“Most of us understand that innovation is enormously important. It’s the only insurance against irrelevance. It’s the only guarantee of long-term customer loyalty. It’s the only strategy for out-performing a dismal economy.”
– Gary Hamel
Sometime, to get in the mood to write, I turn on some smooth R&B and Neo Soul. It puts me in my element. It helps me further immerse myself into the stories that I create. One artist that constantly stays in my rotation is Robert Glasper. His albums Black Radio and Black Radio 2 are certified classics. However, I tend to favor Black Radio 2 over the first Grammy winning installment.
It’s honesty a hard choice! Choosing which of the two albums is the best is like asking a die-hard NBA fanatic if LeBron James is a better basketball player than Kobe Bryant. A heated debate will spark, along with flaring egos and raised voices. A fist fight may even occur! But, every debater and commentator has their opinions and views on why they think one is better than another. The same correlation can be attributed to my choice of Black Radio 2 as the better album.
One song that stands out to me on the album is I Stand Alone by legendary Chicago emcee Common. If I can call any song my theme song, this would be it! That’s not the only thing that endears me to the song. At the end it features a monologue by author, media personality, college professor and public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson. If anything separates the two albums, his brief interlude gives Black Radio 2an edge over the original Black Radio.
Many NBA fans say that Kobe is a better player than LeBron James based on the fact that he has five rings to LeBron’s two. In my honest opinion, that’s the only claim that they can hold onto! LeBron is a beast on the court. When he gets in his zone, there’s no stopping him. I can confidently say that Michael Eric Dyson’s feature is what puts Black Radio 2 over the hump. In his interlude, he talked about black individualism and innovation in the art realm.
“The irresistible appeal of Black individuality – where has all of that gone? The very people who blazed our path to self-expression and pioneered a resolutely distinct and individual voice have too often succumbed to mind-numbing sameness and been seduced by simply repeating what we hear, what somebody else said or thought and not digging deep to learn what we think or what we feel, or what we believe.
Now, it is true that the genius of African culture is surely its repetition, but the key to such repetition was that new elements were added each go-round. Every round goes higher and higher. Something fresh popped off the page or jumped from a rhythm that had been recycled through the imagination of a writer or a musician. Each new installation bore the imprint of our unquenchable thirst to say something of our own, in our own way, in our own voice as best we could. The trends of the times be damned!
Thank God we’ve still got musicians and thinkers whose obsession with excellence and whose hunger for greatness remind us that we should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular, rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity that God placed deep inside each of us”
-Michael Eric Dyson, “I Stand Alone”
When I first heard his commentary, I immediately thought of my novel The Diary of Aaliyah Anderson. It’s so different from the other young adult novels on the market that it’s uncanny. I can even boldly state that a book of its kind has never been created before. It’s overtly positive, taking on issues that confront the youth of America in an innovative way. I blend in a little bit of drama and what I like to call “realistic ratchetness” to hook a reluctant reader in and keep him or her interested and then force them to think on a higher level.
Merrium-Webster defines the word innovation as “the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods”. Simply put, you can’t be an artist, businessperson or entrepreneur without being innovative. You can’t be successful period without being innovative. Our elders say that there’s nothing new under the sun but that doesn’t mean that an already proven concept can’t be further built upon. Innovation and quality are the keys to longevity in any field.
Rappers and authors, I urge you to take note of my sit down interview with author and publisher Thomas Long. I had a chance to dialogue with him about bring a different voice to the book industry. And trust me, this brother knows about innovation first hand. The story of how he got his first major book deal is even innovative!
Thomas Long: Yes, the book industry has changed significantly. Authors used to pound the pavements to push their work to persuade the average consumer to take a chance and buy a copy of their book. Nowadays, authors are lazy and believe they can have long term success just publishing ebooks on Amazon. It used to be the standard to write full length novels but today authors confuse novels with novellas. The craft and skill of writing a quality story has been eroded by so many pretenders and wanna be authors.
Randall: To get your first novel put out under the Urban Books publishing label, you approached Carl Weber personally with your manuscript. He was so impressed that he offered you a book deal instantly! Take us back to that day. How did your conversation with him go?
Thomas Long: I’m a very blunt person. I basically just told him that I had a novel that’s hot that I think he should read. I sent it to him and his readers loved it because the story was so real and filled with passion and real emotions that the hood could relate to. It was just that simple.
Randall: How important is desire to success?
Thomas Long: Success and desire go hand in hand because you can’t have one without the other. You also have to have a plan of action to go along with them as well as steps you plan to take to get to where you want to be in life.
Randall: How did it feel to see your novel be adapted into the feature film 4 Life?
Thomas Long: It felt like a dream come true to make history and to share that distinction with the late, great Donald Goines. It validated my potential and talent for me and set the bar high for me moving forward. I feel proud to be able to open that door for the next Black author to walk through in getting their work onto the big screen.
Randall: When it comes to novel writing, is having mass appeal important?
Thomas Long: Mass appeal is a relative term. Some people write stories because they see a writing style or topic that another has that’s hot and try to duplicate that success, but that doesn’t always produce the expected results. I write from the heart and my life experiences and pick topics that are of interest to me. My books are for those that can relate to them and not for everybody.
Randall: How important is diversity and innovation to the modern day author? In your opinion, is it artistically and financially viable to cater to only one market for the time period of a career?
Thomas Long: Variety is the spice of life. I try to bring a different flavor with each story. That’s why I write in every genre. I never place limits on my creativity. Also, I will always have a book that appeals to readers regardless of what their favorite genre is.
Randall: What’s your opinion on the state of black literature? Do you believe that storylines from black authors are starting to become more repetitive?
Thomas Long: I think that the bulk of urban lit or black lit sucks today to be brutally honest. It’s full of the same recycled storylines with poor grammar and editing. Many today don’t know the difference between a novel and a novella or short story and that’s sad. Readers are being encouraged to become writers to make quick dollar which I think is absurd. However, through all of the garbage real writerd who respect the craft will still shine through.
Randall: By the time this article is published, it will be read by many young adults striving for better in the world. What is your message to them?
Thomas Long: I would tell them to always be an individual and have your own mind. Educate yourself at all costs and always be open to new experiences outside of your environment. Don’t feed into the stereotypes that many in my generation hold on to for dear life that projects a distorted perception of what being “real” or a stand up man or woman is. Summing up, never place limits on yourself or let anyone else do that for you.
Randall: What upcoming projects do you have on the horizon?
Thomas Long: I just released a book in May called Love TKO which is the sequel to my novel Unconventional Love. I have book coming in July at the Harlem Book Festival called High Society Gangster and a novella coming August called Blowin’ It.
Randall: Where can we find you?
Thomas Long: All of my titles and information about me can be found on my website: www.tlongwrites.com. My Twitter and Instagram screen name is @tlongmoney.
I would also like to say thank you young brother and I wish you much success.
Do you have any questions or comments for me? Is there someone you’d like me to interview? I would love to hear from you! Contact me directly at:
Twitter: @AuthorRandallB & @TeamYGB25
Check out a preview of my debut novel “The Diary of Aaliyah Anderson” on Wattpad today! It’s coming soon!