- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2011

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - His prison sentence behind him, rapper Mystikal returned Saturday to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and his hometown fans a little older, a little wiser and a bit more humble _ but still carrying that same fresh spirit that helps keep the party going.

Introduced by Saints player Jonathan Vilma, Mystikal hit the stage acknowledging the thousands of screaming fans. “I love ya’ll,” he said over and over.

He gave the crowd all they wanted, walking through all his hits, including “Bouncin’ Back (Bumping Me Against the Wall), “Danger (Been So Long),” “Here I Go” and “Shake Ya Ass.”

“His style is so unique,” said Lionel Grant, of New Orleans. “He definitely deserved his own stage.”

Mystikal, whose real name is Michael Tyler, was a featured artist at this year’s festival. He earned a place on the schedule after last year’s guest appearance during Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews’ set had the crowd singing along and shaking and remembering, six years later, why they were fans in the first place.

Tyler was released from state prison in January 2010 after serving a six-year term for sexual battery and extortion. In an interview with The Associated Press, Mystikal said he’s humbled by the fans’ support and promises “to do great things with this second chance.”

“Six years is a long time,” he said. “To leave the fans with their hands in the air and to come back six years later and the people still have their hands in the air, that’s nothing but God. I’m standing in a position that’s so humbling.”

He said he’s still awed by fans’ reactions to his performances.

“It just floors me, especially to see the youngsters,” he said. “It’s like their parents passed me down like a pair of pants. Those kids don’t really know me or my music _ but then they do, through their parents’ memories of me and my music.”

Tyler, now 40, said getting out of jail was just the first step to reclaiming his life and career.

“I was so far behind in terms of fashion. I came home looking like a character, wearing a throwback (shirt). I just knew I was looking good and nobody would tell me different. I was so wrong,” he recalled, laughing. “The world was spinning so fast when I got home and I had to catch on. But I took my time and jumped back in and now I’m on one leg. Soon, I’ll be on both.”

Before the show, Tyler said festival fans could expect to see the same kind of energy and passion that he brought when he was in top form.

Grant said he definitely delivered.

“He’s more focused now than he was before he left. I don’t think his form has fallen off at all,” he said.

“I think he’s gotten better,” said Ronnika Allen, also of New Orleans. “I just love the way he flows.”

Mystikal said he also plans to drop “Fish Grease,” a mix-tape, in June as a prelude to his next album. “It’s the least I can do,” he said, “to come back with some strong music.”

Ryan Mercadel, of New Orleans, said Mystikal’s performance was impressive.

“He’s expanding his repertoire which is good, but he’s still got the same unique style that his fans love,” Mercadel said.

The festival, presented by Shell, runs through Sunday at the Fair Grounds Race Course.



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