Category Archives: Artistic Development

Manifestation Monday: Special Mix By DJ SMii

A number of folks in my life have become ministers, life coaches, healers, spiritual teachers and inspirational speakers. I’m surrounded by reminders to tweak my thoughts and habits. Two of my home girls refer Monday as Manifestation Monday. They speak it, tweet it and believe it so deeply within their souls that it sets their work week in motion in such a powerful way.

I’ve spent the last year and half working with an incredible DJ/Producer to develop my meditation project. We were working with these concepts around transformation, healing and belief so much so that we couldn’t help but start living it.  It’s amazing how that works.  It’s the perfect example of being mindful of the company you keep, words you speak and the thoughts you think.

Well, ladies and gents, brothers and sister, kindreds from near and far away – my DJ has put together an incredible mix of music, sounds and words.  It is the DJ SMii mix for Money Mondays aka MoneyDay! This one is called Money Magnet, and is a 10 minute mix designed to get your mind in alignment with it’s magnetic nature and focus that power toward attracting money. Play it in your car, on the train, while walking or sitting on a park bench. Blast it in your home while making your morning smoothie. If you are interested in conditioning your mind to be more magnetic to abundance, prosperity and money, by all means–whatever you do — Listen.

#thankmelater and have a magnetizing day!


20 Years in the Game: Still Doin’ Cyphers

Fall Cypher Series 1

The launch of the Fall Cypher Series is Tuesday, September 8th at 6:30pm.  It’s at City Lore Art Gallery, 56 E. 1st St btwn 1st Ave and 2nd Ave and I’m feeling kind of nostalgic this morning. Please pardon me while I share a piece of my Cypher history.  {Ok, so here is where I want you to imagine Souls of Mischief 93 ‘Til Infinity beat dropping.}

(Click this if you need audio for your visualization) 

I started organizing and facilitating Cyphers in 1994.  Young, in love and idealistic not only about Hip Hop but the world. I had a vision for using freestyle Cyphers as a way to promote artist responsibility, preserve the oral tradition and bring crews together.

The event started at State of the Union, a bar on U St in Washington, DC.  It was called Talking Heads but I soon realized that the stress of two drink minimums was killing my vibe.  I also discovered that even the MC’s who drink don’t drink much while rhyming.  The artists were coming to the event to build skills.

Kenny Carroll and Brian Gilmore, both professional writers and poets, were DC natives who outside of their day jobs recited with a collective, hosted events and readings and didn’t mind spending hours waxing poetic on any and everything from the science of Parliament Funkadelic to the history of Mambo Sauce, local, national and global politics and there was no limit to their knowledge of poetry.  Their circle of writers could speak to Anne Sexton as well as they could Amiri Baraka or Lucille Clifton. They were like big brothers.  Not only did they teach me a lot but they also supported, encouraged and challenged me to do what I do.  That’s how I ended up at a place called 8-Rock on Martin Luther King Avenue and Good Hope Rd in Southeast Washington D.C. hosting Cyphers in the land of GoGo.

Initially I called the Cypher, Freestyle Fellowship because a good cypher always made me think of a spiritual experience.  My childhood reference for getting open started in St. Mark Baptist Church in my Bay Area hometown in California.  However, a week after the flyers were made, a fellow Hip Hop head handed me a Project Blowed Mixtape.  Freestyle Fellowship was on it. My mind was blown by what I was listening to and it was proof that when a concept is out in the universe there can be a number of people thinking and feeling the same exact thing on opposite sides of the country or planet. I was kinda’ amped and proud that the group Freestyle Fellowship was coming out of Cali too.

Freestyle Union Cipher was born.  In the 90s Cypher was spelled with an “i” but the “y” spelling has become more popular over time so I thought I would evolve with the times. I added workshop to the end of the name after the Cypher started to grow.  It was becoming bigger and all kinds of personalities were showing up.  I interned for a year with a media training firm in DC and received Train-the-Trainer training. One of the key insights I gained from the training was how important it was to focus on activities and creating an environment for participants to get from point A to point B in a set amount of time. I added “workshop” and called it Freestyle Union Cipher Workshop to keep the hard heads out.  There was no budget so we didn’t have security.  My theory was that the only people coming to a workshop were people who wanted to work, develop and build. It worked. 300 Cyphers and never had one fight.  There were a few emotional outbursts by MCs who got frustrated with themselves or the process but that’s about it. Freestyle Union shot in front of Kaffa House

When I first moved to NYC I reconnected with a number of people who I met working in the arts with Kim Chan, who was then a DC based arts professional, over the years. At one point I thought I wanted to become a professional arts presenter but after co-producing a Hip Hop Festival with the Smithsonian and Washington Performing Arts Society I realized I’m way too much of an artist to focus on developing that skill set. Professional arts presenters like Laura Greer, Maureen Knighton, Baraka Sele and Micki Sheppard showed me incredible amounts of love.  Linda Walton, Bob Holman, Lois Griffith and Miguel Algarin also embraced me as a poet, MC and arts organizer.  I met Steve Zeitland, co-founder of City Lore Foundation, through Bob and he became one of my arts mentors and I am excited to be working with him again.

Well, this piece is a little longer than I wanted it to be so I’ll tell you the rest later. Maybe when I see you at the Cypher.  Spectators welcome.  Just be mindful of your energy.  Everyone’s energy matters in the Cypher. It’s all ages, all skill levels and for all those who believe excellence and commitment to the craft matters. Cypher Deets

Please Note:  My book, Wisdom of the Cypher, will be released this fall.

You are a Freakin’ Idealist!

He pointed his finger and with disgust with the words rolling from his lips as he said, “The problem with you is that you are an idealist, a freakin’ idealist!”

A respected music journalist, he hurled the accusation at me.  For some reason it landed as an insult as one of the other men on the panel agreed with him. They laughed and high fived. I remember sitting there on a panel at a Hip Hop conference in Denver not knowing whether or not I was supposed to feel small. Was he questioning my intelligence? Was I wrong for being the way that I am?

Of course, I am witty and have eight years of competitive speaking under my belt so I later came back with the appropriate intellectual jab.  I caught him with his own words, but the sting stayed with me for years.

For two decades my idealism has been soaked, stewed and dipped in Hip Hop. At times it has made for an appetizing, soul feeding experience. Then there were other times where it left me feeling starved.  Even I questioned my ideas and choices. Why did I love this thing that way too often didn’t seem to love me back?

Toni Spittin' & Speaking in Kang, Botswana

Toni Spittin’ & Speaking in Kang, Botswana

There are still many who hear the words Hip Hop and the only thing that comes to mind is the latest “it” rapper or pop rap song but for those of us steeped in the culture it means so much more. This poem I wrote after hearing Kalamu ya Salaam’s poem, “The Blues is Not” inspired the piece below which best explains my perspective.

tagging your heart not walls

 hip hop is not music

it is not dance

it is not djing or writing

it is not rhyming

no voice is needed

hip hop is not beats

it is not the

boom bap, the boom-boom bap

but the way the

boom bap

feels when it vibrates through


hip hop is not song

nor is it singing

or even speaking

it is not windmills

it is not 12-inch vinyls

or 16-ounce cans of krylon paint

it is tagging

your heart

not walls

it is feeling

it is not hard core

or soft

it is not old school

or new

it is not east, west

or even worldwide

it is within

My idealism keeps bringing me back to the center of who I am and as the years go by I get to know myself even better.  The one thing that I’ve done regardless of circumstances is host and lead ciphers and cipher workshops via Freestyle Union Cipher Workshop and Rhyme like a Girl, both projects I created because I believe in the power of the spoken word, storytelling and rap as an oral tradition. I am just as passionate about the potential of using freestyle (improvisational) rap to promote social responsibility, critical thinking skills, creativity and confidence as I was when I first began in the 90s.

Some outgrow their ideals and some get stuck in them, while others attach to new ones. I am refining mine as I expand and update my vision. I no longer feel insulted by the term and I’ve discovered that I have enough “realist” running through my veins to keep me grounded. It feels good to be grown.  I now love myself as much as I love Hip Hop and have no shame in in being me.


Toni Blackman

An Unapologetic Idealist

Click here to support Toni’s work:

Get Your Speech On

For years I compartmentalized my work, separating the communication coaching from the Hip Hop ciphers from the women’s workshops and healing work from the poetry but now I see the common thread. The fabric of my life’s work is weaved together so perfectly that it must be destiny.  It must be what some call divine order because I never could have made these connections on my own.

With the help of Ije Ude of Soulpowered Coaching, a business coach that guides her clients based on the principles of human design, I launched an online coaching service to create another revenue stream.  When she shared the idea she had come up with for me I wasn’t feeling the same excitement as she was but I knew there was something to it so I listened. Initially I thought my resistance was around offering an “online service” because I was so unfamiliar.  Then I told myself that I don’t really do communication anymore but what a difference a year makes.


A year later I found myself sharing techniques I learned 20 years ago as a young speech team competitor. I was also tapping into training from my first position as a professional media trainer and incorporating my theater and performance background. One day I was leading a cipher workshop at a Hip Hop conference and it occurred to me that this was no longer just a Hip Hop workshop but the session was indeed about communication and self expression, theater and performance, but to my surprise it was also about empowerment, healing and honoring one’s authentic voice. The healing and spiritual work I had done was also seeping into my facilitation.  Whether it was a group of emcees (rappers) and poets or teachers or business professionals and non-profit organizers. It was a moment of realization.  My life’s work had synchronized itself and I was flowing in more ways than one.

I started with a focus online and after becoming really comfortable with my Google Hangout Video sessions realized that 50% of my clients preferred in-person coaching. Ironically, it took me a minute to adjust to having so many face-to-face encounters.  I laugh at myself when I think back to my initial discomfort with coaching in cyberspace.

What has been most powerful about my communication coaching business is discovering the spiritual aspects of helping a client go from point A to point B with whatever it is they are trying to convey. One client I met at a retreat and when she came to me she was in a very dark space.  She had a lot going on in her life and there was a month break in our work.  When she returned, her energy had shifted and she had some amazing inner-growth moments during the break. I felt drained after our first session but there I was feeling uplifted and fed and inspired to give her my all during our second.  The process of exploring what it is she really wanted to say to the world shook things up and sparked her inner-light.

The Fastgirls, a project that connects women to participate in 40 to 90 day challenges that inspire emotional and physical wellness, as well as, professional and personal development, allowed me to speak to the participants in their current “challenge”. I’ve been working one-on-one as well as with small groups where both the individual and collective energy creates a container for so much beauty and healing.  Working with Fastgirls provided me with the space to hone my skills as a guide to tranformation-communication and self-expression —because what I do now is more than a public speaking coach.

I have clients working on signature talks, elevator speeches, sales pitches and marketing videos. My clients are both male and female, but I seem to be specializing in women this season. They are entrepreneurs, social do gooders, educators, and artists, as well as, lawyers, MBA types, life coaches and health practitioners. I am excited to offer my Winter Special to the world.  I say “world” because we can work online or in-person so it doesn’t matter where you are. Do you have a talk you have been thinking about formulating? Is there something you want to express? Are you a business owner who could use a little support in sharing what you offer? Contact me to schedule a free consultation at or 415.813.2898.


Fears Be Gone (in honor of International Day of the Girl)

The worst mind games are the ones we play with ourselves. We stick post-it notes to our own foreheads as reminders of what worries us just so we don’t forget to focus on those fears. Before we know it our subconscious mind is programmed and like puppets we dance to songs of fear whether those fears are rational or not. Eventually the music in our head gets so loud we have to make a choice:  succumb to it and believe what we’ve been telling ourselves or confront it head on and fight until we can turn the volume down.

JahiyaCrewInternationalDayOfTheGirl.jpgThe UN has declared this Friday October 11th International Day of the Girl. It’s also the day of the biggest performance I’ve done since my April show at the Apollo Music Cafe. The only thing I’ve done more consistently than teaching workshops is perform. Poetry, dance, music, theater–I have always performed. Every possible distraction that could exist has come up. The guys in my inner-circle say that it just means it’s going to be a damn good show.  I am adopting their perspective but still wanting to meditate on letting go of any negative energy I may be carrying. What is in my way?

Last week the answer to my question came.  I finally admitted that I am in my own way. What is it that makes us humans so uncomfortable with being our best? Why do we resist shining our brightest light? Why do we not give 100% of ourselves to the very thing that we say we want? I have performed thousands of times, where are these fears coming from?

Last year I had a performance where I made a major mistake in a song.  It was the kind of mistake where you find out who your friends are. When I worked with my coach, he walked me through an exercise to demonstrate that my mistake was based on my not warming up. Simple enough but self-forgiveness has still been a journey. I am absolutely comfortable freestyling in front of thousands of people yet the fear of singing until now– persists.

I know it is tied to letting go of the good opinions of others. The fear of not being perfect can be self-destructive.  Atelophobia is the scientific term for the fear of not being good enough. Our fear may not be at the level of an anxiety disorder, but not only do many artists have it but people in general carry these feelings of unreality and extreme disappointment when we fail at something.  It’s ironic because I work professionally as a communication coach, an area where I know I am a master teacher. I coach my clients to let go of the very fears I am dealing with in another realm. I can see their potential greatness and massage their resistance. In my freestyle rap and improv poetry workshops I coach artists to make mistakes material and to embrace their imperfections. Getting over these things is critical to our personal development and to reaching many of our goals.

I am a performer, I am a speaker, I am a presenter, I am a conveyor of messages and music and I have been groomed for this very moment in my life. I rap, I sing, I speak the spoken word. I am a writer with stories to tell and feelings to share. There are insights that are unique to me, that were meant to come through me. I am not my mistakes nor am I my fears. I remind my mind that I am in charge. I control the tapes that play in my head.  I am whole, healthy and in complete harmony with myself, my gifts and the universe. God rocks mics through me so every time I perform I get open, I do my best, I honor my gifts.

I plan to play a new kind of game with my mind this week.  It’s the least I can do to honor the girl within and all of the girls watching. My drummer has assembled a tight band that can support what it is that I do and my girls Yolanda Zama and Gabriella Callendar will bring both their love and musical genius to the stage.  The show must indeed go on…


Lauryn Hill and the Universe


A few of my ‘music critic’ friends inboxed me this tune on some “what chya’ think?” business. They know I am both hip-hop head and a fan of Lauryn’s heart and lyricism.  I didn’t reply to the emails because I think not.

I am in a space where I believe that what I think or what anyone else thinks should not matter. What matters is that L-Boogie is in creation and release mode. The world doesn’t just miss her, but people miss authentic passion, we miss artistic voices that are in alignment with their own hearts and not just their pocketbooks, we miss that fine line that true artists walk when the core of one’s creativity looks like “crazy” to “civilians” (i.e. non-artists) but to those truly in the artistic zone– it’s just processing, it’s re-centering.

When one’s purpose has been so clearly outlined and defined the universe will not allow he or she to stray to far from it. Resistance is futile. True artists either create or they shrivel up and die. Death doesn’t necessarily mean being six feet under.   It also includes the soulless and the walking dead. Plenty of the zombies we see during rush hour have “that thing” and gifts that could inspire the world but for some reason are not sharing them in this lifetime.

What do I think? I think that divine order is at work. I think that the universe has left her no option but to create and release. We’ve all been in that space where God put a foot in your ass–when you waited too long to leave a relationship or didn’t move when intuition told you to.  It’s amazing how life will create circumstances that force us out of our self-imposed funks.  Lauryn’s energy has so little to do with Lauryn right now. My only prayer is that she remembers the big picture and she crosses these sands of fire victoriously. We are all connected and the energy that we put out impacts all those around us. It resonates. Because of her connection to millions of people around the world, I imagine that with even the slightest amount of focus and a willingness to stay on a higher vibration these new Lauryn releases have the potential to impact the stagnation and ‘stank’ that are plaguing hip-hop music and culture.

Just let the music play…

Lauryn Hill Neurotic Society Compulsory Mix