Alas, poor Mystikal, we knew him well; a fellow of infinite… um… well, he growled a lot?
OK, maybe that’s putting a bit harshly. After all, it’s not like he’s dead. He’s just in jail, and he’s going to be in jail for a long time after doing a few things he wasn’t supposed to be doing. Whereas Shyne got sent up the river under some very shady circumstances, and he probably deserves the second trial his counsel is currently lobbying for, Mystikal (known to his mother as Michael Tyler) was caught pretty much red-handed—on videotape, no less—sexually assaulting and extorting a female associate. He’s got a long sentence (six years) and in the meantime his record label’s got a lot of work to do if they’re going to milk each and every cent they can out of him in absentia.
I am gathering that because this Screwed & Chopped disc is following closely on the heels of last year’s Greatest Hits that he didn’t really leave his record company a lot of unreleased material. That doesn’t surprise me, because Mystikal never seemed a particularly deep or thoughtful MC. He had a knack for working with the right producers—2000’s “Shake Ya Ass” did much more for the Neptunes and Pharrell Williams than it did for him—and a unique voice that made some of his more uninteresting couplets seem catchy. His albums got decent reviews and his singles were undeniably catchy, but he was hardly a phenomenon.
He was notable for being the first—and to date the only—successful rapper to emerge from under the auspices of Master P’s No Limit empire (Snoop Dogg doesn’t count, as he was already quite famous before he was a No Limit Soldier). Famously, he was fired by Master P right before hitting it big with “Shake Ya Ass”—which certainly speaks volumes for P’s instincts as a producer and executive. It’s worth mentioning that Mystikal isn’t the only member of the No Limit stable to have had problems: Master P’s own brother, C-Murder, was sentenced to life in jail for murder, while one-time No Limit protege Soulja Slim was shot and killed last year.
So, aside from illustrating a particularly ruthless and convoluted bit of music business history, what can we learn from Mystikal? More to the point, of what possible significance are his Screwed & Chopped hits?
While this is very obviously a pretty transparent cash-grab in lieu of new Mystikal material that might never materialize, I will admit that I am actually quite fond of screw music. DJ Screw may be dead, but the seriously weird music that he created lives on. Screw—for those who came in late—is a hip-hop style that originated in Texas, when DJ Screw started slowing down his records until they sounded positively evil. Everyone’s heard a 45 RPM record played on 33 RPM: it sounds like the devil running through a vat of molasses. Imagine all your favorite rap records being played v-e-r-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y at ear-rattling decibels and perhaps you can get the idea.
I love it because it sounds weird. Black music in America used to be at the forefront of weird, back when Miles Davis plugged in and the P-Funk lifted off, but as soon as hip-hop came into the picture all the great musicians became obsessed with “keeping it real”. This has certainly reaped dividends in terms of a bumper crop of gritty urban reportage, but it also had the unfortunate effect of castigating the wonderfully weird talents, who in the past would have provided the main thrust for any artistic momentum, to the sidelines. The recent reinvention of Andre 3000 as the Godhead of Cool notwithstanding, how many platinum plaques does Kool Keith have on his wall?
But screw is something else. It’s freaky and scary and downright trippy, all in direct proportion to the solemnity of whichever artist is being screwed at any given moment. So Mystikal, who was already slightly eccentric on account of his propulsive vocal style, is only slightly improved by the method, whereas self-consciously morbid acts like Eightball & MJG are made deliriously evil by the association.
So while this album may have some small interest as an artifact of Mystikal’s short but happy career, it is hardly essential and is, furthermore, not even the best screw record I’ve heard this year. But still, in my book screw is always worth it if only for the novelty—and hearing Mystikal rapping at semi-normal speeds for a change is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.