|Russell Simmons/Drew Dixon|
By Brenda Alexander
At just 24 years old, Drew Dixon was a rising A&R executive at Def Jam Records at the pinnacle of rap’s rise. Under the influence of hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, she produced platinum-selling albums, arranged tours and promotions and was responsible for the classic duet between Method Man & Mary J. Blige. But according to Drew, none of her career success was enough to prevent severe sexual harassment and “alleged” eventual rape at the hands of her boss. As a follow-up to her profile in The New York Times, in an interview with Buzzfeed News, Drew detailed how she went from Stanford University graduate with NYC record label dreams, to a victim of abuse and isolation, leading to her eventual exit from the music industry altogether. Here are 9 takeaways from Drew’s story.
She Was At Russell’s Mercy From The Start
Russell wasn’t the head at the label, but he was an isolated entity and a powerhouse who was left to run his own show outside of the regular operations of the company. He was trusted in his capabilities because he was the only gatekeeper at that time who knew the hip hop world. Drew was hired without the president of the company’s knowledge. The company was so ill-prepared for her arrival that there was no workspace available to her, no adequate equipment to do her job, and more importantly, she had no real job description or sense of direction, leaving her in an unorthodox work environment under her boss, Russell, who rarely worked in office and opted for nontraditional desks at bars, at his home and from his car. Pissed that he was kept out of the loop with bringing her on board, the President of the company (Lyor Cohen) once blatantly told her, “I don’t want to have anything to do with any of Russell’s skinny bitches…when you see me, move out of the way.”
She Thought She Was Different
When asked if she thought she was hired for her looks, Drew answered no.
Usual Russell hanger-ons were young models, not Ivy League graduates
who like Drew was “a hip hop head who used slang and wore timberland
boots with baggy clothes.” Adding to that was the
fact that an ex-girlfriend of Russell’s was the one who pressed him to
hire her, so why would he think they had any chance of a romantic
|Drew Dixon during Arista Records Tenure|
Drew says that though working with Russell was uncomfortable from the start, it was hard to recognize that she was a victim of sexual harassment because she experienced two vastly different sides of him: On one hand, he was her champion at work who believed in her vision, gave her the opportunity to produce records and even stood against the President of the company when he shot her down – but it all came with a price. In the same breath, Russell is accused of being sexually provocative. “After conference calls, he’d comment on how turned on he was by me handling business.” It got so bad that Drew says he got bold enough to expose himself in her office, corner her in private spaces, rub against her and continue to be sexually suggestive.
Managing Russell’s Advancements
Desperate to keep her job and dedicated to prove to Russell that she couldn’t be persuaded, Drew strategized how to block his progressing advances. “I told a colleague about him locking my office door and cornering me to expose himself. I gave that colleague a key and told him that if I called him, to rush to my office and unlock the door. That stopped that scenario. Whenever I’d go to public meetings with him, I’d bring a friend to show him I was there for business. It seemed to calm him down.”
Following the album release party for the soundtrack “The Show,” which Drew co-executive produced successfully on her own, she ended up in Russell’s apartment under the impression that he wanted her to listen to a new demo for her next project. She thought nothing serious of it as she often worked with Russell in odd settings. “He knew that was my trigger…work. He praised the success of the album, telling me that the parent company was so impressed with me.” While in the apartment, Drew says she was lured to his bedroom where he told her the CD player was. While trying to look for the record, she says Russell emerged naked and violently attacked her.
Outside of the belief that no one would believe that Russell Simmons raped her, Drew cited history as her reason for not coming forward publicly sooner. “I was 20 when Anita Hill came forward and 22 when Desiree Washington filed a suit against Mike Tyson. I didn’t want to be excommunicated from my community.” Analyzing it from a 2018 worldview, Drew says, “The vilification of Russell Simmons hurts innocent black men because it adds credence to the mythology of the predatory black man…For 22 years I stayed silent because I didn’t want to add to that.”
Thoughts On #MeToo
Drew knows accusers coming forward are rocking the boat and are targeted because of the potential consequences. With that in mind, the movement can not afford to have accusers with sketchy passes. When asked about her thoughts on Asia Argento who was later found to have consensual sex with a minor, she expressed her disgust. “It’s too risky and we already have enough people who doubt us. We can not afford spokespeople like this.”
3rd Time’s A Charm
After quitting Def Jam a week after the assault, Drew went on to work with Clive Davis at Arista Records, where she says she thrived and was awarded a safe and productive work environment. LA Reid took over after Davis left for J Records and things went downhill from there. Although she says she didn’t experience physical abuse, she was still harassed. Instead, Reid was not subtle in her rejection of him and took it out on her work by shelving albums she worked on or denying her projects altogether. She left the industry after that.
Why She Feels Abuse Is So Common In the Music Industry
“Music industry is the cousin of nightlife with clubs and parties,” Drew says. “It’s the soundtrack to socializing and informal by design, so that makes room for a very relaxed and non-traditional environment.” As a result, Drew feels women are conditioned to accept harassment, even in the slightest form and in a way have become enablers of it due to staying silent and victim shaming. In order to move forward, Drew believes more women need to be in positions of power and vocal against those types of behaviors.
Drew’s story appears credible as there are more than a dozen other women who have come forward to accuse Russell of similar abuse. Considering Russell’s reputation of being a philanderer attached to young and impressionable models (he started dating his ex-wife Kimora Lee Simmons when she was 16 and he was in his mid-30s) and someone who creates stressful work environments by verbally abusing his staff, the idea that he uses his power and access on a string is not far-fetched.
Drew Dixon is slowly making her return to the industry with her independent label, The Ninth Floor, named in honor of the floor she worked on at Arista Records, which she says is one of her happier periods in the industry. Hopefully, she’ll give others the courage to speak and continue to tell their stories. More importantly, I pray she finds healing. Since Drew’s claims are outside of the statute of limitations, she gains no financial benefit from speaking out. Watch her full Buzzfeed interview below.
Do you believe Drew?