By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
By A.H. Goldstein
Suffice it to say that Mystic's career as a hip-hop artist got off to a difficult start. On the day the young, Oakland-based rapper signed with Goodvibe Records in 1999, her excitement was quickly tempered by some tragic news.
"The day that I got my record deal was the day that my father passed away," she recalls. After a long struggle with drug addiction, Mystic's father died of a heroin overdose. Although he was absent from most of her childhood and adolescence, the two had finally made peace in the last years of his life.
"I got to ask all my questions, and they were answered to my satisfaction," she says. "He was honest and didn't make excuses. In a way, I feel like with divine order and a higher power, I was given that time to get to know him."
Among all of the emotions she experienced upon learning of his death, Mystic felt a sense of guilt about her final interaction with her father. "He came over, and I was writing a song for a movie, and I was like, 'Look, I don't really have time right now. I love you, but you've got to go,'" she recalls. "There could be times when it took a lot of energy to be with him. His lifestyle was very different from mine. He was homeless. But at that time, he was clean -- not sober, but clean."
Mystic addresses this relationship in "Fatherless Child," a cut from her stellar debut album, cuts for luck and scars for freedom: "Ten years of hard work finally becoming real...you died/With a needle in your arm and angels by your side/And I miss you, tattooed it in black/Fatherless child, fade to black."
In the song, Mystic recounts a painful incident from her childhood that her mother never knew about before cuts for luck was released this summer. In a verse addressed to her father, Mystic raps, "Got raped in a bathroom and the question stings/Would it have, could it have, should it have been different/If I had your hand to grab?/Would I be easier to love and not so torn inside/If you had beat the man and stood by my side?/Would I write sad songs and court pain daily?/How different would I be if you had raised me?"
Mystic admits that the confessional nature of the song makes her feel naked and vulnerable, but she also says that the process of writing and recording the track was cathartic. And though her father never got a chance to hear it, she's confident that it will resonate with others who have experienced similar struggles in their lives. "If you listen to the way it is written, I'm obviously talking to my father -- but to everybody else, too -- about how I came to be, saying what my father did and the things that I had been through. It was very healing for me. That song took me my whole life to write, and I don't know that I would ever write one like that again."
It is the straightforward honesty and realness of her expression that makes Mystic one of the most inspiring new voices to appear in rap this year. While diehard Bay Area rap fans might know that she rocked Digital Underground's Who Got the Gravyalbum in 1998 or that she dropped a few bars on Souls of Mischief's last record, it was with the release of her first single, "The Life," that the hip-hop nation got its first real glimpse of what Mystic could do as a solo artist. The song -- which got major airplay this summer -- shows her to be equally adept at singing and slinging rhymes. Over dope, way-ahead-of-the-class beats provided by A+ from the Hieroglyphics crew, Mystic celebrates the lives of those who persevere through their everyday struggles. "The Life," as she puts it, "is for warm days that drift away while the sun sets as the ghettos play" and "for eyes that cry like yours and learn to smile again and rise above the pain."
The video that accompanies the song exhibits a fittingly down-to-earth approach to music. By focusing on life in Mystic's Oakland hometown, the video's images are as visually poetic and arresting as her words. Her artistic perspective -- one that focuses on human issues and real life rather than Cristal-sipping and booty-shaking -- is a welcome departure from the shallow materialism that dominates the imagery of popular rap.
"I wrote the first treatment for it," she says. "I wanted to be at my house. I wanted to be in that rose garden. I wanted to be in the welfare office. I really wanted it to be, for lack of a better word, an accessible video. Videos so much now are this big selling point of creating a fantasy world, and I wanted to put a visual world out there: that this is me, and these are my friends. This is where I lived, this is where I wrote poetry, this is my house. This is me in Oakland."