Kortnee Simmons is a musician and actor currently signed to EMPIRE Records and appearing in movies and TV shows such as Netflix's The Get Down.

Born in Poughkeepsie and now living in Kingston, Kortnee Simmons has embraced life in the Hudson Valley while growing his career as a musician and actor.

Despite his family’s influence in the hip-hop world — his uncle Russell founded the record label Def Jam, and his uncle Joseph is one-third of Run-D.M.C. — Kortnee’s music has its own sound, with heavy influences from soul and R&B.

In addition to his career as a musician, Kortnee is an actor with numerous credits to his name, including roles in The Get Down, Jonas, The Suite Life on Deck, and upcoming romantic comedy Can You Keep a Secret.

Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

First things first, I’m extremely awkward and it’s difficult to talk about myself. My name is Kortnee Simmons, and I’m a singer-songwriter, actor, and producer. I’m signed to EMPIRE and I’m the owner of the record label, Lark Music. Most people find out in their own quest for knowledge about me, so I’ll tell you… yes, I am the nephew of Russell Simmons and Rev. Run of Run-D.M.C.

I like to spend time with family and friends, watch new Netflix series (current favs are Dear White People, She’s Gotta Have It, On My Block, Always A Witch, 3%, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), and watch live performances.

How did you discover the Hudson Valley?

I was born in the Hudson Valley — Poughkeepsie, to be exact. My mother and biological father fell in love as kids in the camps. After they separated, my family and I moved around a lot, but I ended up back here in 2012 for my great-uncle’s funeral and fell in love. So I decided to stay. Now I live and work in Kingston.

Walk us through a typical day.

None of my days are typical lol it’s always changing. So I’ll walk you through today:

  • Wake up, brush my teeth, mildly pick my hair, wash my face, and shower.
  • Drink a cup of tea, drink a cup of coffee, skip breakfast, straight to soda.
  • Check streaming numbers on my EMPIRE label dashboard, then SymphonicMS, and Spotify for Artists.
  • Listen to calming music, usually Frank Ocean or Solange.
  • Go for a walk because I like the sunlight.
  • Work on new music and spend time recording or writing.
  • Depending on the day, I’ll end up at Radio Kingston doing promotional spots or a show (shoutout to Nubian Cafe – Thursdays at 1PM WKNY 1490 AM/107.9 FM)
  • A little bit of vocal practice to keep my instrument ready.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Sit around until about 3 AM and then I fall asleep.
Kortnee with his nephew Leon

Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Hudson Valley?

I love to be anywhere near water. If I had to rattle off a few places though, they’d be:

  • Pretty Park in Kingston
  • The Fire Tower (Ferncliff Forest) in Rhinebeck
  • Plattecove Falls
  • High Falls

(Just to name a few.)

Do you have a go-to coffee or beer order, and from where?

I live for the Caramel Apple Spice at Starbucks. Also the Apple Cider at Monkey Joe’s in Kingston is amazing, and I look forward to the fall so I can be the first in line. In all honesty, I just started drinking beer, so I don’t really have a go-to, but I’m a big fan of a Manhattan. 

I’m also EXTREMELY indecisive, so you may be better off asking Miles from Lis Bar in Kingston what my go-to is (which I’m sure will change depending on when you ask him haha).

Where do you do your best creative work?

I love small, intimate spaces. I’m used to my recording setup being mobile, so you can catch me roaming around my house mostly. Though, I’d be perfectly fine working in a small closet as long as I was surrounded by fuzzy clothes, as well as blue and red lights. You’ve got to set the vibe. Does the closet make me Harry Potter-ish? I’m cool with it. (Go Gryffindor!)

How has the Hudson Valley influenced or impacted your creative work?

The Hudson Valley has a very chill, very laid back vibe. Growing up, I listened to a lot of India.Arie, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Jill Scott, etc. and it has influenced my style of music. Naturally, the pressure to be mainstream was there, and I’d given in a few times; but the Hudson Valley has been a great example of being comfortable with yourself even when it’s not what everyone is checking for.

What’s surprised you most about living and working in the Hudson Valley?

Honestly, the amount of creative work going on in the area. As I mentioned before, I’m also an actor. When I first moved to the area in 2012, I used to have to travel to the city all the time for TV and film work, but that’s no longer the case. Since 2016, I’ve been a part of seven films, two PSAs, and countless voiceover projects, all in the Hudson Valley.

Are you part of any local groups or communities you’d like to mention?

I’m proud to be a representative of the LGBTQ+ community, and even prouder to represent for Afro-Latin Americans.

Anything you want to plug or promote?

I’m constantly releasing new music and covers. So if you want to check that out you can follow me on Spotify. You can also see me in Can You Keep A Secret with Laverne Cox, Alexandra Daddario, and Tyler Hoechlin which will be released in theaters on September 13, 2019.

Kortnee in Can You Keep a Secret

Fun thing that I don’t normally do, I’m doing a few shows for New York Fashion Week, and modeling for Phantom by Dante (shoutout to Dante).

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.