During his show Saturday at the 2016 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Mystikal reprised a joke from his set at March’s Buku Music + Art Project.
“If you don’t know who I am,” he said with a sly leer and a pelvic wiggle, “your mama knows who I am.”
The rapper, 45, returned to the subject of his age and status as a new elder statesman more than once throughout his set. He acknowledged fans who’d been there “since day one” and asked for cheers from people in their 20s and 30s. He grinned when the loudest shouts came from those over 40.
Mystikal’s rhythm and timing have inspired critics to compare him to James Brown from the beginning. Now, he routinely plays festivals and other venues with a full band and a DJ. Longtime No Limit Records producer KLC was behind the turntables Saturday, scratching vinyl, and Ben Ellman, of Galactic, filled out the horn section on sax.
With that instrumentation and Mystikal’s fiery physical presence as bandleader, stepping high and getting down, the funky bones of his songs are even more evident.
Last year, producer Mark Ronson smartly chose to build a track (“Feel Right”) on the hit retro-soul album “Uptown Special” around Mystikal’s incendiary fast-talking style. All of this is to say: If the rapper has decided to shift his persona to dapper funk uncle, he has the bona fides for it, and his career in middle age, if the fierce “Feel Right” is any indication, will offer a lot more than hip-hop nostalgia.
There was plenty of that nostalgia at Congo Square on Saturday. Looking sharp in crisp white pants, a pastel polo shirt and white hat, Mystikal ran through his turn-of-the-millennium catalog of hits from the No Limit Records crew to a packed crowd that could spit right along, even at Mystikal’s famously frantic pace.
He opened with “It Ain’t My Fault,” the late drummer Smokey Johnson’s composition reimagined for the No Limit label by Silkk the Shocker in the late ’90s, and whipped through all the favorites: “If It Ain’t Live, It Ain’t Me,” “I Smell Smoke,” “Danger (Been So Long)” “Out That Boot Camp Clicc,” “Here I Go” and more, with little breathing room in between, in constant motion.
The band vamped Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to connect Master P’s “Make ’Em Say’ Uhh” to Mystikal’s “Never Gonna Bounce”; the rapper stalked across the stage in a zombie walk. “Move (Get Out The Way)” rolled out like a tank, over a syncopated shuffle and thumping bass.
Cupid, the Lafayette performer behind what is still probably the No. 1 group dance song played at weddings around America if not the world — the “Cupid Shuffle” — joined Mystikal to perform the pair’s recent group effort with Q93.3 FM DJ Ro, a Morris Day and the Time-style line dance called “Wham Dance.”
A new song, this spring’s Trinidad James collaboration “Just A Lil Thick,” paid winking tribute to larger women. (More new music, the rapper promised, is finally coming this summer.)
As much as Mystikal wants to talk about aging, those 15- and 20-year-old songs still sound fresh and dangerous, even with just KLC’s dark, tense production and his own growling, hyperactive voice, like a shower of sparks.
But there was one sure sign on the Congo Square stage Saturday that the rapper is in a different stage of adulthood.
During “Shake It Fast” his small son, dancing at the edge of the stage, suddenly looked frightened and reached up to his father.
Mystikal finished the song holding the microphone in one hand and the baby in the other.