5 With: Toussaint Morrison

March 19, 2015

When I think of the term ‘creative entrepreneur,’ Toussaint Morrison quickly comes to mind. It’s not that he centers his projects around making money (often quite the opposite), but that he seems to be continually making work and finding ways to push his various projects into the world. He wants people to experience, purchase and share what he makes; audience is a big part of the equation. Anyone who has seen Toussaint perform can attest that he has loads of talent and a captivating presence. But, it's his unapologetic belief in his work that sets him apart-- even with the usual set of doubts and challenges that every artist has. I'm reminded: if we can't get firmly behind what we make, how can we expect others to? 

Describe your creative work and how you came to make it:
I write and create performance art and distribute it online. This includes singing and performing music, acting, rapping, comedy and slam poetry. 

In 1999 I went to go see Bao Phi at the Minnesota Poetry Slam at Kieren’s. I wanted to know how I could do that. Three years later I was on the Minnesota Slam Poetry Team going to nationals, scored in the top 20 in the country and kept progressing after that. I feel like spoken word is my sword. It’s a muscle: if you leave it, it atrophies; if you stick with it, you get better. My technical training is in acting. When I was 12 or 13 I had a big crush on Christina Ricci and wanted to be an actor like her. I started acting with the Brazil Theater Company, and really found my love of Shakespeare. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would love it.

What is your biggest creative challenge?
Self-esteem. When I’m broke as hell, I think very lowly of myself- that I’m a failure. And then I’ll have brilliant moments when I sit down at the coffee shop and write some crazy awesome stuff and think “I don’t need this system; I don’t need money.” So I think the biggest challenge is not equating my funds with my success as an artist.

Right now you're supporting yourself as an actor, but many of your projects aren't as profitable. How do you balance the two?
I recently got hired to do ghost writing [of music] for social media moguls in LA- they pay $500 a song. It’s kinda fun, but not necessarily the work I feel proud of; it’s me writing for someone else. I’ve found very quickly that the work I do isn’t as profitable, but I keep doing it because its what represents me and keeps me going. There’s something authentic about it. Paid work is nice: it’s a means of eating. Creative work is better because it’s a means of breathing. I need to eat, but not as much as I need to breathe. 

A lot of my skill sets can be highly marketable, but it’s up to me to put it out there. I just did two spoken word shows and they were recorded, and then they’re going to be put online. That is huge for me, because there's a big market for spoken word work. 

What resources have been instrumental to your success?
My mother: She let me live with her for 4 years. That was pretty shameful, turning 30 and living with my Mom, but I made 5 mixed tapes over the course of that time, and would not have been able to make those without living with her. And doing those mixed tapes, I was able to say to myself “ok Toussaint- if you had the world within your reach, what would you write? what would you say?” So I wrote my ass off and traveled and did whatever I could. 

+ Serving tables: Getting a job like that every now and then is really helpful.

+ Having product online and learning wordpress: I've made thousands of important dollars that pay my bills because people buy my products online. I learned Big Cartel and Wordpress and built all 3 of my websites. They look great. Without Wordpress, there would be no professional representation of what I do. Using Bandcamp has also been huge for me-- it's f'ing cool and the user experience is so crisp. I made $200 off of a blend album in 2 days because it’s so functional. 

What are a few other creative entrepreneurs that you’re excited about?
+ Cecil Otter: I'm fascinated by the lack of work he puts out. He has Guns ‘N Roses syndrome and then bartends and I find that interesting.

+ Drake and Justin TimberlakeIt’s not them, it’s their production. Drake has a guy named 40 [Noah Shebib] who does his production. Justin Timberlake’s production team is called The Wise. 

+ Mike Nelson: He's a director I work with. He’s a young Quentin Tarantino. He's specific, knows what he likes, knows what he wants. Just his vision and what he does-- I’m constantly baffled in the best way possible. 

+ Ice Cube and Aerosmith have always been near and dear to my heart.

Find more of Toussaint online: 

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