But last month, following a February incident in which the rapper (real name: Michael Tyler) was arrested and slapped with a misdemeanor charge for domestic abuse battery, Mystikal was sentenced to 81 days in jail for violation of probation. On Monday (May 14), that sentence begins.
One week before he starts serving more jail time, Mystikal is in Miami, staring at the Atlantic Ocean from his hotel room, describing the relaxing moment as "the calm before the storm." The rapper has spent the past week recording new music that he plans to release during his upcoming jail stint, and while he remains in good spirits, he admits that the looming time behind bars colors his every move.
"Disappointed isn't the word for it -- ashamed," Mystikal tells Billboard when asked how he's feeling about the new jail sentence. "It's hard to show up. If I stole your money and I gotta come face you again and you ask me about the money, it's gonna be hard for me to face you in the eye. So the proof is in the pudding. Everything I was doing, the 81 days was right there riding with me -- in the SUV, come on, who's that? My 81 days. Everywhere I went, it was keeping me in check, and it's a fight. I can tell myself all kinds of things, I can sit there and mope, or I can get out and thank those fans the way I'm supposed to, the way they deserve to be thanked. So of course I am."
On May 1, Mystikal headlined a hip-hop showcase at S.O.B.'s in New York, delivering a performance to a half-empty room that was at once unexpected and spectacular. The MC rattled off acrobatic rhymes, tossed off orgasmic yelps, did the "Thriller" dance, grinded on an enthusiastic young lady, and openly joked about his recent arrest and impending jail time. "Fellas, if you and your girl get into it, what do you do? You walk away," he told the crowd cautiously before aptly launching into the 1999 single "Did I Do That?"
Mystikal describes live performance as a form of escapism -- "My mission is to make you forget about who you owe money and who you owe money to, just for a second," he says. And while his six-year prison stay prevented the rapper from playing to general admission audiences, Mystikal craved live performance so much that he used to give profanity-free shows in Louisiana State Prison.
"You don't think I was performing in that goddamn place? [I was] working the crowds off that bitch!" he says. "When I performed they had to put me last, because once I get off, that's a wrap… I used to kill it in church, and any platform I had. I did concerts in the gym, Lord have mercy. But my clean shows, out here, that's almost like rated R for the show that I had [in prison]. It had to be totally, totally clean, rated G, not one curse word. I mean, I missed the big stage, but when you really love something -- shit, I don't give a fuck where I was at. If I can do that, I know I'm gonna be all right."
During his six years in prison, Mystikal's fellow New Orleans MCs Lil Wayne and Birdman slowly built up their Cash Money empire, with Wayne becoming a Grammy-winning superstar and signees like Drake and Nicki Minaj headlining their own sold-out arenas. A decade ago, Mystikal was a hip-hop phenom in his own right: his fourth album, 2000's "Let's Get Ready," sold 2.2 million copies according to Nielsen SoundScan, and hit singles like "Shake Ya Ass" -- an instrumental cut in exposing the Neptunes' production -- were paired with winning collaborations with Ludacris, Mariah Carey and Snoop Dogg. However, Mystikal's recording drought (it's been 11 years since his last album, 2001's "Tarantula," was released) required a fresh presentation following his prison time. For the rapper, teaming with Birdman and signing to Cash Money gave him that much-needed new platform.
"It's like the difference between being employed and being unemployed," says Mystikal. "All rappers who have an established name can pretty much find 'freelance' work throughout the industry, but if they have a true machine at this time, a true team, it's a huge difference."
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Mystikal says that, when he was released from prison in January 2010, he began a furious recording process: "I damn near recorded [a new album] twice, because when I first came home I just had to record and get it off my chest," he says. Although this 81-day stint is an admitted setback to his long-awaited comeback album, Mystikal plans to tide fans over with a still-untitled mixtape that will be released near the tail-end of his jail time. Singles and visuals from the tape will be dropping over the next three months, and the rapper will tour behind the free effort once he's released this August.
"I went in and hit a mixtape real hard like an album," he says. "Oh Lord, it's hard. It's Mystikal and all his friends… I utilized my resources, and that's production-wise, too." Mystikal remains mum on a release window for an official album, but promises to be "recording to the final hour" for it.
At the end of the S.O.B.'s show earlier this month, Mystikal profusely thanked his fans for showing up to his performance, keeping the energy high, and continuing to support him through all of his frustrating legal struggles. Talking to Billboard nearly a week later, the rapper seems almost confused as to why hip-hop fans would ever consider giving him the time of day after a decade of relative silence. "The fans are sticking with me through thick and thin, for some strange reason," he says. But as he prepares to knock out another stay behind bars, Mystikal wants his supporters to know that their efforts will not be in vain.
"When I come out the other side of it, man, watch," he said. "I had a chance to be humbled. So now I have another chance. And it's not easy to be humbled, but I got that chance."