VIDEO: Don Lemon and Russell Simmons Face Off on the Air

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“I should have said that first,” Simmons conceded, but added “You have to say things in a way they go in instead of bounce off. Personal responsibility, I wouldn’t include the cultural expression so much.”

Simmons then told Lemon that “The greatest course of the destruction of the fabric of black community has been the prison industrial complex,” and explained the cycle of incarceration and poverty that results from it. He also cited the “lack of education opportunity.”

“If we go (to) school, and there’s no books and — teachers aren’t teaching, and the students are in a kind of situation where they don’t even have a gym class, they don’t have an art class,” he continued. “Without art, there is no way — you have to — exercise the creative muscles. That’s why we raise millions of dollar for the arts. “

“Don’t mistake my passion for not — that I don’t like hip-hop,” Lemon objected. “I think it is an art. I think people like Jay-Z and Kanye West are great artists. Kids are dying every single minute and it is because, as you said, we had the responsibility or there are people being educated in prison culture. I think that helps perpetuate that education in prison culture. And I don’t understand why you can’t see that.”

Simmons defended hip-hop’s raw depictions of reality as essential to the form. “I think each individual artist has a responsibility to say what’s on their hearts. And some of it is not pretty. So I think that there are reflections of our reality and some cases, sad reality.”

Lemon asked how rap and hip-hop can be better, and Simmons replied, “Each individual can be better, but as an overall culture, it has to express our sad reality.”

They concluded by promising an ongoing conversation, and Simmons told Lemon “What you’ve been doing is giving what you can, and your intentions are good, and I respect you for it.”

Watch the full interview above.

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