Ma$e: The Forgotten Legend.
Hip-hop is now 44 years old as a genre, and as genres age, legends become more identifiable. During the golden era of hip-hop, artists such as Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Outkast, and many others have cemented their place among hip-hop's greatest. During this golden era, a rapper from Harlem also cemented his place among the elites, but due to many different circumstances, his name is usually left out of the list of hip-hop royalty or forgotten altogether. On his 40th birthday, I believe it's time he gets the well deserved recognition as one of the greatest rappers of all time. His name is Mason Betha.
Though he was born in Jacksonville, Florida (August 27th, 1977), his mother moved herself and her children to Harlem when he was three years old. Growing up in Harlem, he got into trouble hanging around the wrong crowds in the area, and was sent back to Florida when he was 13 years old. After 2 years down South, Betha returned to Harlem. During his early teen years, he began to rap for fun on the streets alongside childhood friends, whom also went on to become rap stars, Big L & Cam'Ron.
In the early 1990s, Mase began to get serious about rap. Over the years rapping in the streets of Harlem, Murda Mase (his original rap moniker), eventually became the best rapper in the area not named Big L. Most of his rap battles were on 125th Street in front of the Mart 125. In 1993, The Children of the Corn was formed, a rap group featuring Big L, Killa Cam (Cam'Ron), Murda Mase, Herb McGruff, and Derek "Bloodshed" Armstead. This young posse gained fame around New York lead by the increasingly popular Big L, who had signed to Columbia in 1992. Damon Dash, who went on to co-found Roc-A-Fella Records, was their manger for a short time as well. The COC had a presence on local radio, with one of the group's classic freestyles coming on the Stretch and Bobbito Show on WKCR in 1994.
Everyone can hear the raw, uncut street rap that Murda Mase (or Mase Murda, either one works) started his career with. Betha has always had flow, but these lyrics cut sharp through instrumentals, they were rough, like life was as a teenager growing up in Harlem in the 80's and 90's.
Mase's solo career began to also gain traction with more freestyle appearances, along with the release of Big L's debut album, Lifestyles ov da Poor & Dangerous. Though the album didn't sell extremely well, it showed that Harlem had an untapped source of hip-hop talent. Murda Mase was a hardcore rapper to the core, however he had the skills to do both hardcore hip-hop and rap for record sales at the same time. A rare song from 1995, Someone Like You, showcased that crossover appeal. After dropping out of college to fully pursue a rap career, Murda Mase began to gain hip-hop popularity in the streets. He lived with his sister Stason at the time, and she got him into contact with Cudda Love, who was the road manager for Bad Boy Records' premier artist, Christopher Wallace, also known as The Notorious B.I.G., at the time.
The summer of 1996 is when everything changed. Cudda Love took Murda Mase to Atlanta for a rap convention in June. The two went to The Hard Rock Café, with Betha looking for deal with Jermaine Dupri and his Atlanta based label, So So Def Recordings. However, fate came into play, when Cudda and Murda ran into Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs at Jermaine Dupri's party. Cudda, having a working history with Biggie, got Puff's attention and the conversation that ensued lead to a classic moment in hip-hop. Cudda says to Puff, "Yo, I got this artist..." and Puff responds, "What's his name?" Cudda Live gave him a one word answer: "Murda." What Puff said next was hilarious, because it came off disrespectful, even though it wasn't necessarily meant to be taken that way. Combs responded to Cudda Love with, "Oh I've heard of him, that's the guy who sounds like Jadakiss right?" (Combs had signed Jadakiss and the other two members of the Yonkers rap trio, The LOX, to his Bad Boy label the previous year).
Murda Mase was only 18 years old at this point, and even with his respect in Harlem streets and the surrounding NYC area, he was a nobody in the industry. Puff seen Betha and said "Yeah...just let the lil' nigga rap, if he nice, I'll sign him. If he not, we gon' get yo ass out the club (referring to Murda)." Murda then began to rap for Combs, who started to dance. This caused a small scene at the party as people started to look and see what was going on. Once Betha finished rapping, Combs told him not to talk to anyone when he got back to New York, and he'd be signed to Bad Boy. Within a week, "Murda Mase" became "Ma$e", and he was featured on the remix to Bad Boy's new R&B group 112's single "Only You". The song originally only had Biggie as a feature, but on the remix to the track, Biggie's verse was put at the beginning of the song, putting Ma$e's verse in the normal slot after the second R&B verse. The newly signed 18 year old went from rapping on the Harlem streets to being in a Bad Boy Records music video with Puff Daddy and The Notorious B.I.G. within a week. It's said that the verse Ma$e freestyled for Puff Daddy at Dupri's party in Atlanta is the same verse that he used on "Only You". The song achieved massive success from it's release on June 27th, peaking at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, spending 39 total weeks on the charts, and going gold.
When Ma$e signed to Bad Boy as an artist, Cam'Ron was still looking for a deal. Betha got Cam to write a few songs for Bad Boy, most notably Lil' Cease's verses for Lil' Kim's "Crush On You", the second single for Kim's debut album, Hard Core. This help from Ma$e would later land Cam'Ron his first deal. Ma$e was doing what he could to quickly get his close friend into the industry with him, however he would have to focus on his own career for the next year.
Puff Daddy seen the superstar potential in Ma$e, and began to promote him along with The LOX for not only their upcoming Bad Boy debut albums, but as the rappers to carry the label into the year 2000 and beyond. Ma$e and the trio landed a magazine cover with The Source, and Puff would also get them radio airplay for freestyles and interviews.
Bad Boy was continuously growing in popularity, and Ma$e began to become more well known with all of the publicity that Puff Daddy provided. This was especially true since he was signed by Puff in the middle of the East Coast v West Coast hip-hop beef. Even though Ma$e was Puff Daddy's "protégé", he never came into direct scrutiny from any West coast rappers, nor was he dissed by any West coast rappers. In fact, Ma$e’s voice was sampled for the chorus on a track from Death Row Records in 1996, Snoop Dogg’s “Snoop Bounce”. Due to his avoidance of East Coast vs West Coast beef, Ma$e became one of the first rappers of the era with a national appeal by the time his debut album released.
Magazine covers and radio freestyles weren't the only two ways that Puff Daddy helped push Ma$e to superstardom. With one hit song on his resume as a featured artist with "Only You", Ma$e began to appear as a featured artist on many songs once 1997 started. On January 7th, 1997, Puff Daddy released his debut single, "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down", featuring Ma$e. The main instrumental featured an already classic sample from Grandmaster Flash's "The Message", and the beat had been reused by Ice Cube for his remix to "Check Yourself" in 1993. Betha wasn't sure that it was a good idea to use the instrumental in the first place, due to the fact that Ice Cube had used it 4 years prior, and the fact that Bad Boy Records wasn't on good terms with the West Coast, especially after the death of Tupac Shakur on September 13th, 1996. However, he followed Puff's vision, and none of the potential backlash as a result of using the sample occurred. Ma$e wrote all the rap verses on the track for not only himself, but also for Combs. The night the track was sent to be mastered, Funkmaster Flex debuted the record at The Tunnel, and had people going crazy...the song was an instant classic. The track debuted at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100, but then spend the next 6 weeks in the #1 position on the charts. The single almost went triple platinum on it's own, selling over 2,700,000 copies.
The music video for the track wasn't necessarily a diss to Death Row Records' "California Love" track with Tupac from two years prior, however, Puffy and Ma$e are seen driving through the desert in a Rolls Royce, a familiar desert scene from the Death Row music video from 1995. In the music video for "California Love", Shakur and others were in costumes for a Mad Max-esque vibe, while the two Harlem rappers are seen calmly driving through the desert as if they own it in the video for "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down". Puffy wanted the industry to see that Bad Boy could do whatever Death Row had done, and do it better. The music video cost $1 million to produce, and the track set the tone for the dominance that Bad Boy Records would have on the music industry throughout the year of 1997, one of the most successful commercial runs that a label has had in hip-hop history. The 19 year old kid from Harlem was just getting started. Even though Puff said the line, Ma$e is the one who wrote, "Leave a nigga with a hot hat, frontin' like Bad Boy ain't got tracks...nigga stop that."
Ma$e was the first rapper to popularize a lackadaisical flow. The slow, talking over the track rap style caught on quickly, being used by many other artists over the coming years. Ma$e was something that rap had never seen before, a teenager that not only could rhyme, but could sell records and get on the charts, even when he was only the featured artist. He proved this when he was featured on Tasha Holiday's "Just The Way You Like It", which released on February 18th, 1997. This single is the only song by Holiday to ever chart on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #93.
March of 1997 signified a major shift in hip-hop. Ma$e's label mate, The Notorious B.I.G., was in California promoting his sophomore album, Life After Death, scheduled to release on March 25th. He attended an after party for the Soul Train Awards, hosted by Vibe Magazine, with Puff Daddy on the night of March 8th. At 12:30 am on March 9th, Puff Daddy and Biggie left with their entourages. Around 12:45, the streets were filled with people leaving the party, and when the GMC Yukon carrying Wallace stopped at a red light, a black Chevrolet Impala pulled up on the right side of it. The man in the Impala rolled his window down, pulled out a 9mm blue-steel pistol, and began to fire at the front passenger side door, hitting Wallace in the chest four times. After the shooting, the Impala pulled off into the night. Puffy, Lil' Cease, and the others rushed Biggie to the hospital, but he was pronounced dead at 1:15 am.
Bad Boy had just lost its biggest artist, and was at a crossroads. Puff Daddy had only recently become an artist, and was never truly looked at as a rapper, but as a producer/mogul. The LOX were great, but they were a group, and hadn't been on many hit records at this point. The next man up was Ma$e. He had been a part of the #1 record with "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down", had the bars to keep up with anyone in the game, and was already a star at this point in his career. Betha also had the potential to be a rap superstar. Hip-hop was about to find out quickly who the new face of Bad Boy Records was.
As the year progressed, the more hype there was around Ma$e, Puff Daddy, and The Bad Boy Family. Two weeks after Biggie's murder, his sophomore album, Life After Death, was released. The album was a masterpiece, and is considered by some as the best rap album of all time. Life After Death jumped from #176 (due to street date violations) to #1 on the Billboard 200, and eventually was certified diamond by the RIAA. It contained many classic songs, such as "Hypnotize", "Mo Money Mo Problems", "I Love The Dough", and many others.
Of all the tracks on the album, the track that featured Ma$e, "Mo Money Mo Problems", was a particularly special one. It was the second time that Betha appeared on a track with Wallace, the first time being his rap debut on the remix to 112's "Only You". This track was actually going to be Ma$e's debut single, featuring Biggie and Jadakiss, but after Biggie's murder, Puff Daddy asked Ma$e to put the song on Life After Death. On this track, Ma$e had the first verse, and delivered one of the most recognizable and iconic verses in not only the era, but in hip-hop history. His flow fit immaculately with the beat, as he perfected his version of braggadocious rap. The opening bars, "Who hot who not? Tell me who rock, who sell out in the stores?" instantly show the cockiness of the Bad Boy era, and are well known today, but somehow, some people forget who said them. His entire verse speaks on his rap career up to that point, as he references Cudda Love, selling records, his self made "PHD" phrase from "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" (it stands for Playa Hatin' Degree), and how women have been falling in love with him. He also switches an Ice Cube line from "Today Is Good Day" up for his benefit when he says, "Can't stop 'til I see my name on the blimp...". Even though Biggie delivered a classic final verse, it an be argued that Ma$e had the best verse on the track, if not equal to Biggie's. His lines from this verse have been used countless times over the past 20 years, most notably when Drake used the beginning of Betha's verse for "Worst Behavior", a track from his third album, Nothing Was The Same. When "Mo Money Mo Problems" released as a single on July 15th, 1997, it shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for 2 consecutive weeks. The track went platinum as a single, selling over 1,300,000 copies, and was one of the highlights on a diamond album, so it's considered one of the most popular tracks in hip-hop history. This track proved that Ma$e could hang with the best of the best, cementing himself among the exclusive group. It's not surprising though, since Betha grew up battle rapping with those such as DMX, Cam'Ron, Jadakiss, Big L, and other future stars.
On July 1st, 1997, Puff Daddy's debut album, No Way Out, was released. It was received extremely well, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, and went gold during its first week, selling over 561,000 copies. "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" was already a #1 smash hit at the beginning of the year, and Ma$e was featured on another track from the album.
"Been Around The World" is the second track on No Way Out, not only featuring Betha, but features Biggie on the hook. The track was another hit, and when it released as a single on August 12th, 1997 (the album's fourth single), it peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and went platinum, selling over 1,600,000 copies. The only track that kept this single from the #1 spot was Elton John's "Candle In The Wind 1997", the best selling single of all time.
This track featured one of Betha's greatest moments in terms of his swag and ego, as he called haters in the hip-hop game on the beginning of the track, then proceeded to deliver yet another flawless rap verse. This part of the track is underrated historically, as it's rarely brought up, but the level of confidence Betha had at this point in his career was tremendous.
One week after the "Been Around The World" single released, Ma$e appeared on "You Should Be Mine (Don't Waste Your Time)", the lead single for Brian McKnight's third album, Anytime. The track went gold, selling over 600,000 copies, reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100, and climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot R&B chart. Ma$e was on fire this year, and he he knew it, as he rapped, "Real studded, jewel funded, gotta love it, first rap cat with an R&B budget". The 19 year old star now had two R&B tracks that he was featured on go gold, and he wasn't done yet.
"Mo Money Mo Problems" was still rocking the top of the Billboard charts until "Honey", the lead single for Mariah Carey's sixth album, Butterfly, was released on August 26th, 1997, the day before Ma$e turned 20. This track re-defined Mariah's career, as it was the first time she began to enter the hip-hop world. The main version of the track featured vocals from Betha, who handled the bridge, with his now famous "Harlem World we won't stop..." lines. However, on the remix, Ma$e solidified himself as one of the greatest of all time when it comes to features, not only on hip-hop tracks, but on R&B tracks. Betha again showed his ability to flow on any beat with his lazy delivery while bragging about his success. During his verse, Betha speaks about paying his advance back (despite not having a debut single release yet), his success with women, and self proclaims himself a rap superstar. During the line of self proclamation, Betha also says he's the first superstar to dominate popular sales. This is a pretty accurate statement, given that he'd been a part of two #1 records in a matter of 8 months, three including this one. The music video for the track is also one of the greatest moments from hip-hop's "shiny suit" era, as Ma$e, Puff Daddy, The LOX, and members of The Hitmen (Puffy's production group) sport metallic gold threads. "Harlem World we won't stop" wasn't just a Ma$e line, it was a fact of life.
Ma$e had yet to release a single as a lead artist, yet he had been a part of three #1 records, six tracks that made it to the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100, and played a major part of two multi-platinum albums. He had achieved all of this before he turned 20 years old. The young superstar was one of the most recognizable faces in the industry. It felt so good to be Ma$e, and he let the world know on his solo debut.
"Feel So Good" was the name of Ma$e's debut track as a solo artist, releasing on October 14th, 1997, two weeks before the release of his debut album, Harlem World. The song was an instant smash hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and eventually earning platinum status from the RIAA, selling over 1 million copies. Not only had Ma$e been immensely successful with his collaborations, but now proved that he could do it on his own.
The music video accompanying the single is yet another pinnacle of the "shiny suit" era in hip-hop. The video features all members of The LOX, Puff Daddy, and even Chris Tucker, as Ma$e raps bragadociously around the shiny city of Las Vegas. Harlem World was about to take the music industry by storm.
Harlem World finally released on October 28th, 1997. The album debuted at the top of the Billboard 200, selling over 270,000 copies during its first week. The project would eventually go quadruple platinum, making it the 12th highest selling debut hip-hop album of all time, tying him with Biggie's Ready To Die from 1994. With Harlem World being a #1 album, it puts Ma$e in an exclusive group of hip-hop artists to have a #1 solo album and have #1 album with a group, in Betha's case, Puff Daddy & The Family, for the No Way Out album. The fact that he did it in the same year is absolutely ridiculous.
Harlem World begins with a classic Puff Daddy introduction, as Combs explains what you're about to experience over a sample of Isaac Haye's "Joy". It sets a great tone and gives you the experience that every listener wants from an artist: entering their world. In this case, you're about to see Harlem at it's peak. The album's first track after the intro is "Do You Wanna Get $?". On this track, Ma$e speaks on his rise to fame over a sample of Peter Brown's "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me?" from 1977, with Kelis handling the hook. On the next track, "Take What's Yours", Ma$e let's the world know that he's going to take over New York hip-hop, or hip-hop in general, with his close friend DMX making an appearance for the hook. The next track isn't truly a track, but an interlude . The "Mad Rapper Interlude" is a continuation of a hilarious "interview" gag that Bad Boy featured on their albums the late 90s, featuring D-Dot as "The Madd Rapper". This specific interview features "The Madd Producer", who says he did a track for Ma$e's album, which infuriates The Madd Rapper. As the interview fades out, the next track "Will They Die For You?" begins. This track is all about those who are truly down for you, and features Puff Daddy and Lil' Kim. "Lookin' At Me" was a special track, as it was produced by The Neptunes, yes the Neptunes with Pharrell Williams. It was one of their early major successes as producers, as the track went gold as a single and was a top 10 Billboard 100 hit (#8). The boastful Ma$e track has been sampled by other rap greats, such as Kanye West, who used bars from it on his 2012 track "Cold" with DJ Khaled. On this track Ma$e famously let the world know that, "I was Murda, P. Diddy named me pretty."
The next part of the album is another interlude, which showcases a conversation that is all too familiar: guys flirting with women. A friend of Ma$e calls two girls and gets them on the phone with him, a classic teenager move, and as the conversation goes on, the track ends. The next track , "Love U So", is a personal favorite of mine. Stevie J (yes, that same Stevie J), produced this nostalgic beat by sampling Teena Marie's classic 1981 hit "Square Biz" and got Billy Lawrence to sing the hook, which samples Rose Royce's 1977 classic "Ooh Boy". The ninth track on the album, "The Player Way", features Memphis rappers 8Ball & MJG. The collaboration is a smooth summer track that sounds perfect in the car or at any party. After this track comes the "Hater Interlude" which represented a lot of Harlem at this point in Ma$e's career. Listening to it shows you exactly how some people are when you get famous or get any kind of recognition for anything, they always want to be there with you and feel like they deserve the spotlight as well, simply because they know you. I wanna group the 11th track with the 19th track, "Niggaz Wanna Act" and "Wanna Hurt Mase?" respectively. These two tracks showed that the "Murda Mase" side of Betha was still alive and well, and that he could easily rap things he did before being signed in '96 and add a spin to it to make it sell. Tracks 12 and 13 are the parts of the album that every casual hip-hop fan has heard in their lifetime. "Feel So Good" and "What You Want" respectively. Feel So Good on the album was the same as the single, but "What You Want" was a Ma$e R&B track with Total. This track has been redone so many times over the years and used by many different artists, including 50 Cent (2002), Sway & King Tech with Eminem (1999), and even this year by Tyga & Ty Dolla $ign. The classic track samples Curtis Mayfield's "Right On For The Darkness". The track released as a single in January of 1998, going gold and peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The next part of this album lead to a beef with Jay-Z, even though he's featured on the song after it. The "Phone Conversation" interlude was hilarious, as Ma$e is on the phone with two different women, and gets caught up when he says the name of one to the other, however, one of the women featured for the skit was the girlfriend of someone in Jay-Z's crew, and this lead to a beef between the two New York rappers. It's also shown in the music video for "What You Want". Jay-Z dissed him on his 1997 track “Imaginary Players” during this beef, and Ma$e responded in 1998 on a feature that I’ll get to shortly. The next track, "Cheat On You", is a classic within itself, as it features Lil' Cease & Jay-Z, while 112 handles the hook. "24 Hours To Live" is another great track, as Ma$e, Black Rob and The LOX describe what they'd do if they only had 1 day left to live. Puff Daddy handles the hook on the classic track , which charted solely on radio airplay. There was going to be an all female version of the song made with Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, Queen Pen, and Missy Elliot. This song never materialized due to Betha's frustrations with Foxy Brown (who couldn't get along with Lil' Kim or Queen Pen). The next track "I Need To Be" showcases another teenager/young adult situation, this time with sex. It's pretty similar to J. Cole's "Wet Dreamz" if there was a need for a comparison, except that the Ma$e track is much more vulgar. The next interlude “Watch Your Back” was a pretty good skit as Ma$e gets a phone call from a fan who then gets angry and threatens him and tells to not give his number to his girlfriend. That interlude lead into “Wanna Hurt Mase?" Which I covered earlier, and that leaves us with the album’s final track, “Jealous Guys”. This track is literally the Ma$e version of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Playa Hater”, as the rapper sings terribly and hilariously with Puff Daddy about people hating on him. 112 covers the chorus and the song is great to laugh at and enjoy, you can tell it was a fun night in the studio making this.
Hip-hop finally got Ma$e’s debut, and it was a classic. Harlem World was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album, but lost out to Puff Daddy’s No Way Out, however, with Betha being a major part of that album, did he really lose? Ma$e helped keep Bad Boy Records not only afloat, but at the top of the rap game when it needed it most, and he wasn't going anywhere.
In 1998, Ma$e was finally considered a rap superstar by the entire industry, and he continued his hot streak. He helped his close friend Cam’Ron get a deal with the newly formed Untertainment, guest starred in his music video for “357” for free, and got on the hook for “Horse & Carriage”. Betha was set to guest star in the music video for "Horse & Carriage" as well, but it didn't happen for financial reasons. Ma$e wanted to be paid for his appearance, and Cam'Ron wanted him to just be in the video for free, because he was his friend.
However, Betha wasn't asking Cam'Ron to pay him, but for Untertainment, Cam's label, to pay him. Betha has stated in interviews that he wanted to get that money from the label and split it with Cam, or for Cam to get the money for the video and then they split it. However Killa Cam didn't understand what Ma$e was trying to do, and this lead to a beef between the two childhood friends, with Charli Baltimore, also an old friend of Betha, dissing him on the remix to "Horse and Carriage" with the bars, "But I flip, be the new face, cover of Trace, this the mothafuckin remix, we ain't need no (Mase)...Uh Uh Uh Uh we like it....". The “Uh huh Uh huh we like it” line that Baltimore used is a satire of Ma$e’s background vocals on the remix of Puff Daddy’s “Been Around The World”. This misunderstanding would lead to a huge argument between Betha, Jim Jones, and Cam'Ron in 2004 on Hot 97.
In July, Betha's hot streak of features continued as he starred on Brandy's (his then girlfriend, which he jokingly denied at the time) single "Top Of The World". The song topped the charts in the U.K., and was a hit in the US as well, peaking at #44 on the Billboard Hot 100. On August 13th, 1998, 112's single "Love Me" released. The track was obviously R&B, but Ma$e took this opportunity to address Jay-Z. He came at him subliminally, but directly dissed his record sales at the time with the line, “What we hear is platinum that, platinum this, platinum whips, nobody got no platinum hits...”. The beef wasn’t over yet however, as Ma$e would take another shot at him in 1999. "Love Me" peaked at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold 1 million copies.
Ma$e’s second shot at Jay-Z came on “I’m No Killa”, which wasn’t truly released until 2004 (as a remix). It was released in 1999, but only showed up on mixtapes, and was left off of his sophomore album, Double Up, due to his retirement in April of 1999. Betha used some of these bars when he collaborated with Bay Area Legend Mac Dre on “Tycoonin’”, which featured the same beat that was used on the remix released in 2004.
Ma$e premiered his new rap group, Harlem World, under Jermaine Dupri's So So Def Recordings in partnership with his label, All Out Records. The group's most well known song is "I Really Like It", complete with a corny music video(classic 90s). The song was decent, however the group wasn't able to stay together due to Ma$e's sudden retirement in April.
Yes, the retirement. One of the most unpredictable moments in hip hop history. Betha’s sophomore album, Double Up, was coming soon, set to be another smash hit. The first single from the album, “Get Ready”, hadn’t even released yet, but Ma$e called in to Funkmaster Flex On Hot 97 to shock the world.
At the time, he was the biggest name in the rap game. Bigger than Jay-Z. Bigger than Cam’Ron. Dipset didn’t exist. Eminem had just began working with Dr. Dre. There was a reason for his retirement however, he even hinted at it in the short phone call with Flex. Tupac and Biggie were murdered, and in February of 1999, Betha’s close friend Big L was murdered in Harlem. No one wants to be killed, and as far as major rappers, Ma$e was next on the hit list. I believe this played a major part in his retirement. Ma$e would go on to school at Clark Atlanta University and later become a pastor.
Bad Boy Records took a huge blow by losing their highest selling artist. Not only did Ma$e's subsequent sales take a nosedive, but other artists were impacted as well. Example A: Puff Daddy. His sophomore album, Forever, was set to feature Ma$e on a few tracks, but with his retirement, he never got to get Betha in the studio, and in one case (the track "I'll Do This For You"), Combs rerecorded a Ma$e verse himself to almost get Betha off of the record entirely, besides his background vocals. Puff also included the infamous retirement call on the introduction to Forever.
“Get Ready” released with a previously recorded music video, but would be Ma$e’s lowest selling single, peaking at only #50 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-hop charts. Double Up would still release later that year on June 15th, 1999, selling 107,000 copies its first week, but debuted at #11 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album would go gold quickly, exactly one month after its release, but sales would slow after its gold certification. On this album, Ma$e was much more hardcore, closer to his roots from the early “Children Of The Corn” days.
With this album being so slept on due to Betha’s retirement, I only need to cover 3 tracks. “Get Ready” the first single to the album, is a feel good track with Blackstreet on the hook. It’s a great song for parties and Ma$e does what he does best. “All I Ever Wanted”, which released a somewhat successful single overseas, is Double Up’s “What You Want”, as Ma$e speaks about a woman that he’s messing with, and Cheri Dennis sings the hook, which says, “All I ever wanted was you for me, ‘cause that nigga who I’m wit don’t give a fuck about me...and all I ever wanted was to be there for you, ‘cause that girl who you wit don’t give a fuck about you...”The track that no one knows about is “Another Story To Tell”. On this track, Betha tells a story about a woman that he was dealing with, and uses a line that is often mistakenly to Kanye West. Ma$e says, “You know her lil' cousin fuck with Usher, plus her best friend got a baby from Busta...” Yes, you read that correctly. That’s almost the same exact line that West used 6 years later on his classic single, “Gold Digger”, on which he said, “From what I heard she got a baby by Busta, my best friend said she used to fuck with Usher, I don't care what none of y'all say, I still love her...”. Kanye West is heavily influenced by Ma$e, as he has said in the past that Betha was his favorite rapper, countless lines that mention him, and using his flow on multiple songs.
Kanye was brought into the game as a producer by Ma$e, before Roc-A-Fella signed him as a producer which is virtually unknown by hip-hop enthusiasts. In 1998, he’s seen with Ma$e and his upcoming crew, Harlem World, at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party, one of if not the earliest interview that he’s ever been a part of.
In 2004, the game was much changed, but Ma$e’s style never left the spotlight. Rappers such as Fabolous copied his entire style and flow and became successful, while Cam’Ron continued to work and blew up two years prior along with Dipset, his rap group, the successful version of what Ma$e planned to do with his group Harlem World in 1999 and continue on into the early 2000s. The hip-hop industry was about to get shaken up again however, with another unexpected surprise.
On May 25th, 2004, Ma$e returned on Bad Boy Records with “Welcome Back”, his first single in five years. It was the first time Ma$e had a major release without a parental advisory warning, with the new Christian persona he lead since becoming a pastor after retirement. The single a was huge success, peaking at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the charts for eleven weeks, and going gold. Ma$e also began his Welcome Back album promotion by showing up on the remix to Fat Joe’s smash hit “Lean Back”, the remix to Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks”, Nelly’s “In My Life”, and also remixing “Welcome Back” with Kanye with “Be Alright”. On August 24th, Ma$e returned with a new album, Welcome Back. The album was a huge success, debuting at #4 on the Billboard 200, selling 188,000 copies during it’s first week, and eventually being certified gold by the RIAA, selling over 559,000 copies. Ma$e could sell records whether he was a thug or a pastor, and the game was happy to see one of their superstars return.
Though Welcome Back was a huge success, not many songs on the album were well known besides the title track and the second single, “Breathe, Stretch, Shake”. It released on September 14th, 2004, peaking at #28 on the charts while also going gold. On this track, Ma$e speaks on his past, mainly his successes in the music industry and who he was known as, and how he’s living now.
After the release of Welcome Back, Ma$e was in the limelight once again. Interviews, TV appearances, concerts...it was the late 90s all over again. Except that not everyone was happy about his return. A classic hip-hop moment took place during one of Ma$e's Hot 97 interviews in 2004 when his old friends Cam'Ron and Jim Jones called in...the rest was history.
In 2005, rumors spread of Betha joining 50 Cent’s G-Unit, which was a huge deal at the time. He even made many appearances with 50, including the music video for 50 Cent’s “Window Shopper”.
50 had signed Mobb Deep to the Unit, and if he got Ma$e, it could’ve been a major deal. However, Puff Daddy (P. Diddy at the time), wouldn’t let Ma$e out of his Bad Boy Records deal for anything less $2 million, which 50 refused to pay. Ma$e did release a mixtape, 10 Years of Hate: Crucified 4 The Hood. This featured a parental advisory warning, however the only word that Betha used that required it was “nigga”. On this mixtape he addressed many rappers that had beef with him at the time, including Loon, who replaced Ma$e after his retirement in 1999, becoming P. Diddy’s right hand man on his 2001 hit song “I Need A Girl, Pt. 2”. After this somewhat unknown 2007 mixtape release, Ma$e wasn’t heard from much at all, and technically “retired” again, but he would return.
From 2008-2011, Ma$e released many songs, but they were only available online and they weren’t official releases. He even did a couple of radio freestyles in 2009 and proved that he never lost a step lyrically.
In 2012 however, he made a strong return on the remix to Wale’s “Slight Work” with Diddy. He rapped faster than people were accustomed to, however he destroyed the beat and easily had the best verse on the song. He was also featured on Kanye’s Cruel Summer “Higher” with Pusha T, The-Dream, and Cocaine 80s. In 2013, he was featured on “Beautiful Pain” on 2 Chainz’s B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time. A major hip-hop moment occurred in 2013 as well, Ma$e and Puff Daddy reuniting at Drake’s OVO Fest.
This legendary moment brought two generations of the culture together. With the new generation having a recollection of who the legend was, Ma$e let it be known that he had a new album coming out, titled Now We Even. In 2014 he released his first official single in 10 years, “Nothing” featuring Eric Bellinger. The single didn’t chart, however it got major radio airplay and club play as well.
Ma$e hasn’t released any tracks since “Nothing” in 2014, however he hasn’t gone quiet. IN 2016 he joined Puff Daddy, Lil’ Kim, The LOX, and the rest of the Bad Boy Family on the super successful Bad Boy Reunion Tour across the United States. While on tour, he answered many questions about the new album, including when it would release. There hasn’t been an official date set, but he has constantly said it would release “soon”. In 2017, Ma$e was featured on Steve Aoki’s “$4,000,000” for his album, Steve Aoki Presents: Kolony. On August 12th, a snippet of a new Ma$e track titled “I Got The Bag” was played on Hot 97 by Funkmaster Flex, and Ma$e has recently been in the studio with Chief Keef and A-Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. New music must be on the way soon, the only way to find out at this point is to wait.
So there you have it, a hip-hop icon that’s been lost among the main audience. It’s crazy how you can be a part of one of the world’s most successful record labels, a part of millions upon millions of record sales, give a generation countless classics, and still be relatively unknown. Hopefully this biography has shown you the impact that Ma$e has truly had on the culture. Happy to one of the greatest and most impactful rappers of all time, Mason Betha.