For hip-hop, a genre even more obsessed with being fresh than pop, six years can be an eternity. Mystikal spent one such eternity in jail on charges of sexual assault and extortion. He’s been away from a fan base that can sometimes forget its favorite acts as soon as the next hot newcomer hits the scene.
At his height, Mystikal contributed to the most crowded day in Jazz Fest history when, in 2001, he and the Dave Matthews Band helped draw more than 160,000 people to the Fair Grounds, most of those at the Acura and Congo Square stages where the two performed.
Earlier this year, a recently-released Mystikal returned to Jazz Fest, this time as a guest during Trombone Shorty’s set. He brought the same rambunctious, energetic confidence that has become his trademark, and had the crowd singing along when he performed a ferocious “Shake Ya Azz.” Overwhelmed by the crowd’s response, he told the audience, “If I wasn’t a gangsta, I’d be crying.”
With that performance, the former No Limit standout made a statement as loud as his dynamic voice: Mystikal is back. He’ll return on his own when he plays the House of Blues August 12. You’ve been warned.
First, a “Welcome Back” is in order. How has it been being back the last six months?
Thanks, man. It’s been a task working through my supervision, though. You know, my probation and parole situation.
How is that supervision restricting you?
Lightly. I’m still capable of doing what I need to get done. It’s not like I just came home and I’m free as a bird or anything. I’m still able to perform, but not as many places as I normally would.
Are you recording a lot now?
Yeah, I’m working on my album. I’m doing a lot of feature projects, but I’m mostly working on my album. I don’t have a definite release but we’re shooting for the end of the year.
What was the hardest part about being away for such a long time?
Being away. For such a long time. [laughs] It varies: family, friends, my kids. Everything. My career. It was just a transition, like being in the damn twilight zone. I was doing the same thing over and over and over. It was the same routine.
Right around the time you got out, there was a welcome back show in New Orleans. How was it? Was the crowd ready for your return?
It was off the chain. But it was on Mardi Gras night so there was a lot going on. They definitely weren’t ready, though.
You were gone during Katrina and had to watch everything from behind bars. How difficult was that?
That was very difficult. I’m a hands-on guy, especially when it comes to my family and my hometown. I want to be as helpful as my celebrity will allow. I tried to use all my resources, but all I could do was look at it on television. That was tough. Once the power got working right, we were able to reach out to our families and make sure our loved ones were alright. Fortunately for me, I have a house big enough to accommodate my entire family from New Orleans. I was in Baton Rouge at the time. My family members were able to drive to Baton Rouge to stay with my momma at her house. I was able to help in that regard.
What was it like to come back to see New Orleans in 2010?
It was a real drastic change to see things so differently. It was crazy to see, especially the downtown area. A lot of things and places I liked and wanted to go to aren’t there anymore. The big difference now comes more from the oil spill than anything Katrina did. I can’t enjoy my good old seafood like I normally do. I just don’t trust it. The oil spill is terrible. That’s why I’m doing this show on August 12th.
What show is that?
I got a House of Blues set I’m going to do. I’m going to do it unplugged with a live band. I tell you, they’ve never seen me in this capacity before. It’s going to be crazy, and a portion of the proceeds are going to be donated to the Louisiana fishermen to aid in the fight and recovery from this oil spill situation.
What made you want to do a show with a live band?
I’ve wanted to do that for a long time. I was supposed to do that a long time ago. That was before I left, but I just left before I could execute it.
What’s the biggest change in the hip-hop scene since you’ve been gone?
It does what it does. It changes and goes in different directions. It’s just going in different directions right now. Music is different. I don’t want to knock or diss those guys that are having success with the music they’re doing because that’s what it’s all about: your financial security. So if you have success, I applaud you and give you your props. It’s just different, though. I come from that hip-hop era.
So do you think that traditional hip-hop aspect is missing from the music?
I don’t think it’s lost. I just don’t think new acts are doing it. They changed it. It’s like classic hip-hop isn’t important any more. That’s not “hot” anymore. That’s not for them.
Do you feel that this has pressured you to change at all?
You’ll see. You will soon see that I’m not playing with these dudes out here, man. At all.
What’s different specifically about the New Orleans hip-hop scene?
We still do our thing. We still have the bounce music that we started. We’re still able to use that music to achieve our own success. We’re still doing our thing. We adapt to some of the other stuff out there but we’re able to stick to our roots. I like that. That’s the thing that gets me about other people. They do the “follow the leader” thing. They do the music that other people do. That’s not what it’s about. As an artist I paint my own picture, not their picture. I make my own music.
What does the “Mystikal picture” look like?
Lord, have mercy. Just imagine a room with all white walls and I have all kinds of different color paints and I’m just splattering it all over there. It may look like a mess to somebody, but when I finish it, it’ll look like a beautiful thing. Believe me; it’s going to make a statement. I’m just a lot of different things, man. I’m abstract. I can be hardcore. I can serve you a full plate, a full course meal with your dessert and something to drink.
When you came back and looked at the hip-hop landscape, did you find that the old spot you held was gone? Did you worry that there wouldn’t be a place for Mystikal anymore?
Let me tell you something, man. If you look across the whole hip-hop landscape the whole time I was gone, you’ll see there was a hole. That’s where I fit. Not that guys didn’t want to get in it, they just couldn’t. I have a unique style. They don’t have any rappers out there like me. They don’t have them out there like Busta Rhymes. They don’t have them out there like Eminem. They don’t have them out there like Lil Wayne. Those people are the trendsetters. They don’t follow the trends. Like Ludacris and them. They did what they did. It was the same with me, except nobody could fill that spot. There was a small hole in the rap game and when I came back, I realized that they really, truly, missed me. I had definitely left my mark in the rap industry. When I left, they had their hands up. When I came back six years later, their hands were still in the air ready to root for me. That was pretty special to me.
Was there a point where you thought about not coming back and doing music at all?
What?! There’s a passion here. That’s like saying I’m just going to go ahead and stop believing in God. This is embedded in me. It’s hardwired in my DNA.
How much writing did you do over the last six years?
I did some. I did a fair amount, but I can tell y’all that it wasn’t a writing sanctuary. I did more gathering information and reading and reflecting on my life. I just did a lot of growing. I let a lot of growth take place. So when the growth took place in the man, the artist finally grew. So I think you’ll see that in my music. I was able to put a lot of stuff together, though.
People do say that it’s really difficult to write music in jail. So you went through a little writer’s block?
I guess you could say “writer’s block.” You just have so much to focus on in there just surviving in that place and maintaining your mind. If you allow yourself, it’ll let you come out being something you don’t want to be. It’ll make you worse. It’s really messed up in that place, man.
There have been, and will be, a lot of rappers coming back this year: Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne coming back from jail time and Eminem coming back from his hard times. Do you look at those comebacks and try to take something from them to position your own return?
No, because I can’t do what they do. I can’t do what Lil Wayne does. I can’t do what Eminem does. I’m Mystikal. I have to be strategic in Mystikal’s return. Now, you can take notes and see what not to do. That’s the offstage stuff. I hope a lot of artists learn from me and don’t have to go through the same stupid stuff I had to go through and make the same mistakes I made. Because I made a foolish mistake.
In the last couple of years, there has been an explosion online with blogs and twitter and other social media. These things weren’t here six years ago. Do you find yourself having to adjust to that?
Hell yeah! I call it “The Matrix.” And I know that Neo can’t mess with me because I am definitely the one, man. Six years later, I see everything is viral. That’s The Matrix, man. I came home and saw that. You don’t want me to reach millions of people with the press of one button. Me? Come on, man.
When was the last time you talked to anyone from No Limit?
I just saw Master P at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors they did a couple of months ago. That was real fun. We hadn’t talked since right before I went away. Y’all can definitely look forward to us making music together. Definitely look forward to that. I have what it takes to help him in that regard and to show people that he still has it. A lot of people forget the things he did from ’96 to ’99.
Is there anything else you want to say to everyone?
Just let them know that when this album drops, the streets are going to sink. I can just forewarn them. I’m serious. A lot of people are going to have to go back to the drawing board after this one. I’m not trying to knock anybody or diss anybody. Sorry. And please let me say: thank you to all my fans and my supporters that supported me through my six-year ordeal. Those letters, cards and kind words of encouragement meant the world to me, man. That was a big deal for me and instrumental in getting me through that situation. I thank them from the bottom of my heart and I’ll never let them down again.