THE BEGINNING

BAD BOY FOR LIFE?: Each month Reef Younis investigates what pop stars do next. No. 6: MA$E finds God, loses him, and then finds him again

mase

In the mid 90s, Ma$e had the hip-hop world at his feet. Latching onto the white coat tails of (then) Puff Daddy, the mentor and young emcee set about tearing up the billboard charts, making it rain, and busting out a jumpsuit selection big enough to protect the U.S. population from the next ‘killer disease’ pandemic.

After featuring on a raft of Puff’s tracks, Ma$e quickly lived up to his billing as Bad Boy Records’ golden boy by shifting over 250,000 units of his 1997 debut, ‘Harlem World’, in its first week, and followed that up with more Billboard chart success through second album, ‘Double Up’, two years later. That same year, though, Ma$e responded to a call from the big man himself – not Biggie from beyond the grave; God! Apparently.

The switch from Puff protégé, and self-professed “bad boy for life”, to passionate pastor saw Mason Durell Betha leave the rap game and establish congregations in churches in Phoenix and Atlanta. Desperate to avoid the fast-track to Hell, Betha’s religious odyssey lasted five years before he eventually gave into temptation and returned with third album, ‘Welcome Back’, in 2004.

Faced with juggling God’s gospel and the OG lifestyle, Ma$e told us he was “just a bad boy gone clean” but that didn’t extend to things going on behind the scenes. On the business side of things, a full-time gig with 50 Cent’s G-Unit was reportedly blocked by (now) P.Diddy refusing to release Ma$e from his contract, and on the personal side, Pastor Betha was busily, secretly, filing for divorce.

Tired of the hypocrisy, and their pastor’s predilection for bouncing between church life and thug life, the churchgoers began to stay away. So as his marriage dissolved, and contractual battles with Diddy simmered away, God’s call was sent to voicemail, and Pastor Betha was officially ready to become Ma$e once again.

It was a return met with a chorus of confusion, damnation and demonising but he came First Testament-prepared on fourth album, ‘Now We Even’. Winding up on ‘Niggaz Wanna Act’, he raps: “I greet ‘em with the 9 if they ever keep what’s mine/if I lose I get loc, put a fool in the yoke/two to his throat, take his jewels and his coat”, conjuring up a Sunday congregation where weapons are either left at the door or dropped onto the collection plate. Whether Ma$e has been chasing redemption or retribution all these years, on the pulpit or in the studio, when it comes to pastor rappers, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Apparently.

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