When we’re talking about the return of the young man who made his mark during one of the most exciting and memorable moments in hip-hop history; a brotha who carved out a musical space in our culture with pure talent, charisma, and an irresistible appeal, we will start this biography with two words: Welcome Back.

Welcome back to Mase.

It’s been five years since twenty-six year old Mason “Mase” Betha gracefully bowed off the hip-hop stage to pursue a higher calling and now, Harlem’s famed “Prince Charming” has returned with twelve new jams of fire to, once again ignite the radio, tear up the club and bounce the heads of listeners everywhere. And although he still heeds the beckon of that higher calling (pay close attention to the lyrics), he hasn’t missed a step or skipped a beat, no cobwebs here, just the words and renewed energy of one of hip-hop’s most beloved artists. It feels good.

Mase’s return appropriately starts with the set-up single, “Welcome Back,” a fun, playful, sing-a-long joint whose overnight success on the airwaves coast-to-coast proves what we’ve been missing for so long: a good time. “It made sense to start with that song,” says the 7x- platinum superstar, in his slow, deep, baritone voice still his most recognizable feature. Give the title song three and one-half minutes and the artist will answer all those comeback questions: Does he look the same? Better: whether he’s rocking a suit or Air Force Ones and jeans. Does he flow the same? “All the pretty chicks all wanna smile at me/ These rap cats, man, they all got they style from me/ And if I ever see them, they probably bow to me.” ‘Nuff said.

Then the real games begin: Mase kicks off with the lead single, “Breathe, Stretch, Shake.” Produced by Rick Rock, the song is certain to be 2004’s new anthem. Check out “I Wanna Go,” a heartfelt public vow to a private soul-mate about real choices and love. Then rock to “Keep It On,” a smoothed-out hip-hop/R&B joint perfect for the after-hours with a special message aimed at the young ladies, “we don’t have to take our clothes off/ to have a good time.” Other stand-outs include the inspirational cuts “I Owe” and “Gotta Survive.” “I Owe” is a club-banger that will surely bring the crowds back to the dance floor, just where Mase left them five years ago. And one listen to the fierce “Gotta Survive,” with its rolling piano notes and triumphant drums will carry the listener along in what is the most honest and powerful song of Mase’s career.

It all started in 1996, when a young Harlem MC who had been trying for years to get put on, bumped into Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, then known as Puff Daddy at an Atlanta club and rhymed for the CEO on the spot. After slowing down his style to make it smoother and more accessible, Mase joined the all-star Bad Boy Records roster and his first shine came on 112’s 1996 smash hit “Only You (Remix)” and he held his own next to one of the most gifted MC’s of all time, Notorious B.I.G. Almost at once, the multi-platinum hits were nothing but a thing. We will never forget “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” another hit with P. Diddy and his verse on Biggie’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” In 1997, with these high profile guest appearances under his belt, Mase continued to make his mark with the release of his debut album, the 4x platinum Harlem World and unleashed another torrent of his own hits with jams like “Feels So Good,” “24 Hours To Live,” “What You Want” and “Lookin’ At Me.” Soon everybody from Mariah Carey and Brandy to Brian McKnight wanted a piece of Mase and the worlds of pop, hip-hop and R&B seamlessly merged. Two years later, in 1999, Mase released his gold-certified follow-up LP, Double Up, and then everything changed.

Suddenly, in April 1999, one of the most successful young artists hip-hop had ever seen announced that he was ready to leave. He was retiring from recording and performing “in order to pursue his faith.” All the doubters and nay-sayers followed, but for five years, from that day – Mason Betha went from star MC, to a student at Clark Atlanta University, to a pastor of his own church. He received an honorary doctorate of theology from New York’s St. Paul’s Bible Institute in 2002 and continues to preach in his new hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. He made the personal and professional sacrifice to follow his true calling. He didn’t do any shows, didn’t do any ghostwriting. The man didn’t even listen to the radio whose play lists he used to dominate. But Welcome Back does not mean that Mase has left the church or abandoned his faith.

He reminds everyone who wonders if any of Welcome Back, released on Fo’ Reel Entertainment/Bad Boy Records, is going to feel like “gospel rap,” “I’m not here to preach. Music is my common ground. I’m not here to market my faith, or judge anyone, but I do hope to show another, a better way of life.”

So let the trumpets blare and the players play, Harlem’s prince is back and even better than before. Twelve songs. No interludes. Just twelve songs of pure Mase fire.

Welcome back, Mase.

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