We may never get back the true Mystikal, the real Mystikal, the Mystikal who put his skills on the table first, then looked around for some well-deserved ass. That was the Mystikal of "Y'all Ain't Ready Yet," and indeed we weren't. When the New Orleans rapper dropped that single in 1995, it was like a fresh amyl nitrite tablet cracked under the nose of rap fans all over the South. Everyone remembers what they were doing when they first heard it, as it reintroduced cynical listeners to all the vigor and vitriol Southern rap -- hell, rap in general -- could offer. Ferociously bouncing off the soundproof walls like he was a caffeine-injected Superball, Mystikal introduced himself as a screw-faced, motor-mouthed force of nature -- and recognized rap's stale conformity. "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired," he screamed ever so astutely.

After that, audiences paid close attention to Mystikal because, well, you needed to. Even during his days as just another of Master P's No Limit Soldiers in the late '90s, he was the most gung ho of the bunch, keeping his manic energy and even more hectic wordplay intact.

But then he met up with superstar producers the Neptunes on his Let's Get Ready album, and to put it in pimp terms, they turned his ass out. When he unleashed the big-booty anthem "Shake Ya Ass" in 2000, an unnecessary new Mystikal rose from the ashes. Sure, he was still an MC who could blow folks away with his vocal style. But now, it isn't about being the most lyrically dangerous MC on the mike. It's about being the most bling-blinging, booty-collecting, collar-popping MC on the mike. As they say in the comic books, he's using his superpowers for evil, not for good.

Tarantula further chronicles Mystikal's dwindling legitimacy. He works once again with the Neptunes, as well as Rockwilder, Scott Storch and former Master P producers KLC and Odell. With those guys around, you could ignore most of Mystikal's ramblings and take the album as an able-bodied collection of Southern-fried bounce rap. But Mystikal fans can't ignore what the brotha has to say, and Mystikal spends most of Tarantula showing people where his head is at these days. Sadly, it's with the no-brain noggins of almost every other MC.

There are glimmers of the Mystikal of yore. With the ready-to-battle, Neptunes-produced opening track, "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)," he throws his loyal audience a bone; the man who isn't afraid to drop some wit in his rhymes and show why he ain't no punk is back -- briefly. But once you get into the title track, where he describes himself as, among other things, a "black Elvis Presley," the ass-blasting, mind-melting Mystikal is replaced by the ego-tripping one. (The swelling that should have gone into his, as he once put it, "crooked as a roach leg" penis instead goes straight to his bandanna-covered dome.) Worse, on "If It Ain't Live, It Ain't Me," he begs, "Can I please get a Source cover?" The old Mystikal wouldn't have given a fuck about appearing on some rap magazine. Now, you know he's really changed. And hearing him coast through tunes about tired rap staples like weed ("Smoke One"), money/fame ("Paper Stack") and sex ("Pussy Crook") is almost enough to make you break down and cry.

Mystikal's skills haven't dulled one bit, but the man needs to check his priorities. The rap game is already filled with opportunistic muthafuckas looking for nothing but sistas with big asses. He should get back to shaking things up, exposing those cats for the platinum-grilled, full-of-shit frauds that they are -- before he completely becomes one of them. Don't worry, man, the big-assed sistas will still be there for you.

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey