Happy 20th Anniversary to Mase’s second studio album Double Up, originally released June 15, 1999.
Mase is one of my favorite hip-hop artists to write about. Mainly because I feel his quick ascension and abrupt exit from rap music personify the melodrama that makes the late ‘90s such a pivotal time for the culture I love and grew up in.
Thinking back to the spring of 1999, in the cherished days before social media hashtags, major news was released through print, radio, or televised media. In a Hot 97 interview with Funkmaster Flex, Mase made a firebomb announcement that, in 2019 terms, would have caused a major trend across all media outlets. In what was presumably meant to be a routine promotional interview for his forthcoming sophomore LP Double Up, Mase announced his retirement from the music industry.
Just three years earlier, the Harlemite Mason Betha emerged as a standout talent among a crowded draft class of New York City emcees anxious just to get a verse on a popular mixtape. Getting fast-tracked to a prime-time slot, Mase seemed to have easily mastered Sean Combs’ money-making formula of adding smooth, street narratives to R&B tracks when he anchored the remix to 112’s “Only You.” The popular song also featured Bad Boy Records’ marquee artist The Notorious B.I.G. Mase would contribute to a string of hits over the months that followed his major recording debut, but mainly in a supporting role.
Mase was thrust even further into a leading role of the Bad Boy empire, after the tragic loss of Biggie in March of 1997. The clever penmanship and Harlem-boy swag of the kid who grew up just a few blocks from the world famous Apollo Theater helped Puff Daddy’s No Way Out (1997) debut at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, sell an astounding 7 million copies domestically, and secure the coveted GRAMMY award for Best Rap Album. That’s one hell of a summer apprenticeship for a kid barely of legal drinking age, whose hoop dreams were deferred to junior college only a year earlier.
Mase’s seemingly rapid rise to rap’s upper echelon encompassed everything usually embraced in a rags-to-riches storyline, but the chips never fell that way for M.A. dollar sign E. Almost immediately, Mase found himself embroiled in feuds with other artist. His dispute with former high school basketball teammate and rap associate Cam’ron began in 1998, and the previous year saw Mase trading cryptic insults with Jay-Z. Even on the streets of Harlem, the tales of Mase’s run-ins with some of the most notorious Harlem goons of the ‘90s are now infamous, with harshly tragic endings. It makes you wonder, where did he find time to celebrate the success of his quadruple-platinum debut Harlem World (1997) or his many hit singles like “Take Me There” from the Rugrats Movie Soundtrack (1998).
In between all the industry drama and street politics, Mase still managed a great deal of artistic focus following the success of Harlem World. First, in helping promote The Movement (1999) album by the group Harlem World, and next with the composition of his sophomore LP Double Up. Sticking to the format that helped him outsell just about everyone in the two to three years prior, Mase reunited with Teddy Riley’s group BlackStreet for the album’s lead single “Get Ready.” Mostly a celebratory anthem for his musical success, even this up-tempo track had undertones that Mase was growing weary of the problems that came with stardom. When he raps “I don't rap for Rollies, I rap for Star bucks / I'm that star who get the stars star struck / you a one hit wonder who caught some hard luck / I'm that kid cats can't wait to scar up,” you hear the duality of a victor enjoying the spoils while simultaneously lamenting how lonely it is at the top. Mase ends the song by sending well wishes to some of his closest associates and the same regards to noted adversaries (“Roc-A-Fella get money again,” “Even Cam get money again”), a subtle gesture of maturity, in which Mase extended an olive branch to some of his contemporaries.
Double Up provides a far more somber atmosphere than its predecessor or any other Mase song for that matter. The song “Same Niggas” produced by Nashiem Myrick gives a dismal reflection of Mase’s standing within his old neighborhood and the burden of outliving many of his childhood friends, “Sometimes I reminisce on what I said in the mist / but even when I dream, it wasn't better than this / but actually, the niggas who would scrap for me, or go as far as getting guns and clap for me / ain't even here to get a platinum plaque for me / I talk to them but they don't talk back to me.”
Like most Bad Boy albums of the late ‘90s, Double Up is well-produced, with some notable work from Mario Winans, Deric D-Dot Angeletti, and D.I.T.C.’s Buckwild who helped interpolate The Notorious B.I.G.’s “I Got a Story to Tell.” Mase’s “Another Story to Tell” playfully narrates a playboy cautionary tale, by taking a more direct approach without as much dramatization.
Current rapper/activist Mysonne also makes multiple appearances and is referenced throughout the album. One of his and the album’s standout performances is the posse cut “From Scratch” which also features Shyne, the group Harlem World’s Meeno, and Loon. On this track, we arguably obtain Mase’s most vivid revelation into his impending exodus. In what feels like a genuine moment of clarity, Mase reveals, “And for all the nights and all the fights / that I had for all this money over all these dice / all my cars and homes and all my ice / if I could do it all again, I'd do it all for Christ.”
I find it unfortunate and ironic that one of the few rappers that allowed himself to smile during the decade of ice grills, and even dance and flaunt shiny suits in a manner to taunt his naysayers, showed some of the fastest wear-and-tear of neighborhood and industry drama. In a relatively short time, Mase commanded everyone’s attention, a full decade before anyone would know what it meant to go viral.
Double Up is Mase’s most introspective offering from his musical catalog, as he shares the positive and negative results of conquering the hip-hop world in roughly an 18-month time period. His first album stands as a classic, and the follow-up would have been a game changer if Mase stuck around to tell its story. But unfortunately for us, the negativity that surrounded him at the time forced this kid from uptown to cash out before doubling up.