Born Mason Betha, Jr., August 27, 1978, in Jacksonville, FL; son of Mason "Father Lucky" and P.K. Betha; divorced c. 1978; siblings: two brothers and three sisters. Education: Attended SUNY Purchase on basketball scholarship. Addresses: Home--Atlanta, GA; Agent--Magic Johnson Entertainment. Record company--Bad Boy Entertainment, 8-10 W. 19th St. 9th Floor, New York, NY 10011.
Within months after the release of his debut solo project, Mason Betha, Jr., better known as Mase to the hip-hop world, found himself at the top of rap music. Despite his almost overnight prosperity and release of a well-received second solo album, Mase shocked fans and those within the music industry when he announced his retirement from rap on April 20, 1999, for religious reasons. A young protegé of Sean "Puffy" Combs, also known as Puff Daddy, Mase was recognized for his simplistic, yet profound lyrics that transcended musical barriers by achieving success on the hip-hop, rhythm and blues, pop, and Billboardcharts as his debut solo album ascended to the number one spot. During his music career, he appeared on hits and worked with other stars such as Mariah Carey, Brian McKnight, the Notorious B.I.G., and Brandy. Although Mase, a devout Christian, was drawn to hip-hop music and displayed an obvious talent for writing rhymes, he stayed away from the gangster lifestyle and image that surrounds so many rap artists. Instead, Mase was a dimpled-faced, smiling "let's-just-have-fun type" with an "infectious grin," wrote Smokey D. Fontaine of the Source magazine, who devoted much of his time and money to help improve the lives of children in his old Harlem neighborhood. Even after he acquired the wealth, fame, and expensive accessories that accompany super stardom, he regularly wore a dingy rubber band around his wrist to remind him of his humble beginnings in the inner-city of New York.
Mase was born Mason Betha, Jr., in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27, 1978, along with his twin sister, Stase, who arrived five minutes after him. Shortly after his birth, Mase's father, Mason "Father Lucky" Betha, left his mother, "P.K.," alone to care for the couple's six children, which included three boys and three girls. At around age five, Mase and his remaining family relocated to Harlem, a section of New York City in Manhattan. Like so many of his peers, young Mase was left without a father figure, and to make matters worse, he had watched his mother suffer from cancer. However, Mase's mother felt determined to support her children to the best of her ability, and she wanted to keep her son away from the violence that pervaded the inner city neighborhood. As Mase told Fontaine, "I grew up on a block with ten guys. Now eight of them have been killed, and the other two are still in jail . ... It's like if half of the people in the world knew my real story, they would be like, 'How could he smile everyday?'" Some of these negative childhood experiences include carrying a friend to the hospital, but not reaching the emergency room in time to save his life, as well as living in a home that at times had no heat during the cold winter months. When the atmosphere of Harlem started to draw Mase into trouble and life-threatening situations when he reached his early teens, his mother decided to send him back to the South for awhile to live with relatives.
While living in his new neighborhood, Mase started attending church services on a regular basis. "Down there, I started going to church because I had to," Mase related to Kris Ex in an interview for XXL magazine. "You know, down South, you have to go to church. I don't care how hard you think you are, but any down South parents or guardians are like, 'You going to church.' When I came back [to Harlem], I was like a different person and I guess all my good deeds, they finally coming back to play. I'm just finally reaping what I sow." Even after young Mase returned to his mother and siblings back in Harlem, the lessons he learned about religion continued to stay with him and ultimately altered his career in rap music.
Despite his talent for rhyming with friends and schoolmates in Harlem, Mase did not always aspire to climb to the top of the hip-hop scene and music charts. During his high school and college days, Mase dreamed of one day playing for the National Basketball Association (NBA) and looked up to basketball superstar Michael Jordan, rather than to Puff Daddy. At Manhattan Central, his East Harlem high school, Mase stood out as his team's leading point guard. "I was rapping on the bus going to basketball games, playing around," Mase related to Ex. "I was more or less thinking, 'I'ma go to the NBA: I'ma buy my mom that big house, that big car' I used rap as 'Plan B.'"His chances of playing professional basketball grew dimmer when he failed to make the cut for a Division I college because of his low SAT scores, and Mase found himself attending SUNY Purchase on a basketball scholarship.
Gradually realizing his slim chances of landing a spot on an NBA team, Mase spent more and more of his spare time making amateur demo tapes and performing in clubs with other rap hopefuls around his neighborhood. Some of his early rhyming partners included Lox, DMX, McGruff, Big L (now deceased), and a group called Children of the Corn, whose members included Mase (then known as "Murder" to the rap scene of Harlem), Killa "Cam'ron" Cam, and Bloodshed (also deceased). "I remember for years I used to invite my friends over to listen to his demos," sister Stase told Fontaine. "They used to always think he was hot and wonder why this song or that song wasn't on the radio." Subsequently Mase, driven by the compliments of his fellow rappers and his family, decided to concentrate on a career in music. He hired a manager named Country, who encouraged the young hopeful to tone down his rhetoric, and produced a new demo tape that he hoped would catch the attention of a record company.
Confident about his new sound and direction, Mase traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend a music convention. Upon his arrival, he hoped to meet and impress producer and rap artist Jermaine Dupri of So So Def Records with his talent. However, Mase instead caught the eye of another famous record producer, Sean "Puffy" Combs, or Puff Daddy, who requested an impromptu performance from Mase. Combs had heard about Mase through rappers such as Lox, at that time a newly signed act for Puffy's Bad Boy Entertainment label, and he offered Mase a record deal after hearing only 16 bars of the rapper's music. Soon thereafter, Mase helped write and rap for two multi-platinum singles that brought his name, face, and voice into millions of American homes: Puffy's "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Mo Money, Mo Problems," both released in 1997. Consequently, the immediate success of these crossover hits set the stage for Mase to release his first solo album, 1997's Harlem World,which eventually went double-platinum and sold more than three million copies. That same year, Mase also appeared with Puff Daddy for two more collaborations, including Puffy's album No Way Out, in addition to the single "I'll be Missing You," an anthem in memory of two fellow rappers (Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G) who had died of gunshot wounds.
With his solo career in full swing, Mase then formed his own record company, All Out Records, through Dupri's So So Def label, and signed his first new group called Harlem World. Although Mase still enjoyed working under the guidance of Puffy and Bad Boy Entertainment, he felt that other rap and hip-hop artists, including his sister, also a member of Harlem World, desired more creative control. Mase commented in an interview with Vibe magazine regarding his decision to make a deal with Dupri rather than Combs, "When I did All Out, I knew I could deal with Puff, but I wasn't sure if my sister could deal with Puff. He's a perfectionist. He stays on top of you, and everybody can't take that. Once you put all of that in the same basket, then you're forced to make the decision of money and family. And guess what? I'ma be with family." Mase's new group, which included loyal friends from Harlem in addition to sister Stase, released their first album entitled Mase Presents Harlem World: The Movement in 1999. Critics gave the release overall praise, and Vibe stated that Harlem World "is a well-produced posse album that bounces the sounds of the world's most famous neighborhood off of seven young, energetic, and strikingly different MCs."
In the meantime, Mase hired a new manager, basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson, owner of Magic Johnson Music, and was already working on his second solo release for Bad Boy Entertainment. Double Up, also released in 1999, marked a creative shift for the rap artist. "My first album I gave the people what they wanted, but this time, it's gonna be a whole different Mase," he told Fontaine. "When I wrote Harlem World, I was on the road with Puff every day, and there wasn't too much hardcore music I could make out of that scenario. But this album I was in the 'hood, and it's going to be 100% me. No glitter, no nothing." Despite his enthusiasm, though, several critics did not find his second album as promising as his solo debut. As Ex wrote in a review for Rolling Stone magazine, "In trying to distance himself from Puff Daddy, Mase has fallen well short of his former Svengali's slick standards." Nevertheless, many critics and fans found his tone and lyrics more reflective and honest.
However, before the album even hit record store shelves in June of 1999, Mase shocked the music industry as well as his faithful fans when he announced his retirement from rap on April 20, 1999. The official press announcement came from Magic Johnson Entertainment, stating "as of today Bad Boy multi-platinum artist Mase declares that he will be retiring from music to follow God, effective immediately," as quoted by the MTV (Music Television) website. Disillusioned with the music industry, Mase himself declared to Newsweek, "It's time for me to serve God in his way. I've always known that there was something else out there for me to do. Not just this stuff because, like I said before, this isn't real and I gotta deal with reality. There's no other way to stay true to the game--the real game of life." Many observers speculated that the rapper would one day make a return to music, but Mase insisted that his decision was final. And while Mase knew that he would miss making his music, he said in an MTV interview, "it's almost like you become unhappy with something regardless of what it pays you. I'm just a man of more morals." In support of his new album, Mase planned to make appearances to sign autographs, but not actually perform.
As for Mase's future, the retired rap star wanted to continue to give back to his community through basketball programs, helping children go to college, donating scholarship money, and sponsoring charity events. He told MTV, "I've been blessed with a lot and I'm just trying to make sure I give back the way I should." Mase, who enjoys working with children, also contemplated returning to college to earn a psychology degree in order to counsel less fortunate youth. In addition to helping children within his old Harlem neighborhood, Mase appeared, along with other musicians such as rhythm and blues singers Deborah Cox and Kelly Price and rap artist Warren G, as a spokesperson for the National Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative, a campaign sponsored by the Magic Johnson Foundation.
by Laura Hightower
Signed record deal with Sean "Puffy" Combs of Bad Boy Entertainment, 1997; released debut solo album, Harlem World, 1997; formed All Out Records and group Harlem World, hired Earvin "Magic" Johnson as new manager, released Mase Presents Harlem World: The Movement, 1999; announced retirement from rap, April 1999; released second solo album on Bad Boy, Double Up, June 1999.
- Selected discography
- Harlem World , Bad Boy/Arista, 1997.
- (With others) Money Talks (soundtrack), BMG/Arista, 1997.
- (With Others) Chef Aid: The South Park Album (Television Compilation) , Sony/Columbia, 1998.
- (With others) Bad Boy's Greatest Hits Vol. 1 , Bad Boy/Arista, 1999.
- Double Up , Bad Boy/Arista, 1999.
- (With others) Grammy Rap Nominees 1999 , WEA/Elektra Entertainment, 1999.
- Mase Presents Harlem World: The Movement , All Out Records/So So Def, 1999.
- "Lookin' At Me," Bad Boy/Arista, 1998.
August 24, 2004: Mase's album, Welcome Back, was released. Source: Allmusic.com, www.allmusic.com, September 9,. 2004.
- Business Wire, July 19, 1998.
- Newsday, March 11, 1997; November 13, 1997; January 14, 1999.
- Newsweek, June 21, 1999.
- Rolling Stone, July 8-22, 1999.
- Source, March, 1999.
- USA Today, November 7, 1997.
- Vibe, June/July, 1999.
- CDNow website, http://www.cdnow.com (August 15, 1999).
- MTV News Gallery, http://www.mtv.com (August 13, 1999).
- RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (August 13, 1999).
- XXL magazine interview, http://tmoney.simplenet.com/puffy (August 13, 1999).