July 2, 2011

Reader Review: Ma$e - Double Up (June 15, 1999)


(Today's Reader Review comes from Sir Bonkers, who seems to enjoy subjecting himself to albums that most people would consider not worth their valuable time. Mase's sophomore Bad Boy project, Double Up, gets the treatment today. Leave some comments for him below.)

Everybody knows Ma$e as a rapper who danced around in a shiny suit in music videos with Puff Daddy, quitting that career to become a preacher, then giving that up to sign with G-Unit Records and record some of the most violent, sexist, ungodly material of his career without ever releasing a proper album (although a mixtape did eventually surface), then reversing his stance and joining up with the church again, and then, in an effort to alienate both his church associates and his music fans, getting arrested for soliciting sex from a transvestite. Oh, and for his music itself, which consisted mostly of his sleepy drawl carefully placed over club-ready instrumentals provided by Puffy and his Hitmen production team.

His collaborations with the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., Brandy, Brian McKnight, 112, Blackstreet, Mýa and the Shiny Suit Man himself, were successful, and along with his debut album, Harlem World, Mason Betha ushered in a new era for hip hop. On the one hand, he released tracks such as “N----z Wanna Act”, “Take What's Yours”, and “Wanna Hurt Mase?”, in which he used his monotone delivery and low vocal tone to create some ice cold gangsta rap; on the other, he was getting jiggy with it on “Feels So Good” and “Love U So”, which landed his poster in the bedrooms of teen-aged girls, helping him sell a ton of units. He didn’t do too bad a job with either, although he’ll rightfully never be in anyone’s top five dead or alive. He had a cross-demographic appeal that today's pop rappers strive for, and he seemed to achieve this effortlessly.

Here’s the thing: I love both Puffy's No Way Out and Ma$e's Harlem World. Max claims that both the instrumental and the lyrics of a song must be good in order to create a good song (that's not exactly what I've said, but whatever), but I think party music is the exception. Who gives a shit about lyrics when you’re getting drunk in the club? And who cares about originality, for that matter: do I care if “Been Around The World” jacks David Bowie’s “Let's Dance”? No, I do not, because the original wasn’t nearly as club-friendly as Puff’s tweaked version (clearly we don't frequent the same clubs), and even now, more than a decade later, it still works well in that context.

Even with his success, Mason felt empty. Sure, he was rich and famous, but he wasn’t being taken seriously as a rapper, mostly because he was perceived as Puffy's puppet-slash-prositutue (which was abso-fucking-lutely true). I’m not saying Ma$e would have been worthy of a DJ Premier beat at this (or any) point of his career, but he wasn't that bad at what he did, which was entertain the mainstream. Still, his second album, Double Up, is notable because he abandoned the idea of promoting it in order to find God (and yet it still went gold, somehow). My guess is that Ma$e felt like Puffy's whore during the recording of Harlem World, but somehow believed that, thanks to that prior album's success, he would be allowed to release some 1980's sample-free boom bap in the vein of Ready To Die, because he had garnered his own fanbase that would mature alongside of him. After listening to Double Up, one has to believe that he must have been disappointed: Gary Numan, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna and Shalamar (and probably tons of others) find their original tracks thrown into a blender and poured over the Hitmen’s drum machines.

There is one fundamental difference between Harlem World and Double Up: all of the A-list guests are missing in action this time around. There is no DMX, no Busta Rhymes, and no Jay-Z. (Of course Puffy pops up on a few tracks, but while he is a famous rapper with multi-platinum albums under his belt, he still doesn't count.) R&B acts Total and Carl Thomas show up, but that’s only because they were also signed to Bad Boy. The biggest name on Double Up is Teddy Riley’s R&B outfit Blackstreet, which makes one wonder just what happened. I suppose everyone else rightfully believed the Shiny Suit Era to be over, and as such, felt that they had no business popping up on a Ma$e album, or maybe they could simply cash a bigger check working on Puffy's Forever instead.

Anyway, I’ve wasted way too much Interweb space on a project that will probably be little more than an outdated footnote.

1. INTRO (FEAT. DIDDY)
While I liked the soulful instrumental by Mario Winans, there was no real reason for Puff to reintroduce Ma$e, as he was still a part of our collective short-term memory at this point.

2. STAY OUT OF MY WAY (FEAT. TOTAL)
While Amen-Ra provides some really nice drums, he loses points as soon as the synth line of Madonna’s Lenny Kravitz-helmed, Public Enemy-jacking “Justify My Love” creeps in. All of this could have been forgiveable, as the instrumental remains passable and Pastor Mase does a fine job himself, had it not been for R&B trio Total's vocals lying uncomfortably on top of everything. “What You Want” this is not.

3. GET READY (FEAT. BLACKSTREET)
This would be Double Up’s answer to “Feel So Good” and the only single released off this album. To be fair, this piece of club-ready fluff (which steals from Shalamar's “A Night To Remember”) is a guilty pleasure, and not just because this is the type of song Ma$e is best known for. Our host doesn’t say anything worth mentioning, but he keeps the flow moving.

4. MAKE ME CRY
Kanye West is a Ma$e fan, and the high pitched vocal sample of a Fleetwood Mac song featured on here does remind me of his early production style somewhat, but otherwise, the Joe Hooker beat is sterile, which is exactly how a radio song is supposed to sound, I guess. Still, this isn't very enjoyable, as Ma$e's gloomy lyrics don't mesh well with the music.

5. AWARD SHOW [SKIT]
Useless in so many ways.

6. SAME N----Z (FEAT. CARL THOMAS)
While Carl Thomas’s singing contrasts nicely with Mason’s monotone, this song ultimately bored the shit out of me, thanks to Nashiem Myrick’s lackluster instrumental. What’s interesting, though, is when the Pastor asks, “What [he] need[s] a hooker for? [He’s] getting head from [Brandy].” (The name is censored on the album, but it’s pretty easy to figure out what he's saying.) Also, his anti-religion sentiments are mildly entertaining, for obvious reasons.

7. NO MATTA WHAT (FEAT. DIDDY & CHERI DENNIS)
This electro-fied Prestige-produced club banger is catchy as fuck. The hook, performed by Diddy and Cheri Dennis, doesn’t suck, which is a nice surprise, and M-A-dollar sign’s lyrics don’t really detract from the overall effect. If this was released as a single, it could have set clubs on fire, especially over here in Europe. Everybody remotely Bad Boy-affiliated gets shouted out near the end by Puff, too, including The Lox. Wait, The LOX were still on the Bad Boy roster when Double Up came out? Seriously?

8. IF YOU WANT TO PARY (FEAT. CHERI DENNIS)
Bad Boy songstress Cheri Dennis, whose debut album achieved quadruple-zinc status in 2008, makes her second out of three appearances on Double Up on here. She sounds completely indistinct on here, which means with proper coaching, she probably could’ve been as popular as Ashanti. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. According to Wikipedia, she is still signed to Bad Boy, too. Maybe she gives great head or something? Puffy? A little help?

9. JAIL VISIT [SKIT]
Groan.

10. FUCK ME, FUCK YOU (FEAT. MYSONNE)
While Harlem World had a few songs for "the streets" (I like violent, dark and misogynistic hip hop if it's well made, and I do not consider myself "in the street"s in any fashion, although I do smoke pot, but I live in Amsterdam, so what did you expect?), M. Betha’s delivery was as sleepy on those efforts as it was on “Mo' Money, Mo' Problems”. On here, though, he sounds genuinely agitated. It’s not really clear if this is a good thing: Ma$e does sound more passionate behind the mic, but is this what we really wanted to hear? Personally I feel this lacks the cool that made “N----z Wanna Act” or “Wanna Hurt Mase?” so convincing. Also, the hook, courtesy of Bronx stalwart Mysonne, blows killer whale dick.

11. DO IT AGAIN (FEAT. DIDDY)
I was waiting for Puff Daddy to hijack a song, and it finally happens on here. It’s hard to listen to this without the mental image of the “Mo' Money, Mo' Problems” video. Not that this song comes close to that song’s shiny suit glory: the drastic quality difference between the two could be attributed to Biggie’s presence on the latter, as I choose to believe B.I.G. would have rather shot himself in the face than contribute to this pile of horseshit. Even if he had joined this party, it wouldn't have helped matters much, as this song is essentially about how many times Puffy can bust a nut, so there you go.

12. ANOTHER STORY TO TELL
This track, ostensibly some sort of follow-up to Biggie's “ I Got A Story To Tell” off of Life After Death, is adecent Buckwild-helmed narrative about groupies. It's also the inspiration of one of Kanye's lines from “Gold Digger”.

13. BLOOD THICKER
Meh.

14. YOU AIN’T SMART
Everything about this song is sleep-inducing.

15. ALL I EVER WANTED (FEAT. CHERI DENNIS)
Sort of a sequel to “What You Want”, I guess. Cheri Dennis sounds exactly like Mýa (you know, the girl who caused a rift between Curtis and Jayceon) over this poppy Nashiem Myrick creation. As far as love raps go, this is passable, because it has an air of sincerity and all the elements are in well-placed. Still, this lacks any sort of edge.

16. MAD RAPPER [SKIT]
I guess Bad Boy Records officially changed the spelling of the character's name, because on Double Up and Puffy's Forever (and The Lox's Money, Power, & Respect), “Madd” only has one “d” in it. Not like it matters, I suppose.

17. FROM SCRATCH (FEAT. HARLEM WORLD, SHYNE & MYSONNE)
This was interesting. It’s a conceptual posse cut, like “24 Hours To Live” off of Harlem World, but this time around there isn't an all-star cast, just Ma$e’s merry band of altar boys and everybody’s favorite go-to club sniper. The song revolves around what you would do if you were able to start your life all over again. Harlem World, Mason's weed carriers, doesn’t suck nearly as much as you’d expect, except for Loon, which is most certainly why Puff was so convinced that he could be the replacement for Ma$e on the roster after our host left to find Jesus. Shyne’s first line, “If I could start from scratch, I'd sign to Def Jam”, is unintentionally hilarious, especially as that was where he ended up when he released his sophomore disc full of pre-trial scraps, Godfather Buried Alive, after getting fucked over by Sean Combs in court. Our host quips, “If I could do it all again, I'd do it all for Christ”, and he apparently tried to follow through on that promise, quite possibly doing so immediately after recording his verse for all I know. All of this takes place over a rather cinematic Mario Winans instrumental.

18. GETTIN’ IT (FEAT. FUNKMASTER FLEX)
For the last song on Double Up, Mason speeds up his flow for the first and only time in his career, while radio personality Funkmaster Flex rides shotgun over a decent instumental. This was pretty good.

FINAL THOUGHTS: It makes sense why Mase didn’t want to promote Double Up, and not because it’s entirely awful, although yeah, it’s pretty fucking terrible, more so than Puff Daddy’s Forever (please keep in mind that I do like both Murda Mase and Puff Daddy’s respective debuts). Ma$e's problem with this project, as well as mine, is that this is basically Harlem World 2.0, which didn't seem to be the direction he wished to go. However, for the first time ever, the Pastor sounds like he actually cares about what he’s doing, although Ma$e's artistic growth might just be getting mixed up with his annoyance with Puff Daddy's consistent input. Still, he comes across as a better overall rapper than he used to be, and he sounds as though he's gained more life experience on several tracks. Sadly, thanks to the Shiny Suit Man's overall intentions, Double Up never stood a chance, and Ma$e's overall bitter tone certainly takes most of the enjoyment out of listening to this. With Double Up, we receive a few well-executed club tracks, a couple of interesting experiments that miss the mark, and lots of truly shitty filler.

BUY OR BURN? For fans of Ma$e and overall Bad Boy nostalgia, a burn will suffice and is highly recommended, although I highly doubt you will listen to Double Up in its entirety more than the once. Everyone else wouldn’t have gotten this far into the write-up anyway.

BEST TRACKS: “Get Ready”; “No Matta What”; “Another Story To Tell”; “From Scratch”; “Gettin' It”

-Sir Bonkers

(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Thoughts get listed below, suggestions get sent to the e-mail address in the sidebar.)

11 comments:

  1. This came from a ma$e interview from 1997.

    "I have to do what it takes to make the money and come out paid. Yeah, I got caught up in the materialistic rhymes and that's not hip-hop. I don't like "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" at all, but it sold three million records. So, it's not what I like, it's what the people want to hear. I'll be honest with you, I hate my rap on "Only You," but Puff said, 'Just ride with it.' Puff and I get into lots of arguments about production and other things. But basically it boils down to this: 'Do you want to get paid?' It's not really what I'm going to do but what we [Puffy and I] are going to do. I like to do the music that will please the homies on the block, but Puff tells me, 'That's only going to get you handshake and you can't pay the bills with that.' The people on the block will say, 'Yo Mase, that was ill and you're keeping it real with the hip-hop,' and that's what I want to happen, you know what I'm sayin'? But in reality, I won't have a dime to show for it and I'll go broke with that."

    [source: http://www.rapreviews.com/archive/BTTL_maseharlem.html]

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yo Max, why'd you edit that out in the first place? It is proof to my thesis that Ma$e wanted to move on to bigger and better things after "Harlem World" and in fact never really wanted to record either of his first two Bad Boy albums in the way he did in the first place, this piece as it is makes it seem like I just made that up.

    ReplyDelete
  3. @ Sir Bonkers - 3 reasons: (1) Your piece was too long and needed to be compressed a bit. I still personally feel that the intro is too long, but I wanted to try to capture the essence of what you were trying to say. (2) The link that you provided (both in your above comment and in the original submission) is actually for someone else's Ma$e review where THAT author quotes a Ma$e interview; running that wouldn't really provide credit to the original interviewer and it would also sort of deflate your own contribution by making it appear as though you were essentially doing the exact same thing that someone else already did. (3) I believe you still made your point, that Ma$e was trying to branch out and was instead held back by Puff Daddy's need to continue making paint-by-numbers "hit records", very clearly.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So in the future if I make a reference to the another article I shouldn't quote it directly. Will keep that in mind. Should I add a link though?

    ReplyDelete
  5. You should include a link anytime a different article is mentioned in a write-up. Doesn't guarantee that it, or the reference, will still be included in the final cut, though. It just depends on the context.

    ReplyDelete
  6. That's fine, I agree to the first two third of of your three point argument for editing these interview snippets out. So: yes it did have some positive effects on the final results. I do however feel a lot of hiphop fans may be sceptic about a rapper like Ma$e having ambitions which are not solely commercial as he was one of the most prominent symbols of the shiny suit era. Now, leaving this entire bit in would admittedly be a bit much. However, not leaving in any references to these statements made by Ma$e about how his music when they are as I believe vital to my argument, leaves this piece lacking a bit in my opinion.

    I would like to end this comment by stating very that I mostly find your editing helpful in getting my message across and also that I am grateful for being allowed access to your readers.

    Best regards.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Damn it, it's true nobody in blogland finds this shit interesting but me... I guess the question is: Why am I surprised by this?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I know Mase got his mouth up in wires by Ghostface.
    Another thing about Mase is that he is one of the artists that turned to religion/preaching after working with P. Diddy.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This album isn't Harlem World but I think a few of the tracks capture the sense of paranoia & distrust that eventually drove Mase from the music industry & the East Coast altogether.

    And Mase is still an underrated lyricist and a major influence to alot of acts that followed him.

    Too bad Bonkers was too busy thinking of insults to hurl at the good Reverend instead of really listening to the lyrics.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Well, actually I'm not insulting Ma$e all that much, aside from the G-Unit/ tranny hooker stuff. If you re-read my review you will find Puff gets most of the blame from me for the failure of this particular project.

    ReplyDelete
  11. AnonymousJuly 08, 2011

    Going through the comments section it would seem that Sir Bonkers had actually tried to do some research to lend credence to his claims in this review.

    One thing I want to ask him is if he was dedicated in his research. Any casual of 90s rap can tell you that by the time this album was released, Mase was done with rap.


    That is the the reason Bad Boy/Puffy didn't think it was worth their while to promote the album if the artist himself was not available to do the same. That would explain the limited number of guest appearances (which even if there were any, can be edited out - you're not aware of this??), the lack of promotion, not a single music video and lastly a bland album cover going by any label's standards. It almost seems they just cut and pasted his image from some Bad Boy portfolio shoot years ago.

    But I agree with the sentiments. No Matta What would definitey have been HUGE if it was released as a single, accompanied by a music video and Mase turning some more tricks at TRL for a week or so as a guest host. I am pretty surprised that Puffy didn't squeeze all that he could out of this project by doing publicity stunts/gimmicks. But then again, Puffy probably never thought he would be irrelevant as a 'musician' (if you can call him that) in 5 years from the release of this album. Or maybe it was J-Lo's booty that was keeping him occupied.

    ReplyDelete