Mystic sits in her backyard on the kind of warm, autumn afternoon that makes people remark at how good it is to live in Oakland, California. Dappled light shines through a lush canopy of persimmon, fig and guava trees. Her pet lovebird chirps in the distance, and she’s snacking on almonds between Zoom calls with young musicians she mentors.
This is the veteran hip-hop artist’s little oasis, away from the unruliness of the city, where she ponders the changing seasons of life, love and art.
It’s a good time for reflection. The recent loss of her longtime close friend and Digital Underground collaborator, Shock G, shook her deeply. That, and the grief of living during a global pandemic, prompted her to listen inward and ask herself what would fulfill her soul right now.
“I mean, shouldn’t we be doing what we love? Isn’t it the time now?” she asks in her naturally poetic cadence, lowering her voice into a near-whisper. Then, she starts to get louder and more passionate, as if proclaiming a manifesto: “If we’re artists, and art is part of our healing journey, then we should all be making art right now, right? There should be art flooding our speakers and our museums and our buildings, right? Public art.”
And for Mystic, one of the roles of hip-hop as a public art form is to bring traumas out of darkness and into the light, where they can be examined and processed—maybe even let go—in communion with others. That’s the power of her classic album Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom, whose 20th anniversary Mystic is celebrating this year. She recently took ownership of the master recordings and put out a podcast series looking back at its creation. Now, she’s gearing up for a vinyl rerelease in December.
From the outside, it might look like Mystic is recommitting to her art after years of focusing on her other loves: academia and teaching. After Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom was released to great acclaim, she walked away from a record deal and took a different path that brought her to UC Berkeley and, eventually, the University of Oxford for her master’s degree in education. For years, she spent more time in kindergarten classrooms than on stage in front of fans. But to Mystic, these multiple pursuits are all part of one continuous quest to create, express and be of service.
“It takes life to make art,” she texts me after one of our conversations. “There are times of input and times of output. I take my time for input, and that includes healing, living, loving, working with children, school and community. When my art is ready to be born, that is output. That is all 😉.”