Monday, May 9, 2011 at 7 a.m.
Juvenile and Mystikal
May 6, 2011
Juvenile and Mystikal were both major stars of mainstream rap in the late 90's and early 2000's, both rising to fame on the strength of songs about asses. The two hail from New Orleans and injected the sounds of jazz and bounce into the radio waves, helping usher in Southern rap's chart takeover. The South is still on top, but if this show is any indication, the pull of the headliners' names has waned in recent years.
When I mentioned that I was going to see Juvenile and Mystikal, a lot of people responded with bemused laughter or termed the bill a "throwback," which is understandable given critical prejudice against Southern rap and our almost amnesic tendency to forget about music more than a decade old. But the two artists on the bill represent a time when Southern rap was exciting, a refreshing and weird take on the art form that invigorated radio rap. A listen back to Juvenile's first chart-breaker "Ha," a jittery, mush-mouthed blast of ghetto raps over Mannie Fresh's incessant snares, serves as a reminder of how innovative this stuff seemed when it first appeared on the mainstream. Mystikal's manic and angry fast rap style is still unique to this day, with few rappers being able to approach his voicing or rhythmic complexity. The fact that the DJ began the night with mostly New York songs from the Bad Boy era reminded me of the shift that happened around the start of Mystikal's and Juvenile's careers: drum machines and synths replaced sampling, gold teeth and bling were the new hood-gaudy, and songs were designed specifically so that women would shake their butts.
Three local acts (who could've done better for themselves by reminding us who they were) opened. Each group consisted of three members and played indistinguishable sets, but with an increasing energy. By the time the last group's shirts were removed and helicoptered, the crowd seemed excited, but people tended to go back and forth between high-energy participation and enervation.
Even during the main performances, the half-capacity crowd seemed present but somewhat disinvested: Often you'd see the audience scream lyrics and gyrate intensely, but there was hardly any applause at the end of anyone's set. It felt like more of a club crowd than a show crowd, one that came to dance and look fly but didn't pay super close attention to the actual performances. The unfamiliar songs seemed to go over well, but people tended to get most energized when they knew the song already.
Mystikal livened the place upon arrival and did his best to sustain that energy, and you could tell he's been hungry since his release from a six year jail sentence. His style is spastic enough to make simply rapping a captivating display, but his stage presence really made it a solid performance. The former No Limit signee has already put out a few new tracks since becoming a free man in 2010, which he debuted during his set. New joints like "I'ont Like You" and "That Woman," a dirty sex rap about waking up to a "dick as hard as Wolverine's claws," sounded great and continued the raspy-voiced aggressive smoothness he's known for. With a mixtape "Fish Grease" slated for release in June, this could be the beginning of a real career resurgence.
He clearly was having a lot of fun on stage as he high-fived and bantered with the audience. He even broke out his Thriller moves after interrupting the set to dance to a Michael Jackson song. "Jail is not the place for us," he said at one point, looking around at the audience. "We belong out here. Somebody's gotta fuck all these women."
Juvenile was a little more staid in his performance but was nevertheless entertaining. He worked his way through a set that was a quick rundown of hits, mostly shying away from newer material that hasn't been charting terribly well. His gold-toothed drawl doesn't have the same range of inflection that Mystikal boasts, but many of the songs were strong enough live to remind me how Juvenile rose to prominence.
Big songs "Slow Motion" and "Back Dat Azz Up" were saved for last, much like how Mystikal saved his best-known material for the finale, and both artists seemed to work their butt-focused jams into the end specifically so they could pull girls onstage to dance. Oddly, the 1999 video for "Back Dat Azz Up" got some positive criticism, similar to the praise levied on songs like "Baby Got Back," for its celebration of all types of the female form, with real women dancers filmed at a concert as opposed to paid models. The women who hopped onstage to drop it as though it were hot reminded me of that video, showing off their stuff with less regard for issues of the gaze and misogyny than for how nasty they could get. Watching a woman pull her pants nearly off as Juvenile tapped the microphone he held at his crotch reminded me why they call this stuff "dirty South." I'm willing to bet that didn't happen at the CunninLynguists show.
Personal Bias: I am a white Midwesterner with glasses.
The Crowd: Small but vibrant, tuned in and out depending on the song.
I'ont Like You
It Ain't My Fault
You Would If You Could
Here I Go
The Man Right Chea
Ya'll Ain't Ready Yet
Make 'Em Say Uhh
If It Ain't Live, It Ain't Me
I Smell Smoke
Bumpin Me Against The Wall
Danger (Been So Long)
Shake Ya Ass
Set It Off
Get Your Roll On
In My Life
I Look Good Remix
Back Dat Azz Up