"Six years is a long fucking time," Michael "Mystikal" Tyler says of his time at Louisiana's Elayn Hunt Correctional Center. "When I came home after the fucking six years I passed the mirror and said, 'What up, O.G.?' And I had to stop. I said, 'Lord, O.G. – oh, I'm an O.G. What the fuck?'"
The Louisiana rapper, who just released "Hit Me," is sitting in an unassuming Baton Rouge recording studio on a Tuesday evening, a little after midnight. He's riffing about his new album, Original, due in June, in his characteristically fast-talking patois.
"The first thing I had to do when I came home is see who the fuck I was talking to, you know, because I had some live rounds, because I wasn't hitting the target," he says.
Newly trained-out, his biceps bulge from beneath a royal blue New Orleans t-shirt, as if Mystikal is expressing his own sense of urgency to take back the mantel of Louisiana rap with his first studio album in nearly 12 years.
"It's really the backpack kids that you've got to get," he says. "That little motherfucker that jumped over my head with the skateboard and the Beats headphones playing Lil Wayne. To win, you've got to get him.
The rapper signed with Cash Money last December and has been working on Original on and off since 2010 with longtime No Limit producer KLC. Recorded between Baton Rouge and Miami. the album will feature Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Future, Busta Rhymes and many more, as well as New Orleans' own Trombone Shorty and the Stooges Brass Band. (Mystikal plans to tour with a full band in the next few months.)
"How can you sit up here and replace a TV dinner with a home-cooked meal?" asked Craig "KLC" Lawson, who brought in the local horn players. "You eat a TV dinner, five minutes, you are going to shit it back out. A home-cooked meal, it's going to stick to you. And that's the difference between real instruments and shit just playing out the keyboard.
"The sound that's prominent on the radio, and on hit records now, all that sound the same. I don't want all my hits to sound like that. I'm writing songs to perform, to entertain," he says. "And when I'm really trying to get inspired, I go backwards and I just rap."
Sent back to jail last summer for three months, the rapper knows he's still his own worst enemy.
"I had my head sticking through the roof, and I was just trying to get the rest of my body through," he says of the 90-day stint. "It was a huge setback – self-inflicted of course, because if I don't shoot myself in the foot then it won't be a race. I have to make it hard as possible for myself. It hurt me more than the fuckin' six years did, really."
For now, he's just trying to stay optimistic and out of trouble. "We've been fuckin' getting it. It's the difference being the age I am now as opposed to a few years ago. The opportunities are so vast and the machine is primed and running. All you have to do is put me in front of the people and put the beat in front of me, and the rest is history."