With a distinct sound and a performance style that begs for a headlining show at The Apollo Theater, Mystikal has been called the James Brown of his generation. His 2015 collaboration with super-producer Mark Ronson, "Feel Right," provided space for Mystikal to shine, highlighting his unique lyrical wordplay and his intense musicality, deeply rooted in New Orleans performance aesthetics.
Just a few years after the release of his Grammy-nominated Tarantula album, which spawned the mega-hit "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)," closely followed his post-No Limit Records hits "Danger" and "Shake Ya Ass," Mystikal was sentenced to a six-year sentence for sexual battery and extortion charges, putting his career on hiatus. Following his release from prison in early 2010, Mystikal jumped back into his career full force, building on the countless hits of his No Limit days with new collaborations with his old producer, KLC, and signing to Cash Money Records. In 2012, Mystikal returned to prison for a three-month stint for violating the terms of his five-year probation. In 2016, Mystikal has worked to rebuild his career from the ground up, focusing on new material that highlights his best asset — the energy he brings to a performance with a live band. Mystikal appears at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with a new band, one he describes as part funk, part soul and part jazz.
"My sound has progressed since the last Jazz Fest," Mystikal says. "It's elevated 'cause I feel like I've elevated. I feel like I've grown as an artist, and what I mean by that is, I kind of see who I'm talking to now, as opposed to when I first came home, I didn't really know what target I was shooting. ... I was shooting some live rounds, but they weren't all hitting the target because I didn't really know who I was speaking to."
Mystikal cares about the experience of his audience and is able to combine the feel of an intimate show with the powerhouse sound for which he is known. "I come to do my job for the audience, and my job is to make the audience forget about any bills they owe, or anybody who owes them money and just enjoy themselves and have fun," he says.
Mystikal says he has fallen in love with music again. It has been a long road back, and he was initially disillusioned by the state of the music industry to which he returned. He also was troubled by setbacks that plagued him since early 2010.
"An artist's job is not to complain, but to do something about it," he says.
Mystikal returns to Congo Square Stage this year a stronger artist with renewed dedication.
"Jazz Fest is special," he says. "It's just live. And it's live in my hometown. It's a moment that I can really show the audience the product of their love and their support. I can say, look, it's y'all's fault that I'm up here. So that's when I try to do my absolute best."
• Colin Lake