Colorlines

Mystic’s 13-Year Journey Toward ‘Beautiful Resistance’

Mystic's 13-Year Journey Toward 'Beautiful Resistance'

It wasn’t the allure of another Grammy nomination or the possibility of teaming up with hip-hop heavyweights Kanye West and Mos Def that brought Mystic back to music. Instead, it was a professor at U.C. Berkeley, where the 39-year-old rapper is working toward finishing up a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. In the middle of a lecture about global poverty and the role of artists in facilitating social change, she broke down in tears and then sought advice from Professor Ananya Roy about what to do next. Roy’s advice: Keep making music.

That’s at least some of the story of how, 13 years after her debut solo album “Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom” spawned the hit “The Life” and earned her a BET award nomination for best female hip-hop artist, she’s on the verge of releasing her second album “Beautiful Resistance.” It’s a journey that’s had detours and pit stops. She met and buried her father, became committed to arts education, appeared in a few films, worked on the business side of a major label and went back to school. Each experience gave her perspective, some of which appears on the new album, which she began as a protest to George Bush’s re-election in 2004. “I wasn’t interested in the music business,” she says of the time between albums. “I wanted to create music freely and on my own.”

I spoke with Mystic by phone about the new album, which will be released digitally through W.A.R. records on August 26.

Tell me about what’s been happening since “Cuts for Luck.”

After “Cuts for Luck and Scars for Freedom” was released and the original distributing label folded, I went over to DreamWorks. We were going to re-release the album with new tracks on it with people like Mos Def and production from Kanye, Donelle Jones and other folks. Then DreamWorks was absorbed into Interscope, which was disheartening. I actually fought through a legal battle to get released from my contract. When I was finally released from my contract, I wasn’t really interested in taking meetings with other labels that were interested. People were trying to figure out what was wrong with me, but there was nothing wrong with me [laughs]. I just wasn’t interested. It had been heartbreaking watching people lose their jobs.

That was around 2003 or so, and I also decided that I really wanted to go back to school. I had dropped out of high school at the end of 11th grade, got my GED, and began working with children when I was 17. I always dreamt about opening a community arts center and elementary school in Oakland. So I entered into community college in about 2004 and fell into love with anthropology. I was still engaged with art here and there. I did stuff for a couple films, but really I was dedicated to school. I also started to record the “Beautiful Resistance” album around that time. That’s how long ago this album was started, and I know that specifically because the title track was written after Bush stole his second election.

Were you still making music during this time?

While I was in school, I continued to record the album with [producer] Eligh. I’d go over and we’d work on music and I would go home and study. I was kind of balancing it all. I graduated in 2009 with an A.A. in anthropology, with honors. I was also working in the music industry on the business side of Universal Music, which was a fascinating experience. I got to learn about how the business works from the inside and obviously the digital aspects of the music industry, which were really growing.

Tell me about when you decided to finally release the album.

I got to Berkeley and one of my first classes was Global Poverty with Ananya Roy. She’s an amazing professor and researcher, but in one of her later lectures during the semester she started talking about what she called “insurgent architects.”We were talking about them about them in the context of the I.M.F. and United Nations, people who work from within institutions to help facilitate and create change even though those structures may not support the progressive kind of change that they think will be most impactful. She just talked about how insurgent architects could be anywhere, and they could include artists. I cried during the lecture, came home and sent her an e-mail in which, for the first time, I shared that I was an artist. I shared a couple songs and she wrote me back saying, “You gotta keep making music.”

How did you react to that?

It created this shift within myself where I saw that it was possible for me to be a full-time student and pursue tools to be of greater service to children around the world, but also to be an artist and come back and try to use the platform to advocate for children and basic human rights issues. Here we are. I finished my first year at Berkeley. That’s kind of a journey. I wasn’t interested in the music industry, the business. I wanted to create music freely and on my own.

Your music has always centered around activism. It seems like you made this conscious decision to engage in that activism in a way that wasn’t been recorded and shared with fans, which is as important as anything else.

Exactly. I don’t know that it always fits within the music. That’s why I think of the platform that the music provides me. It’s not that I don’t think that people would respond to it or I don’t feel like sharing that part of myself. It would be a little bit more challenging to write lyrics that are about designing curriculum, but I think that whatever the album is after “Beautiful Resistance” — there will be one and it won’t take 13 years — we will begin to see more in my music what I’m learning at Berkeley. I’m able to listen to this album and songs like “Country Road” and know that at the time I was taking an African-American studies class and we were looking at slavery. Then in a song like “Payback,” I can tell that my references to Ancient Rome are because I was taking a Western Civilization course. I think being introduced to wider theoretical frameworks at Berkeley will definitely show up in my music in the future.

What strikes me is that a lot of the album is very California in tone. You have what’s probably one of the more unique Californian experiences in that you’ve literally lived all over the state, including the actual Northern California. How did your experience growing up and living in different places in the state impact your music?

Most of my life has been in the Bay Area and I say I’m from Oakland because it’s where I became a woman and discovered myself. But I was conceived in Berkeley, my mother took me to U.C. Santa Cruz with her when I was in kindergarden. That was in 1980 or so and it was the kind of environment where people believed that children have voices and I got to be around all these awesome students who were critical thinkers.

Then we lived in Visalia where my mom was working for the Legal Aide Society with farmworkers on water pollution issues; that was obviously a different experience. It was a part of California that was racist and my mother was very concerned that I would internalize that racism as a black child. Then we went to San Francisco and lived in the Mission District. I’ve just grown up around diverse people in California. But I think definitely the Bay Area has made me who I am because of the natural resistance and rebellion that exists here.

You open and close the new album with tracks with “mommalove” in the title. Can you talk to me about tapping into that energy? On “Cuts for Luck,” one of the most popular songs was “Fatherless Child,” so that seems like a little but of switch.

The intro “Mommalove” is actually a poem by a young woman who’s also an amazing artist named Emoni Fela. Emoni and I connected via Myspace and she’s become a daughter to me. To journey with her from the time that she was about 15 or 16 to being a young black woman in this country has been beautiful but also challenging. She calls me Mommalove, and I call her Lil’ Mama — and I was calling her that before the artist Lil’ Mama blew up, no disrespect. I asked Emoni if she would write a poem and she wrote one about our relationship, mentoring, sisterhood, and the connection between women and young women. I made this intentional decision to put it first on the album because I was thinking that if nobody knows anything else about me, they will have a look into this beautiful, powerful relationship that I have with this brilliant young woman. The closing track, “Love, Mommalove” is a spoken word piece from me to her. 

But describe the shift, because it’s very palpable on this album.

There is a shift on this album. The song “Higher Ground” is a reference to my mother. The only references to my father on this album are in “Clean Paper” which is about me coming to understand that love is not supposed to hurt. I was having these behaviors where I would wait for these men and I was hurting inside. I had to love myself and examine how my father’s absence in my life was impacting my romantic relationships. I think having my father come into my life right around when I was signing my [deal], that’s why it was so present on the first album. I was also in my 20s and still processing that. I’m still on a journey.

But in the time since then, I’ve really grown into my relationship with my mom, who was the primary person who raised me. She showed me what it is to be dedicated to the community; she taught me how to be a black woman. Even though she’s a white woman, she gave me the books, the inspiration to really love my identity. I’ve come back to her and realized that I’ve put her through painful things, so “Higher Ground” is an apology to her.

J. Cole Honors Mike Brown, Releases New Song ‘Be Free’

J. Cole Honors Mike Brown, Releases New Song 'Be Free'

J. Cole has a new song out that speaks directly to the rage following Mike Brown’s murder in Ferguson. The track is called “Be Free” and features cover art of the widely circulated social media image of Brown’s body sprawled on the sidewalk after he was shot and killed by a police officer. On it, J. Cole sings his painful plea: “Can you tell me why/every time I step outside I see my niggas die?/ I’m letting you know, that it ain’t no gun that they make that can kill my soul.”

Cole released a written message with the song: “Rest in Peace to Michael Brown and to every young black man murdered in America, whether by the hands of white or black. I pray that one day the world will be filled with peace and rid of injustice. Only then will we all Be Free - Cole”

Within the first 6 hours after it was uploaded to Soundcloud, the track has been played more than 62,000 times. 

Vigils Sweep the Country to Remember Victims of Police Violence

Vigils Sweep the Country to Remember Victims of Police Violence

Thousands of people took to the streets of American cities on Thursday night to remember the victims of police violence. They hoisted the names of images of people whose youth and blackness made them targets: Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin. And they wondered aloud if they, or their brothers or cousins or best friends, would be next.

The events represented an almost unprecedented degree of quick-thinking online organizing led by Feminista Jones. Protestors took to the streets of cities like New York, Chicago, Oakland, Denver and Decatur to stand in solidarity with residents of Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb that’s been awash in demonstrations and police violence since an officer shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown last Saturday.

Here are some of the images from last night’s vigils.

Watch Rebel Diaz Talk to Ana Tijoux About Spike Lee’s ‘Do the Right Thing’

In a new episode of their TeleSur series Ñ Don’t Stop, Rebel Diaz’s Rod Stars and Claudia de la Cruz talk to Chilean hip-hop star Ana Tijoux about writing and how Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” blew her mind when she first saw it as a kid. The interview starts at about 4:50.

 

‘Black America’s CNN’: 10 Rappers Who Are Tweeting About Ferguson

'Black America's CNN': 10 Rappers Who Are Tweeting About Ferguson

In the late 1980s, Public Enemy’s Chuck D famously declared that “Rap is CNN for black people.” To the extent that that’s true nearly three decades later, rappers across the country have been tweeting in reaction to the police violence that’s been unleashed on the black residents in Ferguson in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s killing. Some, like Bambu and Jasiri X, are actively involved in community organizing. Others, like Jean Grae, have reached back into their personal histories to talk about the legacies of state-sanctioned violence. And then there’s Questlove, who’s not a rapper, but as influential as any musician in America right now. No matter the message, thousands of fans are tuned in. 

Chef Roy Choi is Getting His Own Food Show on CNN

Chef Roy Choi is Getting His Own Food Show on CNN

He became a celebrity chef when he introduced his Korean taco truck to Los Angeles, and now Roy Choi is taking his craft national with a new show on CNN called “Street Food.”

From Eater:

This weekend, Choi — who just last week opened an impressive new restaurant in Los Angeles — broke the news on Twitter: “I got my own show&it’s from the heart on the biggest platform down2the smallest detail. #CNN #StreetFood thank YOU!” After telling the WSJ that it was in the process of partnering with “a protege of Anthony Bourdain,” CNN confirms that Choi has joined the network. A rep was tight-lipped: “I can confirm that a collaboration with Roy is in the works but we’re not prepared to release details about the project.” 

Read more

Choi’s national prominence has grown in recent years thanks to his 2013 memoir and cookbook “L.A. Son.” In an interview with Colorlines, he talked about his writing process and finding a “voice, a perspective and an honesty that was pretty rare.”

Barneys Hopes Consultant Will Make Racial Profiling Problems Go Away

Barneys Hopes Consultant Will Make Racial Profiling Problems Go Away

Nine months after the New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman opened an investigation into racial profiling at Barneys over racial profiling allegations, the company has agreed to pay $525,000 in costs, fees and penalties. The store will also reform practices that single out shoppers of color. 

The investigation was sparked by complaints from two black shoppers who said that they were racial profiled at the company’s flagship Madison Avenue store. Trayon Christian, 19, and Kayla Phillips, 21 reported being “stopped, frisked, searched and detained.” Other complaints followed.

In addition to paying up, the store has also agreed to hire an “independent anti-profiling consultant with expertise in the prevention of racial profiling in loss prevention and asset protection,” according to the New York Times. 

(h/t New York Times)

 

Little League Pitcher ‘Throws Like a Girl,’ Heads to World Series

Little League Pitcher 'Throws Like a Girl,' Heads to World Series

Mo’Ne Davis is only 13 years old, but the Little League pitcher is already throwing 70 m.p.h. pitches. After posting the first-ever shutout thrown by a female little league pitcher, Davis is headed to the Little League World Series. And she’s not stopping there. “I’ll probably either be the first female in the MLB or in the NBA,” she told the “Today” show.

(h/t Bustle)

Questlove on Robin Williams: ‘The Smallest Gesture Can Mean the World’

Questlove on Robin Williams: 'The Smallest Gesture Can Mean the World'

There’s been an outpouring of grief since word spread that Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams, 63, died Monday of a suspected suicide. That sentiment also extends to the hip-hop world, as Questlove memorialized Williams on Instagram:

Man. The smallest gesture can mean the world to you. Robin Williams made such an impact on me and didn’t even know it. He named checked all of us in the elevator during the 2001 Grammys. I know y’all think I do this false modesty/T Swift “gee shucks” thing to the hilt. But yeah sometimes when you put 20 hour days in you do think it’s for naught and that it goes thankless. Grammy time is somewhat of a dark time simply because you just walk around asking yourself is it worth it or not: all the sweat and blood. I just felt like (despite winning grammy the year before) no one really cares all that much for us except for a select few. Especially in that environment I’m which people treat you like minions until they discover what you can do for them…if you’re not a strong character you run the risk of letting it get to you.

This particular Sunday we were walking backstage and had to ride the elevator to the backstage area and we piled inside when suddenly this voice just said “questlove…..black thought….rahzel….the roots from Philadelphia!!!! That’s right you walked on this elevator saying to yourself “ain’t no way this old white dude knows my entire history and discography”….we laughed so hard. That NEVER happened to is before. Someone a legend acknowledged us and really knew who we were (his son put him on to us) man it was a small 2 min moment in real life but that meant the world to me at the time. Everytime I saw him afterwards he tried to top his trivia knowledge on all things Roots associated. Simply because he knew that meant everything to me. May his family find peace at this sad time. I will miss Robin Williams. #RIP.”

Star of Oscar-Winning Short Doc Shares Immigration News

Inocente Azucar is an undocumented Latina artist whose story of struggle won people over when it was packaged into an Oscar-winning documentary last year. After years of living in the U.S. under the threat of deportation, Inocente announced that she’s been granted permanent residency and is now the proud owner of a Green Card. She’ll now be able to travel to Mexico to see family she hasn’t seen in more than 15 years.

(h/t Latino Rebels)

‘Aunt Jemima’ Heir Sues Quaker Oats for $2 Billion in Royalties

'Aunt Jemima' Heir Sues Quaker Oats for $2 Billion in Royalties

Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup is one of the most ubiquitious brands in America, which makes it hard to remember that it’s based on a caricature of several black women — but one in particular. 

Anna Short Harrington was selected for the role of “Aunt Jemima” in 1935 and Quaker Oats trademarked her image and likeness in 1937. According to For Harriet, she was selected because of her own pancake recipe, which was then recreated for store shelves. When Harrington died in 1955, her family says that Quaker Oats was listed on her death certificate as her employer, but the company denies that she was an employee.

Her great grandson, D.W. Hunter, is now suring Quaker Oats for $2 billion plus punitive damages because the company has refused to their share of royalties for using Harrington’s recipe and image.

From The Wrap:

The suit further alleges a racial element to the exploitation of Harrington and the other women who portrayed Aunt Jemima, going so far as to accuse the company of theft in procuring 64 original formulas and 22 menus from Harrington. It further alleges that Harrington was dissuaded from using a lawyer, exploiting her lack of education and age, so that thecompany could not pay her a percentage of sales from her recipes.

Read more at For Harriet and CNBC.

La Santa Cecilia’s ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ Looks at Migrant Work

La Santa Cecilia is a Grammy-winning Mexican-American band based in Los Angeles that’s been open about how their music is influenced by the struggle of migrants in the U.S. In their latest video, the band does their own re-make of the Beatles 1967 classic “Stawberry Fields Forever” and takes viewers on a colorful backwards journey of consumer strawberries from the kitchen table to California’s Central Valley.

For comparison’s sake, here’s the original:

(h/t Latino Rebels)

Azealia Banks’ First Post-Label Music Video is Dope

Azealia Banks' First Post-Label Music Video is Dope Play

After invoking the ghosts of “The Color Purple” when she was let go from her label a few months back, Azealia Banks is eager to drop new music on her adoring fans. 

In an exclusive interview with BuzzFeed’s Naomi Zeichner, Banks said that can’t wait to release her debut album “Broke With Expensive Taste” so she can move on to a new project. “Now that I’m off the label it’s a bit of a shock, because now it’s like, ‘Oh shit, it’s real now.’ I mean, even though I’ve been doing it myself the whole time anyway, now it’s gonna be more pressure,” she said. “I have to do it myself, I have to hire all the people, I have to find all the stuff, I have to pay all the producers, I have to do everything. It’s fine, I actually don’t mind. I have a good team, lawyer, manager.”

And it looks like she’s off to a good start. Banks dropped the video for the new track “Heavy Metal and Reflective” on August 5, featuring that signature heavy baseline and some of the best lyrics she’s rapped since “L8R.” The video was directed by by Rob Soucy and Nick Ace and features Banks escaping a kidnap attempt with her biker gang.

Read more at BuzzFeed.

PSA From ‘Dear White People’: The Best Athletes Aren’t Always Black

PSA From 'Dear White People': The Best Athletes Aren't Always Black

Here’s the latest PSA from the cast of “Dear White People.”

(h/t Global Grind)

Video of Jeremy Lin Dunking on His Mom Goes Viral

Jeremy Lin took to Instagram recently to get his fans to participate in an online dunk contest. He included video of him dunking on his family — including his poor mom, who’s clearly been through this before. 

TAGS: Jeremy Lin

Maya Angelou Spoke of W.E.B DuBois in One of Her Last Interviews

In one of the last interviews she gave before her death earlier this year, Maya Angelou joined scholar Arnold Rampersad and poet Elizabeth Alexander on American Public Media to talk about W.E.B. DuBois’ legacy.

Angelou said of DuBois, “For a black man at that time to teach and to learn and to study under those circumstances when people were being lynched…what Dr. DuBois showed is that he had enormous courage.”

The interview is about 51 minutes long; but Angelou’s segment starts at around 48:55.

(h/t New Black Man)

TAGS: Maya Angelou

Listen to FKA Twigs Perform 3 Songs on BBC Radio

FKA Twigs (aka Tahlilah Barnett) is a 26-year-old British songstress who’s already been praised for her “futuristic vision of R&B.” Her sultry voice is just one part of her allure. Another part is the way she packages her music in carefully choreographed videos. 

She’s already got two releases under her beat: “EP1” and “EP2,” and on August 11 she’s set to drop “LP1.” She recently did a half hour radio appearance with BBC Radio 1 and performed three songs from her upcoming album. 

(h/t Stereogum)

TAGS: FKA Twigs

Brittney Griner Talks About Living in China

Brittney Griner Talks About Living in China Play

If there’s one thing that really sets WNBA stars apart from their NBA counterparts, it’s the fact that most of them have to play basketball year-round in order to pay the bills. Brittney Griner, the face of the league, is no exception.

Last Spring, ESPN’s Kate Fagan caught up with Griner as she tried to adjust to life in China. Now, here’s a clip from the new ESPN documentary “Britney Griner: Lifesize” in which the star talks about her time in the country.

Indian-Americans Don’t Want Dinesh D’Souza Anymore

Indian-Americans Don't Want Dinesh D'Souza Anymore

Jaya Sundaresh is tired of trying to make sense of conservative Indian-American commentator Dinesh D’Souza, so she’s offering up a Dave Chapelle-esque deal. No strings attached. Here’s why:

Put simply, D’Souza is the best of the best. He’s the crown jewel of Indian America, and trust us, he’s all yours. He’s a proud graduate of Dartmouth Univeristy, which is totally not a frat-infested wastehole. He worked for the Reagan White House, as a policy advisor. He did that right out of college, too. Such a smart boy! Oh, and he might have been born in Mumbai, but this brown beefcake is all-American, baby. He was proudly naturalized as an American citizen in 1991 and has been demonstrating his love for America ever since.

Dinesh doesn’t just take a rosy view of America, he really likes white people. Like, all white people. (Hear that, guys? That’s you!) Colonialism was A-OK in his book. The problem with African colonialism is that it didn’t last long enough, according to Dinesh. And India’s colonization by the British, well, that was just necessary, as it helped India progress into the modern age. So you definitely won’t get any of that annoying white guilt if you hang out with him. Heck, if you steal anything from him, he’ll probably just thank you for trying to civilize him!

Read more at the Aerogram

Here’s How NFL Owner Dan Snyder Bought Off the D.C. Media

Here's How NFL Owner Dan Snyder Bought Off the D.C. Media

It’s hard to imagine why it’s taken 16 years for the media to finally get up in arms against Dan Snyder’s entrenched refusal to change the racist name of the Washington, D.C., football team. But a new Deadspin piece by Dave McKenna sheds some light on Snyder’s manipulative tactics that predated his recent launch of a preposterous promotional website:

When the team was losing the public relations battle with star player LaVar Arrington over a 2005 contract negotiation, [WRC Sports Director George] Michael took the lead in trashing the beloved player as lazy and unintelligent until the fans turned against Arrington. He had members of WRC’s news crew pose as working journalists while staffing the 30-minute infomercials produced by Redskins Broadcasting, which had names like “Redskins Nation” and “Redskins Late Night” and were aired during time Snyder bought on the station and on others in the market. (Click here for a Snyder-produced promotional video for team-owned productions featuring future ESPN anchor Lindsay Czarniak and future NFL Network face Dan Hellie.) Michael never disclosed his or his station’s contractual ties to the team on the air and, more sleazily, tried to hide them by directing viewers who wanted to provide feedback to an email address with an “nbc.com” address, though the network had no hand in the shows’ production.

Read more at Deadspin

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