The Kennedy Center

Toni Blackman


Toni Blackman is an international champion of hip hop culture, known for the irresistible, contagious energy of her performances. Her steadfast work and commitment to hip hop led the U.S. Department of State to select her as the first ever hip hop artist to work as an American Cultural Ambassador. She has served in Senegal, Ghana, Botswana, and Swaziland where her residencies include performances, workshops, and lectures on hip hop music and culture. She recently toured Southeast Asia with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Musical Ambassadors Program. Blackman has shared the stage with Erykah Badu, Mos Def, The Roots, Boot Camp Clic, Me’Shell NdegeoCello, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and Rickie Lee Jones. She has collaborated with highly esteemed musicians including Craig Harris, James “Blood” Ulmer, Vernon Reid, Jay Rodriguez, and master kora players Papa Susso and Yacouba. Her first book, Inner-Course, was published in 2003 (Villard/Random House).

Highly respected as the founder and director of Freestyle Union, a cipher workshop that uses free styling as a tool to encourage social responsibility, Blackman’s work has held great influence in the world of hip hop activism. She has done an extensive amount of work with the Girl Scouts of America and was instrumental in launching “The Girls Hip Hop Project” at the Center for Cultural Exchange in Portland, Maine. She teaches “The Art of Emceeing” at Brooklyn Communication Arts & Media High School. Blackman was selected by ESSENCE magazine as one of “30 Women to Watch.” She participated in the 2006 ESSENCE Music Festival, and was featured in Newsweek Japan, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

NHK-Global Japan Television produced a full-length documentary on her work with hip hop. She appears in numerous award-winning documentaries, including Furious Force of Rhymes, Beyond Beats and Rhymes, and Freestyle. Third World Newsreel and J.T. Takagi produced a documentary short called She Rhymes Like A Girl exploring Blackman’s work.  She is recording new music for her debut album.

Watch Past Performances

Video 1/31/2014: Toni Asante Lightfoot, Toni Blackman, Holly Bass, and DJ Renegade

From February 1994 to August 1996, the Tuesday night open mic at It’s Your Mug was a community event that had a lasting impact on Washington’s poetry scene. In celebration of the 20th anniversary, original host and founder Lightfoot takes to the stage with a group of Mug regulars.

Toni Blackman