October 17, 2019

AUDIO: Hip-hop cultural specialist teaches workshop, performs at Webster

Toni Blackman instructs students during her spoken word workshop I Rhyme Like a Girl on March 28. PHOTO BY VICTORIA DICKSON

Hip-hop artist Toni Blackman wrote the word “fear” on a large piece of paper in the Sunnen Lounge on March 28. She discussed overcoming fears with students attending her I Rhyme Like a Girl workshop.

Students gathered at 5 p.m.  for the workshop, which was meant to enhance writing, improvisational and rapping skills. Blackman is the first U.S. appointed hip-hop cultural specialist, chosen by the Department of State. She is also the founder of both Freestyle Union and I Rhyme Like a Girl workshops.

Freestyle Union is a workshop which encourages social responsibility, according to Blackman.  During the I Rhyme Like a Girl workshop, she taught her improvising techniques to aspiring artists at Webster.

After attending Blackman’s workshop, students applied their skills in a performance. Following the workshop, at 8 p.m., Blackman and various St. Louis musicians performed several pieces and allowed students to perform along with her on stage.

Blackman sang one of her original songs “Last Night I Cried Tears On My Pillow. I Screamed At The Top Of My Lungs” during her performance. In the song, she describes instances when people have gone through situations that made them cry. Her solution to this is to get out of bed and pray.

Several Webster students had a freestyle performance they called “College Life” later in the night.

“I would love for the students to say they’ve walked out of here (the workshop) knowing themselves a little bit better,” Blackman said.

The Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs (MCISA) sponsored Blackman’s visit to Webster University.

In her workshops, Blackman creates a cipher to allow participants to utilize their skills by displaying their talents using freestyle. Blackman described a cipher as a completion of exchanging thoughts and ideas within a group of people for the development of a performer.

I Rhyme Like a Girl accompanies Blackman’s other workshop by teaching about women’s history and roles in hip-hop culture. During the workshop, she incorporated both into one.

“Rhyme Like a Girl is a project I started to create a space for girls and women to build their freestyle improvisational skills along with their confidence, and to learn how to honor their own voices within hip-hop,” Blackman said.

Blackman discussed her many experiences of performing in front of an audience and ways to overcome fear. She believes that once someone masters being in front of an audience at any time, you can become fearless in any situation.

“I want to perfect my craft because I’m a writer, poet and I rap,” junior anthropology major Kayla Thompson said during the workshop. “So, I’m trying to see what else I can learn, because poetry and writing is a process that’s never ending.”

Blackman began the workshop with warm-ups to help the student participants start thinking creatively. For the first exercise, Blackman gave students a random letter and asked them to think of as many words as they could that begin with that same letter. Blackman did not allow them to say “I can’t” or “I don’t know.”

During the exercise, she explained that all of them must own their words and they have to become comfortable with what they say.

“No matter what you say, say it like it’s fire,” Blackman said.

She told students: don’t think, enunciate, project your voice, speak up, own your words and be okay with having nothing to say.

“In a real cipher, you’re battling yourself because you are your own enemy,” Blackman said.

“This event has inspired me, because I am a writer,” sophomore Ashley Johnson said. “I am looking for more events like this at Webster.”

Toni Blackman – I Rhyme Like a Girl by wujournal

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