He was Murda, then Puff made him pretty, and after aligning with the Bad Boy family, Mason “Ma$e” Betha got the whole world jiggy.
With rhymes smooth as butter soft leather (or Bugsy) and a self-effacing flow that seeped like syrup, the Harlemite shot out the Bad Boy cannon and went around the world (uh huh, uh huh), crushing not just linen, but the charts, tours, and the kind of ceilings that allowed his influence to flourish through subsequent generations.
Arriving as an anomaly during a time when rap was slowly transitioning away from the mafioso trend, Bad Boy's self-proclaimed "Goodfella fly guy, sometime wise guy" rode shotgun alongside fellow Harlem go-getter Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs and proceeded to introduce a fresh new style and sound to rap. This resounding sound made the "East, West and every state, bury the hate," flipping hits "from the '80s" and rearranging them enough to sound so crazy.
To think, Ma$e's ascent is such an unsung topic of conversation. "See the moral of the story is, I'm not here to replace Notorious," he raps on his 1997 debut for the song "Do You Wanna Get $." Signed to the label a year prior, he made a name for himself on several records alongside Bad Boy's titan The Notorious B.I.G., including 112's "Only You," rare radio freestyles, and singles like "Mo Money, Mo Problems." But on March 1997, things quickly changed following the untimely passing of B.I.G. With the difficult task of picking up where B.I.G. took things before, the pressure was through the roof for M-A-Dolla Sign-E. Just think about what went through the minds of the 1993-1994 Chicago Bulls roster after Michael Jordan abruptly left, albeit via retirement and plans for a try at baseball. It was trying time. However, as the perennial Puff Daddy mantra goes: "We won't stop."
So, that message came to life and resulted in the sales-shattering entry of 1997's No Way Out, also a Grammy Award-winning opus, and its back-to-back chart-topping singles "Can't Hold Me Down" and "Been Around the World," both of which became Ma$e's coming out party. Fun fact: A majority of the records on the project were written by Ma$e before joining the label. "My verses on Puff’s first few singles from No Way Out were records I wrote in that one-bedroom apartment in Harlem before I even got to the label," he told GQ in 2014. "I gave them to Puff, because he was the one with the hot hand." To date, the album has sold over seven million copies in the U.S. and certified seven-times platinum by the RIAA.
The godfather of hip-hop's "jiggy" era, Ma$e dropped three albums that all have landed in the Top 5 of Billboard's Rap & R&B Album charts, sold more than 4 million copies of his chart-topping 1997 debut Harlem World, achieved three No. 1's on the Hot 100 and five Top 10 hits on the Rap Chart, which included three
hit timeless records: "Feel So Good," "Lookin At Me," and "What You Want."
In addition, every album released from 1997's Harlem World to 2004's Welcome Back, as well as the 1999 Harlem World group album, have all earned RIAA honors. With all these feats, you get a clear sense of why he started off B.I.G.'s "Mo Money, Mo Problems" with the line: "Now, who's hot, who not?" Since then, that scoreboard was filled with nothing but highlights.
If the numbers aren't enough, than take the fact that he's been able to call everyone from The Notorious B.I.G. to Jay Z, Kanye West and Drake as peers at different points in the same career. He even had the Earvin "Magic" Johnson serving as his manager. Not bad for a guy sporting a No. 2 on the back of his jersey.
Within every era of rap since the late '90s, Ma$e has etched his name in the memory books, whether it be his assistance on tracks with partners-in-rhyme DMX, LOX and Cam'Ron on posse cuts like "24 Hours To Live" and underground singles like "Horses & Carriage"; R&B divas like Mariah Carey ("Honey"), Brandy ("Top of the World") and Mya ("Take Me There"); cultural influencers like Kanye West ("Jesus Walks" [Remix]"); new leaders like Pusha T ("Higher"), Wale ("Slight Work"), Rick Ross ("Supreme"), and the list goes on.
Ma$e, ain't nothing change but the limp.
One B.I.G. Moment: With a buzz big enough to sell a blank disc, Ma$e dropped his debut Harlem World in 1997 and saw it sell over four million copies. The album topped the Billboard 200 charts for two weeks and by the end of the year was recognized as one of the Best-Selling Records of 1997. At the end of that he, his name was attached to five of the biggest singles of the year, which included "Feel So Good," "Mo Money, Mo Problems," "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down," "Been Around the World" and Brian McKnight's "You Should Be Mine."