There’s a feeling of magic in Mystic’s Dreaming in Cursive: The Girl Who Loved Sparklers. The Oakland hip-hop artist, originally a member of Digital Underground in the ’90s, recently released her first solo album in eight years. After leaving a record deal and pursuing a second career as an educator, Mystic is on her own timeline, making what she calls “healed Black woman music” outside the constraints of the industry. And Dreaming in Cursive was well worth the wait.
In a world full of suffering, Mystic finds an antidote by inviting her inner child out to play. While she acknowledges hard truths about violence and abuses of power, her activist message is also about nurturing feelings of love, hope and wonder. Those two themes are often intertwined in her work and life: Last month, to honor her late friend and collaborator Shock G, she and her Digital Underground family partnered with the community group East Oakland Collective to distribute over 2,000 meals to Oakland residents in need. On Dreaming in Cursive, the personal and collective are also linked, and the 14 tracks and poetic interludes present Mystic’s healing and the world’s healing as two parts of the same process.
“As somebody who has experienced trauma, it’s only through part of the healing process that I could return to that playfulness, that I could return to that imagination,” says Mystic, who intentionally incorporated children’s voices on the record to underscore the uplifting mood.
Dreaming in Cursive celebrates the love of self, family, friends and community, and there’s a heavy emphasis on sensuality and romance as well. “Every song is actually a love song, but in a different context,” she says.
A standout track is “Butter (Green Light),” where Mystic raps over an uptempo, classic hip-hop beat with a warm guitar, as flirtatious giggles ring out in the background. “It’s a good thing, I’m in your sweet thing / The green light goes both ways / When I’m in your arms as the sun sets / It’s been a marvelous day,” she repeats before the chorus. The feel-good track captures a magical spark of mutual admiration, the kind of connection that makes you feel completely present in your loved one’s company.
“When I was younger, I could just think that you’re the one, right? I wasn’t too concerned whether it went both ways—I wanted it to go both ways. And I think part of the wisdom that I’ve gotten is when it doesn’t go both ways, that’s not where you’re supposed to be,” she says. “We each deserve to be loved passionately, to be celebrated, to be listened to and held and inspired.”
The interludes between tracks give insight into this evolution as Mystic has learned over the years to love and trust herself. On “Alive and Free (Interlude),” which precedes another charmingly sincere love song called “Magic (Let Yourself Go),” Mystic and her friend Angela chat about breaking free from expectations imposed onto women and leaving a scarcity mindset behind.
“We can be so caught in our struggle that it can feel like it’s enough to be here and alive,” she says. “But like, don’t you want to thrive?” When the two friends laugh together, it’s the sound of two people who’ve been through some things and risen above.
“Angela is one of my forever-and-a-day sisters,” Mystic says. They met over 20 years ago when Angela booked Digital Underground for a show in San Jose; they went on to be roommates and even toured together. On Mystic’s acclaimed 2001 debut album Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom, Angela appears in an interlude just before the lead single “The Life,” an ode to people surviving oppression in America’s inner cities.
“We’ve been riding together ever since,” Mystic says. “And she has been through with me in my life as a support and as a sister from when I was still broken right to where I am now.”
Now that the album is out, Mystic is working on her next endeavor: a short film she co-wrote, co-directed and stars in called A Black Love Trilogy, which incorporates the forthcoming music videos for “Butter (Green Light),” “Still (Love)” and “Love (Always),” but is a standalone narrative. The project is in post-production, and she has plans to enter it into film festivals when it comes out in 2023.
“A lot of what we’re seeing [in pop culture] is love being transactional and toxic,” says Mystic. The film focuses on a couple finding their way back to each other after a rough time.
“[It’s about] the redemption in Black love and the power of Black love to survive those challenges and to place it in the collective context, because our love doesn't exist outside of our communities,” Mystic says. “I really just want to uplift healthy, loving, joyful love.”
Care about what’s happening in Bay Area arts? Stay informed with one email every other week—right to your inbox.