Magazine article Newsweek

An All-American Voice: Fans of Classic Soul and Gospel Will Love Rapper Mystikal's New CD-If They Can Get Past That Certain Song

Magazine article Newsweek

An All-American Voice: Fans of Classic Soul and Gospel Will Love Rapper Mystikal's New CD-If They Can Get Past That Certain Song

Article excerpt

Even when the beats hit the hardest, rap music really comes down to the voice: not just the boasts, yarns, protests and exhortations, but the tone, timbre, rhythm, pitch, articulation and attitude. And among all rap's distinctive voices--from Chuck D's apocalyptic holler to Snoop Dogg's insinuating drawl--none leaps out at you like the one that lives inside a 30-year-old New Orleans native and gulf-war vet named Mike Tyler, a.k.a. Mystikal, whose fourth album, "Let's Get Ready," is currently the third best-selling CD in the country. Tyler speaks in pleasant, unmemorable tones and sounds like a pretty regular guy: serious about his calling, gracious when he gets a compliment and ready to hand credit both to his family and to the Lord. Mystikal, on the other hand, is a fire breather. He roars and rants, spits forth bursts of syllables in jagged rhythms that fight against the beat and the bar lines; when he cries "Danger! Danger!" in a gravelly rasp that makes your throat hurt in sympathy, it's hard to remember this is just a persona.

Mystikal sounds something like James Brown in his '70s prime. "A lot of people tell me that," says Tyler. "I'm honored, 'cause he's the man." But he also sounds like any number of old-time shouting-and-singing African-American preachers, a comparison that doesn't surprise Tyler either. "Definitely," he says. "I was raised in the Baptist Church." If it seems odd to hear this preacherly delivery on Mystikal's current hit single "Shake Ya A--," what can you say? He's a complicated guy. The album entered the Billboard 200 this month at No. 1, largely on the strength of "Shake Ya A--" and its heavy-rotation, booty-intensive video. (If you listen to the heavily edited rap on the radio, which these days is a bit like watching TV through a sheet of Swiss cheese, you know the song as "Shake It Fast.") But people who bought this CD sheerly as a raunchy party record with some off-the-wall wit--who but Mystikal would rhyme "Advil" with "keepin' it that real"?--have ended up with a lot more than they'd bargained for.

"Let's Get Ready," Mystikal's first album since what he says was an amicable split with his producer-mentor Master P, delivers all the sex, dope smoking and pro forma obstreperousness that hard-core rap fans expect. But in the warmhearted "Family," he evokes 1930s Louisiana and pays tribute to his mother, his grandmother and what seems like a hundred or so cousins, all by name. In the harrowing "Murderer III," he rants for vengeance against the man--a scion of New Orleans's musical Neville family--who confessed to killing his sister in 1994 but later had the charges dismissed. …

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