Thursday, October 13, 2016

Revisiting Mase's "Harlem World"

The four vieos above above have significance, in that they were my first exposures to Ma$e. Of course, I've always thought DMX's "Niggaz Done Started Something" was (and still is) dope as hell;, Puff's "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" brings back many memories because it came out during my 7th grade year in middle school
, plus the two freestyles with DJ Clue and Funkmaster Flex were largely good. From there, I found myself taking a liking to Mase (this will be the spelling moving forward in this revisit), and after additional guest appearances, I anticipated his solo debut, "Harlem World." Before we go back to 1997 with this revisit, I gotta throw in a story for you all.

A couple of weeks after "Harlem World" dropped, my mom and I went to Cloverleaf Mall in Richmond, VA, can't recall what the occasion was. Now, even my mom was a Mase fan at this point and she knew how much I wanted this album. As it turned out, I was in the "Rap" section of the CDs in Wherehouse Music, when my mom comes up to me and shows me the "Harlem World" cassette, buying it in the process with a smile on her face. Oh man I was NOT happy and when we got in the car, she put it in the cassette deck (I had my portable CD player on blast somewhat to drown out the music because I didn't want to hear it before I had my own copy). All turned out to be well after the fact because this album, along with Killarmy's "Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars" ended up being Christmas gifts for me. Ah, the memories.

And with all this said, let's go back to "Harlem World!"

Release date: October 28, 1997, the same day as Firm's "The Album."

All songs produced by Puff Daddy & The Hitmen

1. "Puff's Intro"
Produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs
Backed by the sampling of Issac Hayes' "Joy" (trust me, there's a lot of sampling on this album, which wasn't new to Bad Boy at this point), Puff does the introduction. Much credit here because Puff's intro really makes Mase and the album sound like big deals. From here, we head right into.....

2. "Do You Wanna Get $?"
Featuring Kelly Price
Produced by Deric "D-dot" Angelettie and Ron "AMEN-RA" Lawrence

"Money, hoes and clothes the shit that I'm best at/But I'm a bad boy so you gotta expect that"

Kelly Price, who was on the hook, wasn't credited for some reason, however, Puff was credited even though he did little to nothing on this song. This was your typical Bad Boy song as it related to "gettin' money," again, nothing new but the song itself was good, equipped with a nice sample of Peter Brown's "Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me." Just in case you didn't know, Mase made his intentions clear with the following:

"See the moral of the story is/I'm not here to replace Notorious (BIG)/I'm just a young cat tryin' to do his thing/Harlem World style, pursue my dream"

*3 out of 5*

3. "Take What's Yours"
Featuring DMX
Produced by Nashiem Myrick and Carlos "Six July" Broady

"Niggas wanna shout, I'm gon make noise
Niggas run they mouth, I'm gon break jaws
Mase is comin' out, we gon take yours
Harlem World, Uptown baby, we make wars!"

I recall REALLY liking this one when I first bumped it and even with the DMX led hook, it made me want to hear more from X as well (more on that later). This is also one of the few times on the album you'll find an aggressive side of Mase and he made it work in his own way.
*4 out of 5*

4. "Mad Rapper (Interlude)"
The adventures of the Mad Rapper continues, with the "Mad Producer" coming on the set.

5. "Will They Die 4 You?"
Featuring Puff Daddy and Lil' Kim
Produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs and Ron "AMEN-RA" Lawrence

My cousin Andre LOVED this joint back in the day, I mean not only did he have it on repeat at times, but he would go crazy at how dope the beat was. Speaking of which, the BT Express sampling, courtesy of "Everything Good To You," actually does predate DMX's classic "Get At Me Dog" by a few months. This song covers another topic that's no stranger on a Bad Boy album: the song where asking that obvious, "will you did for me" question is the main theme. Nostalgic wise, this is a "5 out of 5," but overall it gets a respectable "4 out of 5."

6. "Lookin' At Me"
Featuring Puff Daddy
Produced by The Neptunes

"I was Murda, P. Diddy made me pretty"

My friend Marcellous actually singled out this particular line several years ago when we were talking about Mase. If you ever wondered why Mase changed things up, so to speak, when he signed with Bad Boy, especially when you factor in his pre-Bad Boy material, the line above confirms it all. And on a historical note, this was one of the earliest productions from the Neptunes on their road to being one of the most sought after production duos in music. As for this song, it's decent, but nothing we haven't heard before, just another song about the undesired attention from haters and the like.
*3 out of 5*

7. "White Girl (Interlude)"
Not much to say about this interlude, other than it somehow leads us into the next song.

8. "Love U So"
Featuring Billy Lawrence
Produced by Stevie J.

This was not a bad song, it's mostly for the ladies, but outside of that, it does blatantly jack Teena Marie's "Square Biz," ironically like Firm's "Firm Biz," which was probably the worst of the two if you can believe that. Guest Billy Lawrence was sort of making a name for herself at this point, but just when it seemed like she was beginning to catch on, she quickly faded from the scene. Let's move on.
*2 out of 5*

9. "The Player Way"
Featuring Eightball & MJG
Produced by Mo-Suave

Bad Boy and Suave House link up for this dope song. You would think this would be a clash of styles so to speak, but Mase vibed well with Eightball and MJG. Speaking of the latter, they bring their dose of Southern fried funk to this one, making it the smoothest song on this album.
*4 out of 5*

10. "Hater (Interlude)"
You can look at the title of this interlude and immediately know what territory it covers.

11. "Niggaz Wanna Act"
Featuring Busta Rhymes
Produced by Grease and Richard "Younglord" Frierson

Mase returns to the aggressive sound (check the hook, for example) and with Busta, also making noise at this time with his sophomore album, "When Disaster Strikes," on said hook, this was a winner. Speaking of Busta, while Mase's third verse was not bad, when I listen to this beat, I (still) wish Busta would've closed it with a verse, because I swear he would've killed it and likely stole the show in the process.
*4 out of 5*

12. "Feel So Good"
Additional Vocals by Kelly Price (not sure why she wasn't credited)
Produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs and Deric "D-dot" Angelettie

Considering the very nature of this song, the cover of this single was, well, odd to say the least, but the impact this song had in late '97 going into '98 was undeniable. It successfully, in my view, samples a classic in the form of Kool & The Gang's "Hollywood Swinging" and it was accompanied by one of the flashiest videos you'll ever see (I wonder how all involved feels looking back almost 20 years later when they see this video, especially The LOX). In addition to the song being a chart topping success, peaking at #5 on the "Billboard Hot 100" and "Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs" charts, respectively, and #1 on the "Hot Rap Singles" chart (along with a Platinum certification on January 7, 1998), this was a MAJOR hit with the ladies, which made up a good portion of his fanbase obviously. Funny story: During my 8th grade year at Peabody Middle School, we had some type of dance/gathering, and when this song came on, the reaction from the girls was SO loud you would've thought Mase had actually entered the gym. Furthermore, when the "do Mase got the ladies" part hit, the participation from the girls was defeaning. Note to aspiring artists: If you can capture the attention of the ladies like that, build on it rather than exploit it, if that makes sense. Even though the ladies loved this one a lot, it wasn't crazy to see the fellas rocking to this too, I know I did. Overall, as a song, the nostalgia guarantees it a "5 out of 5", as a song it's "4 out of 5," so in this case I'm splitting it with a "4.5 out of 5."

13. "What You Want"
Featuring Total
Produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs and Nashiem Myrick

Speaking of the ladies, this was another one catering to them in the strongest form, complete with the Total led hook. I also liked how they sampled the late Curtis Mayfield's "Right On For The Darkness." Decent.
*3 out of 5*

14. "Phone Conversation (Interlude)"
This "conversation" is something else. Mase is on the phone with two of his ladies, however, as the conversation continues, he clicks over..... only to call one of the ladies by the wrong name, plus he lied to her in the process. BAD mistake man, plus his excuse was LAME. Note to the fellas: I'm NOT speaking from experience, but don't EVER, EVER call your lady another woman's name. You're BEGGING for trouble.

15. "Cheat On You"
Featuring Jay-Z, Lil' Cease and 112 (the latter weren't credited)
Produced by Jermaine Dupri

This song, which samples Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and covers another topic we have all heard before, is relatively an afterthought outside of the then largely unknown issues with Mase and Jay-Z, which would come to the forefront months after this album dropped. Now, I didn't touch on this during the "Niggaz Wanna Act" song, but towards the end of the second verse, Mase said, "don't really fuck wit Dame, but I still copped Jigga." Apparently Mase didn't like Damon Dash, one of the heads of Roc-A-Fella Records and also from Harlem, which I didn't know at the time, so the fact that Jay shows up on this album had to have been due to Jay's own relationship with Puff. Continuing on, the beef between Mase and Jay is believed to have actually started over a lady named Adorn, if you can believe that, and it was claimed she was on one of the skits on this album (not sure which one). Mase found himself throwing a few shots at Jay on 112's "Love Me," with the following:

"All we hear is platinum that and platinum this/Platinum whips, nobody got no platinum hits"

Jay, never the one to bite his tongue, clapped back at Mase on "Ride Or Die" from the "Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life" album. He alleged that Mase was screwed (or "fucked" as Jay put it), when it came to his publishing (apparently true), claimed "he was the weakest nigga out the crew" (well, he wasn't weak, but in terms of LOX and Black Rob, he was below them), he made more money from this "Cheat On You" guest appearance than Mase did on his own album (probably a stretch, but a shot nonetheless) and said he would "always be #2" (Puff was the star of Bad Boy when Biggie passed, no denying that, making Mase #2 by default more than anything else). Man, and you thought his "Takeover" classic was vicious. You can say Mase clearly wasn't the same after this and I'll cover that when we get to the end of this revisit. 

Oh yeah,*3 out of 5* for "Cheat On You."

16. "24 Hours To Live"
Featuring The LOX, Black Rob and DMX
Produced by Deric "D-dot" Angelettie, Nasheim Myrick and Carlos "Six July" Broady

Without a doubt, this is the best song on the album, SUCH dopeness from all involved, along with a NICE sample courtesy of Frankie Brew's "Moses Theme" (and "Magic Wanda"). Simply put, this is an apply titled song which finds all 6 men talking about what they would do if they had 24 hours to live and each account is different yet VERY to the point. I remember really going crazy about Black Rob's verse (ask my long time friend Shaun) and after DMX's verse, that really made me anticipate more material from him, which we would get in spades when '98 arrived. The accompanying video was tight too, and all things considered, this is another winner, a hidden, classic gem.
*5 out of 5*

17. "I Need To Be"
Featuring Monifah
Produced by Deric "D-dot" Angelettie and Carl "Chucky" Thompson

I only played this song ONCE when I first got this album. Maybe my 13 year old ears at the time wasn't quite ready for it or whatever, but I remember not caring for it at all so it was constantly skipped. The only notable part of this song is Mase making it clear to be careful when it came to underaged girls, for obvious reasons, however, he half-heartedly touches on talking a girl into losing her virginity in the first verse; never mind that something like this should be treated with respect and not as "just another thing," and coming with, uh, demands from his women that takes up the third verse. At 32, I still don't care for this one.
*1.5 out of 5*

18. "Watch Your Back (Interlude)"

19. "Wanna Hurt Mase?"
Produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs and Ron "AMEN-RA" Lawrence

This song covers the same topics as "Lookin' At Me" and even "Do You Wanna Get $" to a small extent. Mase ponders the question: why you wanna hurt him? Is it the success? The money? The women? A combination of all of those things plus more? Either way, Mase does end the third verse which sums up this song in a nutshell:

"I'm too pretty to let you niggas shank me/And frankly, know you probably hate me cause you ain't me"

*4 out of 5*

20. "Jealous Guy"
Featuring Puff Daddy and 112
Produced by Sean "Puffy" Combs and J-Dub

Back in the day, a minute and some change into this song, I stopped it because I simply couldn't take it. They did NO justice to New Edition's "Jealous Girl;" this sample wasn't credited in the album insert for some reason, plus who told Mase he could sing for God's sake. Puff did no better with his off-beat rambling (I will not call that mess singing and I got love for Puff). Simply put, this was a waste of time, an anti-climatic ending to this album of the first degree and clocking it at 6:24, it was TOO long.
*NO rating*

So, almost 20 years after its initial release, does it hold up? Well, in certain ways it does, especially with the ever present nostalgia on my end. The good stuff here is worth the time, but the bad, not so much; "Jealous Guy" shouldn't have been made let alone make the final cut and I could've done without "Love U So." In late 1997, Bad Boy was still dominating the scene, with a very heavy presence on radio and TV, and keep in mind, hit songs from Biggie's "Life After Death" and Puff's "No Way Out" were still in rotation at this point, and when you add in Mase's "Feel So Good," that's remarkable instead of it being an over-saturation of the marketplace. The aforementioned "Feel So Good," Mase's charisma and the Bad Boy name sold this album and it was a success. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard Pop and R&B charts, moved 270,000 units in its first week, going Quadruple Platinum (4X Platinum) AND was nominated at the 41st Grammy Awards for "Best Rap Album," losing to..... Jay-Z's "Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life" (that couldn't have sat well with Mase). Overall, this was a good album, definitely a solid 3.5 star one, coming with a recommendation to check out; avoid "Jealous Guy" like the plague though. 

Oh, I'm not done here. Let's take an impromptu look at what Mase did "post-Harlem World."

1998 was an up and down year for Mase, mainly because of what was discussed during "Cheat On You." I feel the only notable thing he was involved in was the nice remix to "Been Around The World" with Puff and Carl Thomas, a single I brought from "Willie's Records, Tapes, and CDs" on Saturday, April 4, 1998 along with Mystikal's "Unpredictable."

 That same year, he attempted to start his own label, "All Out Records," with the first and only act on the label being, what else, "Harlem World," which consisted of Mase's sister Baby Stase, Loon, who would later sign with Bad Boy, Cardan, Blinky Blink, Meeno and Huddy.

This was the first and only album released on the All Out label on March 9, 1999 and with no real hit singles (or promotion) to speak of, it peaked at #11 on the "Billboard 200" chart and #5 on the "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums" chart, becoming Certified Gold a month later. Even with the small bit of success, that was essentially it for the group and the label itself. As mentioned, Loon would later sign with Bad Boy, I think Cardan made a few more appearances, largely on mixtapes, and the others were never heard from again pretty much. Also, another thing about this album, it had a decent array of guests (Nas, Drag-On, and Mase himself), but take a look at the list of producers, some unknown at the time:

Just Blaze
Kanye West
The Neptunes
The Hitmen
Dame Grease
Jermaine Dupri

Holy shit this is a HELL of a lineup, and even though I've never heard this album, any feedback I came across really made you feel that it was not worth your time in any form. It's no surprise that it's out of print and will it be subject to a review? I doubt it.

This was Mase's sophomore album, released on June 15, 1999, only thing was, it was supposed to be his last. Probably feeling that his career was starting to go nowhere, he somewhat out of the blue announced his retirement from hip hop to become a Pastor, which is another story for another day. I never checked out this album, but I remember being VERY close to (blind) buying it in the summer of '99 from Target. There was only one single to speak of and that was the Blackstreet assisted "Get Ready." I've seen that video once and I don't think Mase's heart was even in that. And check this out, Mase's name was still out there to a point where it moved 107,000 units in its first week, hit #11 on the charts AND managed to go Certified Gold a month after its release. Wow. I MIGHT check this out, but don't bet on it.

To the shock of roughly no one in 2004, Mase returned to the scene with his first album in 5 years (his 3rd). I will say that the songs "Welcome Back" and the P. Diddy featured "Breathe, Stretch, Shake" made a little noise on the radio, but overall, reaction to his return was more like "why," especially from people I knew, as opposed to "we're happy to see you." This is another album I never bothered with, however, check this out: the album debuted at #4 on the charts, moved 188,000 units in its first week and later hit Certified Gold with 559,000 in sales. Wow (again), I'll say this for him, he definitely had his fans. After this, he had a VERY unnotable stint with G-Unit, where he appeared in their videos, on magazine covers, pictures, you name it, but nothing ever came from it.

Present day 2016, I'm not sure what the future holds for Mase, but I will say thank you for "Harlem World" as well as his other contributions that led up to this debut.

No comments:

Post a Comment