In 1997, Bad Boy Records ruled New York City, which means it ruled the world of hip-hop. However, following the death of the King of New York, The Notorious B.I.G., there was a void left in the Bad Boy roster. But label head Puff Daddy already had someone waiting in the wings he’d been grooming, Masen Betha better known as Ma$e. After a star turn on “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems,” he’d established himself as a future hitmaker. He fit the Bad Boy brand, which was about living a lavish lifestyle, unlike Craig Mack. And, unlike Jadakiss of The Lox, he was willing to ghostwrite for Puff. This positioned Ma$e to be the heir apparent to the rap throne of the rotten apple.
Harlem World followed the Bad Boy Records formula for success. There was production by The Hitmen and other production maestros like Bink! that sampled the best hits of the ‘70s and ‘80s. There were guest appearances by rap’s elite and emerging stars like Jay-Z on the Jermaine Dupri production “Cheat on You,” and the DMX, Lox and Black Rob-assisted “24 Hrs. to Live.” And, of course, there were tracks with catchy hooks and plenty talk of living larger than life. There was even some early production by The Neptunes on the single “Lookin’ at Me.” Lead single “Feel So Good,” which established the Bad Boy Shiny Suit era, was a smash hit that reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling more than 270,000 copies its first week and eventually going triple platinum. Following the multi-platinum success of Harlem World, Ma$e lent his star power to another Harlem rapper and friend Cam’Ron, along with jump-starting careers for rappers Loon and even his twin sister Baby Stase with Harlem World the group. Unfortunately, Ma$e wouldn’t be as successful with his sophomore album, Double Up, in ’99. Having a crisis of conscience, the star found religion and retired from the rap game. Of course, Mr. Betha has returned to his first profession numerous times, with varying levels of interest from fans. 2017 saw Ma$e resurface and even spit some hot fire in Cam’Ron’s direction, stoking the fires of a beef between the two. This beef may not be the most exciting (or real), but it’s good to hear Ma$e rock the mic after dropping it.