Anthony Blackman aka Toc the Thug Scholar is the embodiment of redemption and reinvention. His life’s journey hasn’t necessarily been the easiest, but it’s the way he’s dealt with struggle, pain and the street life to now being a man of faith – that’s become most compelling.
Through his art, music and activism, Thug Scholar (Blackman Music Group) in conjunction with The Circle of Brotherhood recently released a new song titled, “Still We Rise.” Produced by Daniel Musgrove and features spoken work artist Brother Schiller Jerome, “Still We Rise” is a conscious Hip-Hop song and video created in tribute to the profound and untold historic legacy of Haiti—the country and its people.
The “Still We Rise” video provides a short history lesson taking the viewer on a sightseeing tour all over Miami starting with the city’s famous Little Haiti neighborhood at the Toussaint Louverture statue. The video filmed, directed, and edited by founder of Eye Urban TV Andre Williams, goes in and out of that historic district highlighting the soul-stirring murals of Haitian sensation, Serge the Artist.
Music Industry Quarterly recently got a chance to talk a bit more with Blackman aka Thug Scholar about his music, and his philanthropic efforts.
When did your music career begin?
I was born in Long Island, New York, but grew up in Mobile, Alabama. I started writing and performing when I was 10 years old. I’ve lived in Miami the last 18 years. My first professional project came out in 2001, titled The New Era, a Gospel/Hip-Hop CD, produced by NFC Productions. The album featured [singer] Marvin Fequiere, and an 11-year-old Jason Derulo long before he became the worldwide Pop superstar. I put Lil Jay (Derulo) on two of my songs. I’ve always been striving to inspire young people through my music.
How did you come up with the name Thug Scholar?
I grew up in the streets and spent most of my childhood in juvenile institutions of some sort. I was involved with a lot of drugs, gangs and violence back in the day. I did a couple of prison terms while in Alabama, and I officially lived the life of a thug, so I decided it would be an appropriate name for where I was at. After my life changed in 2001, I decided to continue with that name so it would be a way I could identify with the young people whom I’m trying to reach through my music.
What was the turning point in your life?
March the 9th, 2001, to be exact was the day, I had a personal spiritual awakening, an epiphany, or whatever you would like to call it. I was in a hotel room by myself, smoking crack cocaine and wanted to just die. I began to curse out God—asking if He was real, and if so then to reveal Himself to me. I had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ that day, and that’s when my life had changed.
Give us more insight about “Still We Rise,” and The Circle of Brotherhood.
The song was created in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, and is an effort to bring hope and inspiration to our communities. The Circle of Brotherhood is a grassroots organization, a 501c3, which consists of Black Men Solving Our Own Community Problems. I serve as an executive member of the Circle of Brotherhood and the Chairman of Entertainment in Miami, Florida. I was having a discussion with a good friend of mine Anthony Durden in the Circle of Brotherhood about how our communities aren’t connected. There is so much that separates us as people. Being a Hip-Hop artist, a conscious rapper and member of the Brotherhood, I wanted to do something that would create a conversation, and provide support for Haiti.
What has response to the song been like?
We’re getting a lot of people to stream and download the single; obviously we want more, and we’re beefing up our marketing and promotion of the song. It’s been getting a little radio play in Florida through radio friends of mine. The community is stepping up behind us. We had a big event on May 17, the day before Haitian Flag Day. I recently performed with a half dozen or so other hip-hop artists at the 2018 Spring Unity Concert at the Everglades Correctional Facility.
Are you Haitian?
No, I’m not. I’m African American.
Where did your interest in the Haitian community stem from?
I’m a community activist. Miami is very diverse. Living in Little Haiti for four years myself, connected me to the Haitian community. As I talked to people about the history of Africa and its descendants, the only difference between us and them, is they were dropped off at another place. When it comes to a conversation of black people coming together to better our condition as a people, I felt this was a situation I needed to get in front of, especially being a hip-hop artist, and a part of the Circle of Brotherhood, which is one of the most powerful and influential groups in Miami-Dade County.
How did you feel about the ‘shithole’ comment made by President Trump, when referring to Haiti?
After Donald Trump made his statement, that was like a confirmation for me to push forward with the song, and our mission. My initial reaction was anger and retaliation. Coming from the streets to now becoming a productive member of society today, I know that I have a lot of power when it comes to my art, my voice, and my stance. That statement really messed me up. I knew I had to come back with something to combat the bigotry and disrespect of our people, and come out with a song and a movement like “Still We Rise.”
Is there more music coming?
Absolutely, we’re working on a star-studded remix and a series of events that led up to Haitian Flag Day on May 18, where I performed the song. There are talks of remixing the song. I’m also doing a new video where we discuss mass incarceration. Because of the response of “Still We Rise,” I’ve re-released the The New Era, which can be streamed from iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, Google Play, etc.