Julian Thomas and James Simon

Short Interview

James Simon (left) and Julian Thomas (right) performing at the DA Center for the Arts on February 21, 2016 (Source: Chaffey Breeze photographer Liz Duncan)

(This article was originally posted on the website for Chaffey College’s newspaper, The Breeze, and will appear in volume 14 of Chaffey College’s literary journal, The Chaffey Review.)

Julian Thomas and James Simon both performed spoken word together at the DA Center for the Arts on February 21, 2016. Their performance demonstrated they have a knack for engaging with an audience, but that there is also substance to their creative work. Their core message is empathy; it is about sharing and understanding the experiences and feelings of other human beings. To summarize, Julian Thomas and James Simon are writer/performers that have not made it — yet. Keep a tab on them.

They are also human beings worth knowing; they are ambitious and generous. To start, Julian Thomas has not been published yet, but he is anxious to see his work published in the next volume of the Chaffey Review. He has performed before. He says that performing is his way to escape at any place that does open mic or spoken word. However, he had not performed at the DA Center of the Arts before his performance on February, 21, 2016. He is currently a student studying Communications and English at Chaffey Community College in Rancho Cucamonga.

In addition, James Simon has not been published before, but he has performed multiple times prior to his performance at the DA Center for the Arts. He has performed spoken word and hip-hop in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Victorville, Barstow, Pasadena, and Ontario. He is currently a student studying music at Victorville Community College.

Both of them were generous enough to answer thirteen short-interview questions via text-message about their aspirations, influences and life.

1. How long have you been interested in spoken word, hip-hop, and/or poetry? Which one of those terms would you use to describe what you’re most interested in making?

Julian

I grew up listening to hip-hop, and poetry came into my life around the age of 9. I’m unable to decide which I’m more interested in making because I have a love for both.

James

I’ve been interested in hip-hop and poetry for as long as I can remember, growing up listening to great artists, such as Tupac Shakur. I really couldn’t categorize which I’d be more interested in making, considering both play a big part in my creativity.

2. Do you have aspirations to write short stories, non-fiction, or novels? Why choose poetry or spoken word as your format for expression?

Julian

Actually, I didn’t find spoken word; spoken word found me. I was lost and unable to express myself, so God put pen & paper in my life. I’m a very spiritual person. I believe if God wants something to be in your life, he’ll put it there with purpose. That’s how I know poetry is what I’m supposed to do. I got comfortable enough to express my lines in front of people. So that’s my form of expression. I would love to write a novel, mostly something dealing with my life’s adventures.

James

It’s funny that you’ve asked that because my aspirations for writing in general are very substantial. I would love to write short stories, non-fiction, and even novels. As far as why I would choose poetry as my format for expression, it would be because it grasps the audience’s ear in a strong way that creates a relationship with my listeners and I.

3. What do you think the duty of the poet/artist is in society? Is it political, making art for art’s sake, personal therapy, empathy, etc.?

Julian

Every poet starts off writing as a form of self expression. But after getting comfortable with that, some feel like they need to assist others and uplift them with their stories, looking for people that can relate to them. So that’s the duty of the poet — it is to be the voice for people who can’t speak for themselves.

James

I feel the duty of an artist is to express their feelings and to tell their story, so definitely making art. Personally, my duty is to “feed the thoughts” and to bring people together as one.

4. How do you view technology? And how has that affected the creative work you are interested in making?

Julian

Technology vastly innovates. Back in the 80’s it was difficult for an artist to be heard because they didn’t have social media. Now we can post a video of our talent online and try to get tons of views. Now there is the potential people will be able to see work shared online and know you all over the world. I wouldn’t say technology affects creative work, but it makes me want to make my work more relateable to different people because of how quickly millions of people could potentially see it.

James

Actually, I feel technology has made us take the “old school ways” for granted, but technology has made it easier to be exposed through the media. My soul pumps through the ink in my pen. Pen and paper is the best way to express your art — in my opinion.

5. Who are your influences? Poets? Novelists?

Julian

Tupac Omar Shakur, Andre 3000, Maya Angelou, Floetry, and Erykah Badu by far have had a huge impact on my writing abilities.

James

Tupac Shakur, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott , and Floetry are some of my biggest influences and play a role in my style today.

6. Do you have any favorite hip-hop artists? If so, who are they? What recommendations of artists would you give?

Julian

I would recommend all of these artists: J.Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad, and Nas. They all stand up for something and play a huge role in the culture of hip-hop.

James

My Favorite Hip-hop artists are Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, and J.Cole.

7. What do you think the purpose of hip-hop is today? How has it changed?

Julian

My people of color have been through a lot. Hip-hop wasn’t the first music we expressed our troubles through. It was actually the blues. But hip-hop alone is our way of venting and saying, “Hey, this is what we go through. Come check it out. This is me and I’m embracing it.” Hip-hop has changed tremendously. Artists like N.W.A paved the way for artists to not be ashamed or frightened of what to put and say in their music; it was to give artists confidence enough to be vulnerable.

James

Honestly, the purpose of hip-hop has changed drastically compared to the art that was created back in the 90’s and even before our time. I feel there’s no message being portrayed in the music today. That’s why there’s very few artists like Julian Thomas and myself. Music is an expression for my people to portray the pain they’ve endured.

8. Do you have a poem or song that you want to share right this moment? If so, what is it?

Julian

Yes. The poem is called “Soldier’s Redemption.” In that poem James Simon and I were talking about how hard we push each other to strive toward our success.

It is a small, yet detailed recap of a few hardships we’ve been through in our younger years. The message is that we won’t rest until our people and we are wealthy and abundantly successful.

James

Yes, “Soldier’s Redemption” is a poem I’ve written. The significance of that very expression is to magnify the harsh environment we’ve lived in during our early years of life. The purpose and message is to lift ourselves until we achieve our destiny beyond measures.

9. How has being a student and learning from different classes impacted, changed, or solidified your views about the kind of writing or creative work that you want to make?

Julian

Being a student alone gives me plenty of inspiration to write poems. I actually have a poem called “Current Situations” in which I’m talking about the struggles I’m currently facing as a first-year college student. I’ve actually learned an enormous amount of knowledge from being a part of the Chaffey Review. Also, my professor Michelle Dowd has inexplicably impacted me. She gave me the networking skills and all the other skills needed in order to be successful in the world of creative arts.

James

I’ve learned a significant amount of knowledge from my professors. Being a student alone is very crucial to the art I create.

10. What inspires you? For example, when you wake up in the morning, do you tell yourself something to encourage you to work hard and be excited for the day?

Julian

Being a black man inspires me enough. When I was a little boy, my mother constantly told me “there’s people in this world that hate you for the color you are, so you need to turn all your pain into passion in order to succeed here.” I always remembered that. That’s my motivation to get up every morning.

James

Growing up with melanin in my bloodstream , makes me a minority in society. I’ve grown up taught I wasn’t going to amount to nothing because of the color of my skin, which is why I told myself that accusation is false, and I will overcome any obstacle the world has to offer. I will achieve greatness!

11. What is a memorable and embarrassing moment that you’ve had?

Julian

My most memorable moment in my life (in my opinion) would have to be graduating from a traditional high school. Throughout high school I transferred a lot, and I found myself stuck in a continuation school. I didn’t like it whatsoever; everyone there seemed like they didn’t have the same goals I wanted. They would all settle for less.

They were okay with being average, but I made up over 200 credits in exactly a year. That’s honestly the most memorable and remarkable moment in my life.

James

The most embarrassing moment I can remember was back in the 2nd grade where I fell off stage during a school play.

12. What is the coolest dream you have had that you can remember?

Julian

My great-grandmother was around during my early childhood. Every single time I went over to her house, she was reading her Bible. She would always tell me I’m destined to be great. That when I find God I’ll find my true destiny. When she died laying in a death bed in a hospice, she couldn’t remember my name as I saw her blink for the last time. But she came to me in a dream while I was in heaven. She reminded me to follow my path. To me, that has to be the coolest dream.

James

The coolest dream I remember was traveling around the world.

13. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the treatment of citizens of color in the United States, such as what has happened over the last couple years especially (police brutality, etc.)? What do you think can be done for the country to move forward?

Julian

I’m an optimist. Because of the position I have in this country, I have no choice but to be optimistic. Police brutality isn’t something new, but my people need to learn their rights so we’re not wrongly accused of anything. It’s not our fault they’re racist, but it’s our fault we’re blind to our constitutional rights. My goal is to educate my people on our rights and to make us more optimistic.

James

I am very optimistic about a change in our society and the treatment of citizens with color, considering the fact my people have been through the harshest brutality man has experienced. We can’t force mankind to treat blacks as humans and look at us as they look at themselves, but we can stand up and make a change. “Black Lives Matter!” I’m not saying only black lives matter, but I am saying black lives matter, too!

If you liked the article, then hit the ❤ button below, and, if you cannot get enough, then you can learn more about Julian Thomas and James Simon from the links below.

Julian Thomas links:

You can follow him on Twitter here.

James Simon links:

You can follow him on Twitter here.

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