Toiné talks music, touching hearts and souls

Toiné talks music, touching hearts and souls
Toiné Houston: (Photo Credit: Chela Cervantes)

Toiné is an artist who understands the power of the word and speaks deliberately to help affect change. Her style has been compared to the likes of Jay-Z and Common. We spoke to her recently to gain some insight into her music and the way she expresses herself.

Talk about who you are as an artist. What is your motivation?
I’m the type of artist who goes left, never asking why the rest of the pack went right, simply because I believe our paths are all our own and will eventually lead us to where we need to be. As an artist, I’m motivated by the variance of my ear in an industry seemingly looking to push similar sounds. I started my artistic journey as a rapper at the age of 7, before I even knew what rapping was; all I knew was I liked telling stories in a fun, lyrical way. As I matured, I fell in love with performance art and spoken word, and theater became one of the main platforms and backdrops for my art. Ironically, being a Chicago native, I was never one who loved the open mic scene, given it sometimes felt like artists were competing for and on the mic, and for me performing and sharing were forms of therapy not competition. After TVOne nicknamed me the “Jay-Z of poetry”, my drive was sparked even more not only by the humbling comparison in work ethic but by the gift of lyrical storytelling I feel God has provided me. As an artist, I’m able to share stories of love, like, lust, etc. in ways that keep people engaged, make them laugh, cry…feel something. That alone motivates me to keep going, to keep growing and to keep creating music that a 6 or 60-year-old can appreciate and groove to.

You live in the world of spoken word and rap. How are the two similar and how do they help you express yourself as an artist?
Rap and spoken word are two sides of a beautiful, familiar coin to me. Their similarities stem from the fact both are rooted in rhyme; however, rap has a rhythm and unique musicality about it, which places it on its own platform. The organic opportunities of wordplay & flow of not only spoken word as a whole but my personal style within it, has certainly helped craft how I choose to express myself as a “femcee”. My music will always have poetic imprints, embracing storytelling and a lyrical flow my fans (old and new) can vibe to and listen to on repeat. I also strive to have my artistry embody a musicality and sound to it that appeals to a mass audience of people wanting and willing to appreciate a different brand of soulful hip-hop.

Talk about your creative process.
My creative process is simple: I write about experiences I’ve either gone through personally or those in which I feel close enough to speak about. I write all of my own songs, and to-date there’s not one lyric I have written that isn’t true in one way or another. For me, this process makes my music authentic and it allows me to drown myself 100% in the experiences while performing because I’ve lived it, I’ve seen it, I’ve grown by it, I’ve been hurt by it, I’ve learned as a result of it…and me sharing, hopefully, impacts someone else by letting them know/see they are not alone. When I have something to say, I write and lock myself in my studio, or my producer’s studio. When I don’t have anything to say/share, I live and experience life until the next inspirational music moment hits. I never force it because let’s face it…nothing ever forced feels right.

Why did you drop the moniker Young Flame?
“Young Flame” was a moniker I defined when I was first coming into my own as a professional spoken word artist. The metaphor of it is all about sparking an emotional fire in/within my audience: good, bad or indifferent

A spark, in essence, is a young flame. So being a catalyst of this flame, or energy during every performance of mine was my goal when I hit that stage. As I grew and matured musically, especially into the type of Female Emcee I am, I felt it was time to grow and mature my name and brand. I used my Engineering and Facilitating background and conducted a series of remote and onsite focus groups in Chicago, New York, and DC with target audiences of men and women ranging from 18-35 and I had mini listening sessions of my music off of my then new/upcoming “Love States…” album. The results were shocking; 80% of my audiences across all 3 cities felt the sound of the music was soulful and didn’t match my artist name, which they referred to as “hard”. In fact, when speaking about my name, before hearing my music, over 87% of people spoke to the fact they thought “Young Flame” was a young, male trap music artist, especially being from Chicago. I used the results and immediately changed my moniker and branding to “Toiné” {Pronounced Tow’Na}, which is the middle of my first name, Antoinette.

What do you think it is about music that allows it to touch hearts and souls so deeply?
Music is LIFE. There’s a heartbeat in music that allows fans of it to breathe, to heal, to live. In addition to my own music, there are songs I listen to that once I press play, invoke a physical reaction in me. Jill Scott’s “Crown Royal” creates butterflies in my stomach, given the lyrics of that song make me remember butterfly-invoking moments {smiling as I type that}. I think the beauty of music of all genres is its keen ability to tap into our emotions by speaking words/experiences some may not know HOW to say themselves, but they most simply know HOW they feel once they hear it. Certain songs serve as that favorite auntie/uncle, or that childhood friend who knows exactly what to say in the exact way we want/need to hear it. When we let it, this connection is what allows music to touch our heart/souls so deeply; and once made, that connection never goes away.  

Who are some of your influences and why?
One of my main influences is complacency due to the fact I hate everything about it. As a result, it motivates me to never be it, never be associated with it, never have people in my inner circle who embody it, never accept it as an excuse. The idea of complacency keeps me grinding and moving towards bigger and better…ALWAYS.

Some of my musical influences are Common because of his constant consistency & growth as an artist, as well as his love for our hometown Chicago and his philanthropy within the community.  MC Lyte and Queen Latifah because of their fortitude and grind as it relates to their artistry and brand, being two major staples and trendsetters in the female rap/hip-hop game. Jay Z because of his brilliance and work ethic when it comes to music and business. And last, but certainly not least, I would say Jill Scott because her career has proven just how far a poetic imprint can take you, as long as you stay true to your faith, stay grinding and stay open to all possibilities.

What projects do you have out here and what are you currently working on?
My second album, “Love States…” (released under my Young Flame moniker) is currently available physically via CDBaby and everywhere digitally, including Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon, and Spotify. I am currently working on my third project whose release date is scheduled for early 2018. My new project, not only picks up where my previous one leaves off regarding relationship truths, but it will also provide listeners an upgraded, soulful hip-hop fusion of rap & lyrical storytelling only I can bring.

What words of encouragement do you have for those looking to follow their dreams?
Top 5 things that come to mind in no particular order: Nothing beats a fail, but a try. Dream big…if you believe you can’t, so will everyone else. Be unapologetically persistent & fearlessly. Obstacles are nothing but opportunities. Do what you need to do, in order to do what you want to do. And if you get discouraged, simply return to this list.

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