August 19, 2009

Ma$e - Harlem World (October 28, 1997)


I fear I may have lost you two in putting that picture up. Stay with me here; I promise I have a point.

Mason Betha grew up in Harlem, which should become obvious when you read the title of his debut album, Harlem World. However, prior to being the sidekick to the face of the Shiny Suit Era, Murda Mase was one of five rappers in the little-known-outside-of-Blogland crew known as Children Of The Corn, which was so obviously not named after the movie based on the Stephen King short story. ("Outlander!") He shared mic duties with the late Big L, Herb McGruff, Cam'Ron (known back then as Killa Cam), and Cam's late cousin Bloodshed. Oddly, every member of the group was able to find fame in the hip hop game after the crew disbanded, save for Bloodshed, who passed away in a car accident shortly after the breakup.

Mason Betha is clearly the one who hit the fucking lottery, as he signed up with Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Records imprint, dropping the "Murda" moniker in favor of calling himself Ma$e, bringing attention to the materialism that the man exemplified under the wing of money man Puffy Combs. He made his debut on a remix to "Only You", a 112 song that also featured The Notorious B.I.G., and he parlayed his crossover appeal (I say that without sarcasm, as I actually liked that remix) into guest spots on Biggie's Life After Death (on "Mo Money Mo Problems", as if you didn't know already) and Puffy's No Way Out ("Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and "Been Around The World"). The recurring theme within all of these named tracks is that they all garnered massive amounts of radio airplay, and Puffy tried to continue that streak with Harlem World, which was packaged as a Ma$e album with a side of Murda in the background (only a small side, but still).

I'm not afraid to admit that I was a Bad Boy junkie back in 1997, and I bought Life After Death (not much of a stretch, as I was a Biggie fan), No Way Out, and Harlem World on the days they respectively dropped, and I'm willing to bet that a lot of you readers like me did the exact same thing. It was hard to escape from the dominant hand they held over radio, and, let's be honest, girls loved this stuff, and I listened to this shit so often while hanging out with friends that I pretty much tricked myself into thinking that I was a fan. I see now that No Way Out is not even close to being a great album, but some of those songs hold up extremely well today ("Victory", "I Love You Baby", "Young G's", and, sadly, "Senorita", which I'm kind of embarrassed to admit), and I'm curious to see how well Harlem World holds up (if at all), especially since a reader asked me to write about this shit a long time ago. This write-up is proof positive that I will try to meet your requests, as long as you are patient with the blog.

Harlem World ended up selling more than four million copies worldwide, and he scored at least two massive hit singles, which was enough for Puffy to recoup his investment. With Harlem World, Murda Mase was officially dead, and with his current persona, Pastor Mase, still well off in the horizon, all we had to look at was M-A-dollar sign-E.

Sigh.

1. PUFF'S INTRO (FEAT PUFF DADDY)
You don't need me to tell you how unnecessary this was, do you? I know Puffy is only trying to set the tone for Harlem World, but wouldn't this have made more sense if Mason handled the intro his damn self?

2. DO YOU WANNA GET $?
Let the crossover begin. The beat is commercial enough to gain radio airplay, and Pastor Mason's lyrics are stupid enough to justify a wide audience. This is brainless rap music right here. That said, this isn't entirely horrible, as Ma$e plays his role properly, and the hook is pleasant enough. This track won't do much to silence the supporters of Murda Mase, though.

3. TAKE WHAT'S YOURS (FEAT DMX)
Whereas this track will. Nashiem Myrick's beat is much more dramatic than it has any right to be (sequenced this early on Harlem World, anyway), and Mason adjust accordingly. This is the second song in a row (out of only two real songs) on which Ma$e mentions The Notorious B.I.G.: hopefully this doesn't become a recurring theme. DMX is limited to the chorus, but a little bit of him on here goes a long way. I liked this song back in the day, and it's still kind of appealing today. Funny, that.

4. MADD RAPPER (INTERLUDE) (FEAT THE MADD RAPPER)
After Biggie's Life After Death, these Madd Rapper interludes progressively became less and less funny. I know that D-Dot somehow parlayed this character into an album of his own, but that doesn't make this interlude a must-hear or anything.

5. WILL THEY DIE 4 YOU? (FEAT PUFF DADDY & LIL' KIM)
Ma$e jacks the beat from DMX's “Get At Me Dog” (or, more specifically, "Everything Good To You (Ain't Always Good For You)" by B.T. Express, which was also sampled for EPMD's "Get The Bozack") with bland results, mainly because Puffy is the rapper with the lead-off verse. Even though Ma$e actually says “You think I'm sweet? Taste me!”, which is fucking hilarious both in and out of context (especially out), this song is ultimately pointless. The title sounds like something Biggie would have used had he ever recorded a third album. Huh.

6. LOOKIN' AT ME (FEAT PUFF DADDY)
Features some early production work by The Neptunes; it took this and Noreaga's “Superthug” for them to break through onto the radio (although I also liked SWV's "Use Your Heart", but I know I'm in the minority with that one). Pastor Mason isn't suited to beats such as this, but he makes an admirable attempt anyway, and if one were to magically delete Puffy's ad-libs and hook, this song would probably sound much better. As it stands, I liked this track back in the day, but today I would prefer an instrumental break instead.

7. WHITE GIRL (INTERLUDE)


8. LOVE U SO (FEAT BILLY LAWRENCE)
This sounds like the blueprint for almost all of Bad Boy's radio hits, so it's weird that this was never a single. I ended up feeling empathy for vocalist Billy Lawrence's situation: whatever happened to her? She was kind of cute!

9. THE PLAYER WAY (FEAT EIGHTBALL & MJG)
Southern rap duo Eightball and MJG found that their audition tape for Bad Boy Records (a label they would later find themselves joining) was commandeered by Pastor Mason for an album track for Harlem World
. Okay, that's not (entirely) true, but that story is far more interesting than whatever really happened. Strangely, Ma$e steps his rap game up on here in an effort to keep up with his guests, making this actually kind of enjoyable, which is weird, since I never cared for this song when I first heard the album.

10. HATER (INTERLUDE)


11. N----Z WANNA ACT (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES)
Other than Ma$e's boast at the beginning, “I get hard when I want to” (apparently Viagra is not necessary for the Pastor to get his freak on), I actually liked this song back in the day. And I still kind of do. Busta is left on hook duties only, which he ends up sharing with Ma$e anyway, but his high energy is a good contrast to the Pastor's sleepy flow and Dame Grease's instrumental, which is quite good. I also swear that Damon Dash is on the receiving end of some trash talk somewhere on here.

12. FEELS SO GOOD (FEAT KELLY PRICE)
The first single, which essentially informed the tone of the album and its intended audience. I was always pissed that Puffy and Ma$e straight jacked Kool and the Gang's “Hollywood Swingin'” and turned it into a far inferior song, but I guess if Kool and the Gang got paid, I shouln't be so angry. (Yeah, right.) As catchy as this is, I hate this song with every fiber of my being.

13. WHAT YOU WANT (FEAT TOTAL)
Single number two featured Total, Bad Boy's girl group who was notable for the fact that none of them could sing for shit, but they still managed to rack up a couple of hit songs by aligning themselves with A-list rappers such as Biggie and Lil' Kim. (The female 112 they are not.) This song for the ladies serves its purpose, and it could sound a lot worse. I'm pretty sure there's also a remix of this floating around somewhere, although the only thing that is any different is the beat.

14. PHONE CONVERSATION (INTERLUDE)


15. CHEAT ON YOU (FEAT JAY-Z & LIL' CEASE)
The guests on this song were all selected in a lottery. That's the only reason I could think of that explains the presence of both Lil' Cease and Shawn Carter: Jay may have been BFF with The Notorious B.I.G., but he and Caesar were never that close. Also, pretty sure that Jay ended up having a problem with Mason, although that beef started because of one of Ma$e's weed carriers in Harlem World. (Yeah, he named his crew after this album: also, now that I think about it, Jay's issue with Nas started because of his own weed carrier. Huh.) Hova is in full on In My Lifetime Vol. 1 mode, and predictably blows everyone else out of the water without even really trying.

16. 24 HOURS TO LIVE (FEAT THE LOX, BLACK ROB, & DMX)
This third single (which I was surprised to see utilized as such) wonders what would you do if tomorrow were your last day on Earth. (This being a rap song, they also make you think about “Who would you screw?”) This Bad Boy Records posse cut (with DMX thrown in for good measure) is actually pretty good, except for the star attraction's contribution, which sounds as if he was intimidated by his guests. The hook is stupid, but it helps keep the concept going. At least The Lox have some fun with the idea, something that was apparently lost on Black Rob and Earl.

17. I NEED TO BE (FEAT MONIFAH)
The intro to this song reminds me of a similar skit on a J-Zone album regarding underage teen girls. Remember when Monifah had a singing career of her own? Pastor Ma$e sounds uncomfortable over this above-average D-Dot beat: it practically begs to be borrowed for someone else's mixtape recordings.

18. WATCH YOUR BACK (INTERLUDE)


19. WANNA HURT MA$E
The hook (which does, in fact, borrow from the Culture Club's “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me”, thanks for asking) is so terrible that you'll look beyond the fact that the verses all sound moderately decent and say this this song sucks balls.

20. JEALOUS GUY (FEAT 112)
Pastor Mason singing? What the fuck? No, never mind, I don't care anymore, Harlem World is finally over.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I'm embarrassed that I actually bought Harlem World back in 1997, as the album is weak as fuck. While a handful of tracks actually sound good today, the project doesn't hold up at all in 2009: in fact, newer listeners may find themselves wondering why hip hop fans have the nerve to complain about today's horseshit when we had music that sounded like this. There aren't many bloggers who would name Murda Mase among the nicest on the mic, and I'm not going against the status quo. There is simply no need for newer listeners to track this down, and older heads who miraculously avoided this back in 1997 (apparently you must have hung out with chicks who had good musical taste. Good job!) will overlook this shit just like the Academy overlooks comedic performances, which, ironically, Mason Betha offers on Harlem World, albeit unintentionally.

BUY OR BURN? Just burn this one already, and only if you are truly a scholar of Bad Boy's Shiny Suit Era. Everyone else can move along peacefully: nothing to see here.

BEST TRACKS: “N----z Wanna Act”; “24 Hours To Live”; “The Player Way”; “Take What's Yours”

-Max

18 comments:

  1. crates my arse

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  2. you wasted your time reviewing this piece of shit

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  3. Why, why... why must you torture us with these useless review Max's. I forgave you for the Drake review, but Mase? Harlem World? Why? Why?!

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  4. Half of me thinks that it would be unfair to only review underground albums, as the mainstream are just as responsible for bringing hip hop to the masses, so they shouldn't be ignored just because of their materialistic values and blatant crossover tactics.

    The other half of me thinks it's funny.

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  5. 24 Hours To Live was the only song I could stand from this.

    Btw, how are readers supposed to request album reviews? Via email, or is there another way? I'm sorry, I just ain't sure.

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  6. Yo Max, I was in the same boat as you back in 97 (I guess we're in the same boat now too!) and picked this album up the day it dropped. What the hell were we thinking?!?!!? Mase's slow is terrible, I don't know how I overlooked it back then. I still like "24 Hrs. to Live," but other than that, I've since tossed this album in the trash.

    Glad to see there's still some honest people out there that can't admit their mistakes. 4 million+ of us picked thias up, don't try and act like y'all weren't bumping this back in the day.

    Write on Max... write on, write on!

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  7. Pioneer. Fearless. Incredible.

    sounds shit though. I'm sure we all knew that.

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  8. dailla - You can send me an e-mail. The address is in the top right.

    Thanks for reading!

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  9. I WASN'T into the whole bad boy shiny suit era back in '97!HA!But that said, I was about 9 years old...and into led zeppelin and the rolling stones...go figure...
    Never heard the album in it's entirety, and I probably won't...24 hours to live was kinda cool though

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  10. mase let big l down by making this shitty album

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  11. 97, the year that real hip hop was neglected from the media, now the mainstream wants you to create a shit album like this one, when my cousin bought this back then, hr did like not even 1 track off this shit album, mase is weak, he should stick to preaching fairy tales at churches

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  12. Worst Review I have ever read...calling Bleek a weed carrier...You murked yourself right there.

    Stick to RandB or pop...you dont know shit about hiphop.

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  13. "He should stick to preaching fairy tales at churches" more like stick to brainwashing more kids with lies, because he sucks at both, he sucks at church and he sucks as a rapper

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  14. Read this because I thought Mase sounded ill on COC. But I guess he's not on the same page on this album.

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  15. Remember when Marshall was excited about his return on "Lean Back rmx" and Kanye first press interviews about how he got his style from Mase? Wow...actually was on the BB wagon, liked a few songs on here but your review says everything I thought back then.

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  16. this album is a classic fuck what you heard!

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  17. I honestly look at that era in a different way. Personally, I think Life After was the crowning achievement - NoWay Out is a complementary piece to Life After, just as Harlem World is a complementary piece to No Way Out - just my 2 cents

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  18. this was a DOPE album. Are you kidding me? There's a reason it sold that many copies. Mase could rhyme for real. The beats were pretty good. Is it rap pop? yes, absolutely. But it happens to be decent rap pop. It sounds way better than No Way Out, that's for sure.

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