A Throwback to Ma$e's Harlem World
Updated: Jun 1
Who remembers the era of the shiny suits and the 80s hits that were sampled in hip-hop in the late 90s? After the death of legendary rappers Tupac Shakur in 1996 and The Notorious B.I.G. in 1997, hip-hip was mourning and hip-hop needed a change. On the west coast, Death Row records was collapsing due to the departure of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, and the death of Tupac, and on the east coast Nas was a bit MIA, Jay-Z was still finding his way up. Gangsta Rap was too much the hip-hop due to the violence and deaths. Diddy who just lost his best artist and his best friend, felt he lost everything, but we all know Diddy, he can't stop, and he won't stop. Another artist from his label Bad Boy Records called Ma$e was called to take action to be the next upcoming rapper. From his birth given name, Mason Durell Betha was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and raised in Harlem, New York. He started his rap career as Murda Mase with his childhood friend Cam'ron as Killa Cam. Together they formed the group Children of The Corn with other Harlem rappers like Big L, Herb McGruff, and Bloodshed. The group was managed by Damon Dash at the time but in 1996, Mase was introduced to The Notorious B.I.G.'s road manager who took Mase to Atlanta where he met Jermaine Dupri and Puff Daddy. After rapping for Diddy, Murda Mase was signed to Bad Boy Records and Diddy shortened Murda Mase to only Ma$e with a dollar sign for the S to be a better marketable rapper. Ma$e was later featured on 112's "Only You" remix featuring him and Biggie, he did two hit joints with Diddy called "Around The World" and "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Mo Money, Mo Problems" with Diddy. After being featured on many Bad Boy hit records and the tragic death of The Notorious B.I.G., it was time for Ma$e to release his first album called Harlem World which was dropped under Bad Boy Records and Arista on October 28th, 1997. The album features, Puff Daddy, DMX, The Lox, 112, Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Total, Pharrell Williams, Lil' Kim, and many more. I always liked Ma$e when I was a kid, but I never had a chance to listen to his whole discography, except for his hits which is the reason I decided to pick Harlem World for this throwback review.
Harlem World starts with an introduction called "Puff's Intro" with Puffy Daddy introducing us to the rapper Ma$e and his Harlem World on this smooth and relaxing sample from the late Isaac Haye's "Joy". The song "Do You Wanna Get $" features Kelis and Diddy and it starts the album with a funky and dancing vibe while Ma$e raps about when he was nothing, people would laugh and not taking him seriously as a rapper but now that he is rocking with Diddy, the cards on the table has been reversed. With the feature of DMX on "Take What's Yours", we still have a smooth vibe but nothing to dance on. Ma$e lyrical wordplay and flow is better in this song than the previous one. DMX is only on the hook in the song which is okay because DMX's way of rapping is too energetic for the instrumental and the vibe of the song. Then we have a classic interlude from The Madd Rapper character which also had interludes on The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death. "Will They Die For You?" features Diddy and Lil' Kim with another dancing and funky vibe on the instrumental which sampled B.T. Express' "Everything Good to You (Ain't Always Good for You)". The song starts with a verse from Puffy, then Ma$e but in my opinion, I feel that Lil' Kim had the best verse on the last one because she had better lyrics and she brings that B.I.G. vibe with her flow.
The song and one of the singles from the album, "Lookin' at Me" is produced by The Neptunes and features Diddy and Pharrell Williams. The song has a slow tempo and you can recognize The Neptunes signature sound in this one. Ma$e did a good job with his flow to match it with the slow tempo of the song and his wordplays on this one is the best from the album so far, but we still have 14 more songs to go. After we have an interlude called "White Girl" where Ma$e is in a conversation with two of his fans who are white girls. Then we have another dancing type of song called "Love U So" featuring Billy Lawrence where the song samples the late and lovely Teena Marie's "Square Biz" and Rose Royce's "Ooh Boy". The song "The Player Way" features Diddy and the legendary Memphis duo 8Ball & MJG and I really enjoyed this song with the sick flows of all 3 rappers on this nice instrumental, and who would have known later on that 8Ball & MJG would sign to Diddy's Bad Boy Records with 2 albums released under the label. The song is followed by an interlude called "Hater".
Halfway through the album, we had a funky hip-hop vibe that made you wanted to dance a little bit. With the song "Niggaz Wanna Act" featuring Busta Rhymes, the vibe turns a bit gangsta with Ma$e old persona as Murda Mase, which makes this song one the first that gave the album a hardcore vibe. The gangsta vibe did not last long as we're at Ma$e biggest hit and single "Feels So Good" featuring Puff Daddy and Kelis on the hook. The song samples "Hollywood Swinging" from Kool & The Gang and I don't care if you're not into jingling and dancing hip-hop songs, you couldn't deny that this song was off the hook. Another hit single from Ma$e off Harlem World is the song "What You Want" featuring Total. This is where Ma$e raps about liking a girl he's down with it. In the song, he declares how he doesn't care about being lovey-dovey and caring about her, having fun with her but towards the end of the song he claims that no matter what happens between them, Ma$e wants to see this girl happy even if she doesn't end up with him. "Phone Conversation" is an interlude where Ma$e is having conversations with multiple women until he messes up one of the girl's names with another, in other words, Ma$e played himself. Speaking about talking to multiple girls at the same time, the following song which features Jay-Z, Lil' Cease and 112 called "Cheat On You" is where all the artists in this song are rapping about girls cheating on their men with them.
"24 Hours To Live" is the most gangsta type of song on the album where it features The Lox, Black Rob and DMX where all rappers explain what will they do if they had 24 hours to live and let me say with what the rappers had to say, they're pretty hardcore. Then we have a song with a slow tempo called "I Need To Be" featuring Monifah where Ma$e raps about sleeping around with other women, and the vibe of the song and Ma$e slow flow made the song boring for me and it's 5 minutes long! Next up is an interlude called "Watch Your Back" where a man is talking with Ma$e on the phone by warning him to leave his girlfriend alone or there will some problems in the streets. It's hard to be famous when you have all the girls around you and men hate you, the Harlem World of Ma$e. Ma$e is back with his Murda Mase rapping persona on the song "Wanna Hurt Me" where he raps about haters that envy him and that wants to hurt him, and his flow is better on this song than on the previous one. The album finishes with the song "Jealous Guy" featuring 112 and Puff Daddy, where the Bad Boy team decided to do a remake of New Edition's "Jealous Girl". The only good thing about this song was 112's singing because they know how to sing, but I don't know why Ma$e and Diddy decided to do the same because their singing was horrible and it did not make me take this song seriously.
With themes such as fame, women, sex, money, jealousy, and envy, Ma$e delivered a fun album to listen to. Ma$e is no Notorious B.I.G. but it was nice to see a switch in hip-hop from gangsta rap to jingling, funky and dancing type of vibe. With his style of rapping, Ma$e was no lyrical beast or storyteller like Biggie, Jay-Z, Ice Cube, or Scarface but what he and Diddy did in 1997 was a good change in hip-hop and will forever be remembered. The album may have some corny songs but if you want to have the Isaac Hayes version of hip-hop, Ma$e's Harlem World is a must-listen.