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  • Micheal La Shon III

Classic Albums: Harlem World's 20th Anniversary

Ma$e's debut album, Harlem World, released on October 28th, 1997.

20 years ago Bad Boy Records was on top of the music world, despite the odds being against them. The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in Los Angeles on March 9th, 1997, which left the record label at a crossroads. Of course Puffy took the reigns with his debut album, No Way Out, along with the Bad Boy Family, but he wasn't just a rapper. He was (and still is) the CEO and owner of the label, along with being a producer, and held those positions long before becoming an artist. Out of all the male rap solo acts on Bad Boy, Puffy had been grooming Ma$e to become the next face of the label since mid-1996 to carry them into the year 2000 and beyond. However, with Biggie's sudden death, Puff would have to get Ma$e into that role quicker than anticipated.

From the beginning of 1997 until his solo single release, Ma$e appeared on six tracks that peaked within the top 20 on the charts, 4 within the top 10, 3 of them reaching #1. Betha was also a major part of two classic studio albums, Biggie's Life After Death (which eventually went diamond), and Puff Daddy & The Family's No Way Out (which sold over 7 million records), easily making him one of the most recognizable faces in the music industry. Ma$e had reached this level of success while still only being 19 years old, with his last #1 feature coming on Mariah Carey's "Honey" releasing the day before his 20th birthday. During his rap verse on the track, Ma$e spoke about his superstardom with the line, "I rock so swell, I gotta prevail, first rap superstar dominatin' pop sales...". The anticipation was now at it's peak, and Ma$e would deliver with his own music.

Ma$e released his solo rap debut, "Feel So Good", on October 14th, 1997. The record peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and sold over a million copies, earning platinum status from the RIAA. The music video accompanying this single is a prime example of the "shiny suit" era in hip-hop. The video features all members of The LOX, Puff Daddy, and even Chris Tucker, as Ma$e raps bragadociously around the shiny city of Las Vegas. After a single that successful, the album was on it's way.

Harlem World released two weeks after "Feel So Good", on October 28th, 1997. The album debuted at #1 on 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 to date (top 10 at the time), tying him with Biggie's Ready To Die from 1994. When Harlem World debuted at #1, it put 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 makes the accomplishment even more amazing.

Here's a full review of the undeniable Bad Boy classic, Harlem World:

1. Puff's Intro (Rating 9/10)

The album 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. By the time this intro ends, you've fully got into Harlem, and you're ready to experience the life Ma$e has lived.

2. Do You Wanna Get $? (Rating: 9.5/10)

On this track, Ma$e raps over a sample of Peter Brown's "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me?" from 1977, with Kelis handling the hook. Ma$e speaks on his rise to fame from 1993 to the present 1997 superstardom. He doesn't understand why people hate on him now, and the hook emphasizes that, as Kelis sings "With all this money that we can make, why y'all cats wanna player hate?". This track has had influence on Bad Boy's newest generation, with King Combs (Puff Daddy's son) sampling the chorus on his most recent single, "Playa Hate".

3. Take What's Yours (feat. DMX) (Rating 9/10)

Ma$e let's the world know that he's going to take over New York hip-hop, or hip-hop in general, on this track. While his close friend DMX handles the hook, Betha let's the world know that he's gonna keep Bad Boy at the top with two separate bars, "I'm the newest member of the Bad Boy team, and I'mma bring this nigga Puff mad more cream...with hooks galore, leave the city shook for sure, and I'mma take 'em back where Biggie took 'em before...". He kept his word on this track, because like I said earlier, Harlem World tied Ready To Die for debut rap album sales, going quadruple platinum.

4. Mad Rapper (Interlude) (Rating 9/10)

The "Mad Rapper Interlude" is one of the many hilarious "interviews" that Bad Boy featured on their albums the late 90s, featuring D-Dot as "The Madd Rapper". This specific interview includes "The Madd Producer", who says he did a track for Ma$e's album, which infuriates The Madd Rapper.

5. Will They Die For You (feat. Puff Daddy & Lil' Kim) (Rating 9/10)

This song speaks about who your real friends are, or who's really "down for you". Ma$e, Kim, and Puffy, speak about fake people in the industry and how they keep it real. During his verse, Betha uses a line that was used by Kanye West in 2010, "...I pay my own trips, make my own chips, cop my own six, knock my own shit, like I'm on my own dick...". On West's "Power", he says "I know damn well I'm killin' this shit. I don't need yo pussy bitch, I'm on my own dick."

6. Lookin' At Me (Rating 10/10)

"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$e track has been sampled by other rap greats, such as Kanye West, who used the song's opening bars on his 2012 track "Cold" with DJ Khaled. Ma$e also famously let the world know that, "I was Murda, P. Diddy named me pretty." on this track.

7. White Girl (Interlude) (Rating 8/10)

This 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.

8. Love U So (Rating 10/10)

Stevie J (yes, that Stevie J), produced this nostalgic beat by sampling Teena Marie's classic 1981 hit "Square Biz" and getting Billy Lawrence to sing the hook, which samples Rose Royce's 1977 classic "Ooh Boy". Ma$e's flow fit flawlessly, and the final product was a classic track. Betha's lackadaisical "talk rap" style sounds even smoother over the piano and bass of this beat, and the endless rhyming showcased his skills. one of his best bars comes at the beginning of the third verse, when he says, "If you never had a man, then why try me? Niggas outta town wanna learn my G. Understand me, the baller I be, need about 3 pagers, and caller ID."

9. The Player Way (feat. 8Ball & MJG) (Rating 10/10)

This track features on of the most recognizable beats ever, but most people don't know it from this song. Memphis rappers 8Ball & MJG make this a fun collaboration, giving the listener multiple flows and a great chorus. Ma$e is known for his braggadocios rap, and he says, "Me no care if the B's be tinted, you won't see me in it, 'less there's TV's in it...". This is a smooth summer track that sounds perfect in the car or at any party.

10. Hater (Interlude) (Rating 8/10)

This interlude 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.

11. Niggaz Wanna Act (feat. Busta Rhymes) (Rating 9/10)

This track showed the "Murda Mase" roots from the "Children Of The Corn" days. Ma$e rapped about the hardcore content that he used to before signing to Bad Boy in '96, but this time did it while keeping his slow flow that he'd perfected over the past year. On the hook, Busta is more of Betha's hype man in the background with his eccentric energy.

12. Feel So Good (Rating 10/10)

Not only was this Ma$e's debut single, it was also one of the best tracks on the album. This was a singe that actually flowed flawlessly with the album, and didn't stick out like a sore thumb like highly successful singles tend to. On this track, Ma$e not only shows off (famous "Whatchu know about goin' out, head West, red Lex, TV's all up in the headrest" line), but he also spoke on the East vs West beef. In the bars, "East, West, every state, come on, bury the hate, millions the only thing we in a hurry to make. Whether friend or ex-friend, in a Lex or a Benz, let's begin, bring this BS to an end." Betha says that the beef lead to deaths, including the murder of his friend Biggie, and that no one on the East coast is worried about beefing with anyone of the West coast because it's unnecessary and pointless to continue that type of negative energy.

13. What You Want (feat. Total) ( Rating 10/10)

If you ask most people, this is Ma$e's most popular track, he's famously known for this classic collaboration with label mates, Total. The classic track samples Curtis Mayfield's "Right On For The Darkness", as Betha speaks to a woman in his life. His opening bars are the epitome of "hood love", as he says, "Mase is the man that wanna see you doin' good, I don't wanna get rich, leave you in the hood, girl in my eyes you the baddest, the reason why I love you, you don't like me 'cause of my status...". Betha goes on to speak to this woman about everything he wants to do with her, while Total gives the listener a flawless hook. The track released as a single in January of 1998, going gold and peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

14. Phone Conversation (Interlude) (Rating 9.5/10)

The interlude was hilarious, as Ma$e is on the phone with two different women, and gets caught up when he says the name of one to the other, however, one of the women featured for the skit was the girlfriend of someone in Jay-Z's crew, and this lead to a beef between the two New York rappers. The actual phone conversation is shown in the music video for "What You Want". Jay-Z dissed him on his 1997 track “Imaginary Players” in response to this, and Ma$e fired back in 1998 with his verse on 112's "Love Me" single, as well as his little known "I'm No Killa" diss track in 1999.

15. Cheat On You (feat. Lil' Cease, 112, & Jay-Z) (Rating 10/10)

This track mainly speaks to men in the industry that cheat on their women and expect it not to happen to them, however it can be used in regular life as well. Ma$e drops knowledge in the opening verse, ending it with, "All these girls is quite the same, so it ain't ya pencil, it's how you write ya name...". 112 gives a flawless hook, singing, "If she got with you...and she already had a man, why wouldn't she cheat on you?". I'm not sure whether Ma$e or Cam'Ron wrote the verse for Lil' Cease, but regardless of the writer, it was a great verse delivered by Caesar Leo. Jay-Z handles the final verse, and makes it even more nostalgic because you can hear how young Jigga sounds (he was 28 at the time).

16. 24 Hours To Live (feat. The LOX, Puff Daddy, Black Rob, & DMX) (Rating 10/10)

Ma$e, Black Rob and The LOX describe what they'd do if they only had 1 day left to live on this record. 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).

17. I Need To Be (feat. Monifah) (Rating 9/10)

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. Betha talks about taking girls' virginities and watching out for girls who look older than they actually are to avoid catching a case over the slow beat.

18. Watch Your Back (Interlude) (Rating 8.5/10)

This was a pretty well put together skit as Ma$e gets a phone call from a fan who then gets angry and threatens him, telling him to not give his number to his girlfriend anymore. Betha is confused, but the caller doesn't care and threatens his life, saying that all the people he runs with (Puffy & Bad Boy) won't be around to save him and he'll be gone too.

19. Wanna Hurt Mase? (Rating 8.5/10)

This track can easily be seen as a response to the caller from the preceding interlude, as Ma$e again channels his pre-1996 rap content and mixes it with his flow. Puff Daddy produced this track, as he sampled the 1982 record "Do You wanna Hurt Me" by the Culture Club. Betha starts the track off hard, saying, "Now you don't wanna see me angry, ain't enough cops or cuffs to chain me, days to arraign me KKK's to hang me, insane me...". This is a strong track to put on the album to again show that Ma$e isn't soft, whether or not he's selling millions.

20. Jealous Guy (feat Puff Daddy & 112) (Rating 8/10)

This track a remake of New Edition's slow jam hit from 1983, "Jealous Girl". 112 covers the chorus and the song is great to laugh at and enjoy. Its very similar to The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Playa Hater”, in regards to the rapper singing, knowing that it's clearly not his strong suit. While the track is clearly fun and games, Ma$e still drops knowledge, as he gives the four pimp rules that he lives by, with rule number two being, "...girls run like buses, you may miss one, catch another one every hour, on the hour, promptly...". Lines similar to this have been used by many rappers, including Gucci Mane, who said "Girls are like buses, miss one, next fifteen one comin'..." during his verse that was featured on Mario's "Break Up" in 2009.

Final Thoughts:

This album is an undeniable classic. Harlem World was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album, but lost out to Puff Daddy’s No Way Out. It's funny though, that's not even truly a loss with Ma$e being such a big part of Puff Daddy's album. Ma$e helped keep Bad Boy Records not only afloat, but at the top of the rap game. Harlem World would set the stage for artists such as Cam'Ron, the rest of the Diplomat's and even Kanye West, to take off as superstars in the early 2000s when rapping about the same material. This album defined the era that it released in, you can't talk about 1997 without mentioning it, and for that reason alone, it's a classic.

Album Rating: 10/10

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