October 28, 1997. If you asked me where I was or what I was doing I'd tell you absolute zero idea. But when you tell me that today is the 23rd anniversary of Harlem World dropping I know exactly. I got a ride after school to the Solomon Pond Mall in Marlborough, MA, took the elevator upstairs to the 2nd Strawberry's, headed over the rap section in the back and grabbed one of the last few copies of this cd still on the shelf.
What followed was one of the best car rides home I could ever imagine. Back then when you got a new album it was new. You had heard a debut single, maybe 2 TOPS, before a band or artist released an album. Nowadays you hear half the "album" as singles before it's released.
But when you'd dive in you'd do so by popping the cd in and letting it play. It would take you on a journey, as the tracks were listed in order with an artistic strategy to them.
Every pause between tracks gave way to something totally new. A completely virgin sound. There was no twitter filled with people racing to vomit their opinions on every fragment of every track contaminating your opinion before you even got to listen for yourself.
Nope. Instead you'd get on the phone, usually in your kitchen, and call up your friends house, pray their mom or dad didn't answer, and dissect the album like a QB and his coordinator break down gametape on Tuesday mornings. Then you'd head to school the next day and partake in Crossfire-like debates at the lunch table.
It was the fucking best.
You kids today might scoff but you are really missing out.
Harlem World was special because of not only it's place in hip-hop history but because it was also a watershed moment in the entire East Coast/Bad Boy movement.
Ma$e followed in the long line of acclaimed Harlem rappers - Big L, Doug E Fresh, Rob Base, Kool Moe Dee, and of course Kurtis Blow.
Ma$e had become somewhat of a household name only a few months earlier with his appearance on the chart topping "Mo Money Mo Problems". So he was riding a heavy wave of momentum into his solo single release- "Feel So Good".
Ma$e's real name was Mason Betha. And before being taken under Puff Daddy's wing, he went by the name Murda Mase.
Before that, he was born and raised in Jacksonville, FL. One of six kids, living under the roof of an extremely abusive father. While still in middle school his mom fled with her children to seek refuge with her brother in Harlem, NY. He had a knack for basketball and attended Manhattan Center High where he starred alongside future fellow rapper, and best friend Cameron Giles - Cam'Ron.
The two, along with friends, became fixated on rap and labeled themselves Killa Cam and Murda Mase, joining a rap crew that hung out at Rucker Park called "Children of The Corn". Which just so happened to be founded by fellow Harlem rapper, the late great Big L. They were managed by highschool classmate Damon Dash.
Through his twin sister, Mase was connected with Notorious B.I.G.'s tour manager, Cudda Love. Cudda setup an impromptu audition for Mase, to "pitch" Biggie one night as he was exiting the Apollo Theatre. Biggie was sold and wanted to sign Mase to his rap group Junior Mafia. According to Mase's autobiography, "Revelations: There's A Light After The Lime", Cudda told Mase not to jump at the first offer and to scrape together whatever money he could and fly down to Atlanta with him for a huge rap convention, "Jack The Rapper's Family Affair".
Jermaine Dupri was pitched and passed. Huge mistake. But Puff Daddy was impressed. Especially with Mase's slow cadence, which was unique at the time. When he heard that his star B.I.G. had already co-signed him he was sold. When they returned to New York Mase was officially a Bad Boy.
Puff added a dollar sign to Ma$e's name to make it official ("I was murda, p diddy named me pretty") and they were off to the races. Puff wasted no time in getting Ma$e into the spotlight. Remixing the 112 hit "Only You" and lining Ma$e up alongside Notorious B.I.G. on it. (still one of the best songs of all time)
From that point on Ma$e caught fire. And Puffy knew he had caught lightning in a bottle. It seemed from that point on in 1996, through Biggie's passing in '97, Ma$e was featured on every Bad Boy hit.
Until his time to become the star came- Harlem World.
The album is jam-packed with hits. Which was a Bad Boy staple in the 90s and 2000s. (The Hitmen, Bad Boy's inhouse production team do not get nearly enough credit that they deserve. Puff Daddy would be a nobody without them.) It also helped that they had a proven winning formula - "take hits from the 80s, make em sound so crazy". And sample they did. Puff and The Hitmen took Kool & The Gang, Isaac Hayes, Teena Marie, New Edition, and Curtis Mayfield records to name a few, and made them new.
Ma$e's silky smooth raps flowed like a gentle breeze over a satin sheet up and down every record on the album.
And he was no longer rapping about shoot-outs and fistfights. No, this new, pretty boy Ma$e was rapping about chicks, and cars, and money. Lots of it.
For this reason, there was a lot of backlash concerning Ma$e, Puff Daddy, Bad Boy and the new East Coast rap scene as a whole. This time period was dubbed the infamous "shiny suit era" for Puffy and Ma$e's outfits in the "Mo Money Mo Problems" music video.
Harlem World was lumped in with this and criticized for being "too commercial" and sensationalized. Ma$e's raps weren't "gutter" enough for the street kids back home in Harlem. But they were right up a white kid from the burbs alley. Which resulted in Ma$e becoming a permanent fixture on the Billboard charts. The album went double platinum in December, 2 months after it's release (again, these weren't digital, these were physical sales).
I never understood the backlash Ma$e caught for being cheesy. Sure he had radio hits like "Feel So Good", "What You Want"
"Lookin At Me"
on it. But he also had DMX, 8Ball, MJG, and Jay-Z on the album.
The album left an indelible mark on rap by ushering in the era of bling and opulence. Which is still prevalent today. Just look at the Jesus piece's every rapper wears as a sign when they "made it". (That started with Ma$e, B.I.G. and Puffy.)
Two years later Ma$e would flame out. Saying rap had burned him out and that he needed deeper meaning. He turned to God and became a pastor. Turning his back on the industry just a month before his sophomore album Double Up was released.
His return 5 years later was somewhat of a dud and he was never really the same. And neither was Bad Boy.