M-POWER chats with hip-hop journalism icon Simone Amelia Jordan about her career and connection to culture
In case you missed it, hip-hop is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. That’s half a century's worth of iconic music, soundtracking a world that has been through its fair share of tumult, tragedy, chaos, and glory. At its core, hip-hop has always been and remains a vehicle for speaking unvarnished and often uncomfortable truth to power. It’s a crucial tool, most often expertly wielded by Black and brown people, as a means of resistance and defiance against their disillusionment with a system and world not built to serve them. A world that is in many ways actively hostile, built on their systemic oppression and discrimination.
Young people of colour have been finding a home for themselves in the safe spaces of hip-hop for decades, whether as artists, avid listeners, journalists or in other industry roles. Simone Amelia Jordan, a trailblazing Lebanese and Cypriot woman born and raised in Australia, is no exception. Recognised and respected as Australia’s most successful hip-hop journalist, Simone has made a name internationally as a radio show host, presenter, and media personality. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also an author with her debut memoir Tell Her She’s Dreamin’: A Memoir for Ambitious Girls out now. (We’ve read it, and you need to run, not walk to your nearest bookshop ASAP). It’s a brilliant, deeply personal story as it examines how family, music, and culture intertwine to make us who we are.
For Simone, who grew up on the whitewashed central coast of NSW in 1980s Australia (her mother’s Lebanese family were among the first to immigrate from their mountainous village), feeling out of place was almost inevitable. Her boisterous family, with their different food, language, and traditions, stood out like a sore thumb among the surfy blonde ‘paradise’ that Australia was (and still often is, in many ways) purported to be. Add to that the fact a single mother raised her in the ‘golden age of the nuclear family’, becoming a scholarship student from the wrong side of the tracks – well, it's no wonder Simone found solace in music. Something that could never be taken away or interfered with by anyone else.
A self-described outcast who never belonged, something in hip hop’s unapologetic pro-Black consciousness spoke to her. Embracing the music and its lyrics, a salve for isolation and loneliness, allowed her to accept and be proud of her identity.
It helped, too, that the support she found in music was immediately boosted and reinforced by her mum and grandmother, two women she calls legendary with one of those smiles that looks like her face might split in half if she grins any wider. “I was a dreamer because of my mum and a hard worker because of my grandmother. Combined with infectious feminine energy, this was the magical combination I needed,” she laughs. This meshing of forces later gave her the confidence to pitch her own hip-hop and R&B magazine as a wide-eyed, idealistic twenty-something who’d found some bold opportunities thrown her way at uni.
“I was a dreamer because of my mum and a hard worker because of my grandmother. Combined with infectious feminine energy, this was the magical combination I needed,”
“I worked for Juice magazine at uni as an editorial assistant, a role which didn’t exist back then, so I built it from scratch. This was when loads of people still didn’t get hip-hop, so I was the only one who volunteered when Juice got opportunities to interview people like Aaliyah or Jennifer Lopez.” Can you imagine turning down the opportunity to interview J-Lo now? God, we bet those people wake up in a cold sweat.
Brimming with confidence, the unwavering passion she’d felt towards hip-hop since her teens and some sharp skills with a pen, Simone took everything she’d learned and built a space for herself in a notoriously gatekept industry. When she reflects on the pitching process for what would become the wildly successful Urban Hitz magazine, it’s those gatekeepers that Simone remembers most. She writes in her memoir: ‘My mind raced as I looked at these older white guys…. gatekeepers, always men, seemed to be at every career turn, holding the keys to my success.’
When her pitch was successful, and she could scale her magazine, Simone says that she felt a specific responsibility to cover issues facing marginalised communities and put marginalised people “front and centre” because she wanted them to have what she didn’t. As editor-in-chief, now someone who in many senses ‘held the keys herself’, she received many letters from readers across Australia, ‘chiefly young Indigenous people, who wrote and said the magazine made them feel less isolated’. Her goal was to use Urban Hitz as a tool for change.
Being a young woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry took work. Its sting came in waves and was felt everywhere, from the female artists on stage to the women behind the scenes. The solution? Lean on each other. Simone credits many women with making her time in hip-hop more enjoyable and easier to handle, including fellow journalist and former editor of The Source, Kim Osorio, whom she reached out to on MySpace (God, remember that) and later struck up a friendship with while working in New York City, a move that put her at the epicentre of hip-hip journalism and transformed her life forever, as the Big Apple at its romantic dreamer-bursting best is warranted to do.
Simone wishes women in hip-hop were given more credit because they’ve been around since the beginning, even if you couldn’t see them the way you can now. As hip-hop turns 50, she says the genre is amid a mid-life crisis, teetering on the edge of a renaissance that can only happen if made more accessible and diverse. As a kid, Simone was no stranger to seeing the importance and impact of mentoring, something regularly on display thanks to her mum and grandmother.
She reflects that her grandmother, whom she called Sita in their northern Lebanese dialect, was her family’s compass - and her connection with a culture that she loved so much. She says, “I had chased my Lebanese culture my whole life, with my family living here in Australia for generations. I knew I would feel my one connection had gone with her when she passed. But I’ve realised she’s not gone, and neither is my connection.” Continuing her grandmother's legacy, she is giving back to Indigenous and culturally diverse artists through her professional development and events business, Higher Ground Consulting Agency.
Our final question before we leave Simone to get back to her hectic life is what she’ll be asked often over the coming weeks: What does she want people to take away from her book? The answer: “As cliche as it sounds, working on your self-belief is a lifelong mission, but it’s worth every minute. Because in your darkest moments, those dreams you deliver for yourself get you through.”
And they certainly have for Simone. Who knows what barriers she might break next? We can’t wait to find out.