The Ma$e Outside of ’97: A Retrospective

The late ’90s were a simpler time. In a world of increasing disarray and uncertainty, there’s an increasing nostalgia for a world where every question had an answer. Do Mase got the ladies? Yeah, yeah. Do Puff drive Mercedes? Yeah, yeah. Take hits from the ’80s? Yeah, yeah. But do it sound so crazy? Yeah, yeah. It was all right there in front of us. I thought they told you that they don’t stop.

This Saturday, Ma$e plays The Observatory in Santa Ana. While his name is sure to conjure up images of the shiniest suits imaginable, all the hits from his 1997 debut Harlem World have kind of eclipsed everything he did outside of that one big year. It’s easy to forget how prolific and influential Ma$e was, most notably Kanye West frequently referring to him as his favorite rapper of all time. Revisiting his records now, it’s pretty clearly where Yeezy got his style from.

But Ma$e work speaks for itself. So, while you’re probably playing your cassette single (cassingle?) of “Feel So Good” repeatedly in anticipation for this weekend’s show, we’re dropping in a few other Ma$e gems to keep your cypher complete.

Children of the Corn – “Freestyle” 1994
Before he was a Bad Boy, Ma$e was a child of the corn. Yes, unknowing future supergroup Children of the Corn was a Harlem perfect storm of the region’s top talent. Consisting of Murda Mase, Big L, and Cam’Ron (as well as Digga and Bloodshed), it’s pretty amazing three different important careers were all part of the same group that never got much momentum as a unit.

Harlem World – “I Like It” 1999
At the music industry’s zenith, every unit-moving rapper was given side-projects with which to move more units. Ma$e formed a group, Harlem World, that included Blinky Blink from the Rugrats movie single “Take Me There,” as well as a few others including his sister Baby Stace. Their first single, “I Like It,” produced by a then-unknown Just Blaze, had a music video that had wheelbarrows full of cash dumped into it to make it a success. With cameos from Paula Jai Parker, Traci Bingham and Tia and Tamera Mowry, as well as indoor fireworks, reluctant choreography, elaborate costuming and more, it’s still amazing it exists.

Ma$e featuring Blackstreet – “Get Ready” 1999
The follow-up to Harlem World, Ma$e sophomore album Double Up is known as one of the few underperforming releases of 1999. While the Bad Boy formula for success seems to still be there, its shortcomings are most likely the result of Ma$e going through a spiritual crisis around the time of the album’s release, seeing him turning to the Lord and abandoning the Bad Boy world. Still, a “Get Ready” video was completed and put into rotation.

Ma$e – “Breathe, Stretch, Shake” 2004
The last many probably heard of Ma$e was the Welcome Back, Kotter sampling comeback track “Welcome Back.” That album’s second single “Breathe, Stretch, Shake” is an even more bizarre banger. Produced by Rick Rock, it’s basically Ma$e over a hyphy beat with Diddy inappropriately screaming over it. There’s just enough out-of-place about the track to make it work.

Ma$e – “Got My Nine” 2007
So, because of how weird the Aughts were, Ma$e somehow briefly wound up on G-Unit. Was he signed as part of 50 Cent’s feud with Cam’Ron? Was it 50 genuinely trying to reinvest in an experienced established but still WTF talent? Who knows? It resulted in the blasphemously covered Crucified 4 the Hood mixtape. Really a strange return for the former preacher, but hey, humans are complex creatures and DJ Whoo Kid put Ma$e over Three-6 Mafia’s “Stay Fly” for a really strange track.

Ma$e – “When NY Was NY” 2015
Last year, Ma$e released another comeback single “When NY Was NY.” Curiously using the “California Love” beat, it’s the most energized Ma$e has sounded, probably ever. His trademark relaxed-flow is exchanged for a galvanized assault with brutally street lyrics. If Ma$e was trying to channel the mid ’90s hood New York merciless street sound, mission accomplished. It’s crazy this was recorded last year. Now with Bad Boy reunions in full effect, perhaps it’s finally time for a proper Ma$e comeback.

Ma$e performs this Saturday at the Observatory.  $10, 8 p.m. For full details, click here.

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