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 'You heard the song, right?,' Mase asks. 'Does it sound like I'm rusty?' ...

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 Mase addresses all the MCs who copped his style while he was away ...

The Leak: Welcome Back

Mase Doubles Up

The World According To Mase

Mase Is Officially Back; Bad Boy Family Feels Energy

Mase To Retire From Rap; Cites Religious Reasons

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— by Shaheem Reid

During Mason Betha's would-be last interview as a hip-hop artist in April 1999, he looked like a man on his way out. He appeared worn out, bitterness slipped in and out of his tone, and he admitted to being happier when he wasn't doing music. His heart was so heavy, he compared leaving rap to defusing a bomb and taking out the garbage.

"This is the realest thing you've ever seen," he said. "I'm walking away from this not knowing where my next job is coming from. That's how much I believe in myself.

"You want a role model? I'm gonna show you what role models do."

  Exclusive Mase photos
That year marked a new era of hip-hop role models. Mase and Puffy's shiny-suit gloss was replaced with the grimy grit of gutter MCs like DMX and Big Pun. Jay ascended to the throne, and Master P's No Limit tank was still gassed up and plowing through hip-hop.

So when Mase stepped away from the game to pursue spirituality, fans knew he'd be back. He was just taking a little time to recharge his batteries and weather the storm of the harder-edged rap wave, right? No, he was serious about getting closer to the Lord, even becoming a pastor and starting his own ministry, the Saving a Nation Endangered Church International.

It would be five years before he'd deliver another of his slow flows. Now in the full swing of a comeback, Mase looks physically like he's been holed up in a time capsule. His jewels are icy enough to make the temperature drop 10 degrees on a summer day, his hair is lined up, his clothes still fly.

  "Welcome Back" video photos
And yet Mase looks totally different than he did in '99. He can't stop smiling, and he'll tell anyone within earshot that the day is beautiful. Yes, the spiritual unrest is over. He's now at peace, and joy appears to be in his heart.

For years, Mase said, he hasn't really listened to secular music or watched videos, but that doesn't mean the Harlem World representative doesn't know what's up. He told MTV News that he thinks rap has lost its fun factor. He also got a little insulted when we asked if he was rusty.

  "Welcome Back"
Welcome Back
(Bad Boy/Fo Reel)
MTV: Watching footage from your "Welcome Back" video, it's almost like you never left the game. Your swagger is crazy, and you look exactly the same. But with such a long hiatus, were you ever worried that you might not be welcomed back so warmly?

Mase: No. I guess what makes this time so wonderful is that it's not about the money and it's not about just music, and this time it's not about me, so I really have nothing to be concerned about. When you're doing things for selfish reasons, you always have to wonder about if they're gonna go right. But when you're doing things for the love, you can always rest assured that they're gonna go well.

MTV: It's one thing to come back and get love from those who missed you, but you came back with a hit record. Did you think "Welcome Back" was going to get as many spins as it has?

Mase: I knew [people] were ready to hear something from me because every time I would go somewhere, someone would ask me, "Hey, yo, when you gonna put something out?" So I expected big things. I can't really say I'm shocked by any of it.

"Every time I would go somewhere, someone would ask me, 'Hey, yo, when you gonna put something out?' "
MTV: And you've still got your flow.

Mase: That's important. Don't nobody want to see Jordan come back and he can't dunk — that don't make sense.

MTV: Yeah. And we want to see Jordan dunking from the foul line.

Mase: [He laughs.] Exactly. If he didn't have his dunk and he can't stick his tongue out no more, you don't wanna pay to see that. You wanna see Air Jordan, not Michael.

MTV: So you weren't even a little rusty when you first picked up the mic again? Five years is a long time.

Mase: You heard the song, right? I mean, the music speaks for itself. Does it sound like I'm rusty? I mean, this time it's a God-given gift. This time what makes it so powerful is that there's a lot of substance in what I'm saying.

Next: Mase addresses all the MCs who copped his style while he was away ...
Photo: Raandu Avion/Image TV

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Harlem World
(Bad Boy)

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(Bad Boy)

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