Monday, June 23, 2008

Full Clip to Pulpit???

In 1996 when first heard Mason Betha aka Mase rap on the remix to 112's "Only You" I think I kind of had a neutral reaction. In other words, I had no strong opinion of him either way, he was just sort of blah to me, nothing spectacular, but at the same time he wasn't the worst rapper either (Suga Free still holds that title). But at first, I think it wasn't a big deal because I knew Bad Boy still had the greatest of all time on their team the Notorious B.I.G. So to add a Mase to the team was like the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan adding Pete Myers, it's not going to add to or take away from the team's ability to win. Unfortunately, the tragic death of Notorious B.I.G. took place soon after on March 9, 1997. After mourning, label owner Sean "Puffy" Combs aka Puff Daddy aka P.Diddy still had to make executive decisions. Much like Chicago Bulls GM Jerry Reinsdorf had to do when Michael Jordan retired.

So when executive decision time came Diddy went ahead and ran with what he had which was Biggie's "Life After Death" album, Mase, himself and some no name acts currently riding the bench at the bottom of the roster. The Life After Death album dropped approximately 3 weeks after Big's death (Keep this fact in mind). Of course I was one of the first in line to buy my copy of what would be Big's last studio album. Well when I looked at the song list on the back I noticed something that seemed strange. There were 3 songs that featured Puff Daddy including a song called "Mo' Money Mo' Problems" which also featured Mase. Now it was never unusual to see Puff Daddy sharing part of Biggie's limelight (go back and watch any Biggie Video). However, to hear Puff rapping was very abnormal in my eye. Even though there was a single that I had heard from Puffy and Mase it was still not the norm. Now producing, doing ad libs (Take That!), and dancing in videos that was Puff's M.O. all day. But rapping just seemed out of the norm at that time to me. Well later down the line after Puff's solo career took off he explained that he had Biggie's blessing and that Big always encouraged him to go ahead and rap. So I guess with "Big's blessing" he chose to explore this part of his career on Big's Life After Death album.

Well to again refer to the Chicago Bulls analogy with Pete Meyers, it's easier to run with or behind the greatest than to take over for the greatest. Although Meyers was at one time hyped to be the next Michael Jordan when he had to prove it all by himself...well you get the point. I'm not sure if Puff's next decision was an experiment or what but as mentioned above he released "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" which was Puffy Daddy Featuring Mase. The song sampled Grand Master Flash's "The Message" and the chorus had an interpolation of another old song "Break My Stride" by Matthew Wilder. Well I was trying to remember the exact time when this song was released and couldn't quite remember. So after doing some research I found out that this single was actually released prior to the Life After Death Album and its first single "Hypnotize." However, in my opinion it was a flop and a very lack luster effort and first single for Mase or Puffy. But this somehow flew far under the Bad Boy Radar because don't forget Big's Album release date was quickly approaching so we all somehow let Puffy and Mase off of the hook for this one. Ironically, the single would go on to appear on Puffy Daddy's first solo album "No Way Out" which would actually end up dropping prior to Mase's first album. For some reason Puffy's album dropped only 3 months after Biggie's album. I'm not sure how Puff found the time to mourn the loss of his closest friend all while finishing recording his solo CD, do promotional touring for it, and still run a successful record label; however, I guess we all mourn differently and don't forget as they say "the show must go on." Well go on it did No Way Out went on to spawn 4 successful singles including "All About the Benjamins," "Been Around the World," and "Victory" all which conveniently featured the Notorious B.I.G. And who can forget Puffy's dedication to Big "I'll Be Missing You."

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Well it was apparent that Mase nor Puff were able to hold their own on their own so what was the next logical move to make? Well let's just say that Mo' Money Mo Problems just so happen to be the 2nd single selected off the "Life After Death" album. Now keep in mind that Life After Death was a double CD so it had a total of 24 tracks (22 full songs minus the 2 interludes). So, this was a solid album that had many songs with single potential, but I always wondered why Mo' Money Mo' Problems was picked as the follow up single to Hypnotize. Well I say if you want to know why a puppet makes certain moves look to see who's pulling the strings. So next up was Mo' Money Mo' Problems which sampled the Dianna Ross song "I'm Coming Out." Then, add a million dollar video directed by Hype Williams, a couple of "shiny suits," some old video footage of B.I.G., some horrible acting by Mase and Puff and BAM! you've got your next 2 platinum selling Bad Boy artists.

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After one more single from B.I.G.'s album ("Sky's the Limit" featuring 112), it was time for Mase to take his place as Bad Boy's new lead act. By this time Mase had made plenty of guest appearances not only on Puff's album but on remixes for other artist such as Brian Mcknight and Mariah Carey. Therefore, it was time for "Harlem World" Mase's debut album. Honestly, after the "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and "Mo Money Mo Problems" I had already decided I was not a fan of Mase. So when I heard the first single from his album "Feels So Good" it was to no surprise that it was heavily influenced by Puffy. Once again an old song was sampled, this time it was "Hollywood Swinging" by Kool & The Gang. Also, once again a lot of bright lights and shiny suits were in the video. His next single, "What You Want" Featuring Total had another sample from Curtis Mayfield's "right on for the darkness." I would go on to say this song and the single to follow "Lookin at me" somehow made Mase more appealing to the ladies. Well that and I'm sure the baby face and the dimples helped them to overlook his oddly shaped head (trust me I'm not hating. lol). But on the flip side of that his single "24 Hours to Live" Featuring Black Rob, DMX, The Lox, and Puff Daddy, was probably the song that to me to finally gave him a little street credibility. Prior to hearing this song I sort of felt like Mase was just a better version of Puffy. So when I heard him say "I'd even look for my dad that I never knew And show him how I look and my Beretta too," I was shocked yet intrigued since I had heard that Mase's nickname used to be "Murder Mase." Well Regardless of what you thought about Mase, no one could deny the success of Mase's debut which sold over 270,000 in his first week and later went on to go multi-platinum (4x).

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With much hype surrounding Mase's 2nd release "Double Up" many had high expectations especially after going quadruple platinum on his first effort. However, skeptics such as myself questioned whether the sophomore jinx would somehow affect Mase. With Double Up's release date set for summer 1999, not even Miss Cleo or Syliva Brown could have predicted what would happen next. About one month before his 2nd album was to drop Mase announces that he's become a born-again Christian and is retiring from Music. In a Bad Boy press release he states
"I'm grateful for all the blessings bestowed on me that were a result of my music career, now it's time for me to serve God in His way. The Lord sends you messages when He's ready and not necessarily when we are." In a separate interview with Jet Magazine, he went on to say "I said the first day I walked into music that I'm not here to be a 30-year-old rapper. I wouldn't be intelligent to think that I would be ... It just so happens that I'm pursuing God, and that's shocking for some people because that's not every body's idea of what I'm like." Even more shocking, his new commitment to God apparently would only allow Mase to make spoken word engagements for the promotion of the Double Up album. Needless to say, the album sales suffered due to this decision, only selling 107,000 in it's first week and only going on to acheive gold status. According to Wikipedia, Mase later ended up moving down south to "Atlanta, GA where he would study at Clark Atlanta University. Mase received an honorary Th.D from St. Paul's Bible Institute in New York and began to address himself as Dr. Mason Betha. He became the founder and pastor of both S.A.N.E. (Saving a Nation Endangered) Church International and Mason Betha Ministries in Atlanta."

Although there were many rumors surrounding Mase's sudden retirement, I think that many believed he would eventually come back to the rap game. I myself (being the skeptic that I am) also remember saying that he will come back. I felt that no one that is this young and making this much money would just walk away from it without valid enough reason. Being a rapper myself I can admit that I would never walk away from it unless I had a good reason. I mean everyone's dream in life is to be able do what you love doing and make money doing it. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying religion and dedicating your life to God isn't a good enough reason to quit because it's more than enough. However, for me personally his reasoning didn't help my suspicions at all. So I too came up with my own conspiracy theories as to what may have prompted Mase's early retirement. I will only share one those theories as to avoid any defamation of character lawsuits.

Theory: Despite what they may want us as believe, rappers are not "Ballin!" So although we may saw Mase wearing all kind of diamonds and "bling" in his videos, we can't immediately assume that he was rich because of the success of his one album. Yes Mase did go quadruple platinum and IF he was able to pay back his label aka Puff Daddy he may have had a decent amount of money in his bank account. But in the game of music that's a big IF. Let us not forget that I previously mentioned how some of Mase's singles had some pretty well known samples in them. Keep in mind that all of that money that was paid out by the label for those sample rights have to be paid back by the artist. It's called recouping. Plus, don't about forget the videos, hope that you didn't expect the "shiny suit man" to pay for those suits. So basically, one of my theories is that after going 4x platinum Mase like most rappers probably thought that he was "ballin!" I'm sure that got him a much bigger advance check to hit the studio and work on the next album. Oh yeah and advances have to be paid back as well, so whatever he was advanced for the first album also had to be paid back. However, after those royalty checks began rolling in and the amount he was getting was cut up 5 and 6 ways I'm sure it was a shocker. So, the theory is that he quit because he wasn't seeing the money he expected or was probably promised and thought he could just quit just like that and be out of his contract. (Later we'll see that it doesn't quite work that way). As biggie himself said "that's why my money never funny And you still recoupin, stupid!!"

So, after about a year of retirement, most people (myself included) figured we were wrong about Mase coming back, and the rumors died down. We accepted that Mase was now Pastor Mason Betha and that Murder Mase was gone for good as he now dedicated his life to serving the Lord. Now personally after the first year I pretty much forgot all about Mase. If it weren't for the few reminders given by other rappers who threw Mase in their rhymes, I may have completely forgotten. For instance, Common stated "You better goin to God like Mase did" and Kanye West exclaimed "If you could feel how my face felt you would know how Mase felt." Other than that I personally had no second thoughts about Mase, his retirement and his new occupation as a Pastor. If that was his calling then who am I to say anything about it. God Bless him, his congregation, and his calling. Actually, I remember reading some magazine articles that had interviews with Puffy and he basically said the same thing and wished Mase his best. But as we know Business is never personal, so eventually even Diddy moved on focusing on other rap acts on the label, The Lox and Black Rob. Another determining factor in this decision was that Mase's 2nd album had done nothing close to it's anticipated numbers. I know there had to be one but I personally can't even recall a single from the Double Up album.

So there you have it Mase retires and goes on to serve the Lord, end of story right? Well needless to say, if that was the end of the story then there would be no point in me writing this blog. So of course not! My skepticism served me right to begin with. In 2004, after a five year hiatus from the rap game, Pastor Mase comes back to rapping. Mase's new single and album were ironically titled "Welcome Back." The song sampled the theme song from the 1970's television series "Welcome Back, Kotter." Well when I first heard the news, just like most of you I was somewhat shocked. Then I said to myself "I knew it!!" But finally I thought about why Mase said he originally left the rap game. He said that "the music business was incompatible with the way he wanted to live his life." So now I'm thinking how is rap music now compatible with his new found way of life? What had really changed in 5 years to make the game compatible? Well those questions were simply rhetorical because the answer was nothing had changed. And after hearing the single nothing had really changed about Mase's rapping either. Oh and before I forget to mention it, you better believe that the album was released on Bad Boy Records. As I mentioned before in my conspiracy theory, if Mase thought he was getting out of his contract he should have thought again. Yes five years later and P.Diddy is still waiting to collect on that contract he signed. Now back to the song, to me the beat/sample is what made the song more than anything. All Mase needed to do what come up with two 16 bar verses saying anything and he could have gotten the same response from me. Add a subpar chorus partially sung by Mase, some female and some exploited kids and there you have it a new single by Mase. The video had all the familiar faces from Bad Boy P.Diddy of course, Loon, Ness, Babs, and then Mase doing his signature dances in the video. Seems like the same old Mase right? Well not quite. Don't forget he's a Minister now so he's cleaned up his lyrics. "I'm just a bad boy gone clean, I'm the diamond chain choker, always remain sober don't drink liquor and all the games over." Also, he goes on to state "See I rep the most high, still I'm the most fly I win so much, they wanna know who I'm coached by." And finally, "I make my money man without the coca Livin' la vida without the loca." Wow could it really be that Mase had really changed and planned on bringing a new image to Hip Hop?

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In an attempt to not judge Mase I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and not immediately call him a hypocrite for coming back to rap. I mean hey you listened to the lyrics he's changed so, maybe he would be a breath of fresh air to the Hip Hop game. I read some articles that had interviews with Mase and he discussed why he returned to the Rap Game. In fact, during an interview on http://www.askmen.com/ when specifically asked what compelled him to return to the industry Mase responded "I felt like I could be a huge asset to the hip-hop community. It is a genre where everybody is expressing themselves. I felt like I had something else to express that hasn't already been expressed." Also, he was asked how he reconciled doing music and being a minister he stated "What makes it so powerful is that I may not be the first one, but I am the first one doing it the way I am doing it. My situation is different than the ones previously. Most people go to God because they have to. Everything I have ever done is because I wanted to and not because I have to." Finally when asked what to expect on the new album Mase answered "What makes it similar is because I am pretty much talking about the same things, but what makes it different is that I am doing it from a different perspective and from a different mindset." I later heard that the new album would also have no cursing and also no misogynistic lyrics degrading women. Well that's definitely a change and a new Mase. So maybe his calling to God was the spawn of not only a change in Mase but a change in Hip Hop Music with Mase leading the way. As Mase himself stated in the 3rd person "After a soul stirring vision from God, [where I saw] Mase leading souls to hell, the ex-rapper now returns as Pastor Mason Betha, leading souls to Christ."

Well I never purchased or listened to any of the "Welcome Back" album except for the lead single. So, I can't tell you what was on the album nor can I judge it. However, as research shows the single and album did go gold. Well at some point during the promotion of the Welcome Back album I recall hearing rumors that Mase was signing to G-Unit. Yes that would be the same G-Unit that houses such acts as 50 Cent, Young Buck, Lloyd Banks, M.O.P., Mobb Deep, Tony Yayo, and formerly The Game. Now I'm sure you're thinking as I was when I heard this rumor. Why on earth would Pastor Mase be looking to sign to a record label such as G-Unit? Don't they go against everything that he now stood for when it comes to his music and lyrics? The answer is yes of course they do. However, at the time these were only rumors at best. That was until I got to hear a song entitled "300 Shots" which featured all of the artists on G-Unit including none other than (yep you guessed it) our very own Pastor Mase. Now when I heard these lyrics I was just as surprised as most of you were. From the onset Mase starts his verse "You know you messin' with a nigga that do this for a livin' Put two in the street while theres two in the kitchen Put guns in niggaz mouth like "Who's u dissin'?" We give for they knew who u was missin, nigga You can either have a gun at the chain, or one at the brain I have hoes back of the church, hummin' ya name. Even then I feel it's like cheat my men Watch God leave the sky to come and greet my men I pop niggas in the chest they never breathe again." O-M-G this just can't be!! Mase Is back to the old Murder Mase. Speechless yet? Well trust this is pure sarcasm because I definitely was not surprised one bit. I read in an interview from 50 Cent on http://www.vh1.com/ where 50 stated "The new Mase music is going to sound like the old Mase music — the real old Mase music, pre-Bad Boy, when he was named Mase Murda (or Murder Mase)." My question is what happen to the clean lyrics he sold us on when he returned to rapping? I would almost go as far as to call his lyrics blaphemous when he mentions "watch God leave the sky to come and greet my men." Especially when the next line says "I pop niggas in the chest they never breathe again." And we can't forget "I have hoes in the back of the church hummin' ya name." Well if these are the words of a reverand I need not go to church but simply pop in the latest G-Unit release to get my daily bread.

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G-Unit - 300 Shots (Mase is 3rd to rap)


So let's quickly recap we go from Rapper to Pastor and back to Rapper. So is this the final chapter for Mase? Well I too assumed that it was. Although I hadn't heard any new material from Mase or G-Unit I didn't think too much of it especially since 50 Cent's "Curtis" album was the last to be released on the label. Well that was until recently during a late night of channel surfing I come across none other than Pastor Mase on tv preaching. Utterly appalled, I was so intrigued that I just had to watch and make sure this wasn't an old sermon that I was watching. So I sat watching Pastor Mase preach. Unfortunately, much like with Mase's music his preaching didn't move me much either. I couldn't help but to picture him as the preacher formerly known as Murder Mase trying to tell me and other's about God. I can't lie I also awaited for him to catch the Holy Ghost and do his signature 2-step. So, as I sat and watched for about 30 minutes it got to the end of the sermon and there I saw Mase and his wife telling people about their ministry and televangalizing. I couldn't believe it. I wanted to call the number on the screen and recite the lyrics from "300 Shots" and ask if this rang a bell? Well after I finished watching the program I called my brother and told him about it and he said he too had seen one of Mase's sermons recently. With that confirmed I guess Mase was back to preaching. So to total the score that would make it tied [Rapping-2 and Preaching-2]. I wonder if Vegas has odds on which will break the tie. But who knows what Mase will do next, maybe acting because he seems to play the role of a rapper turned preacher, turned rapper, turned preacher again pretty damn well.

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I know in the end we are all God's children and that he has a purpose for all of us. I also know that we all backslide and fall short of his will. And you better believe I'll be the first to admit that I am no saint and have done my share of bad and good. But I would never take on the role of calling myself a preacher as Mase did and then not live up to what I was called upon to do. Although we all have a responsiblity to ourselves and one another, I feel like in the role of a preacher/minister it is a little greater responsiblity, in that you essentially bare some of the responsibility for the souls of others. So, the words and actions that you say and do are weighed much heavier than the average person. Therefore, I pray that this time Mase will stick with his decision to return to preaching and doing God's work from the Pulpit as opposed to his Murder Mase alter ego with a full clip. However, if you want to know my deep down honest opinion on it all well it rhymes with both full clip and pulpit.



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