Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Premature Ejaculation: Ma$e

Mason Betha has had the life that seems possible only in America. A young black man with a hard scrabble childhood somehow pulls it together to get a basketball scholarship to a small New York school but pushes that to the side to become a wildly successful rapper only to push that to the side to find God but then come back to try and reclaim what he left behind.

Ma$e was in the right place at the right time. Bad Boy Records in the mid 1990s was as Puffy claimed - unstoppable. For a stretch each record they released garnered enough radio airplay to basically goad listeners into purchasing enough copies that most releases went gold, or at least flirted with the figure. Ma$e had the luxury of being the first real rap push after Biggie had bulldozed a whole in the market. Puffy's Hitmen jacked some Diana Ross to make a bubbly crossover hit for the affluent arrogant Clinton generation. It was Biggie's song, what would eventually prove to be an anthem in the days following his death, but Ma$e appeared and stole just enough shine to propel his star. By the time he appeared with his own solo, another modest hit with Puffy had solidified his reputation as the fun-loving mumbler.

And it brought success. Everybody wanted to revel in their riches and Bad Boy provided the soundtrack. The videos popped with color and wealth was flaunted everywhere. Ma$e epitomized the ethos. Shiny suits, hot women, fast cars. But he was a trailblazer as well. On "Lookin' At Me," that is Ma$e taking a chance with the then unknown Neptunes. In addition, the guy wasn't so bad at rhyming. I'm not saying he should sign up for any freestyle battles. But take a good listen to some of his verses. Places like "24 Hours To Live," a New York should-be classic, you can hear what may have been the last remnants of the Murda Ma$e he submerged to get the mainstream success. There lies an introspection weaved with the clever wordplay that permeates most of his offerings.

Just as he was about to release a sophomore album to capitalize on the debut's success, he left it on the table for God. The album went gold with only one real single and video, which shows how popular he really was. His attempts to return were mostly derided and laughed at. His affiliation with G-Unit just served to make him more enigmatic and even less important since that wave has crested. But what might have happened had he continued. Would he have felt comfortable and let Murda back out? Would he have beat Cam to the finish line in terms of the eccentric New York MC throne? Who knows? It was fun while it lasted

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