Why Hip-Hop Artist Mystic is Devoting February to Revolutionary Love

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This month, hip-hop artist, educator and activist Mystic is making playlists, hosting discussions and dropping verses about the power of love. (Nastia Voynovskaya/KQED)

Oakland hip-hop artist Mystic is a deep thinker about many issues — the environment, social justice and healing.

But connecting her activism, education work and art is love.

“Love is revolutionary,” said the Grammy-nominated artist and Oxford-educated community activist. “The only way that I believe that we can move forward is as a collective and grounded in love.”

So as folks are likely thinking more about this on Valentine’s Day, Mystic has been running a programming series called Additional Love Month, and tying this in with what she calls Additional Black History Month in February.

“The world is in need of more love, and I want to help with that,” she said on Instagram.


In trying to uplift and celebrate love in all its forms, Mystic has been hosting discussions, and posting love notes and verse performances of her own songs on Instagram. She has also been curating a playlist with contributions from her family, friends and collaborators.

She talked more about this with KQED morning host Brian Watt.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BRIAN WATT: This celebration of Additional Love Month is inspired in part by your latest work, which draws on the writings of bell hooks. Tell me more about that.

MYSTIC: [My album] Dreaming in Cursive: The Girl Who Loved Sparklers is what I call my healed Black woman music. When I first started creating hip-hop, when I was 16, I was, what I call, a broken Black girl, having experienced sexual assault and just the kind of in and outs of daily life in the ’90s in Oakland. With this album, I was really intentional about wanting to create art and sound and visuals that are about affirmation, that are about love.

And so bell hooks, in her book All About Love, which I encourage everyone to read multiple times across our lifetimes, it’s deeply striking to me because she’s exploring and examining love in a variety of different contexts, using her personal experiences, but also focusing on community, spirituality, on the connections between us. And even in the first chapter on clarity, she’s talking about our need to collectively define what does love mean. Love is nurturing and care, and it is in opposition to harm and to exploitation.

My producer told me you almost called the album Love Songs.

I wanted to call it that because every single song on the album is a love song, and whether it’s romantic or [like] in the song, “Here Alive,” I start off talking to young people and children around the world who may be living in slums, who are living lives in which we are often not valorized as people of color. And then I go on to speak to men and folks who are incarcerated, and then I go on and speak to my sisters and to women who have been oppressed and violated in the world.

But in saying “Here, Alive,” we need you here, alive, keep pushing on, it’s about that love that collectively we can move through this world in love with each other.

So what is it about the experience of writing love songs?

I don’t think about them necessarily as far as love songs. They’re all love songs, right? But depending on what I’m writing, I'm not necessarily sitting down and going, okay, I’m going to write a romantic love song right now, or I’m going to write a love song for children or for the planet. And very often, as you said, these things are kind of mixed together in one piece of one piece of art. But, you know, I listen to the music, the production, and what does the music touch in my heart and in my spirit that opens up that story within me that needs to be told.

You grew up in Oakland. You live there now. What has the city taught you about love and how has it influenced your music?

My mother moved me to Oakland [in] ninth grade, summer. I was exposed to this really profound depth of sociopolitical thought that is a running thread in the community of Oakland, where the Black Panthers and others took it upon themselves to try to feed our communities and liberate our people and liberate our communities. That’s love. Love is liberation, right?

Oakland taught me what it means to be devoted to your community, to be devoted to the alliances that can be made across physical borders of neighborhoods and ethnicities and races, and that we can be together. And there’s this feeling in Oakland, too, because so many families migrated from the South that is kind of like this relaxed, soothing place to be with this thriving, thriving life. And so it just it continues to inspire me everyday because there’s also such deep inequality.

It was also a beautiful time in hip-hop in Oakland. We were creating culture. At this time, we’ve got Souls of Mischief, we’ve got E-40 and The Click, and independent labels. A-plus from Souls of Mischief, his mom lived across the street from my mom, so I got to come up with Hieroglyphics and learn to freestyle with them.

At that time in my life, art saved my life.

You have also asked people to give you suggestions on love songs as part of your Additional Love Month playlist. What are some of the tracks that stand out to you?

I got sent some Beethoven. I got sent a lot of Sade “Cherish the Day.” But the range! It’s jazz, it’s country, it’s classical, it’s hip-hop, it’s soul. I’ve been really surprised by who sent me what — like hip-hop artists sent me country songs.


Questlove sent me over some playlists that I could pull songs from. My momma, my cousin, my brother, all of those folks added in the songs as well. So I’m delighted. And just like Additional Love Month is going to be every month of February from this year going forward. I will do one of these collective playlists every year.