“I ain’t going to jail yet!”
Fourteen days before Mystikal will be locked up for three months over a parole violation, the New Orleans-raised rapper was spending his free time strutting the stage at Manhattan’s S.O.B.’s club, gyrating his waist with a salacious swagger. Mystikal’s original six-year jail term came after he plead guilty to sexual battery; his new violation comes from a domestic abuse arrest back in February. As he prowled around with sweat cascading down his forehead, he broke free from his raps to holler to a girl in the crowd, “I fucks with you too.” His belt proclaimed the word “Explicit” tied around his thrusting hips. It was an image that caused his headlining show to flirt uneasily between energized entertainment and something a little too eyebrow-raising for even the forgive-and-frolic culture of rap.
With a high-octane, raspy yelp of a rap flow, Mystikal’s vocal talents aren’t in doubt. His raucous voice filled the venue as he barked out lyrics to tracks old and new, switching between the vintage southern menace of “Did I Do It” and last year’s jubilant Lil Wayne and Birdman collaboration “Original.” (His Cash Money cohorts’ voices were present in recorded form only though.) He was backed by long-time producer foil K.L.C., whose productions are hooked around the sort of snapping snares that compliment the rapper’s animated delivery. And Mystikal has hits, too, capped memorably with 2000’s Neptunes-produced “Shake Ya Ass,” a song which, when performed, included the obligatory girl from the crowd coming up on stage to jiggle her derriere.
But then came the undertone. As the girl on stage aimed her ass in his direction, Mystikal mock protested, “She’s on me! Look! Look! Don’t lock me up!” It might have hit home as a self-deprecating joke on some level, but it was surrounded by too many nods to his own past: Sexual dog noises paired with crude quips like “I hope we ain’t got fleas,” and a section where he made comments about child support issues while pretending to pump his pelvis so hard that he thew his back out. It was rap banter cut only from the Benny Hill school of comedy.
Throughout the show then, Mystikal embroiled himself in the trappings of his own troubled taboos. These reminders meant that every time he began to prove his talent as a live performer — his rousing verse on Lil Jon’s crunk hit “Don’t Give A Fuck” was well-placed towards the end of his set and gave the night a timely bump in intensity — he gaffed and skewed the vibe of the night towards the awkward. Played out in front of a half-full venue, Mystikal’s New York gig was part entertainment and part lesson that some digressions shouldn’t be laughed off in the name of rap.