In the scheme of Artists You Haven’t Heard From In A While, Mystikal is definitely up there. Sure, he hasn’t been in hiding as long as D’Angelo and he didn’t spend fourteen years getting his shit together like Axl Rose either, but the man born Michael Tyler has certainly had an extended sojourn between drinks. His last LP dropped just after September 11, and his biggest hit, ‘Shake Ya Ass’, barely scraped out of Y2K alive. In the meantime, Tyler hasn’t been having many drinks; he’s spent most of the intervening years in prison on sexual assault charges – somehow not that surprising for a guy who made his name barking ‘shake ya ass/watch yo’self’ and ‘move bitch/get out the way’ – against his former hair stylist. There was always something incendiary about Mystikal; he was like a jacked-up DMX who could burst into this fireball of rapping at the flick of a switch and despite his patchy repertoire, when he hit it, he hit it good. That’s never been truer than with the aptly titled ‘Hit Me’, which leaked last week. He may be a registered felon, but Mystikal could be onto his second coming yet.
‘Hit Me’ owes a huge debt to James Brown, the Godfather of Soul who is name-checked and sampled by many rappers but only imitated by a few. When you think about it, Brown’s fast-talking, off-the-cuff delivery on songs like ‘Sex Machine Pt II’ and ‘The Payback’ were actually early progenitors of hip-hop alongside Gil-Scott Heron. Brown, who used to bounce of the incredibly tight drumming and the blasting horn hits of his excellent band (who copped their fair share of abuse, if history books tell us the truth), propelled those groans, squeals and seemingly religious exhortations into the batshit crazy stratosphere. Mystikal, who sounds like an angry mutt every time he gets going anyway, was always a sure bet to capitalise on JB’a legacy, and yet he never did until now. This song, which ironically is being released through Lil Wayne and Drake’s home, YMCMB, is the opposite of downtempo. There’s no synths and half-time, stuttering hi-hats here. There’s nothing but drums and congas and three layers of toms all elbowing each other for space in the tightest slice of funk to come out of the rap game since The Neptunes went on holiday. It’s so good I almost believed it was a gimmick; that slippery bass line which drops in on top of the frenzy before that massive horn blast seems like a tantalising slice of yesteryear that only neo-soul legends like Maxwell or Ben L’Oncle could get away with. But it’s too well-produced. It is no Easter Egg of New Orleans hip-hop. It is the reinvention of Mystikal.
There is so much to like here that it’s honestly hard to know which bits to talk about. Perhaps the best part is hearing the recently freed (he did more time for assaulting his wife, in true JB fashion) Tyler really getting sexy with the arrangement. His lyrics, despite the high incidence of the word ‘motherfucker’, slink alongside the bass and bounce off the drums. Braggadicio with brute force and guns is replaced by light feet and even humour, and it suits the man well. As vibraslaps sound and rolling hi-hat semi-demi-quavers, he uses that growl as its own instrument, tripling the volume and then dropping it back to create a nefarious back alley of accents and murmurs that so much rap music, with its single-level monotone, sorely lacks. And he knows who to name-drop, too; riding out with a reversed take on one of Brown’s most famous lines, yelling ‘Say it proud/I’m black and I’m loud!” He’s certainly right there. If he keeps this up – and keeps himself out of jail – we’ll be busting moves to him for a while yet.
Mystikal – ‘Hit Me’