This is the story of Ma$e. You might know Mase aka Ma$e aka Murda Ma$e from the timeless, posthumous Biggie hit ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ (or its ridiculous video, when we could still laugh with Puff Daddy aka P. Diddy aka Diddy and not at him). You might know Mase as the lesser known guy who, alongside The Dream and Pusha T, contributed to a terrifically bad song off of G.O.O.D. Music’s latest collaborative release: ‘Higher‘. But if you, like many general music fans and even distinctly hip-hop fans today, have never heard of Mase, can’t imagine why anyone besides Ke$ha would legitimately put a ‘$’ sign in their stylized stage name and don’t know if and/or why you should care about a guy who strutted around in a metallic yellow onesie almost 15 years ago now (on aforementioned ‘Mo Money’ vid), then take a moment to allow Ma$e reintroduce himself. Having rejoined the Bad Boy Records fold sometime in late 2010 and now serving as A&R for Bad Boy up-and-comer French Montana (see why he might need some help), Mase just might be one of the oldest OGs in the game with ostensibly not much more than a feature verse on a 1997 hit and a feature verse on a 2012 dud to recommend him.
‘Welcome Back’, though, which has been mysteriously doing the rounds of my music library since its release as the title track to Mase’s first comeback in July 2004 (he had another one before ‘officially’ quitting in 2009), is evidence that the man (Mason Durell Betha) takes reinvention – and introductions – seriously. Mase was kind of like a big deal. He came up as part of the Children Of The Corn hip-hop group which featured, among others, the incredible and under-appreciated Big L and the comparatively less incredible but continually well-appreciated Cam’ron. Mase was particularly big news around 1997 to 1999 when he released both his debut ‘Harlem World’ and sophomore effort ‘Double Up’ to generally favourable critical and commercial reception. And then he decided that Diddy (or whatever he was called by that point) and the whole lavish rap scene wasn’t for him and turned to Christianity for something that was ‘realer’ than the rap he and his colleagues were purveying. Plenty of rappers have strong godly presences in their lives and work. Not many go on hiatus from the game to lead an international ministry.
This track, sampling the theme tune to ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ – a 1970s sitcom that starred a young John Travolta – is Mase on his second return to the limelight, after five years off with the church, attempting to refresh the minds of the CD-buying populace as to just who exactly he is. The biggest problem for Mase was that he didn’t take 5 years off taking the rap for a murder or for weapons offences or even for drug time. It was always going to be a tall order to convince rap fans that half a decade spent in religious service was a reason to reinvest in a character many could hardly recall. 5 years is not a long time in life but in music, and in hip-hop specifically, we’re talking seismic shifts. ‘Welcome Back’ is incontrovertible proof that if you’ve decided to hang up your microphone once, you should probably stick to it. There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, I enjoy the bouncing beat, Mase’s trademark slow flow straining to sound upbeat, rejuvinated and that chorus of kids late in the piece is impossible to argue with. But if you listen closely, behind that jazzy production, it all sounds rather half-baked, almost foreshadowing the stalwart’s next in a series of demises. Forgetting the tumultuous history that goes with it and the fact that Mase is welcoming himself back before he exits stage left yet again though, ‘Welcome Back’ remains infectious and, strangely for rap, bubbly. Out of the ordinary – that is the story of Ma$e.
Ma$e – Welcome Back