Prince of the South ... The Hits

Call him the godfather of crunk. When Michael "Mystikal" Tyler arrived on the Southern hip-hop scene in the early '90s (long before crunk became a household word), his unique style -- combining alliterative, melodic cadences with James Brown-ish yelps and grunts -- immediately stood out among the Dirty South rap contingent. But by his third album, 2000's Let's Get Ready, the lyrical inventiveness had toned down noticeably, even as the rapper rode the Neptunes' neo-disco beats to the biggest hits of his career, "Shake Ya Ass" and "Danger."

Ideally, a Mystikal greatest hits collection would include his verse on "Make 'Em Say Uhhh!," where he revealed himself as the most lyrical soldier in the No Limit camp (unless you count Mia X). Placed next to hardcore ghetto gangsters (but only so-so MCs) such as Silkk the Shocker, Master P, and C-Murder, Mystikal shone with incandescent brilliance, like gold teeth in a strobe light. But he never really seemed comfortable rolling with the No Limit tank, and, in retrospect, his stint on the label (known for quantity over quality) may have ruined him as an artist. (Though this year's six-year sentence for sexual battery certainly helped, too.)

Once apparently destined to be the greatest rapper ever to come from the Third Coast, Mystikal's lasting musical legacy might just be a couple of strip-club anthems; there are far too many throwaway tracks to make Prince of the South seem especially memorable, and its fourteen songs come up a little short of a full clip. Mystikal's image -- an ornery N'Awlins dude in braids and a stocking cap, bursting with attitude and testosterone -- perseveres. Yet in many ways, he symbolizes the unfulfilled creative potential of Southern rap, which has produced more cartoonish caricatures than innovative trailblazers. Unfortunately, Mystikal has been both in his decade-long career.


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