Hip-hop rap artist
Barely out of high school, Mason Durrell Betha, a.k.a. Mase, found his way into one of the most successful entertainment circles of the 1990s—Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment. Mase ended up signing with the label and going on to appear on dozens of hit records for artists like chart-topping pop singer Mariah Carey, veteran Tina Turner, and hip-hop brethren like the Notorious B.I.G. He appeared on songs that achieved success on the hip-hop, R&B, pop, and Billboard charts. Mase was seen by critics as Combs’ protege, and Combs referred to Mase as “my little brother.” When he did release his first record, Harlem World, on Bad Boy, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and went quadruple platinum. Although Mase’s songs ranged from uplifting hip-hop dance tracks to menacing hard-core raps, he always thanks God—and Combs—for his success. In 1999, just before the release of his second solo album, Double Up, the young and successful rapper announced his retirement from music and his dedication to God.
Born in Jacksonville, Forida, Mase and his family moved to the heart of New York City’s Harlem when he was five years old. He divided his time between school, church, and basketball. When he got involved in the Harlem street life a little too heavily for his mother’s comfort, she sent him back to Jacksonville for two years. Mase returned to Harlem to graduate the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics in 1994, and then attend the State University of New York at Purchase on a basketball scholarship. He quit his second year to pursue his career in music. “She wasn’t okay with that at all,” Mase told Rolling Stone writer David Fricke of his mom. “But she always respected my decisions, and I just told her that this is my dream.”
Mase, then struggling to make it as Mase Murder, traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to meet noted producer Jermaine Dupri. Instead, at a party hosted by Dupri, he met Combs. Mase rapped for him on the spot and Combs asked him to join the Bad Boy “Family” of recording artists. Combs first had Mase rapping on a song by Bad Boy group 112, then on pop diva Mariah Carey’s “Honey,” Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems,” and Comb’s “No Way Out.” Although he had
At a Glance…
Born Mason Durrell Betha c. 1977 in Jacksonville, FL. Education: graduated, Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, 1994; studied at State University of New York at Purchase.
Career: Rapper, Bad Boy Entertainment, 1997-99.
Awards: Quadruple-platinum award for four million in sales of Harlem World.
Addresses: Office —Bad Boy Entertainment, 1540 Broadway, 30th Floor, New York, NY 10036.
no release of his own yet, Mase was becoming a familiar face to fans—he appeared in more than six high-rotation music videos. On the 1997 MTV Video Music awards, Mase joined the Bad Boy Family and veteran rocker Sting to perform “I’ll Be Missing You,” a tribute to the Notorious B.I.G.—who was gunned down outside a Los Angeles club in 1997.
Mase is known for his sound, which is monotonie, slow and mellow. Rolling Stone writer Fricke wrote that Mase’s rapping has “sleepy, unforced authority.” Village Voice writer Robert Christgau defined Mase’s sound as a “phlegmatic, just-woke-up drawl.” Harlem World executive producer Deric “D-dot” Angelettie told Rolling Stone, that Mase “says things in such a manner where it’s real street but also real easy to understand. That’s a knack few MCs have.” Mase is also recognized for his unthreatening demeanor. While most rappers strove to be known as hard, “gangsta” street characters, Mase eagerly displayed his child-like charisma. Christgau called him the “cuddliest rapper ever,” and Mase told Spin ‘s Sia Michel that he wanted to be the “black Barney,” referring to the purple dinosaur and children’s television star.
1997’s Harlem World, aside from going quadruple platinum and debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, earned approval from critics. A smash hit, Christgau wrote that the record’s success may have even been a surprise to Mase and to Bad Boy. “Suddenly, he saw his debut album debut at No. 1, which was a given,” Christgau wrote, “and then maintain for a second week, which wasn’t.”
Once he achieved financial success, Mase sought to help those who weren’t as fortunate as he. The athletic director at Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina asked Mase’s former coach Richard Pagan to head up a girls basketball team at the school. Pagan picked some of the most talented players from Manhattan’s Riverside Church League and moved them to the North Carolina school. Mase footed the $10,000 tuition, books, and board for each of the nine girls. “Coach Pagan and Riverside Church were always there for us and providing us with positive alternatives to running the streets, that I felt it was my job to assist them in supporting the girls here,” Mase said in an interview with Jumoke R. Gamble of Newsday. “… I’m trying to create an opportunity for kids in New York to up their chances in life.” In exchange for Mase’s support, each girl got a “Harlem World” tattoo on one arm.
“Harlem World” is a concept that goes beyond the title of the rapper’s first solo release. It’s the name of the first group he put out on his new label, All Out Records, under Dupri’s So So Def label, in March of 1999. Mase’s twin sister Stason “Stase” Betha appeared on Harlem World’s first release, The Movement. Also, Harlem World means “sharing where I’m from and mapping out where I’m looking to go,” Mase said in Newsday.
In 1999, the month before the scheduled release of his second album on Bad Boy, Double Up, Mase announced that he would retire from music to follow God. “I’m grateful for all the blessings bestowed on me that were a result of my music career,” Mase said in a Bad Boy press release. “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.” He reportedly had plans to get involved helping inner-city kids, while also considering pursuing a psychology degree, preaching, and travel. To promote the record for Bad Boy, Mase agreed to speaking engagements only, and would not do any performances. He told USA Today, “I just felt like my work as a rapper is done.”
Harlem World, Bad Boy, 1997.
“Feel So Good,” Bad Boy, 1997.
“Lookin’ at Me” [US CD/LP Single], Bad Boy, 1998.
“Lookin’ at Me” [US CD5/Cassette Single], Bad Boy, 1998.
“What You Want [#1],” Bad Boy, 1998.
“What You Want [#2],” Bad Boy, 1998.
Double Up, Bad Boy, 1999.
“Lookin’ at Me” [Australia CD Single], BMG International, 1999.
“All I Ever Wanted,” BMG International, 1999.
Tribe Called Quest, Beats, Rhymes and Life, Jive, scratching, 1996.
Turner, Tina, Wildest Dreams, Virgin, drum programming, 1996.
One Twelve, 112, Bad Boy, rap, 1996.
Holiday, Tasha, Just the Way You Like It, MCA, rap, 1997.
Winans, Mario, Story of My Heart, Motown, rap, 1997.
McKnight, Brian, Anytime, Mercury, rap, 1997.
Carey, Mariah, Butterfly, Columbia, vocals, 1997.
Winans, Mario, Don’t Know, Motown, Rap, remixing, 1997.
Dupri, Jermaine, Jermaine Dupri Presents: Life in 1472, So So Def, 1998.
Bad Boy’s Greatest Hits, Bad Boy’s Greatest Hits, Bad Boy, rap, 1998.
Total, Kima, Keisha & Pam, Bad Boy, 1998.
South Park, Chef Aid: The South Park Album, Columbia, vocals, 1998.
Carey, Mariah, #1’s, Sony, backround vocals, 1998.
DJ Clue, Professional, Def Jam, rap, 1998.
Turner, Tina, Wildest Dreams [Bonus CD], EMI, drum programming, 1998.
Harlem World, Movement, Sony, producer, executive producer, 1999.
Jet, May 17, 1999, p. 22.
Newsday, January 14, 1999, p. A78.
Newsweek, June 21, 1999, p. 77.
Rolling Stone, January 22, 1998, p. 27; February 5, 1998, p. 20.
Village Voice, December 16, 1997, p. 95.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Bad Boy Entertainment publicity materials, 1999, and from a profile of Mase at http://www.ubl.com/ubl_artist.asp? artistid=24162&p_id=p+++276343
Within months after the release of his debut solo project, Mason Betha, Jr., better known as Mase to the hip-hop world, found himself at the top of rap music. Despite his almost overnight prosperity and release of a well-received second solo album, Mase shocked fans and those within the music industry when he announced his retirement from rap on April 20, 1999, for religious reasons. A young protege of Sean “Puffy” Combs, also known as Puff Daddy, Mase was recognized for his simplistic, yet profound lyrics that transcended musical barriers by achieving success on the hip-hop, rhythm and blues, pop, and Billboard charts as his debut solo album ascended to the number one spot. During his music career, he appeared on hits and worked with other stars such as Mariah Carey, Brian McKnight, the Notorious B.I.G., and Brandy. Although Mase, a devout Christian, was drawn to hip-hop music and displayed an obvious talent for writing rhymes, he stayed away from the gangster lifestyle and image that surrounds so many rap artists. Instead, Mase was a dimpled-faced, smiling “let’s-just-have-f un type” with an “infectious grin,” wrote Smokey D. Fontaine of the Source magazine, who devoted much of his time and money to help improve the lives of children in his old Harlem neighborhood. Even after he acquired the wealth, fame, and expensive accessories that accompany super stardom, he regularly wore a dingy rubber band around his wrist to remind him of his humble beginnings in the inner-city of New York.
Mase was born Mason Betha, Jr., in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27, 1978, along with his twin sister, Stase, who arrived five minutes after him. Shortly after his birth, Mase’s father, Mason “Father Lucky” Betha, left his mother,“P.K.,” alone to care for the couple’s six children, which included three boys and three girls. At around age five, Mase and his remaining family relocated to Harlem, a section of New York City in Manhattan. Like so many of his peers, young Mase was left without a father figure, and to make matters worse, he had watched his mother suffer from cancer. However, Mase’s mother felt determined to support her children to the best of her ability, and she wanted to keep her son away from the violence that pervaded the inner city neighborhood. As Mase told Fontaine,“I grew up on a block with ten guys. Now eight of them have been killed, and the other two are still in jail. … It’s like if half of the people in the world knew my real story, they would be like, ’How could he smile everyday?’” Some of these negative childhood experiences include carrying a friend to the hospital, but not reaching the emergency room in time to save his life, as well as living in a home that at times had no heat during the cold winter months. When the atmosphere of Harlem started to draw Mase into trouble and life-threatening situations when he reached his early teens, his mother decided to send him back to the South for awhile to live with relatives.
While living in his new neighborhood, Mase started attending church services on a regular basis. “Down there, I started going to church because I had to,” Mase related to Kris Ex in an interview for XXL magazine. “You know, down South, you have to go to church. I don’t care how hard you think you are, but any down South parents or guardians are like, ’You going to church.’ When I came back [to Harlem], I was like a different person and I guess all my good deeds, they finally coming back to play. I’m just finally reaping what I sow.” Even after young Mase returned to hismother and siblings back in Harlem, the lessons he learned about religion continued to stay with him and ultimately altered his career in rap music.
Despite his talent for rhyming with friends and schoolmates in Harlem, Mase did not always aspire to climb to the top of the hip-hop scene and music charts. During his high school and college days, Mase dreamed of one day playing for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and looked up to basketball superstar Michael Jordan, rather than to Puff Daddy. At Manhattan Central, his East Harlem high school, Mase stood out as his team’s leading point guard. “I was rapping on the bus going to basketball games, playing around,” Mase related to Ex. “I was more or less thinking, Tma go to the NBA: I’ma buy my mom that big house, that big car’ I used rap as ’Plan B.’”His chances of playing professional basketball
Born Mason Betha, Jr., August 27, 1978, in Jackson ville, FL; son of Mason “Father Lucky” and P.K. Betha; divorced c. 1978; siblings: two brothers and three sisters. Education: Attended SUNY Purchase on basketball scholarship.
Signed record deal with Sean “Puffy” Combs of Bad Boy Entertainment, 1997; released debut solo album, Harlem World, 1997; formed All Out Records and group Harlem World, hired Earvin “Magic” Johnson as new manager, released Mase Presents Harlem World: The Movement, 1999; announced retirement from rap, April 1999; released second solo album on Bad Boy, Double Up, June 1999.
grew dimmer when hefailed to make the cutfora Division I college because of his low SAT scores, and Mase found himself attending SUNY Purchase on a basketball scholarship.
Gradually realizing his slim chances of landing a spot on an NBA team, Mase spent more and more of his spare time making amateur demo tapes and performing in clubs with other rap hopefuls around his neighborhood. Some of his early rhyming partners included Lox, DMX, McGruff, Big L (now deceased), and a group called Children of the Corn, whose members included Mase (then known as “Murder” to the rap scene of Harlem), Killa”Cam’ron”Cam, and Bloodshed (also deceased). “I remember for years I used to invite my friends over to listen to his demos,” sister Stase told Fontaine. “They used to always think he was hot and wonder why this song or that song wasn’t on the radio.” Subsequently Mase, driven by the compliments of his fellow rappers and his family, decided to concentrate on a career in music. He hired a manager named Country, who encouraged the young hopeful to tone down his rhetoric, and produced a new demo tape that he hoped would catch the attention of a record company.
Confident about his new sound and direction, Mase traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend a music convention. Upon his arrival, he hoped to meet and impress producer and rap artist Jermaine Dupri of So So Def Records with his talent. However, Mase instead caught the eye of another famous record producer, Sean “Puffy” Combs, or Puff Daddy, who requested an impromptu performance from Mase. Combs had heard about Mase through rappers such as Lox, at that time a newly signed act for Puffy’s Bad Boy Entertainment label, and he offered Mase a record deal after hearing only 16 bars of the rapper’s music. Soon thereafter, Mase helped write and rap for two multi-platinum singles that brought his name, face, and voice into millions of American homes: Puffy’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” and the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” both released in 1997. Consequently, the immediate success of these crossover hits set the stage for Mase to release his first solo album, 1997’s Harlem World, which eventually went double-platinum and sold more than three million copies. That same year, Mase also appeared with Puff Daddy for two more collaborations, including Puffy’s album No Way Out, in addition to the single “I’ll be Missing You,” an anthem in memory of two fellow rappers (Tupac Shakurandthe Notorious B.I.G) who had died of gunshot wounds.
With his solo career in full swing, Mase then formed his own record company, All Out Records, through Dupri’s So So Def label, and signed his first new group called Harlem World. Although Mase still enjoyed working underthe guidance of Puffy and Bad Boy Entertainment, he felt thatother rap and hip-hop artists, including his sister, also a member of Harlem World, desired more creative control. Mase commented in an interview with Vibe magazine regarding his decision to make a deal with Dupri rather than Combs,“When I did All Out, I knew I could deal with Puff, but I wasn’t sure if my sister could deal with Puff. He’s a perfectionist. He stays on top of you, and everybody can’t take that. Once you put all of that in the same basket, then you’re forced to make the decision of money and family. And guess what? I’ma be with family.” Mase’s new group, which included loyal friends from Harlem in addition to sister Stase, released their first album entitled Mase Presents Harlem World: The Movementin 1999. Critics gave the release overall praise, and Vibe stated that Harlem World “is a well-produced posse album that bounces the sounds of the world’s most famous neighborhood off of seven young, energetic, and strikingly different MCs.”
In the meantime, Mase hired a new manager, basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, owner of Magic Johnson Music, and was already working on his second solo release for Bad Boy Entertainment. Double Up, also released in 1999, marked a creative shift for the rap artist. “My first album I gave the people what they wanted, but this time, it’s gonna be a whole different Mase,” he told Fontaine. “When I wrote Harlem World, I was on the road with Puff every day, and there wasn’t too much hardcore music I could make out of that scenario. But this album I was in the ’hood, and it’s going to be 100% me. No glitter, no nothing.” Despite his enthusiasm, though, several critics did not find his second album as promising as his solo debut. As Ex wrote in a review for Rolling Stone magazine,“In trying to distance himself from Puff Daddy, Mase has fallen well short of his former Svengali’s slick standards.” Nevertheless, many critics and fans found his tone and lyrics more reflective and honest.
However, before the album even hit record store shelves in June of 1999, Mase shocked the music industry as well as his faithful fans when he announced his retirement from rap on April 20, 1999. The official press announcement came from Magic Johnson Entertainment, stating “as of today Bad Boy multi-platinum artist Mase declares that he will be retiring from music to follow God, effective immediately,” as quoted by the MTV (Music Television) website. Disillusioned with the music industry, Mase himself declared to Newsweek, “It’s time for me to serve God in his way. I’ve always known that there was something else out there for me to do. Not just this stuff because, like I said before, this isn’t real and I gotta deal with reality. There’s no other way to stay true to the game—the real game of life.” Many observers speculated that the rapper would one day make a return to music, but Mase insisted that his decision was final. And while Mase knew that he would miss making his music, he said in an MTV interview,“it’s almost like you become unhappy with something regardless of what it pays you. I’m just a man of more morals.” In support of his new album, Mase planned to make appearances to sign autographs, but not actually perform.
As for Mase’s future, the retired rap star wanted to continue to give back to his community through basketball programs, helping children go to college, donating scholarship money, and sponsoring charity events. He told MTV,“I’ve been blessed with a lot and I’m just trying to make sure I give back the way I should.” Mase, who enjoys working with children, also contemplated returning to college to earn a psychology degree in order to counsel less fortunate youth. In addition to helping children within his old Harlem neighborhood, Mase appeared, along withother musicians such as rhythm and blues singers Deborah Cox and Kelly Price and rap artist Warren G, as a spokesperson for the National Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative, a campaign sponsored by the Magic Johnson Foundation.
“Lookin’ At Me,” Bad Boy/Arista, 1998.
Harlem World, Bad Boy/Arista, 1997.
(With others) Money Talks (soundtrack), BMG/Arista, 1997.
(With Others) Chef Aid: The South Park Album (Television Compilation), Sony/Columbia, 1998.
(With others) Bad Boy’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1, Bad Boy/Arista, 1999.
Double Up, Bad Boy/Arista, 1999.
(With others) Grammy Rap Nominees 1999, WEA/Elektra Entertainment, 1999.
Mase Presents Harlem World: The Movement, All Out Records/So So Def, 1999.
Business Wire, July 19, 1998.
Newsday, March 11, 1997; November 13, 1997; January 14, 1999.
Newsweek, June 21, 1999.
Rolling Stone, July 8-22, 1999.
Source, March, 1999.
USA Today, November 7, 1997.
Vibe, June/July, 1999.
CDNow website, http://www.cdnow.com (August 15, 1999).
MTV News Gallery, http://www.mtv.com (August 13, 1999).
RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (August 13, 1999).
XXL magazine interview, http://tmoney.simplenet.com/puffy (August 13, 1999).
Born: Mason Durrell Betha; Jacksonville, Florida, 27 August 1978
Best-selling album since 1990: Harlem World (1997)
Hit songs since 1990: "What You Want," "Lookin' At Me"
Like punch-drunk boxers, rap stars are forever threatening to quit the music business, only to stage triumphant returns before their public has had a chance to miss them. Mid-1990s sensation Ma$e released a pair of hit pop rap albums before deciding that the hip-hop lifestyle was not for him. The rapper turned his back on the riches and rewards of the music business in favor of the ministry, never to return.
Mason Durrell Betha was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1978 into a family of six children, including his twin sister, Stasson. When Betha was six years old, his family moved to Harlem. Fearing he would be lured into the dangerous world of the New York streets, Betha's parents sent him to live with his grandparents in Florida at age fifteen, though he returned a few years later to attend the State University of New York on a basketball scholarship. In addition to his expertise on the court, Betha was encouraged by friends to work on his already impressive rapping skills, which he practiced on the bus on the way to basketball games.
After a brief stint as part of a rap collective known as Children of the Corn—along with another future rap star, Killa Kam, also known as Cam'ron—Betha decided to go it alone following member Bloodshed's death in a car accident in 1996. Hoping to catch the ear of then rising producer Jermaine Dupri, Betha, calling himself "Murda Mase," traveled to Atlanta in 1996 to attend an urban music conference. Though Dupri was not charmed, another rising rap production star, Sean "Puff Daddy" (later "P. Diddy") Combs of Bad Boy Records, was. Combs approached Betha after hearing one of the rapper's demo tapes and offered him a contract.
Before releasing his debut, Harlem World (1997), Ma$e was already a household name thanks to his star-making cameos on hit singles by Puff Daddy ("Can't Nobody Hold Me Down"), Brian McKnight ("You Should Hold Me"), Mariah Carey ("Honey"), 112 ("Only You"), and Bad Boy's biggest star, Notorious B.I.G. ("Mo Money, Mo Problems"). His combination of laid-back, monotone rapping style and humble, dimple-cheeked good looks were at odds with the Bad Boy ethos of shiny suits, conspicuous wads of cash, flashy cars, and copious amounts of expensive champagne. Ma$e, however, eagerly embraced the luxurious lifestyle.
Ma$e joined Puff Daddy on MTV's August 1997 Video Music Awards alongside former Police singer Sting in a tribute to their recently murdered comrade, B.I.G. (born Christopher Wallace). Harlem World, featuring guest rapping from Jermaine Dupri, Busta Rhymes, Lil' Kim, Black Rob, and Puff Daddy, was released two months later, rocketing to the number one slot on the Billboard charts, selling more than 4 million copies.
With a slightly lisping delivery described by some critics as "narcoleptic," Ma$e's debut revels in a hedonistic lifestyle of women, money, and parties, polished to a high sheen by the trademark Bad Boy style, a combination of familiar song samples, uplifting rhythms, and slick, over-the-top music videos. The album includes the hits "Feel So Good" (which samples Kool and the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging") and "Lookin' at Me." Puff Daddy and Ma$e launched a highly successful world tour in support of the album in 1997.
Quitting at the Top of His Game
After his debut's success, Ma$e founded his own label, All Out Records, which debuted with the group Harlem World, featuring his sister, Stasson (also known as Baby Stase). Harlem World's debut, The Movement, trafficked in the same themes as Ma$e's solo work (sex, guns, and money), with tracks that aimed for mainstream, pop-oriented tastes.
Spot Light: Ma$e Joins the Ministry
Rappers retire almost as often as some legendary basketball players, but when Ma$e said he was quitting the rap game for the ministry, few doubted him. In a statement given in April 1999, two months before the release of his second album, Double Up, the rapper said his retirement was "effective immediately" and that he would only do spoken word engagements to promote the album. "It takes a great person to walk away from money," Ma$e told MTV News shortly after the announcement. "It takes a courageous person. It takes a person that you've never encountered. And everybody always questions what's real. 'What's real about Ma$e?' This is the realest thing you ever seen." Betha went on to found Saving a Nation of Endangered Ministries (SANE), in Atlanta in late 1999 and work toward a degree in mathematics at Clark Atlanta University. He was the featured speaker on SANE's summer 2000 nationwide crusade, Hell Is Not Full. That same year, Betha told a Detroit News reporter that one of the reasons he quit the music business was because of a vision he had of leading millions of people into hell with his music.
Shortly before the release of his second album, Double Up (1999), Ma$e said in several interviews that he planned to revive his more hardcore Murda Ma$e alter ego as an antidote to the mainstream "jiggy" style of rap he had pursued with Bad Boy, which placed emphasis on feel-good lyricism and endless materialistic boasting over gritty street reportage.
By the time Double Up was released in June 1999, Ma$e's career was already over thanks to his retirement. Either because it did not blaze any new musical trails or because the rapper was unwilling to promote it with performances, or a combination of the two, Double Up failed to reach its predecessor's sales success.
Ma$e burned brightly but quickly on the rap scene in the late 1990s. His flashy style of rapping quickly lost favor, but he will be forever remembered not only for his rapid ascent to fame, but for an even rarer feat: giving up on music before it gave up on him.
Harlem World (Bad Boy, 1997); Double Up (Bad Boy, 1999). With Harlem World: The Movement (Sony, 1999).