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Toni Blackman is the U.S. State Department’s first official hip-hop ambassador working under their Cultural Diplomacy Program. Blackman has a long history in music, from freestyling and rapping as a child to starting her own organization in Washington D.C. called the Freestyling Cipher Workshop. Through her work with the government, she’s traveled to countries like Senegal to work with the hip-hop community and to Guyana to work with art teachers. Blackman has used art as a way to prevent violence against women in the Congo and other war-torn countries.

One of the ways she brings diverse artist together is by using ciphers, a gathering of creative artists in a circle to make beats together and express themselves through music. Blackman’s tireless work has also led her to Ghana, Botswana, and Swaziland. She’s performed with Erykah Badu, Mos Def, The Roots, the Wu-Tang Clan, Guru, Me’Shell NdegeoCello, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, and more and has collaborated with Craig Harris, James “Blood” Ulmer, Vernon Reid, Jay Rodriguez and master kora players Papa Susso and Yacouba.

Blackman is a graduate of Howard University, where she started the Hip Hop Arts Movement (HHAM) in 1992. In 2003, Blackman released her first book, Inner-Course. She was named by Essence magazine as one of “30 Women to Watch” and has been a highlight of various national and international publications and news outlets, including NHK-Global Japan Television. Blackman is also a creative consultant for the Sesame Workshop’s The New Electric Company and an in-demand speaker whose themes include women in hip-hop, hip-hop education, hip-hop and spirituality and the international impact of hip-hop culture.

(Photo: Toni Blackman official website)

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