It's early spring in a Los Angeles recording studio and history is about to be made. Nelly is working on his two upcoming albums, Sweat and Suit. In walks his manager, Fo'Reel Entertainment CEO Cudda (pronounced "Cooter") Love, accompanied by a man he used to manage: the minister formerly known as Murder Mase.
Nelly's people are engaging in revelry, but once Mase walks in, the jokes come to a halt and everyone shows respect and love for the former Bad Boy, who's immaculately dressed in a three-piece suit. Nelly, who's working on a track called "I Still Love You," takes a shot in the dark.
He asks Cudda to ask the retired Mase to jump on the record.
Photos of Mase on the set of his "Welcome Back" video.
After Nelly plays Mase the song a couple of times, the former shiny-suit man surprises everyone. Not only does he agree to rap on the record, he starts spitting with the swagger of the old Mase. There's no mic rust. Within minutes, everyone in the studio swarms into the control room, where the session is happening. Mason Betha is back (see "Mase Is Officially Back; Bad Boy Family Feels New Energy").
Fast-forward a couple of months and a few miles to the Paramount Studios lot near Los Angeles. There, the video for Mase's Chris Robinson-directed video, "Welcome Back," is being made. "This is history!" Mase yells. He's still dipped in his gear, but this time he's wearing a yellow Polo shirt and shorts to match. His sneaker game is on point, too: yellow-and-aqua Air Force Ones that shine almost as brilliantly as the canary gold on his watch. His waves are so tight that if he were in fact in Uptown New York, everyone would say they were spinning.
"This is going to be a great day," he continues, his dimples bulging. That session with Nelly has led to this morning in Cali. After hearing Mase rap on the track, the light bulb went off in Cudda's head: Mase still has what it takes to make an album. The timing is perfect because, as Mase puts it, he's evolved as a man and a father (he's expecting his first child this year).
Mase and Cudda spent weeks working on the bulk of the album, aptly titled Welcome Back, on the down-low with a bunch of up-and-coming producers. So after an album's worth of material was done, all Mase had to do was call up P. Diddy and tell Puff he's returning.
"I left because I had to get my mind right," Mase says about April 4, 1999, the day he officially retired from the rap game to focus on religion (see "Mase To Retire From Rap, Cites Religious Reasons"). "I wasn't mentally ready to deal with how hip-hop was and the role I played in hip-hop. I had to do it for me and for the sake of my spirituality. The reason for me coming back is, now I can handle it. It won't control me; I control it. Before, I wasn't ready. Even [after] three years away, I wasn't ready to take this stand.
"Them days is over," Mase says, as he catches a bit more than an eyeful of a pair of models. "They gotta put some clothes on," he insists. His tone is, as usual, nonchalant, but his face is serious. "I want them to respect themselves. That's why we doing this, to be of influence. I don't want the young ladies with their shorts that short. I want the ladies to respect themselves. If I was her father, I wouldn't want her with her shorts that short.
"No cheeks out on a Mase video set," he adds, before pointing to his dimples. "Only these cheeks. We gonna teach the ladies they can still respect themselves and still be beautiful. That's what's up."
Besides, what would Mr. Betha's 'hood look like with half-naked women running around? "The concept of the video is from the 'Mister Rogers' [Neighborhood'] scene," Mase says. "I take the sneaker off and let everyone know 'It's gonna be a beautiful day.' After that, I walk outside and you see a young lady in a room, she has posters of me on the wall. She's been waiting five years for me to come back. She looks out the window and says, 'Wow, that's Mase!' Then she gets downstairs and by the time she gets there, it's too late: She missed me. Then we're just taking the video from scene to scene and showing the love and support that everyone has showed me.
"We didn't want it to be too controversial," he adds. "We just wanted something the people would buy into and just welcome me back."
Mase says Welcome Back won't have too many guest appearances, and there won't be any songs degrading women or even talking about "sexual acts." His time away from music has given him clarity.
"This time, what makes the music so beautiful is that I'm doing it from a clear-headed perspective," he explains. "Not feeling that I have to say this or I have to please these people. Now, it's just good music: vibrant, up-tempo, real good music. It's amazing that it still came out wonderful. There is a way you can make incredible music without following the so-called formula."
Despite the minister's religious beliefs, he didn't switch his style up drastically enough to alienate the fans. "It was simple," he says. "[After] being away for five years, there are still a lot of things I want to talk about, I just couldn't fit them all on the same album. But I didn't want to come back so different that it scared you. I wanted to do something that was beautiful that you could relate to, something that you can think is retro Mase. Then, as I grow as an artist, I'll allow the audience to grow with me."
Welcome Back is due in August.