Simmons and Rick Rubin founded the pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam in 1984. Although he made his fame promoting music that celebrates a street-tough lifestyle, Simmons grew up in a comfortable middle-class home in Queens, New York. He first heard rap while he was working on a sociology degree at City College in Harlem, New York. In 1977, he began promoting rap parties in Harlem and Queens with his friend Curtis Walker. Like rock ‘n’ roll, rap was initially dismissed as a fad. But Simmons knew different. At his parties, he saw a new and lasting subculture emerging. The following year, Walker became a rapper himself, changing his name to Kurtis Blow, and he and Simmons co-wrote a minor hit called “Christmas Rappin’.”
After this small success with Blow, Simmons left his studies at City College. In 1979, he formed Rush Communications and began managing other local rap acts. One of the most successful of Simmons’ acts was his younger brother, Joey, who went by the name of Run. Putting his brother together with MC Darryl McDaniels and DJ Jason Mizell, he christened the group Run DMC, dressed them in black leather suits and told them what to record. On a street level, the group’s first two records were instant hits.