Almost a month since my last entry, pardon my absence! It takes time working on this dream of mine.
I hit the ground running here in New York City. After almost four months at home in Australia and out of the “loop” of entertainment industry buzz, I was filled with excitement, nerves, fear and determination to get back in the saddle.
I touched down on a Monday afternoon and hours later was back on air with my partner DJ Green Lantern for Invasion Radio (Hip Hop Nation, SiriusXM 44). Man, did it feel good! Jetlag was nothing in comparison to the adrenaline spurring me on. Radio is now truly a passion of mine and having rocked with the show for exactly two years, I’m super eager for more opportunities in this field.
Of course I checked in immediately with DrJays.com, who’ve transitioned their sponsor role with me on this new O-1B visa from Full-Time Employer (on my previous E3 visa) to Agent/Management. The company has had my back for over six years now and continuing a relationship with them has been an absolute blessing. We’re working on some great projects for the rest of the year ahead.
Towards the end of last year I began a great working relationship with Unified Society clothing, a Bronx-based company that shares my passion for giving back to the community and empowering our young people. We’ve come up with a “Boss Lady” line of apparel, kicking off with tees and wifebeaters that match the color scheme of my sneakers with Reebok Classics. We’re rolling that out at the end of this month with promo events at some Bronx sneaker and fashion stores and then moving sales online. Don’t even think for a second a portion of the proceeds aren’t going to my non-profit of choice! Once again I’m reppin’ New York Youth At Risk with all my heart and showing my support not just physically as a mentor but financially as well.
Perhaps the greatest achievement in this short month back in the swing of things is my appointment last week as Director of Marketing & Talent Relations for Sprayground, an über-popular new brand of bags and accessories. Headed by creative genius David Ben-David, the company is small but passionate. I have my work cut out for me in this exciting new role and I can’t wait to keep everyone updated on the great things we have in store.
May will be closed out on a great note with the arrival in Australia and New Zealand of my new posterbook, Stars Of Hip-Hop And R&B (the territory still needs a rudimentary title to get as much attention on newsstands as possible, sad to say). I’m so blessed to have been able to come back home for the short amount of time I was there and put together a publication like my first one which came out exactly ten years ago.
Tomorrow my Dawn Raid Entertainment family from New Zealand touch down for the next month and I’ll be introducing my girl Aaradhna to New York for the first time, welcoming her as a signed artist to Universal Republic Records. Good times ahead!
After over three soul-searching months in Sydney, Boss Lady’s headed back to New York City! (Allow me to speak in third person just this once). As anyone who lives far away from their birthplace and travels back and forth regularly will tell you, goodbyes define “bittersweet.” On one hand I’m heartbroken to leave my grandmother again, and I know my mum and sister will miss me as ridiculously as I will miss them. On the flipside, I’m as hype as the Genie when Aladdin grants him his wish for “freedom”; bursting with excitement and ready for the world.
I’m headed back to the Big Apple a different woman. More mature, more centered. Focused, humbled. I’m blessed beyond belief to be afforded the opportunity to come home and gain my spirit back. Whether it’s my outlook on my career, the energy I put into friendships or even the different kinds of men I’m opening myself up to, I’ve simply grown. And now more than ever I know you don’t grow by yourself. You grow through experience and through the wisdom, guidance and support of those you choose to have around you. I’m grateful to everyone who’s ever had my back in any way, be it reading these columns, interacting with me on social media, checking in via calling or texting, or making that extra effort to come see me. I pray that I’ve been as crucial to my people’s growth as they have to mine and while I’ve always been a cheerleader for servitude, I’m its number one fan nowadays. My platform will be used more and more to encourage young people to give back, because I’ve learned nothing can uplift you more than helping someone else. Even at your lowest point. Actually, especially at your lowest point.
This is my seventh year living in Harlem, birthplace of the “hustler.” Seven is a spiritually-recognized special number and I feel a new energy as I head back to the place I’ve chosen to call my second home. Opportunity awaits in so many ways and I’ve never been more ready to get in the mix and work my tail off like never before. The beginning of 2013 has been a quiet one for me publicity-wise, but I’ve stayed low and kept firing. I just released the first edition of the Go Down Under mixtape, which allowed the majority of featured local rappers their first chance to be showcased on major US music sites like VIBE.com. I’ve finished my posterbook magazine for Australia and New Zealand (in the tradition of my first publication, Urban Hitz) which will go on-sale in May. I have incredible apparel projects in the pipeline and many other ventures ready to roll throughout the year. I’m good to go—and I haven’t even touched back on American soil yet! Let the games begin.
Just like Lloyd Banks on “Karma,” it’s time for me to “swallow my pride and put all the bulls*it to the side.” Every entry in this diary series has been extremely personal thus far but none as painfully honest and introspective as this one, as my journey back to the United States nears.
I’d developed an extreme case of industry paranoia living and working in New York City for six years. Like many of my peers, I’d grown paranoid that at any moment I might unwittingly (or worse, knowingly) sacrifice my morals, beliefs and all ’round realness to “get ahead.” To combat this I surrounded myself with a like-minded crew; a gift and a curse. While it’s a relief when people in your corner agree with your observations that the industry’s being taken over by the wackest of the wack, those same sentiments begin to foster resentment and are detrimental to staying focused on why you’re in it to begin with.
I had a conversation about this once with Karen Civil, a close confidante. My almost overpowering fear of faltering from being real had started to stop me from significant opportunities to advance my career and I had a choice to make: either chill out and let things flow or preempt people’s motives and withdraw from being around anything I didn’t deem genuine, which I eventually started doing. A lot. I lost numerous associates and maybe even friends that way, too. Although Karen wisely encouraged me to open up more and “play the game a little,” I just couldn’t do it. Years later, I can admit that I may have been wrong. While I’m proud I’ve never sacrificed my character and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’ll tell you I’ve changed in any significant way, my stance ultimately had me caught up in my own hype. I became a “real” snob, obsessed with the word and placing all emphasis on my interpretation of it. I had a similar talk with Reggie Ossé a.k.a. Combat Jack right when his eponymous radio show was kicking off. We spoke at length about mutual acquaintances and while we shared an opinion on most, we greatly differed in our approach and relationships with them. Instead of taking Reggie’s encouraging words to heart, my hard-headed self continued the “me against the world” mentality I’d held for so many years. It’s only now, in this moment and during my time away from everything, I’ve been able to recall both my friends’ words and realize it’s time to put them into action.
My new O-1B work visa has been officially approved, which means I’m headed back to the Big Apple in less than two weeks. I might be going back the same ol’ truth-spitting, smart-a*s, classically-trained journalist known as Boss Lady, but I’m open to being a new Simone Amelia in so many ways. I’m open to dealing with bulls*it a little more. I’m open to letting my guard down when it serves a greater purpose. I’m open to letting people start on 10 with me and go down to a zero depending on their actions, rather than starting them on zero because of my attitude. I’m excited about this new awakening and where it will take me, and for those who’ve rocked with me through thick and thin and accepted me for my flaws and frustrating ways, thank you. Please believe, I won’t let you down.
“Lights is blinding, girls need blinders/So they can step out of bounds quick, the sidelines is/Lined with casualties, who sip to life casually/Then gradually become worse, don’t bite the apple Eve.”
Jay-Z touched on mine and every young, ambitious female’s experience when moving to New York in “Empire State Of Mind.” It happens to the best of us, getting caught up in the magic of the city and everything it has to offer. And when you work in the entertainment industry, the temptation can be overwhelming.
Growing up in Sydney (inner west and west, to be exact) I always loved labels. Us kids from single parents love us some brand names, don’t we? We’d do whatever it took to have the nicest gear but in those days and most expensive was Polo Ralph Lauren (if we paid for it every time is another story). It would then trickle down to Nautica, Gant, Champion, FILA and of course, the almighty Nike. If you haven’t figured it out yet, yes, I was a complete tomboy (you try growing up on TLC and Aaliyah). As long as we had a constant stream of goods from these brands, we were doing okay.
I’ll never forget when I started dressing “girly” (around 19 or so) and I became aware of designer labels more than ever. Artists like Biggie would rap about Versace and Escada and I was hooked. For my 21st birthday, I had a group of friends pitch in for my first pair of Escada shoes. This exquisite pair that cost over $1000 and were glossy wood, spiked heels with denim straps (call it the “Jenny From The Block” era) were everything I’d ever dreamed about. I ended up wearing them so often they became too “tore up” to even donate to the local Salvation Army store. My love affair with really expensive things had been ignited.
When I moved to New York I was 26 years old and ready to take advantage of the best shopping in the world. With my poor kid mentality, I didn’t want to look at buying from chains like Century 21, Loehmann’s and T.J. Maxx for sensible discounts. I was too good for that. I wanted to buy my goods from their flagship stores. I wanted the name of the brand on its shopping bag, dammit! It didn’t help that I first lived on Madison Avenue (right up the top in Harlem, but that didn’t matter to me) and romanticized that street name like I was Carrie Bradshaw. I was drawn to a world I wasn’t anywhere near ready for and for years, I tried keeping up with it. Because I’d always paid my rent and held my own (not to mention a mortgage back in Sydney from an apartment my grandmother made me promise to buy before I left) I thought I wasn’t being frivolous by spending all my extra money on material things. But I was; I was out of my mind. I was paying for Louboutins and dinners at expensive restaurants because I “had to look the part.” When my job stopped sending me on work trips because in their opinion they weren’t justifiable, I thought nothing of spending my own money on expensive fares and accommodation to cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and Atlanta for award shows and trade shows because I “had to be there.” For the past six years, I’ve lived outside my means. And while it thankfully never got so bad that I went into any kind of serious debt, I’m left today with not much to show financially (which at the end of the day, is most important) for all my years of hard work in the city that never sleeps.
I should have known better. I was smarter than that. I’d seen too much. When I was younger there were times that were so tough, Mum told me recently, she used to have to take her “foot off the accelerator when we were in the car to save petrol.” I remember she would lock herself in her bedroom and cry, stressed over our financial situation, thinking my sister and I were unaware of her pain and not realizing I could hear her.
Having been home with my family these past few months waiting on my new visa to tackle New York again, I’ve been blessed to come back down to earth. I’ve spent every night here reflecting on my attempts to live a fantasy lifestyle I bought into like so many of my peers do. I’ve realized there’s no shame in starting from the bottom and straying not too far from it till you’re truly ready. Because that time of success and glory will come, but it can’t come at the expense of your peace of mind and financial stability. I’m heading back to the city I love a very different person, with my eyes wide open and a new attitude toward everything and everyone. I’m back to the hungry young woman I was but now I finally know where to channel the rewards of that hunger: to sensibly provide for my family and set myself up for a better future. I owe them and myself that much.
Eight weeks in Australia and counting. I love my home country, but it’s time to get back to New York.
The O-1B visa is a real wake up call for your ass if you’ve been living in the States on the comparatively simple E3 as I have for the past six years. The amount of paperwork needed to prove I’m worthy of being deemed a “creative talent” and eligible to live and work freely (as opposed to being restricted to one employer as I was before) is mind-boggling. My immigration lawyer Susan B. Henner emailed me this weekend to let me know the last piece of the puzzle—an evaluation from a “peer group” (in my case, a radio advisory board) that officially co-signs what I do—has finally arrived, so she’s filing for the visa with the USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services) on Monday. If all things go smoothly, the visa should be ready within 15 working days (I paid the $1225 expedite fee for this) and then an interview is set up at the US consulate in Sydney for me. God willing, I’ll be back on US soil within the next month and ready for the next challenge headed my way: securing more work in addition to my gigs with DrJays.com and SiriusXM.
I spent this past week reaching out to local media types in Sydney, investigating whether or not the usually myopic entertainment industry would be interested in having a New York-based news correspondent with years of experience and a fresh voice. In addition to the posterbook I’m currently working on for the market, I’ve decided I’d like to build a stronger presence here. I’ve always been an outsider when it comes to the industry in Australia, so actively seeking a profile is something I’ve shied away from. And so far, not much luck. A recent conversation with a friend of mine, a successful celebrity wardrobe stylist that lives between Sydney and Los Angeles, reiterated my thoughts on just how scared Australia is to take chances when it comes to introducing and nurturing new talent. Risk-taking is rarely encouraged, but that won’t deter me. I’ll keep knocking on doors and if I need to break ’em down to make a way in, I’ve done it before and can do it again. With everything I do, completing this mission isn’t just for me; it’s for every young minority kid in West Sydney with what seems like a crazy dream to make it on a major level (“I’m strong enough to carry Biggie Smalls on my back/And the whole BK, ni**a holla back,” as Jay-Z says in “Moment Of Clarity”).
Special shout out to Iggy Azalea for dropping in this week with her own “American Dreamin'” story.
My grandmother doesn’t comprehend the concept of a “career.” Even though I’ve had the same aspirations since I was in school, she still doesn’t fully understand what it is I do for a living (I’m not so sure myself nowadays). To her, a woman like me should have been happy as a secretary, wearing something of a uniform every day and working 9 to 5 with a steady pay check. I admit her sensible and basic approach to working life would have saved me the dramas I’m currently going through but when your lowest days in search of your dream are more desirable than the idea of normalcy, you just have to be destined to make it. Right?
It’s been a tough week for me, hence the reason I bring up my grandmother. She’s now yelling at me as I write this, repeating one of her colorful stories from Lebanon. This time it’s about a man in her village asked by his wife to bring back some wood for a fire. Instead of showing up with the few logs needed, he returned heaving an entire bush. I’m being compared to this over-achiever and asked why I have to be the one to go big with everything, instead of just doing as expected like everyone else. Her frustration stems from my frustration, as I’ve just been told my new O-1B work visa will come through in another five to six weeks minimum. Add that to the almost two months I’ve been here and my usually quick annual trip home to Australia has turned into something much longer than expected. Plus I’m paying my expensive rent back in New York City, a multitude of bills and a flight change fee every month or so; not to mention looking for new career opportunities daily.
It’s extremely frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the time with my family, but to take such an extended absence from the hustle and bustle of New York and the music and fashion industries I work in feels like career suicide right now. I’m being dramatic, but you get the point. Having cloudy direction for a spell ultimately lead to me being in this position, and a costly and time-consuming spell it’s become. If it wasn’t for the strength and support of my mum, sister and close friends, I would have gone crazy by now.
True to form though, I am keeping busy while out here. I hosted the Sydney chapter of global event One Billion Rising yesterday (above), a cause close to my heart with a great turnout. I’m also in the middle of putting together the first Go Down Under mixtape with my friend DJ Leon Smith, a showcase of Australia and New Zealand’s best hip-hop talent. On the fashion tip, I’m working on a secret project with a brand that will pay tribute to my grandmother, her over-zealous friend with the bush and all of Lebanon’s descendants. Cannot wait for that one to be put in motion!
Sharing my world last week wasn’t easy, but now the gates are open I’m ready to roll.
Thank you to everyone who read my first American Dreamin’ column, especially those that left a comment. My aim is to document this crazy, age-old immigrant journey of mine and thus directly (and positively) effect my peers going through the same thing. What a humbling experience it all is!
Despite currently waking up every morning frustrated my new O-1B visa paperwork is still yet to be filed, this is a productive time for me. The visa delay is due to the issues I outlined last week: in my state of career confusion late last year, I left things too late. It took me some time to even decide the O-1B visa is the best option for me, and now I wince at how easy the E3 visa process is in comparison (if you’re Australian with a relevant degree and a job offer in the US, you’re good to go on the E3). Of course getting that job offer isn’t so simple but for me it kinda was, due to the time I’d spent building my relationship with DrJays.com when I edited Urban Hitz magazine and of course, being completely honest with them about my dreams to live in America. The O-1B visa has a crazy amount of requirements to prove the applicant has “extraordinary ability” in their creative field, and because I was in a mad rush to do just that, I recently had to work around the clock to get everything together. A letter of employment plus recommendation letters, awards, certificates, proof I’m part of relevant organizations (such as Women In Entertainment Empowerment Network) and even documentation from advisory groups I co-created in Sydney back when I was a teenager, like the incredible INDENT (huge thanks to the current staff there, who searched far and wide for my files from over 10 years ago!). Let’s not even get started on finding the right immigration lawyer to actually put everything together and most importantly, guide you where you need it. I wasted over a month waiting on one who completely ignored my urgent cries for help and then I was referred to the lovely Susan B. Henner, whom I highly recommend. Right now Susan and I are waiting on the DrJays.com team to sign some final paperwork, then we’ll be ready to start the application process.
In the meantime, I’ve been given the green light to put together a posterbook of hip-hop and R&B artists for the Australian and New Zealand market. Yes, just like I did back in 2003 with the very first issue of Urban Hitz (and later special issues, like the one below from 2008):
With a new name and feel, we’re looking for the magazine to go on-sale in May. Shout out to my old publishing buddy Nick Cutler (CEO of Custom Made Media Australia) for helping me realize this vision once again. Back in the day I had to practically beg the record labels in Australia to chase up images of hip-hop and R&B talent for me; they had no idea (and sadly, probably still don’t) who the majority of artists were. Now I thankfully have incredibly strong relationships with their US counterparts and am able to ask them to assist me (which they do, immediately).
But nothing excites me more right now than getting back to radio. I was blessed with an opportunity to prove myself with no prior experience on Hip Hop Nation/SiriusXM and almost two years later, the station’s Program Director Reggie Hawkins and my “Invasion Radio” main man DJ Green Lantern are still rocking with me. For the past week, I’ve been doing voice lessons with the lovely Deborah Bauer of Voice Artistry here in Sydney, learning about breathing, pronunciation, delivery and more. I’m feeling more confident than ever to get back to New York and get this husky, West Sydney-bred voice on-air again.
One would think that after six years of living in New York City and not only surviving the crazy entertainment industry but also making notable moves within it, I’d have a clear idea where my career was headed right now. Try again.
I’ll never forget the day I moved to the United States: January 12, 2007. The 14-hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles was a breeze, having previously gone back and forth more times than I cared to remember on missions of work, fun and love (“and in that order,” word to Momma Dee). The second leg of the journey to New York is always killer and when my flight arrived to a freezing dawn at JFK airport, I was physically and mentally exhausted. Running on excitement and adrenalin, I had to report to my new office that same morning.
Said office, located on the famous Broadway stretch but in super cool, downtown-ish Union Square, is none other than the headquarters of leading online retailer of street fashion, DrJays.com. It’s now become my home away from home, a beautiful space with views of the city. My city, I claim today. It’s here where I’ve conducted interviews with some of the biggest names in music, put together photo shoots for the hottest brands and most importantly, learned more about the business of the internet than I could have ever imagined. Tasked with creating lifestyle content for the first time not only on DrJays.com but its sister site DJPremium, with an additional project of re-launching the company’s trailblazing social network StreetStyle.com, I was thrown in the deep end from day one and kept busy around the clock. Till now.
Sometime last year, I started having my first meltdown. I’ve always been clear with my career aspirations; I had my heart set on becoming a journalist since I read a book called The Reporter in the fourth grade and immediately started a family newsletter. I’ve charged toward my goal like a bull towards a waving red flag, from interning for free to commanding a high salary. Something strangely negative clicked in me mid 2012, however, causing me to falter from my usual advancement. I stopped caring about my work for the first time and started to feel it was taking me nowhere. That career plateau is a mother of a feeling. Sheesh. Not only had I convinced myself my place within the industry (an industry I’d put my heart and soul into since a teenager) was diminishing, the quality of the industry was deteriorating before my eyes. Things had changed so much I honestly lost my bearing.
I started to reflect on days gone by when a record label’s publicity team would travel to my office to pitch their artists, instead of me having to chase them down for content. The good ol’ days when you were one of a select few to interview an artist and not lined up like cattle on “press day,” lumped in with a growing number of neophytes who’d decided to become reporters on a whim and through their incessant groveling on Twitter, stunningly did. “Twitter is where groupies have become journalists and journalists have become groupies,” I expressed at the time. The recent trend of massive conference calls with artists (read: countless bloggers, DJs, etc on one phone line) to promote new releases, a true insult for someone who actually takes interviewing seriously, ground my gears. Perhaps the biggest blow to someone whose moniker is “Boss Lady,” I started being passed up for once-in-a-lifetime, lucrative media positions in favor of women with flimsy reality television resumes and absolutely no experience in the field. This and more began to consume me, to the point where I actually considered stepping away from everything.
I kept my developing doubts and feelings to myself for months until one day toward the end of the year, a friend stepped in and made me face them. Living away from home for so long had taken its toll, and I needed someone from back home, someone who knew me when I was first getting my start, to get me back on track. That person is my brother from another, Andy Murnane from Dawn Raid Entertainment/Frequency Media Group in New Zealand. His model of success is the only one I’ve ever truly admired: from the streets to the boardroom. I’ve known Andy since I started my magazine, Urban Hitz, in 2003 and couldn’t be more proud of him. Andy and I discussed everything for hours (sorry to cry on your shoulder, bro; I’ll never be able to thank you enough) and the outcome was this: get focused, get disciplined and get back to loving the culture that made me who I am today. Embrace the hard work I’ve put in, put my ego to the side and stay low and keep firing. I decided to travel back to Australia to fully get my priorities in order again, not to mention remember the hunger that brought me to New York in the first place. It’s where I am right now, typing this extended first entry in my new weekly “American Dreamin’” column.
I’m now switching over to a new work visa, from an E3 category to an O-1B. It will allow me to have DrJays.com as my backbone (my loyalty to the brand is untouchable and I’m so proud to keep serving them as best I can) but also freedom to pursue the other incredible opportunities I have before me in radio, hosting, events and more. This particular process is time-consuming and it seems the paperwork is endless, but I’m in the best place (mentally) to handle it right now. I’m being patient, using my time in Sydney to rekindle old business, create new opportunities and most importantly, spend quality time with my family (especially my 90-year-old grandmother). Ideally I’ll be back in New York in another month or so, ready to give it everything I’ve got. Do I have a clear idea where my career is headed right now? The answer is not really, no. But really for the first time in my life (I am a Virgo), I’m truly okay with that.
“American Dreamin’” is about chasing my dreams in America. I’m just one of the scores of young(ish) men and women from around the world doing the same thing. Sharing this new leg of my journey will not only be therapeutic for me, but hopefully for others on the same path also (whom I’d love to correspond with in the comment section below and via my social networks, if I can be of help in any way). Rock with me.