98, instead of the current $16.98 to $18.98. Industry experts say that Universal's big rivals, who seemed blindsided, now face pressure to follow suit. They declined to comment or are studying options.The title of 50 Cent's CD, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," pretty much captures the spirit of Universal's strategy, dubbed "Jumpstart." Universal execs are hoping the move will halt a prolonged industry slump-...
  • Defying All Labels

    Amid the usual skinfest of top female stars at the MTV Video Music Awards last week, one artist stood out. Amy Lee, lead singer for Evanescence, the year's hottest debut rock act, strolled the red carpet in a modest skirt and top, about as rare a sighting at the show as a rap star sans rap sheet. Lee is not without fashion sense, and she has griped about all the cleavage in the business. "I am sick and tired of seeing girls get up here and show their t--s," she once yelled during a concert. Evanescence was vying in two categories, and Lee presented in another. The band didn't get a statuette. But music insiders got a glimpse of something new: the first female lead singer of a hit rock band in years, and a relatively covered-up one at that.The real breakthrough act in the business these days, however, is the group's backer, Wind-up Records. With artists like Evanescence and Creed, it's become the most buzzworthy label in music for its talent-spotting. It's proving that the path to...
  • Beyond Definition

    It's a Wednesday in June, a typical weekday for Russell Simmons--he's hellishly overscheduled with A-list invitations. Executives from the luxury pen maker Mont Blanc were honoring him for his philanthropy. HBO, which carries the "Def Poetry Jam" series that Simmons created, invited him to the premiere party for "Sex and the City." The rapper Jay-Z was hosting a bash to christen his new lounge--the perfect setting for Simmons and his wife, ex-model Kimora, to build buzz for Simmons's own luxury watch brand, Grimaldi, by giving away some of the $6,000 timepieces.But those plans are shelved by a phone call Simmons takes in the back of his customized SUV as it's threading through Manhattan. "You know that's bull----,'' Simmons says into his cell. The caller? New York Gov. George Pataki. Simmons, the hip-hop impresario who cofounded Def Jam Recordings, has been at the forefront of an effort to reform New York's 30-year-old Rockefeller drug laws, which critics say have sent thousands to...