Early life and education
Simmons was born and raised in Queens, New York.
His father was a public school administrator and his mother was a New York City park administrator. His brothers are painter Daniel Simmons Jr., and Rev Run of Run-DMC. In 1975, after graduating from August Martin High School, Simmons briefly attended the City College of New York in Harlem where he met a young DJ/Bboy, Kurt Walker, who influenced him to participate in the hip-hop phenomenon.
Upon hearing Eddie Cheeba perform in Harlem in 1977, Simmons knew that hip hop would be his career. Simmons stated, "Hearing Cheeba in '77 made me feel like I had just witnessed the invention of the wheel."
In 2014, Claremont Lincoln University awarded Russell Simmons an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Humane Letters for his work as chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and for promoting mindfulness, compassion and interreligious collaboration in the public sphere.