After all these years, the artist formally known as Murda Mase, and then Ma$e, and then Pastor Mason Betha, and then Ma$e again remains one of my favorite artists of all time. His first two albums, Harlem World and Double Up, remain in heavy rotation, and I have still never fully gotten over his initial retirement from the hip-hop world in 1999.
At the time, I was a budding fifth-grader with an affinity for rap music and basketball (as you can see, not much has changed), and Ma$e was everything to me. He was young, he was cool, and boy his flow; a slow, smooth delivery that could balance between hardcore and harmony. On the heels of the death of the Notorious B.I.G., Ma$e to me, and millions of others represented the new wave of hip-hop, the future. His style was original and unique, with a relate-able feel, although he was talking about things that at 11 years old I could only vaguely imagine.
"Everybody know I got more bounce than the ounce/Bad Boy get more money than you can count/ Why I'm buying things you can't even pronounce
" - Ma$e, 'Only You', 1996.
After 15 years of imitations (Loon, Fabolous, Lloyd Banks, Nelly, and even Drake and Kanye) his style doesn't sound so unique, but he was the original.
At the time, I couldn't wrap my mind around his retirement. This was a young artist at the top of his game, who seemingly had everything - money, girls, fame, respect - walking away from all of that to give himself to the church. Wtf?
I knew every word of the under-advertised Double Up, which often gets cast aside, but is actually an extremely solid album, albeit not as game-changing as its predecessor, Harlem World, back then, but it wasn't until years later that I actually heard
"All my cars and homes and all my ice/ If I could do it all again, I'd do it all for Christ/ Whoever thought the limelight or the super-stardom/ Whoever thought there'd be a problem comin' through Harlem/ Can't even chill, cats wanna make me a villian/ Cats that I grew up with I gotta contemplate killin'/ Nobody love me, I'm my own mister, and on my own, mister/ Mama did what she could but now I'm grown, mister
"How you live right? Every day get in bigger sin/ How you say no at the door screamin' "Let me in"?/ From the outside it's lookin' gooder than it ever been/ But tell the truth, when I was broke it was better then
."- Ma$e, "From Scratch', 1999.
That's deep, honestly. For a man that was mostly known for his catchy hooks and shiny suits, he could really, really express personal emotion and pain when he wanted to.
Take for instance, his approach to his new-found fame and the litany of fake friends it surrounded him with; a common archetype in rap music, and one that Drake touched on on his recent smash single "No New Friends."
"As a youth it's just a lot of shit I wanna live out/
Got alot of friends but only had a few when I was without/
Same niggas I was starvin', couldn't get a crumb from/
Sometimes I think, where all these mother fuckers come from/
I needed money for school, couldn't get no ones from/
Got jumped in the park and couldn't get the guns from/
But yo', where were these freaks when I had no jeeps/
Livin on 34th street and we ain't have no heat/
'Cross from P.S. 92, 7th and 8th/
Asked you for dough and you said "no" dead in my face/
But now that I'm on, it's like I owe everybody somethin'/
All my niggas dead so everybody frontin'/
Same kid's went to Catholic school is dealers/
And same nigga's had no heart is now killers/
Sometimes I reminisce on what I said in the mist/
But even when I dream, it wasn't better than this/
But actually, the nigga's who would scrap for me/
Or go as far as getting guns and clap for me/
Ain't even here to get a platinum plaque for me/
I talk to them but they don't talk back to me/
I ain't know you that long so ain't much I can ask of you/
And when I reminisce I can't take it back wit' you/
I can't ask "Yo' what happen to my nigga Black or Q?"/
So I don't really need to rap wit you, ya know?" -
Ma$e, 'Same Niggas', 1999.
These quotes all illustrate a young man struggling to deal with new-found fame, and the changes it has caused in his life. Sure, from the outside angle it was easy to look in and say 'this guy has it all,' but there was obviously deeper issues at work, and Mase's ability to express them goes well beyond the means of simply a 'pop rapper.'
I related to Mase, and I still do. Maybe that's why I've hold onto his legacy so tightly despite the fact that he has only released one official album since 1999. I find myself getting excited each time a new rumor of his comeback surfaces, or he is featured on some sort of remix, because really I feel like I've been robbed. Two of my favorite artists of that and all-time stopped making music prematurely. Notorious B.I.G. met an untimely end, and two complete classic albums is all anyone will have to remember Biggie by, but Ma$e could have been more. He put out two albums that I really, really liked by the time I was 12, and I was looking forward to him supplying the soundtrack for my teens-to-twenties transition. Had he not left hip-hop, my music catalog would likely consist of 5 or 6 more Ma$e albums, and in all likelihood some of those tracks would have talked to me in the same way his first two albums did. I don't like that when I'm in the mood for some Ma$e, which is obviously pretty often, that I really only have two album options to choose from.
But, throughout Double Up, sprinkled between the Puffy-helmed pop jams, Ma$e paints the picture of a young man struggling with success and his current situation, and although I have always selfishly wanted more music from Ma$e, I can't be mad at a guy for staying true to himself.
While his repeated comebacks and disappearances don't necessarily lend credibility to his cause, his music has continued to be felt and appreciated in hip-hop without Ma$e doing much.
So yeah, it is kind of strange to see Ma$e, once arguably the biggest name in the game, performing at halftime of a regular season Nets/Pistons game in Detroit. But that's the game, if Ma$e is serious about making a comeback this time - which he swears he is, as he has aptly named his upcoming album 'Now We Even,' as in 'this album is so good that now we're even for all the time I left you without new music - then he has to do what he has to do.
Many people in attendance at the Palace of Auburn Hills may not know Ma$e, or his impact on hip-hop, although they have been indirectly hearing his influences on the radio for the past decade.
I have never seen Ma$e live, but since halftime of Detroit and Brooklyn's battle appears to be where he can be seen these days, I wish I was going to the game.