No matter what a profession a person is in, it is safe to say that almost everybody wants to retire when they are at the top of their game. Rewind to 1997. An era in which Bad Boy Records was at the top of theirs. Fresh off of the heels of Soundscan milestones courtesy of P. Diddy and The Fam, as well as the Notorious B.I.G., it seemed as if nothing could stop them. At the time, they had in their lineup the man who would go on to become rookie of the year. Some knew him as Murder Mase, others as Ma$e, and others as just plain old Mason Betha. With a swagger like none other, and a lazy flow that was known to put the finishing touch on nearly any potential hit Ma$e was at the top of his game. He released one of the biggest selling Bad Boy albums to this date that was laced with all the ingredients for a commercial success. Some would consider it a Bad Boy classic. Yes, those were the good old days for Ma$e. However, after the apex of his young career, things changed.
Surely we all are familiar with the term 'sophomore slump'. It's a curse within music that has haunted the best of them. Mase was no exception to the rule. His second LP 'Double Up' was a commercial and critical failure that barely struck gold. Pale in comparison to his nearly five million copies selling debut. The offering was bland, and it lacked the appeal that his debut boasted. So ok, Ma$e hit a brick... He'll bounce back. He'll recover on album # 3. Surely he will learn from his mistakes and get it right the next time. Right? Wrong. The only the problem is that amidst one of the lowest points in his career, Ma$e announced his retirement to the world. Ma$e decided to hang up the shiny suit and pursue God.
Fast forward to 2004. After a five year long hiatus that included releasing a book that denounced hip hop as "The Devil", and becoming a Minister, Ma$e decided to return to the arena that made him who he is today. While his motives and agenda that surround his return are questionable, that is a topic that I will save for another day. Right now, it is about the music, and the music alone. Prepped and ready to go with an infectious TRL ready single "Welcome Back", Ma$e was able to generate quite a buzz for what quite possibly is the most anticipated album of 2004. Everyone wants to know, "What does Ma$e have to say?" Well folks, I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news; this album, lyrically, is vintage Ma$e. Lyrically, he hasn't lost a step. In fact, you would think he never left at all. The bad news; This is 2004. Not 1997. And as a whole, this album sounds terribly dated. The sound of hip hop is constantly changing, and one would have to keep an ear to it in order to stay relevant and appeal to the ear of the listener. Now, it would be one thing if Ma$e came on some total left field sound to carve his own niche. However, that is far from the case. It is painfully obvious that Ma$e is trying to capture the same mainstream audience that he abandoned five years ago.
This cd consists of 12 tracks. Out of the 12 tracks, only two of them are above average, and one of those two tracks is "Welcome Back". The rest of the cd consists of material ranging from average to just down right awful. The one track that stands head and shoulders above the rest is "Gotta Survive". The melodic piano loop displays Ma$e at his most vulnerable as he paints a picture for the listener of his inner demons as well as the trial and tribulation that he went through to make it to this day. While lyrically, this track doesn't really show us anything we didn't already know Ma$e was capable of doing, it is a refreshing change from the one track theme of the remainder of the cd.
The track "Keep Dreamin" is supposed to be his next single. It is a vintage Bad Boy track that boast the usual grunts and ad libs of P. Diddy in the hook. The keyboard beat is rather up tempo, and it will certainly please the TRL crowd. However, in terms of catchiness, this track couldn't hold a candle to "Welcome Back". Maybe if he waited another five years to release 'Keep Dreamin', I'd appreciate it more. "I Love Twyla" is an ode to his wife. This track is easily a skip worthy one because it obviously is meant for his wife, and therefore, after one listen, you will quickly lose interest. Tracks like "My Harlem Lullaby" and "Into What You Say" are from the same vein. They both have a similar generic keyboard sound topped off with the same tired topic matter by Ma$e. While the production on those two tracks are poor, they seem like gems in comparison to the downright atrocious production on tracks like "Wasting My Time", and "I Still Love You". 'W.M.T' is another ode to the ladies that takes nothing away from Ma$e's usual lyrical prowess, however the production is watered down attempt that catapults the listener into dreamland around the half way point. "I.S.L.Y." is another poor attempt with production that sounds like something I could've made on my Casio keyboard with my eyes closed. Again, Ma$e is saying nothing new, and he takes the listener lyrically no where that he hasn't already taken them. The remaining tracks on this cd are average at best, and instead of drawing straws to see which one I should make mention of, I will just leave it at that.
In closing, Ma$e has proven that after five years off he hasn't learned any new tricks. He has given an us album that is almost full of the same tired jiggy subject matter over watered down production. For someone that has spent the past five years being "enlightened", it is a crying shame that 99% of this cd is not thought provoking in any way, shape or form. The last time Ma$e released a cd this bad, he retired. While Ma$e has tagged this new cd "retro Ma$e", he failed to realize that in order to give someone a vintage sound, you must incorporate modern elements into it in order to make it digestible. Ma$e has stated that he approached this LP like this in order to get the attention of his fans so that he can expose the industry for what it really is. Well Ma$e, you have our attention. However, that excuse only gets on pass. You had better quickly counteract the material on this album with something worth listening to. Otherwise, you might as well hang up the mic again, because music like this just wont hold any weight in 2004. It will get lost in the shuffle very quickly, and will only start off strong based on the strength of your name. In Ma$e's most recent interview with Hot 97, he was quoted for saying “Even if my LP doesn't sell, I CAN NOT fail.” Well Ma$e, I have news for you… From a musical standpoint, you have failed. Once again, its time to destroy and rebuild.