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Preview: The Lyrical Ambassadors

The Lyrical Ambassadors

Updated: 2018-03-06T15:14:24.590-08:00


It's been a long time...


since I left you. Big Up to Rakim. News of his recent tour is spreading amongst the global hip hop nation. Heads are anxious to see the God Rak, rock. Yep, yep.

So check it. Lyrical Embassy is giving birth to some freshness. There is new energy and a new team to help build a solid, new foundation. The global lyrical movement has steadily been in motion. We just got caught up with life and failed to document a lot of it online. No name droppin' yet. No big talk. We'll be working over the summer and look forward to having you in our cipher soon.


Back from Brazil


Re-grouping for 2009 and getting the house in order----that should be the title for this coming week. Lyrical Embassy recently traveled to Brazil (Rio and Bahia) with I'm posting a couple of pics. Right now the focus is forward and on what is to come. The global lyrical movement has begun, it is so on...stay tuned.

Planting SEEDS, watching them grow



Laptop. Check. Water. Check. Carol’s Daughter Browning Oil. Check. Nuts, seeds and raisins. Notebook. Camera. Everything is in the bag as I head downstairs towards the terrace of the hotel. It’s 4pm, the sun is high and the construction has almost come to a complete halt so the flying dust will be minimal. I’ll just shower again before tonight’s event.

The Lyrical Embassy was in Senegal this week to pilot a new workshop specially developed for the Nike Hoop Forum at SEEDS Academy. The program was founded by Amadou Gallo Fall, scout with the Dallas Mavericks. Chen Lo (, my partner in this endeavor, traveled with me to co-facilitate. We're far away from the Brooklyn high school where we started teaching together. We're both growing, learning and moving to new spaces on our respective journeys, but we're also strategizing 'next steps' for this 'next movement'.

The trip is/was so inspiring. We spent time in Dakar, Theis and Saly. I went to Mbour and visited a village called Ndiol. I want to post more about my insights and the experiences a little later once home.

No Doubt, No Fear...getting in the zone.


"The darkness of the morning whispers secrets into my ear. Deep breathing and meditation can sometimes block out the sounds and I am able to return to sleep. At other times, I am at the mercy of the messenger. Resistance futile, I rise from my bed without a clear understanding of why I have to wake while most people are still sleeping. I wonder whom it is speaking to me. I wonder if it's God, my angels, or my ancestors. Maybe it's just my mind in overdrive I think to myself. Usually I know what it is and/or whom. Listening has required discipline and humility. The skill came through many a sleepless night, long days of introspection, thoughts of guilt, feelings of regret and forgiveness. Forgiving myself and forgiving others has been half of the battle. The other part of it, for me, has been rooted in gratitude. In expressing gratitude for my struggles as well as my joy, I have been able to move mountains. We pray for guidance. We ask for clarity. We listen, but how often do we hear? How often do we obey what we know to be right? Do we honor the messages we know to be true? As I practice listening, more and more, I am able to stay in alignment with my truths. My mother told me 'you have always been so emotional'. My ex- told me 'you were just so sensitive'. I told myself that something was 'so wrong'. As I go through life, I am discovering the beauty of being me. Those emotions enable me to love from a space so pure and so deep that I can connect with youth from many walks of life, that I am able to heal my heart, and forgive. It is why I am able to be so hope-filled about the work with this lyrical movement. Those sensitivities permit me to travel along paths that many fear. Even I am sometimes scared of 'where' my mind and my heart can take me.I remember being booked to do a series of gigs with a band assembled by legendary trombonist, Craig Harris. He shared the tunes and told me 'do what you do'. I was to freestyle and spit rhymes on a couple of the songs and improvise spoken word over a couple of others. A master musician and bandleader, he surrounds himself by other masters. There's a team of percussionists, descendants of the great DouDou Ndaiye Rose, the Senegalese master drummer, playing with Craig from time to time. Craig treats the emcee, the rap lyricist, as he would one of the musicians or a skilled vocalist. He gives direction onstage-'pull back', 'ease in', 'take it home baby'... When working with someone like that listening is not an option, it's a must. Still, at the same time in improvisation one has to be able to 'get open' and get into the zone. Paying attention while letting go requires absolute surrender to the music, to the word. There were a couple of gigs during that time when I got so 'open' that I didn't know how to close back up. I remember living in Harlem at the time. I was in an imbalanced relationship and living with a needy person who wasn't in a space to give as much as he would emotionally take. My work as an artist was helping me get through it all as I accepted responsibility for the life I had created and the choices I had made. The music let me go to safe space of serenity and sanity. For whatever reason, the stage seemed like the best place to take a risk. One night, I could feel myself not as myself, but as if someone else was speaking through me. I didn't say anything particularly profound, but I felt it and I shared those feelings in such a way that I felt a flash through my body. It was the way the words melted from my mouth and I could see that the band and the audience also felt what I felt. After the music ended I felt completely naked, but I also felt empty and light. The heaviness of home was no longer weighing on me.The next week I sat in with the Senegalese group, Gokh Bi System, on a night that they were particularly open. Baca played the drums as if his life depended on it. They were not performing that night. They were simply allowing an audience to watch them get open as they connected [...]

Sunshine in my Rain...


I like feeling good. I believe most people like feeling good, but why do we resist it so much? Why do we choose worry over peace? Why do we choose cynicism over optimism? Why do we choose to focus on a person's perceived weaknesses instead of their strengths and beauty? I've been around a few folks who insist on placing all of their attention on what's wrong with others instead of what's right. Surely I am not immune to their verbal dances and I'm sure that my 'perceived' flaws get ample attention. lol. However, as I try to ignore that type of energy I find it harder and harder to be around. It's not that I am perfect. It's not that I don't find myself sometimes fighting the same tendency, but the more focused I am on manifesting my goals the less time and space I have for non-productive energy. In my ideal world, I would be equipped to love others through their pain and not let the negativity impact me so deeply. Over the past few months I've come across some of the most positive people I've ever met. And over the past few weeks I've received calls and emails of support that sound like a 'Tony Robbins Motivational Minute'. As Erykah says, 'Yall know I'm an artist and I'm sensitive about my shit'. With my chakras wide open, I've soaked up the good energy like a sponge. Unfortunately, I haven't matured enough to be able to not also take in the not-so-positive. I don't know if that part of me will ever change. A dear musical comrade suggested that I focus less on being sensitive and more on 'protecting my sensitivities'. A business colleague told me to be mindful of the fact that my sensitivity allows me to do the work that I do and to see life from a very unique perspective. He also reminded me of what's about to go down, what's unfolding right now, right here in this very moment. I must remain focused. I'm building a new team to help me execute my creative vision. My lawyer set up a meeting with a new manager and putting together a sound package for a booking agent. It is a really exciting time. Some really incredible musician-producers from Chicago, Paris, Virginia, and South Africa reached out. I am really sure about what I want my music to sound like and as I meet more and more artists I am realizing how crucial it is to build with people who respect you and appreciate what it is that you do. The learning curve is mad high. Keith Thomas, a keyboardist in Roanoke, took me to meet a 'master' sound engineer. Sitting in this guy's studio, listening to him talk was like going to school. He so clearly understands the science of sound that he could 'mic' a recording session by ear--no EQ. I also noticed that even in his genius he was humble, loving and kind. I imagined what it must be like to work with someone who is that evolved spiritually and emotionally. Now, he was older so he has had time to work on it, but being in his presence helped me to affirm that kind of work environment I would like to create. Each of us has personality 'quirks' and things about us that help to define who we are. I find that as the years pass some of the things that I thought was 'hey, that's just who I am!' don't work. What do we do when who we are no longer serves us? We grind. We put in the sweat and shed the tears. We do the work. Last month I wrote a song with a singer from West Africa. We called it "None of my Business". The hook begins "What you think of me is none of my business?" I'm realizing that this song is sort of an affirmation for me. I want to get there, closer to that space of not only believing 'what you think of me is none of my business', but truly living it. (Photo: Sunset in Yamousoukro, taken on tour in Cote d'Ivoire 2007)[...]



There is an old saying that the only things certain about life are birth and death. I would add one more certainty: Change. As we start another year we are changing from 2007 to 2008, changing old habits, and hopefully changing for the better. Some of us feel like we’re stuck in a rut, while others are ferociously fighting inner-demons. One might say that a relationship ending, symbolically speaking, death. However, I agree with the philosophy written about in Shakti Gawain’s “Living in the Light”. She writes that ‘relationships don’t end, they just change form’.

When I was on my way home from my last trip, I did a series of prayers and affirmations. I asked God to distance me from and/or remove non-supportive, inauthentic, jealous, competitive, parasitic, toxic people from my cipher. I affirmed that I be surrounded by people who believe in me more than I believe in myself, by people who encourage me not only to dream, but to act on those dreams. I prayed for the gift of discernment so that I have foresight and for adaptability so that I might accept change with ease. I prayed for swift, peaceful transitions. Over the past few years, I’ve paid close attention to my own shortcomings, insecurities, and fears. Over the past six or seven months I did an intensive physical and emotional detox.

Of course, now that people are dropping off like dead flies life feels a bit awkward. It looks like a few folks from the distant past are returning healthy and complete, but then again I guess they never really left. I also notice that new energy is showing up in the form of confident, driven, loving individuals who might be in different fields of work, but are on similar paths. People of various faiths and backgrounds who understand that there is a world beyond America’s borders, people who get that complaining about what’s wrong with the world isn’t enough—action is key.

I may not be seen, but I'll be damned if I won't be heard...



Here's a pic from the day of the video shoot in Kinshasa. These are the artists that performed on "Invisible Woman". Incredible singers and emcees from the DRC. Cecile Walo, Yollande (Diva Oracle), Lolo, Me-Toni Blackman, Monik Tenday, Grace, Anita (Nu Mama), & Ansia. Je Suis Une Femme Invisible. "I may not be seen, but I'll be damned if I won't be heard" a line from the poem/song.

The Early Morning Breeze Has A Secret to Tell You


I rolled over at 5:45am. In my mind I counted the hours of sleep. As I did the math in my head I wondered if it was enough to sustain me through teaching two classes this afternoon. However, once my mind got into motion I knew that returning to 'la-la land' would be a challenge so I got up. The skies are still dark as night, the streets are quiet and I don't even hear the rumblings of my early bird neighbors. This is why I sometimes love the darkness that begins the day. There's a Wayne Dyer lecture where he quotes Rumi I think---"The early morning breeze has secrets to tell you". He believes that it is God awakening you so that something important can be revealed to you during this time. Most of us resent having our sleep disturbed when we would be better off listening to spirit and moving into action. Today, I decided to be obedient so I am up.

It is December 11th and 2008 will soon be upon us. I love this time of the year. It is not because of the hoildays, but moreso because of the idea of 'new beginnings'. The new year offers us a chance to start again or at least it seems that way. Even as I type this short entry I am distracted by my desire to declutter my place, reorganize things and begin writing out my goals. I want to write letters of apology, forgiveness and gratitude. While in Kinshasa I met the most incredible human being, a fascinating individual who has shifted my paradigm in ways that I did not expect. We had simple conversations, yet they were so impactful. I began to ask myself certain questions and as the answers came I was able to return to New York with so much clarity. Now, I need to pray for the courage to act on what I feel, what I know.

I am itching to sort laundry and unpack my bags, but am thinking of what my angel said to me about approaching life as a pursuit of wins. I am unable to clearly articulate his point, but he used the example of how many successful comedians die sad, lonely and depressed as a way to make his point. Eish! I really want to write his explanation, but it has left my head. The mind is playing tricks on me this morning. Maybe it is just too early. lol. I must remember to ask him when we speak again so I can share the insight. Anyway, I think this is my cue to focus on creating order in my home right now. I just got back yesterday afternoon. Be well. Stay warm.

Brooklyn Here We Come


On Day One I never thought that I would have such mixed feelings about leaving the DRC. I am headed home soon. I'm ready to get back to my Bikram yoga class, but I feel like my work is unfinished. Many things were accomplished while here for this residency, but it feels like it is just the beginning. It is a the first step in the next phase of my work.Lots of people seem to be interested in the dialogue about violence against women. It was the theme of the material we created in the creative sessions. I was so proud of the guys involved with the project. They showed such great respect for the women as we all worked together. Lexxus Legal, the coordinator, ( eloquently to the artists as he reminded them about the purpose of our getting together. There was even a "tense moment" in the rehearsal with the female artists as we figured out the arrangement for "Je Suis Une Femme Invisible'"(I am an Invisible Woman). Neither of the translators were in the room at the time so I didn't speak on it, but Lexxus handled it so well. Yesterday we had two video shoots. One of the songs called "One Voice" was for the ensemble song of men and women. We were in a hot production studio with two fans, bright lights, camera crew and lookers on. We each wore coordinated Congolese style dresses made for the shoot so I wanted to take a few photos. We talked and laughed like ladies sometimes do. One of the security guards seemed irritated by the good vibes of happiness and said something in lingala to one of the girls. They spoke back to him and as we walked away he tells one of them 'that's why I'll rape you and your loud mouth'. It was ironic because we were in the building to shoot a video to take a stand against violence and sexual violence. He said it so lightly as if rape were something to be joked about. The second shoot took place in an area called Bandal. I squeezed into a car with the crew and everyone else piled into a local taxi (van with rows of benches). Bandal is known to produce some of the countries greatest artists and musicians. It's a lively place. One can feel the energy in the air. We only had an hour or so left of sunlight so the shoot went by pretty fast, but it was a surreal moment for me. I've had a love affair with Africa since I was two years old and to have so many memorable experiences in one year has been such a gift. My mother is even fascinated by the way my life is unfolding. "Invisible Woman" is a poem I wrote in 1996 and is finally in song form. It is a moving interpretation of the piece and I am honored to see my work evolving. The US Department of State sponsored this project and the US Embassy here in Kinshasa spearheaded it. Lexxus and his team served as the local artist liasons on the ground. It's no secret that America has an image problem, but I think the government also has a problem with marketing. I've been involved with some pretty dynamic programs, projects that have changed lives, but no one hears about them or knows about them. I am committed to seeing this project through. It's tied to the work I started with my fellowship at the Soros Foundation with my project "I RHYME LIKE A GIRL". It's also tied to Freestyle Union and my entire career. My mission? To use music and poetry, to use hip-hop as a tool for social change---to uplife the human spirit, to inspire peace and to make the world a better place.This trip has been multi-layered. I've made discoveries about myself and my relationships. I have learned so much more about Africa. I've also discovered what my basic needs are in an artistic collaboration and how to best articulate those needs. I took great care of my health this trip and was really disciplined. I met two new 'friends for life' and I also met someone who inspired me to shift my paradigm, to think dif[...]

Dinner Time


Last night, I went downstairs in the hotel around 8pm to grab a bite to eat. I was not looking forward to it, but knew I needed to hvae complete meal. The grilled Tilapia I had the night before was horrendous. I couldn't even eat more than a third of it. I got back from the studio session at 6:45. Then I couldn't pull myself away from the music videos. Between Channel O, TRACE TV and the 2 or 3 local channels playing music I could flip the station and inevitably find so,ething I liked. I was able to dodge the booty shaking stereotypical trash. I actually saw a few videos that visually inspired me to think about my own.

There was an italian buffet in the restaurant tonight and the hostess was excited she would get to practice her enlish. I was excited I would get to practice my french. Natalie, the hostess/waitress, assured me that I would be satisfied tonight. I avoided the $40 buffets up until this point for a few reasons: 1)the quality of the food here has been a gamble; 2)Since the intensive cleanse I did this past summer I am unable to eat a lot at one time (it takes the fun out of a buffet); and 3)out of protest for the ridiculously priced food here in Kinshasa. We asked Bob to stop the van at the grocery store and I spent $60.19 on snacks (i.e. peanuts, oranges, juice, chocolate and a short can of pringles). He told us that we would have what he called STICKER SHOCK when the bill was totaled and he was not lying. However, the buffet also included a band and I desparately needed something to calm my soul. They say Kinshasa can be difficult to manuever, but my two week stay has been filled with such great musical highlights that it all balances out. By the third song I was smiling, eating and dancing in my seat. The band lit into a classic soukous melody and I had a flashback to Kilimanjaro in Washington, DC. If my cellphone had not crashed right before I left the US, I would have called Florence, Tuesday, Amadou or Adama just to say 'do you remember when?' ohhhhhhhhhhhh. BUT I have lost all of my numbers...sigh.

The man at the next table was also eating alone and struck up conversation. Of course, I am in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and I befriend a motivational speaker/lecturer/life coach. It was an incredible conversation. As the band played the soundtrack for this particular scene in the movie that is my life the saxophonist, an older chocolate version of your favorite uncle, serenaded each of the tables.....Congo style though. There was nothing mellow about the way he worked that horn.

As I walked down the long corridor back toward the elevator that would lead to my room I heard the Spinners.........Whenever you call me, I'll be there. Whenever you want me I'll be there. Whenever you need me I'll be there. I'll be arounnnnd...........They do not pipe elevator music here. lol. It made me think of my childhood at Grandma's house, California Bay Area breezes, fish fries and a time in my life when I didn't have to do affirmations to believe that a world could exist without war. Sigh. Oh well I thought to myself: tomorrow we record music that will make a difference.....

So much to learn.


There is so much to know and so much to learn. I am discovering so much about the culture of this country, the politics and the customs. Every country on the continent of Africa is unique in its own special way. It requires a great deal of humility and patience to step out of my "American" shoes and get into the flow of the "Congolese" way. As a woman, I am practicing assertive feminity. Many of the women in our vibe sessions/workshops are very strong. They are vocal and expressive. However, the show is still largely being run by men. My challenge is learning how to communicate my desires and my needs for the work when those wants are in disagreement with the guys. It's interesting as I observe myself in various scenarios I realize just how much I am growing. Silence is sometimes the most difficult practice in the world. Patience is the second most difficult thing to be/have.

Life. So much of it is about growth. Love. So much of it is about growth. We are headed to the studio and I spent so much time replying to emails that I don't have time to finish my blog.

Sunday is Music Day in the DRC


Sunday is music day in the DRC. I have always heard that this is one of the most musical places in the world, but I didn't believe it to be true until today. A spectacle to behold, our eyes were greeted by theatrical hairstyles and coordinated outfits. One singer had six dancers dressed in short banana yellow skirts with bright red Dolce Gabana tank tops. Both elegant and beautiful each of the dark brown skinned women had her hair done in a similar style. On one of the television shows the presenter(host)--tall, handsome and debonair--wore a purple suit. The beer sponsor logo hung on tarp as the backdrop and seriously clashed with his outfit, but he was sharp.

Lexxus tried to prepare me for our media schedule, but I wasn't ready for the drama of it all. He explained the process of getting on tv and why the artists were lined up waiting to appear. Although, we all of the interviewers asked the customary questions and we performed the obligatory freestyle, I can honestly say that I've never experienced anything like this. World AIDS Day was a theme for each of the hosts and so the topic of HIV seemed to be on the tip of every one's tongue.

Be safe yall.

Congo Technical Difficulties...


Sorry. I did write a couple of entries, but saved them as drafts and now cannot figure out how to post a draft. Sigh. What gives? I must go now, but the days keep getting better. On Saturday I am in the studio with Lexxus and a few of the artists to work on my own stuff. Next week we record material for the project. Will try to get back to the blog this weekend......Be well. Holla.

Vibin' at the Workshop in Kinshasa


Oh my my my....we had the hottest cipher this afternoon at the cultural center. There were 6 dancers and about 19 or 20 emcees and singers. It started out lukewarm and kinda' slow. I stopped it and took some time out to talk about gettin' open. We talked about what it's like to get open. After that we started up again with the singers singing the same melody and a steady collective finger snap. Ahhh. Then the finger snap turned into a beatbox, followed by a 'soul clap' that shook the room like foot-stompin' church service. People started to get open and they did not want to stop. It was sooo hot. I was jet lagged before the cipher, but energized fully afterwards. I pointed out the fact that we achieved that high without 1-spending any money and 2-without beer, alcohol, weed or any other mood altering substances (the puffers found that funny lol!). I wanted to point it out because I know that in a real cipher, the cipher itself is mood-altering. It's meditational and creates the space for one to go into a trance.....the cipher here in Kinshasa was definitely powerful....I am so looking forward to tomorrow's workshops.

Not much time to blog today, but I wanted to check in...

In Kinshasa...


So we are here in the DRC. To say that the vibe at the airport in Kinshasa was intense would be an understatement. Michael Forde, the dancer I brought from Step Afrika, got caught up in customs. I got caught up in the crowd surrounding the baggage carousel and quickly realize that luggage needs to be scoped out immediately. The two brothers they sent from the embassy were there with a sign, but also meeting another guy who was not affiliated with our trip. The Public Affairs Officer here is incredibly passionate about this project so we both left our dinner with her family fired up. (Oh, can I mention she can cook like nobody's business.)

Anyway, it's day one (well technically day two) in Kinshasa. We've been told by a few locals 'don't trust nobody', but I don't think it's because you cannot trust "anybody", but more so because Michael smiles almost as much as me. Plus, both of us find it difficult to hide our enthusiasm. We are officially excited! Don't get it twisted now. Michael is straight Brooklyn in many ways. So much so I was a little nervous when the custom officers took him to a little room for what I knew was going to be some sort of bribe scenario---but he's also really kind. And his love for Africa just pours from his skin. I know I have my eyes wide open and I'm not as chatty in the hotel as I would normally be, but I feel good about being here even though we are here to confront a really horrendous issue---women are being used as war weapons. Please google and read about the problem here and/or go to Youtube. Everyone knows about the problem, but no one is talking about it.

When we rode by the hospital that Dikembe Mutombo built and then by the stadium that Muhammad Ali fought in when Don King produced 'the rumble in the jungle' I sighed deeply. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do the kind of work that I do. I wake up each day knowing for sure that I am living out my destiny. It is an incredible feeling to know that for sure. I never have to question it anymore.

We meet the artists tomorrow. I already know it's gonna' be hot. I watched TRACE TV after a really good night's sleep. I also watched some of the local music video channels and channel O. I danced by myself in the room. I opened the curtains and sang. I spit a freestyle before putting on my lip gloss.....I looked to the sky and closed my eyes as I spoke my affirmations aloud.

"I am open to the possibility of being a catalyst for change and transformation. I am a student and always willing to learn. I do my work with every ounce of my being. I pour my heart and my soul into everything that I do. I trust the universe to support me and my vision. I am audacious and stepping into a new pair of shoes---I wear these shoes boldly as I surrender to God's purpose for my life........Hip Hop Worldwide! Yes!"

Give Thanks.

All right. I am going to practice my french as I wait for the other folks on the van. Stay tuned for more postings. Feel free to comment and asks questions if you like. (The computer is a little slow so I'll go back for typos later...sorry.) Toni.

About the Lyrical Embassy


“Lyrics were once recited in open courtyards for Royal Families to do everything from comprehending the words of God, to learning the daily news. In time, such recitations were brought forth on parchment paper and unrolled by different family groups with anticipation of the news to come. We speculate that this practice helped promote the skill of reading, writing, and language comprehension. It also enforced the idea that words have power and that language and lyrics often serves as the glue used to build community. Such practices developed easily into the role of Ambassadorship with a constant reminder that one must never underestimate the role of diplomacy.

Today, however such a craft has lost sight of land. Many of our modern contemporaries find themselves cursing like drunken sailors in the abyss of the middle of the ocean, helpless and hopeful that if they cannot find land safely, may we still find them strong and courageous, and worthy of note. Music videos put such artists on the faces of dollar bills, records, and posters to be received by all the worlds communities. In the 1990's with America's Strong Dollar policy and exporting power, this pirate music found its way into the hearts and minds of the world's families. Synonymously, pirating of the music became rampant here in America and the corporations that commodified this craft without social responsibility received lessons in lyrical karma…” An excerpt from the Book of the Lyrical Ambassadors.