Welcome back to the latest edition of Flashback Friday Flop, a weekly feature in which I examine a hip-hop album from years ago that was considered a flop, either critically or commercially or both, when it was released and see if it has gotten better – or worse – over time.
This week: Mase’s Double Up (1999)
In hindsight, it’s fascinating to look back and see how quickly hip-hop changed from 1997 to 1999. Yes, the culture shifted when 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. were murdered within about a half-year of one another, but I’m talking about what happened after that.
2Pac was killed in September of 1996, B.I.G. in March of the following year, a few weeks before his album was released, and for the rest of ’97, Bad Boy, in the form of Puff Daddy and Mase, dominated the music scene. In addition to each releasing a multi-platinum album that year (Puff’s No Way Out sold 7 million copies while Mase’s Harlem World netted 4 million), the status of the two was elevated considerably – and the Shiny Suit Era was born – in a video for a Biggie song (“Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems”).
By 1999, they were ready to do it again – both Mase and Puff were prepping their sophomore discs and a posthumous B.I.G. release was in the works – but things were far different. Jay-Z’s career went into the stratosphere. The class of ’98 arrived on the scene. OutKast released another double platinum album. Rawkus introduced an entirely new type of sound to the public’s ears.
In 1997, Bad Boy released three albums – one by B.I.G., one by Puff, and one by Mase. In 1999, Bad Boy released three albums – one by B.I.G. (posthumously), one by Puff and one by Mase. But a repeat was not in the cards.
With B.I.G. gone and The LOX negotiating their release from the label, Bad Boy needed a hit and Mase was the first to step to the plate. Anticipation was high, but rather than promote the album, Mase announced that he was quitting rap to become a pastor in Atlanta, a move that shocked and puzzled people until it was later revealed that he had actually been chased out of his home neighborhood of Harlem and, really, all of New York City.
The album eventually crawled its way to platinum status, but barely made a dent in the public consciousness, largely because Mase disappeared upon its release.
So, how does it hold up? Let’s dig in.
Just like on Harlem World, the opening track is an intro by Puff over a funky instrumental, but it just doesn’t have the same vibe. Things quickly heat up, however, with “Stay Out My Way,” on which the combination of arrogance and smoothness that turned Mase into a star are on full display. While the hook is lacking, Mason turns in his best vocal performance of the album over Amen-Ra’s hard hitting drums: “Doubt me now and die believer/Run and catch bullets like a wide receiver.” This was the first track I heard off the album and it led me to have very high hopes for the project. Unfortunately, it’s almost all downhill from there.
Puff and The Hitmen were often criticized for not being producers, but thieves of older soundscapes and appropriating them, but they were never given enough credit for transforming them just enough for them to sound fresh. It’s a hard of a line to toe, as evidenced here where the sampling is cringe-worthy.
The Blackstreet-featured “Get Ready” is so cheesy it would have sounded more at home on Welcome Back, “No Matter What” deserves to be played in a roller skating rink, and the back-and-forth with Puff “Do It Again” is full of awkward sex-fueled lines over a ridiculous synth-heavy beat. “Make Me Cry” utilizes the sped-up soul sample perfected by RZA and re-perfected by Kanye West without their talent and the bouncy beat doesn’t match the darkness of the sample or Mase’s rhymes.
One thing about Bad Boy: if something worked, they were not afraid to repeat it (like wearing a different color shiny suit in every video) and here Mase, uh, doubles up by repackaging two songs from ’97. He isn’t in the same league as Biggie when it comes to narrative rhymes and “Another Story to Tell” doesn’t come close to the original, but would’ve been fine with a different title. “From Scratch” is another what if? posse cut just like “24 Hours to Live,” but the strong lineup of The LOX, Black Rob & DMX is replaced by Harlem World (the group), Mysonne, and Shyne, who begins his verse with the incredible ironic lines: “If I start from scratch I’d sign with Def Jam/Nah, fuck am I saying? Puff’s the best man.”
Lyrically, the album has its moments. On “Same N—s” he opens up about the darker side of fame, and references the media attention after he was busted for soliciting a prostitute: “What I need a hooker for? Gettin’ head from Brandy.” The edgier “Fuck Me, Fuck You” and “Blood Thicker” are decent, but still pale in comparison to the street songs off Harlem World.
Mainly though, it is the production fails Mase. In the same year that featured Black on Both Sides, Operation: Doomsday, 2001, Soundbombing II and even Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter, it’s almost shocking to hear such bland music from an in-house production team on one of the most lucrative labels in hip-hop. At least the beats on Forever and Born Again, ill-conceived and misused though they were, sounded new and up-to-date. Many of these sound like leftovers from a karaoke machine.
An underrated aspect of Mase’s first album was the roster of guests. Harlem World featured Jay-Z, DMX, 8Ball & MJG, The LOX, Lil Cease, and more, most of whom turned in strong performances. Double Up, meanwhile, only has a few notable guests and they fail to do much, making it readily apparent that Mase wasn’t ready to shoulder most of a full LP by on his own.
In 1997, Mase looked to be the next rap superstar in the line of Snoop, B.I.G., and 2Pac, but even before the year 2000 had arrived, he had exited the game, leaving us with only Double Up and a pile of unfulfilled expectations.
Previously in Flashback Friday Flop:
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, and many more. He has been quoted on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.