Simone Jordan dreamed big, and landed it.
Recognised as Australia’s most successful international hip-hop journalist, Jordan is a Lebanese-Australian woman who refused to be think small.
Across her career, she has contributed to The Source, VIBE, Rolling Stone, ABC and SBS, and, at 23, founded and edited Australia’s leading rap/R&B newsstand title, Urban Hitz magazine.
Along the way, she has interviewed the likes of JLo, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Diddy, Nelly and more, the clips for which have accumulated more than 13 million views on YouTube.
Jordan shares the journey in Tell Her She’s Dreamin’: A Memoir for Ambitious Girls (via Hachette Australia), which traces her upbringing on the Central Coast, and the long road to making it as a music journalist in Australia and New York.
Released August 30th, Tell Her She’s Dreamin’ recounts her interviews with the biggest stars, as editor of a high-profile rap magazine; falling in love and getting her heart broken; grappling with her family ties to culture; and struggling through chronic illness and sexual grooming.
A winner of The Richell Prize for emerging writers, Jordan even has her own limited-edition sneaker in collaboration with Reebok.
Rolling Stone Australia shares an extract from the book, her first memoir, capturing Simone’s interview with Tupac’s mother.
Also, Rolling Stone premieres never-before-seen footage from Jordan’s interview with an 18-year-old Rihanna on her first trip to Australia.
All in all, Urban Hitz delivered the goods. Not only did we become the highest-selling local hip-hop and R&B publication to date, but we also did it with limited resources and industry support.
For their part, Jim and Nathan came through on their promise to expand with more editorial. Thanks to Stuart’s guidance and our star team – Filipino art director Phillip Jorge, our Brooklyn-born sales manager Robyn Reiss, and a freelance squad of Black American, African, Indigenous, Polynesian, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern and white writers – each new issue built on the last. One milestone in our second year was dedicating our fifth issue to the memory of 2Pac, the rapper and actor killed when I was a teenager, and scoring the first and only Australian interview with his mother.
Afeni Shakur was a member of the Black Panther Party and pregnant with Tupac in 1969 when she represented herself in court as part of a federal conspiracy case and was acquitted. She and I spoke over the phone to celebrate the release of Tupac: Resurrection, a brilliant documentary she co-produced.
I basked in her wisdom for almost an hour and asked long-held questions about her beloved son. After watching the film, I felt compelled to share how much I related to a young ’Pac and how he downplayed his intelligence and talents, especially as the child of a single parent. I asked Ms Shakur for her advice on kids feeling pressured to conform.
‘I think people like you and Tupac represent something that needs to be,’ she replied. ‘You said you were quiet early on?
You never said much because you knew they would bear you down to the ground; that there was no place for that. But you have made it here, and there was a reason you made it here.
‘So now, guess what you get to do? You get to speak for those people and those children. You get to say that; you get to identify it. That’s what Tupac did; that’s why we love him.’
Ms Shakur then told me I was a vindication for my mother’s struggles, making me cry. She spoke softly when she continued,
‘We look at you, and we know why we suffered. We know why it was important.’
Lastly, I told her how Arab fans revered her son. This was six years before anti-government uprisings spread across the Middle East, becoming known as the Arab Spring. Hip-hop’s power, especially 2Pac’s fiery music, has been credited with sparking the rebellion. I mentioned that I’d read she loved Lebanese–American philosopher Khalil Gibran and asked if her son was a fan.
‘Let me tell you something. Tupac’s understanding of anything comes from The Prophet being in his life. You
cannot talk about Tupac and not talk about the effect of Khalil Gibran on his upbringing. So, Tupac and his Lebanese friends – because that’s what they are, they need to know that – tell them that Tupac loved Khalil Gibran.’
To date, it was my most cathartic interview. When Ms Shakur passed away in May 2016, I was heartbroken. Inspired by warriors like the Shakurs, my commitment to social issues was devout.
I did my best to use Urban Hitz as a tool for change. I loved responding to countless letters from young people in remote areas, chiefly young Indigenous people, who wrote and said the magazine made them feel less isolated.
Jim and Nathan also gave me the green light to produce a drug-themed issue with an investigative cover story on Australia’s crystal meth epidemic.
In my editor’s letter, I reflected on the friends I’d lost to heroin in my teens and how, when that substance was finally wiped from the streets, it was replaced by meth. The issue featured articles about dancehall artist Sean Paul’s calls to legalise weed and Melbourne rapper Phrase’s upfront account of long-term addiction. I implored readers to keep an open mind.
I visited prisons and juvenile centres, first reaching out of my own accord and then being invited by their education and training units. Some of the magazine’s contributors, including my friend Peter Papalii, a.k.a. DJ Peter Gunz, joined me on a visit to Cobham Youth Centre in Western Sydney.
Cobham is the principal remand centre in our state for males aged fifteen years and over. We sat with the boys for hours, sharing stories and nourishing their motivation.
Pete chuckled when a handful of them recognised me from hanging out with their older brothers in Burwood in my not-much-younger days. I was happy to share laughs with them, though it was painful to see incarcerated teens.
After our visit, the organiser, juvenile justice officer Shannon Fitzgerald, told me the talks had hit home.
‘The depth of your knowledge and the heart and soul of Peter combined to make a highly effective presentation,’ she wrote.
‘I can only hope the boys take on board that there are people out there who believe in them.’
I believed in them like I believed in myself. If they were given opportunities and assistance to work towards their goals, they would likely learn to back themselves as I did. I understood not everyone was blessed with a family like mine, so the least I could do was pay that forward by supporting and inspiring others. I was proud of everything I achieved with Urban Hitz but, most importantly, for the impact it had on kids like me.
Tell Her She’s Dreamin’: A Memoir for Ambitious Girls is out now via Hachette Australia.