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An Interview with Todd Craig
By Deesha Dyer

Author, DJ, student and professor Todd Craig and I had a brief conversation via phone on one of his many trips down to Philly from his home in NYC. Unfortunately, the tape was damaged, but that won't stop me from writing about his latest endeavors. So, I asked him a few more question via email and thankfully, he complied with some very thorough answers.

We linked up to discuss the project that added "published author' to his list of esteemed accomplishments.

Craig's novel, tor'cha hit bookstands, car trunks, community centers and libraries this past February. It's a book that he calls – a novel about the hood, not a hood novel. While prepping for the tor'cha Boston launch party, he breaks down his thoughts on hood novels, and why this book is a bit different:

"I think a lot of these hood or street novels that we see out these days glorify this life of crime. I wanted to engage my people in using their brains, because I think a popular misconception about the hood is that we don't use our brains. But it is so untrue, because there are so many unfound geniuses in the hood, and it's sickening that they're caught up in some of the nasty elements of street life. I wanted my novel to engage learning. Some of these 'hood stories' give kids an unrealistic view about street life. Instead, I wanted to act more like a reporter. I cannot deny that these things take place, so there are those elements within the stories. However, instead of glorifying these elements, I place them in a spectrum of choice – hopefully readers will see that there are indeed other choices that can be made, various choices. We just have to be strong enough to know what they are, and maybe even make different choices than some of the ones we see in these hood novels."

Let me give you a little preview/teaser. tor'cha tells the tale of 3 brothers in the hood that are confronted with certain choices that have them questioning themselves. The book digs deep into their lives. Namely, Emil (a stick-up kid turned musician), Damon aka Abdullah Zahir (incarcerated felon turned Muslim) and Christian (escaped the streets via education). While they struggle with what is right vs. what is easy, they are faced with the breaking the Ten Commandments and the morals from Supreme Mathematics, an Islamic concept that originated from the Nation of Gods and Earths.

I had to ask Craig about the religious/spiritual backbone of tor'cha – like why he chose to bring those elements in, and if injecting the faith aspect would perhaps turn readers off?

"Growing up, I went to church -really Sunday school- with a lot of dudes in youth. As we got older, some of them turned to lives of crime. What I began to notice more and more was that once dudes went away to do their bids, but they came back righteous-it was the teachings of Islam (mainly 5 percenters or Gods and Earths) that brought them back positive and kept them on the straight and narrow. I was always intrigued by how that worked out. Once I started to do the research on the Nation of Gods and Earths, I found their influence reached further than many of us realize."

Listen to any hip-hop record, and you're gonna hear 5 percenter language. Listen to the slang in the hood, it's got the Gods and Earths speech written all over it. I didn't feel that I could write the story without it. And it fit perfectly for me to couple the Ten Commandments with Supreme Mathematics. If you really look at it, Supreme Mathematics works for the Gods and Earths quite similar to the ways the 10 Commandments work for Christians."

"I really wanted to build a bridge between the two in a creative and innovative way. Given the climate of the world we live in these days, it was real important to me to make sure that I cast a positive light on the Gods and Earths as well as Islam, instead of the foolishness we see in the media, where Islam has been painted as this "deviant" culture, where people are doing nothing but violent acts. I know it's not like that at all. There are good and bad people in religions everywhere, throughout history. But the Gods and Earths that I know are positive influences in our communities-I wanted to honor that positivity and celebrate it properly."

When we first started talking about various ways that Craig would like to reach the community with tor'cha, he spoke o f creating a book that would interest the kids in his neighborhood to read. Craig is targeting urban markets on the East Coast that have programs with disadvantaged youth for a donation of books. Recently, Prodigy of Mobb Deep (who is also featured on the soundtrack – more on that later), and Voxonic Records has purchased a chunk of novels to be donated on behalf of Infamous / Voxonic to disadvantaged youth in 5-7 markets across the country.

"For me, it's important that our youth in urban inner city communities really and truly know that knowledge is power. There's an old saying that goes: "you want to hide something from a black person – put it in a book!" It's scary, but the climate we live in shows this to be true. For youth these days, it's cool to be "stupid" in a sense; instead of being in school, getting an education, and making the long-term commitment that leads to a better life, these kids have been brainwashed to think that it's cool to be out selling drugs, getting shot or shot at, and even more – going to jail. I wish someone would tell me what's cool about jail! Ask anyone in jail, they'll tell you they don't want to be there. Check the drug dealer on the corner that's been caught in that rut, he'll tell you it's not poppin' at all. A lot of my friends as we grew up have told me how they wish they would've stayed in school, so that maybe they wouldn't be stuck in the cyclical trap the hood orchestrates for keeping people locked in.

"I wanted to give the youth in my community stories they could relate to, characters they could understand speaking just how they speak, with the hopes that it may be a springboard for them to continue reading more complex texts, and make a way out of some of the pitfalls the hood presents on a daily basis. There's nothing easy about escaping the clutches of the hood. For me, I made it out through reading, writing and engaging in education. So in giving back, I wanted to give youth something they could read hoping that would spark their interests do make some other choices…even if they don't make the choice, I really want them to know there are indeed other ways."

In addition to the brain food, readers will get some ear candy courtesy of the tor'cha soundtrack that comes with every book. The soundtrack was made for the book and sets the vibe for each chapter. It includes songs by artists like Mobb Deep, Big Twins, Truck North, Big Noyd, and production from various talents like Havoc, Bear-One, and Mr. Len.

Craig bounces around the idea of tor'cha being the first in a 3-part series, but says he isn't sure of that. What he does know is that isn't his last published novel and that he hopes the book reaches those that can identify and learn from his words and his life.

Time for a contest!!!


If you haven't picked up tor'cha yet, then GeoClan has your back! Here is your chance to win a copy. Just answer the following questions correctly by May 31, 2008 and email them to info@geoclan.com. If both are correct, your name will be entered with the others to win the tor'cha book and soundtrack. Winner will be notified on June 1, 2008. Good Luck!

1. What college or colleges did Todd Craig graduate from?

2. What does blackerinkwells mean?

To find out more about Craig or pick up the book/soundtrack combo for yourself, check out: http://www.blackerinkwells.com/writings/

Be sure to drop GeoClan a line at arts@geoclan.com

 

Todd Craig

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