Mystic recently discussed the songs on her DreamWorks Records debut album, Cuts For Luck And Scars For Freedom … (Learning To Breathe), set for release July 22, 2003. Contributing production to the disc were Kanye West (Jay-Z, Scarface, Talib Kweli, Mos Def), Darren "Limitless" Henson and Keith "Keshon" Pelzer (Jill Scott, Floetry) and Supa Dave West (De La Soul, Meshell Ndegeocello); the Learning To Breathe tracks that appeared on the original version of Cuts For Luck were produced by Shock G, The Angel, Spontaneous and Relative, A-Plus, CD, Manifest, Adam, Walter Liquor, The Dotrix, Chops and Amp Live. New tracks are indicated with an asterisk.
*"Breathe (Better Days)" featuring Donell Jones: I went into the studio with [producer] Kanye [West] and we made the music. The way I wrote the lyrics - that's how I woke up that day. The sun was shining, and I decided I wanted to walk away from pain. Some people say my music is heavy, but I was smiling when I was recording this, and I wanted people to hear me smiling on it. We take breathing for granted. But at the moment when something needs to happen in your life, you breathe. I've become more conscious about when I take that breath.
*"Be Free": My art is sacred - I put so much of myself in it that it is me. I don't just say, "That's my art and that's my life." And I am the sole controller of what I create. I am also unable to be anything I'm not. And I've learned in the past few years that that's okay. It's okay to accept that and be happy, be free. The weight of the world is something I have always walked with, but I understand now that I deserve to be happy.
"W" featuring Planet Asia: This is a tribute to the West Coast. The vibe, the pace of life - nothing is like the West Coast. I wanted to love my coast on this song but not put anybody down. I just love where I'm from.
"The Life": When I lived in Oakland, I lived on Oakland Avenue. But even when your environment is troubled, you have to remember some of the good things. So with this song I am honoring all the people we've lost and the people who are in prison unjustly. At the end of the day, you have to smile. What else are you going to do?
"The Gottas": People die in the hood every day, and a lot of those people are dying for material objects, stuff you can't take with you. I don't like to preach; I like people to listen to both sides and make up their own minds. But I've been in love with drug dealers, and it's not glamorous, and when they sit at home at night, it's not pretty. They would get out if they could. This is a song about people I know and people I've loved.
*"Here We Are" featuring Mos Def: When I wrote this, I was thinking about how it seems so solitary when we feel pain, like no one on the face of the earth could ever feel what we're feeling. But when we bleed, we bleed the same. If someone gets murdered on the block and 10 people see it, each may feel it differently but they will all feel it just as strong. Take a look around 'cause we all go through the same thing.
"Ghetto Birds": I was recording in L.A., and when I started to write this there were helicopters and lights everywhere because of a gangland war, and the house was shaking because of the helicopters. The song is about how a lot of people who come from not having anything believe money makes you different. But it doesn't. If you are black and have money or are black and are homeless, we are the same. Ghetto birds, like the ones on this song, fly above the injustice that separates people.
"Forever And A Day": Men have told me they think this is a love song, but it's not; it's about my female friends. It's really based on my godsister, my best friend and my old roommate. It was originally written as a rap. I've been through so much with my friends - they have wiped away my tears and picked up the phone at all hours. They remind me that there is beauty in life. Men do songs about the homeboys, and I wanted to say how much I love my woman friends. We are incredible, so powerful.
"Neptune's Jewels": This is my b-girl ballad. It's about somebody specific. It's a love song. When you really love someone, there are no unfair requests. This is about watching someone and wanting so badly to make them happy, to say, "I will protect you from the world and have your children."
"You Say, I Say": Sometimes people involved in street life don't really know how to accept and treasure love. The contrast of beauty and a painful life can be hard to enjoy. Sometimes people do not feel worthy of something good. This song is about loving someone like that.
"Fallen Angels": There was a carnival in Miami and a girl was killed by a stray bullet. All my life, I've been questioning why the innocents are taken. This song is about trying to figure that out, trying to find some peace with it. Yet even when I lose people, they are here with me, every time I breathe.
"Dave Ghetto": Dave and I were supposed to do a whole song together, but we didn't get the chance. I think he's so dope that I still wanted people to hear him, so he's on this interlude.
"Girlfriend Sistagirl": This is a story about three women trying to find a way out. The first one gets with a drug dealer to get out of the house and then she gets locked up. The second goes to church but sleeps around a lot. She ends up killing herself. The third girl lives in the suburbs. Her mother is addicted to drugs, so the girl goes to the hood to get away, but she's moving too fast. What I'm saying is, "I know you do all these things because you want a new life. But I know this is not where you want to be."
"Fatherless Child": This is my most vulnerable moment. I didn't grow up with my dad. His name was not on my birth certificate. I probably saw him twice. When I was in my early twenties, I put the word out that I wanted to see him, and he called. He came in with a bouquet of flowers he'd gathered from other people's yards. He had grass in his hair and a sleeping bag on his back. And I had two beautiful years of asking questions and getting to know him. But the last time he came over, I told him I couldn't hang out with him because I was writing a song for a movie and I was leaving for L.A. the next day and …. This song, "Fatherless Child," makes me wonder, how do you put your life into words? At some point I was singing and crying and this incredible piece came out. I felt I was singing it to my dad and he could hear me.
*"Ghetto Lullaby": This song is essentially about black people, but it's really for all people in oppressed situations, whatever those situations may be. The fact is, we can't cry forever; we can't dwell on it forever. I wanted this song to be soothing; I was thinking of a lullaby my godmother used to sing to me. This is a happy song. It's about change, about moving forward.
"Spoken Peace": This is a spoken-word piece. I'd gone through a bit of a dark period and when I came out of it, I wrote this. It's me acknowledging that my life has been difficult, but it has always been beautiful.
*"No Competition": I rarely do battle-style rhymes, so it was fun to have a platform connected to a film that enabled me to play. ["No Competition" originally appeared on Music From The Motion Picture Biker Boyz]. I believe there's so much more to talk about than how dope I'm supposed to be. It's funny because people seem to love it when I do this type of song, but again, it doesn't happen very often.