Mase Rapper


Mase tasted the peak of his career during his participation in the Bad Boy Family legacy, in the late 1990's. It's been five years since twenty-six year old Mason "Mase" Betha gracefully bowed off the hip-hop stage to pursue a higher calling and now, Harlem's famed "Prince Charming" has returned with a new album, Welcome Back, to once again ignite the radio and bounce the heads of listeners everywhere. And although he still heeds the beckon of that higher calling (pay close attention to the lyrics), he hasn't missed a step or skipped a beat, no cobwebs here, just the words and renewed energy of one of hip-hop's beloved artists. It all started in 1996, when a young Harlem MC who had been trying for years to get put on, bumped into Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, then known as Puff Daddy, at an Atlanta club and rhymed for the CEO on the spot. After slowing down his style to make it smoother and more accessible, Mase joined the all-star Bad Boy Records roster and his first shine came on 112's 1997 smash hit "Only You (Remix)" and he held his own next to one of the most gifted MC's of all time, Notorious B.I.G. It would be hard to forget "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" another hit with P. Diddy and his verse on Biggie's "Mo Money, Mo Problems." In 1997, with these high profile guest appearances under his belt, Mase continued to make his mark with the release of his debut album, Harlem World. Two years later, in 1999, Mase released his gold-certified follow-up LP, Double Up, and then everything changed. Suddenly, in April 1999, one of the most successful young artists hip-hop had ever seen announced that he was ready to leave. He was retiring from recording and performing "in order to pursue his faith." All the doubters and nay-sayers followed, but for five years, from that day - Mason Betha went from star MC, to a student at Clark Atlanta University, to a pastor of his own church. He received an honorary doctorate of theology from New York's St. Paul's Bible Institute in 2002 and continues to preach in his new hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. He made the personal and professional sacrifice to follow his true calling. He didn't do any shows, didn't do any ghostwriting. The man didn't even listen to the radio whose play lists he used to dominate. But Welcome Back does not mean that. So let the trumpets blare and the players play, Harlem's prince is back and even better than before. Welcome back, Mase.

Mase: The second Coming

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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
MTV: So the first time you stepped back into the booth was as easy as 1-2-3?

Mase: Well, the first time I came in the studio is a hilarious story. I had on this three-piece suit, I walked in, there was Nelly with everyone in the studio. They are like, "Mase! Mase!" They showed me a lot of love. ... Then he let me listen to some of his music. He asked [his manager,] Cudda [Love], "Do you think Mase would get on the record?" And [Cudda] said, "Mase ain't gonna do that. I can tell you that now." Then Cudda came back and asked me, and I said, "What is he talking about on the record?"

MTV: Yeah, it's hard to imagine Pastor Betha on the remix to "Tip Drill" or something like that.

MTV: You've said you wanted to keep your guest spots down to a minimum because people have already heard you on a million collaborations.

Mase: Well, actually, that's another thing that made this album incredible. I think in times past, I used to do so many collaborations that people never really saw the strengths of me as an artist. I've always watched artists do so many songs with other people, you never really can tell how strong that artist is. It's been so long since I've been in music, I think that I have so much to say, people want to hear me by myself. It really would have been like robbing the fans by not really letting them hear me as much as possible.

MTV: How much are we going to be hearing you? Are you coming back for a full-fledged rap career or is Welcome Back just a one-off LP?

Mase: It depends on how the people appreciate it. I didn't come to force myself on nobody.


Mase Is Officially Back

Mase has hit the radio with a new song, declared his comeback over the airwaves with a brief call-in to New York radio station Hot 97, and now the shiny-suit-man-turned-pastor has a timetable for his album. It is official like a referee with a whistle: if all goes according to
plan, we'll get a new album from Mase — his first in five years — before the hot weather wears out.

According to a rep for Bad Boy, Mase's LP is slated to be released in late August. Further details regarding the album will be coming down the pike soon.

"The music is going to be good, and I'm happy that he's coming back because I haven't seen him in years," fellow Bad Boy Mario Winans said last week during a charity event for LifeBeat. "I'm excited to see my friend again."

"That's my man," Loon said. "We worked together on the Harlem World project, we go back, we're both Harlemites. I'm honored to see him back. It adds more energy, he's a different charismatic type of artist. A lot of rappers have been trying to mimic his style, but dude is back to take his piece."

Loon and Winans rolled as one with Carl Thomas and 8Ball and MJG, as all performed at club Babalu as part of the LifeBeat event. After that function, it was off to another club, Lobby, for the afterparty. Before jumping onstage for the concert, Diddy's folks were all smiles. They said they felt a new energy at the label with the aforementioned return of Mason Betha, the addition of some legends and other members of the team holding their weight.

"We're back," Loon declared in the chaotic VIP area of Babalu while the music blasted and photographers snapped pics. "A couple of years ago we were grinding, coming through a couple of rough periods, transitions and things of that nature. But we got a young team right now. We're making hot records, we're on the radio again."

Loon himself is back in the lab working on his own comeback. He's putting together a follow-up to his 2003 self-titled debut. "I'm taking a very personal approach," said Loon, huddled up between Carl Thomas and Rio Winans. "On the first album I established myself as an artist. Loon has a presence in the game now. I established myself as a ladies man. Fellas felt kinda left out, but I got something for them. But ladies, I'm never gonna forget you."

The ladies will definitely not be overlooked by the Bad Boys in the coming months. Both Winans and Thomas have new singles on tap, as do New Edition and Heavy D.

"I'mma try a dual single, two at one time," Thomas divulged. "I'm a supply-and-demand type of fella." Thomas is rolling with "My First Love" and "Anything," while Winans has opted to remix "Never Really Was" with a verse from Lil' Flip.

"Half the time I'm on the grind," Flip raps over the song's heavy violin strings. "Now you wanna play with my mind/ You wonder why we never spending time/ Don't you know I get paid to rhyme .../ When I'm not with you I'm clocking dough." New Edition — without Bobby Brown — are clocking the ladies on "Hot 2 Night," a cut off of their 20th anniversary LP, due to hit sometime in late summer or fall.

"Girl, give me your number/ Forget it, here goes my number/ Forget it, you don't need my number/ 'Cause we're gonna get it hot tonight," they sing on the chorus. Ronnie, Johnny, Ralph and Ricky all go back and forth in the verses, while Michael Bivins chimes in with ad-libs.

Bad Boy's newest signee, Heavy D, is working on his Bad Boy debut with producers like Stevie J and Tony Dofat. His album is also slated to be released sometime this year.

"We've been talking about it for quite sometime," Hev, also at the LifeBeat event, said about his talks with Diddy to come to Bad Boy. "Puff was always in my corner. It was just a matter of me being ready. I got a 4-year-old daughter, I lost 160 pounds. All these things I was taking care of first. I took some selfish time. In the meantime, I had been recording, producing Jay-Z, Carl Thomas, a lot of artists. Then I produced some stuff on my album."

Hev says that being slimmer and older has given him more material to wax about on the forthcoming disc, which still has no title. He's also drawn on some of his influences — Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Run-DMC, reggae artist Daddy Roy — for this album.

"I can't talk about the same stuff," he said. "My life experience is different, the records need to be different. The album is so eclectic. I'm trying to find a title that embodies everything that I'm about right now, where I am in my life." Guests on Hev's LP include Anthony Hamilton, LaToiya Williams and Carl Thomas. The Hevster is currently in talks to collaborate with Andre 3000 and Snoop Dogg as well. "It's Your Birthday" will be the album's first single.

With the former overweight lover's weight loss ("Every time Puff sees me, I get smaller and smaller," D says. "He's like, 'I don't even know If I can call you Heavy D anymore.' It's an ongoing joke."), the title of most rotund member of Bad Boy easily goes to 8Ball. Ball and MJG recently had a strong debut on the albums chart with their Living Legends LP, and now they have a new single and video coming, "Straight Cadillac Pimpin.' " Meanwhile, another perennial overweight lover will be back in effect on July 13.

Bad Boy is launching a reissue from the president of the playa's club, the Notorious B.I.G. The retooled Ready to Die will feature two Biggie classics that were not originally on the LP as well as the long-form video for "Warning."

Mase Skips Welcome Back Concert

Promoter offers refunds to fans, vows to sue absent rapper. On Saturday night, fans flocked to Long Island, New York, ready to embrace Mase at the Welcome Back concert that was supposed to celebrate his return. For weeks, ads on radio and TV bragged of a bill that would include Fat Joe and the Terror Squad,Elefant Man , Mobb Deep and
Lil' Flip, with Mase as the headliner.

But those who came out to see Mase found out that the star of the show was not there. Signs in front of the Nassau Coliseum alerted fans that the blinging showstopper would not be performing and they had the option to get their money back.

"Bottom line, we got a signed contract from him for the show," promoter Naquan Busby said Monday (September 27). "Mase was the only act on the whole bill that was paid 100 percent of his money upfront. He got it, every dime. Homeboy was paid. He disappointed his fans. He disappointed everybody."

Busby said that in addition to wiring Mase's $45,000 performance fee to an account, he also sent the MC plane tickets to travel from Atlanta to New York. Mase never got on the plane. The promoter said he got word from Mase's camp on Friday that the rapper wouldn't appear and would be spending time with his wife and newborn son instead.

Mase was unavailable for comment Monday, and his managers were still preparing an official statement at press time. Representatives at Bad Boy Records had little to say about the matter, issuing a statement to MTV that said, "We don't coordinate our artists' paid appearances. They go through management."

As for the show itself, most of the complaints from those who attended had to do with poor organization, not the roster. There were long lapses between performances, and the crowd had to wait several hours from the 7 p.m. start of the show until the bigger acts like Mobb Deep, Elephant Man and the Diplomats — who served as last-minute replacements for Mase — got on the mic.

There was a special surprise that was well received, however. Ja Rule came out as a guest of Fat Joe's Terror Squad and the two performed their underground humdinger "New York." The show lasted until 1:30 a.m.

The backlash from the Welcome Back concert is not over, according to its promoter. Busby said he was able to recover only $26,000 of his money and will be suing Mase for the rest.

Mase Ponders Bad Boy Tour

But most of all, the rapping pastor would love to preach on MTV. Mase has a top-20 album on its way to going gold, maybe platinum, but the MC wants a little bit more. Last week he revealed that it's a dream of his to preach on MTV.

"My ultimate goal would be for MTV to give me an hour or 30 minutes live on like a New Year's
drop-the-ball thing," said Mase, who is also a pastor. "That's what I really want to do. That's what I'm ultimately shooting for. That's what all this was about. [Most people] have never seen me in that light. Everybody wants to see, but they don't want to come to church. What better place to do it than MTV? I think if you want to be groundbreaking, you have to do something that's never been done. I came to do something that's never been done. Somebody sold millions of record before. I want to do something that hasn't been done."

Mase said his appeal at the pulpit would be so broad he'd attract everyone to tune in.

"People would say, 'I'd love to see that,' " he prophesized. "Somebody will call somebody and say, 'Your boy Mase is on MTV right now, preaching on MTV.' That would be beautiful. Everybody's gonna watch it. They gonna say, 'I wanna hear for myself.' Then when they see me, they're gonna say, 'This kid is serious!' "

Mase's emphasis on spreading the word doesn't mean he's retiring from music again. He's simply taking a two-week hiatus to spend time with his wife, who just had their first baby. Once he comes back, he may have a tour to start thinking about. There are talks at his record label about launching a Gentlemen of Bad Boy Tour with New Edition, Carl Thomas, Mario Winans, 112 and Mase.

One outing he won't be on, however, is Kanye West and Usher's Truth Tour. He never was officially on the bill, but he was supposed to be coming out as Kanye's guest on some dates. Mase isn't so wordy about his reasons for not appearing, only saying that West wanted him to come on the trek, but "the powers that be" stifled him.

"Everybody's been hating on me," he said. "I gotta tell the truth. For five years they say, 'We want you to come back.' I'm back, [and now] they hating on me. But I learned something: The same people you see going up, you see going down."

Mase doesn't need the Truth Tour to be on a bill with lots of star power. He's headlining a concert titled Welcome Back on September 25 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, and the Terror Squad and Mobb Deep are among the other acts on the bill.

"I don't drink or smoke, so I've got some reserve energy," he said of the show, which is his first concert at a Big Apple arena since coming back to rap. "I expect everybody to come out, it's gonna be a goodie. I already performed in New York at Webster Hall for my album-release party. It's always love. I went in there and blew the joint down. Everybody was in the joint jumping like, 'Oh, remember that? He is rocking right now.' "

Another item on the rapping preacher's checklist once he comes back from his brief layoff is to begin recording again. He's done guest spots on remixes by the Terror Squad and Kanye West, and now he wants to reaffirm himself in another genre.

"I gotta jump on the R&B joints and make it lovely again," he said. "I might have to blow that back up." One artist he has his eye on is Brandy, whom he's worked with before. "I'd jump on a Brandy [remix]. 'Who Is She 2 U,' I like that. I need to be on that. That sounds like something I can flip."

Something Mase said he can't do is follow in the footsteps of P. Diddy, at least when it comes to hairstyling. "I don't do the Mohawk thing," he laughed. "I thought about it and said, 'Nah. I'm too cute for the Mohawk.' I gotta teach them how to spin these waves [in my hair]."

Mase: The fine line between Prayer and Playa

Pastor Mason Betha's well-being has just been threatened and he's holding a heavy conversation with a higher power. He's pleading with the Lord for forgiveness and guidance, and he needs it immediately.

But the man the streets first came to know as Murder Mase, and whom the masses later embraced as Bad Boy Records' "M-A-dollar sign-E," isn't in church, and he isn't praying for himself.

His interview on New York radio station Hot 97's Morning Show has been interrupted by calls from guys he used to consider friends and even brought on tour with him: childhood chum Cam'ron and Cam's fellow Diplomat Jimmy Jones. The two are not agreeing with Mase's recounting of the past — specifically, what led to Mase and Cam's late-'90s falling out — and have called up to the station to give their side of the story.
Mase detailed the sour feelings that occurred when he asked for a $50,000 appearance fee to do a cameo in Cam's 1998 debut video, "Horse & Carriage." Betha chalked it up to a business move; Cam felt betrayed. Jones is the first to call and is definitely the more antagonistic of the two Dip Setters.

"Don't play with me, brother! Ain't nothing changed!" Jim yells into the phone — and onto the airwaves — like a schoolyard bully. "I hope [you] got some of them boys with badges, 'cause I will do it to you, duke. You dig? I don't like you. You shouldn't have come in here and opened your mouth about Cam. You should have kept doing your music and preaching."

"I forgive you, sir," Mase responds with a casual air of surprise in his voice. "Wow, you changed, sir. Father, forgive Jimmy."

When Cam phones in, there are no threats of violence, but he too calls Mase — a man he played basketball with in high school, a man he and the late Big L were once in the same rap group with — a liar and a hypocrite, and paints the picture of Mase being disloyal and abandoning his friends. Killa's most scathing indictment of his former friend has come via the record "Father Forgive Us," which first showed up on Jones' Ambitionz of a Gangsta mixtape. On it, Cam raps, "This [is] my call about a false prophet, all profit/ ... What you offering? Put it right in offering/ Then take it all: Cash, credit, silver, down to porcelain."

"Me and Cam never sleep at all," Jones says later, recalling what prompted his hot-tempered call. "Cam called me like, 'Turn the radio on. This n---a is talking foolish, real greasy.' I'm just listening, like, 'Man, I can't have this go down in my city.' I do wish I could have handled it a little bit different. That puts a stain on my thuggin' for coming at the young preacher like that. But he was talking reckless."

Years ago, Murder Mase probably would have called up DJ Kay Slay or DJ Clue and served up a freestyle dis record to combat his foes that same night. The Ma$e who donned shiny suits with Puff Daddy might've been more confrontational during the interview, egging Cam and Jimmy on by comparing record sales and mass appeal. But the peaceful pastor of today did none of that: He turned the other cheek, only addressing the situation when asked about it in interviews. Even then, his words have no malice.

"It was never a problem on my behalf," Mase says a few weeks after the confrontation, sitting comfortably in the New York offices of Universal Records. "What I'm about now is so potent, so positive and so powerful, that I can't even indulge in negativity and ignorance. Ignorance doesn't mean a person is stupid; it means they don't know. Right now, I expect to be persecuted. But at the end, I'll win. Everything makes sense in the end. Even when I'm dealing with a situation such as that, I have to take the higher road and be the most positive and say the right thing."

Jones, who has coined the phrase "Would you rather [hear] the truth from a thug or lies from a preacher?," says Mase is saying all the wrong things.

"He's a lying preacher," Jones scoffs. "He's painting the wrong picture. He's been gone for a while and so he's coming back and wants people to look at him as somebody's savior. He needs to be put in a skirt and put in his place.

"It gets me confused, because he's on the 'Lean Back' remix talking about how he gotta 'merk' something,' " Jones continues. "Where I'm from, 'merk something' means kill a n---a. In the Bible, it says, 'Thou shalt not kill,' you smell me? That n---a's bugging."

The Diplomats aren't the first or the only ones to think Mase is bugging. In 1999, when he retired from rap at the height of his career to follow religion, everyone scratched their heads. Later, they wondered why he didn't make a comeback. But now that he is, some are confused, and some are even calling him a fraud for sticking with his old lyrical MO of flossing and partying, instead of preaching the gospel (Mase doesn't have any cursing or overtly sexual references in his music now, however).

"I'm not really feeling it," Mase's old friend Foxy Brown says of his return. Before Mase retired, he almost had Foxy convinced that she should give up the mic and devote her life to religion.

"He used to come to my house and read the Bible with me," she remembers. "I remember he even told me rap was the devil — and now he's back in the videos, dancing."

"People don't wanna be judged, but all they've done to me since I've been back is judge me," Mase says of his detractors. "But the moment I turn around and say something, then they'll say, 'Don't judge me.' I don't say anything. I'm always gonna do what I believe I should do and not what they want me to do."

Even with all the damnation and demonizing from certain quarters, Mase's fans are speaking just as loud. His first album in five years, Welcome Back, debuted at #4 on the Billboard albums chart and remained in the top 10 a week later. When Fat Joe wanted to remix his hit "Lean Back," Mase was the first person he called to contribute 16 bars. Kanye West did the same for "Jesus Walks."
"You know that's my favorite rapper, and when he hit that, 'Jesus, Jesus walks with me' — aw, come on, man!," an exuberant Kanye West says about working with Mase, before dropping several lines from various Welcome Back tracks: 'With a fist-tight flow/ With a wrist like, Whoa!/ What if this might blow?/ Ain't no if: I know.' That's what we listen to on tour: Mase. Aahhhh, Murder baby: back in effect."

"I pray for him every day," says Mase's friend Lil' Kim. "I just recently saw him and he hugged me for 20 minutes. I just feel that although we may have certain feelings about what he is doing, no one is to judge. Even if they feel he's doing something wrong, let [Mase] take that up with God. Right now, if you hear him on the radio and you don't want to listen to him, turn the station. But who's any one of us to say, 'You can't come back and do this'? Let his fans say that."

"The whole thing with Mase is that if you want to come back, come back," Jadakiss says. "There's gonna be some people that disagree and some people that agree. The music, it ain't really too hard. He ain't really contradicting [his religious beliefs] in his music."

Mase has said that he plans to ease religion into his music gradually, and if Welcome Back has an overall theme, it's simply about enjoying life and having fun. "I just went with what I know works for Mase," he says. " 'Mo Money,' 'Been Around the World' — all of those types of songs on one album. Songs with messages like that, when you're feeling down, that's the music that makes you feel good, that makes you smile, that makes the guy with the hoodie take his hood off and say, 'Only Mase can do that.' It's time that the people have fun again and dance. Leave your guns at home."

His current partner in crime is familiar, too: Mase says there was never any question that he would return to the only label he's ever known.

"I think that's one of the most powerful moves that I made in coming back," he gushed about staying with P. Diddy and Bad Boy Records. "In a game where it's so fickle and nobody is really loyal, that's what I wanted to show. It would have been so easy to get somebody to buy me out from Bad Boy, but why do that? I came up with Bad Boy, so out of loyalty, you roll with your team. I remember when I told Diddy [I was coming back], he was excited."

It's not surprising to hear that Diddy was excited about Mase's return: Bad Boy hasn't exactly been on a hot streak since Mase retired. "It's just not the same," Betha said. "If you're used to seeing Batman and Robin, you can't do Batman and Aquaman. You need Robin right there. Me and Puff, we just work incredibly well together. He is a hard guy to work with, but after you're done working with him — if you listened to him — you have a hit. I have always listened to him, so we always have had a hit."

But no matter how many hits he serves up, if his musical career ever conflicts with his other profession, there's no doubt which one will take a back seat. His Georgia-based S.A.N.E. Ministries and Mason Betha Ministries are his top priorities, and except for a rare circumstance like the VMAs, he only engages in music business from Wednesday to Saturday, keeping a schedule almost comparable to that of a presidential candidate. And he's about to take on perhaps his biggest job of all: being a father. He gushes about the ultrasound photos of his unborn child, which he's apparently embellished with his imagination (certain of the following details can't be discerned on ultrasound photos).

"I got a handsome baby boy, light skin with curly hair, with dimples like me. Dime [perfect 10] out the womb!" he says, flashing those trademark dimples. "He's kinda stocky too. He looks like his muscles is all big. My son, his arms ain't as big as mine, but he's light skinned — from what they say — he's got curly hair and he has two dimples on both sides. Oooooooooooh!"

While the soon-to-be dad is lightening up his schedule a bit for family time, he's working from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m. on his music-business days, and the rest of the week, he's handling church business.

"Actually, I really don't even write sermons," he says about standing front-and-center every Sunday. "I just do a lot of studying, and then, what comes out of me on Sunday, that's what comes out. It's like writing a song. I don't write songs; I just listen to the music and allow the music to dictate. What the music says to me, that's what I write."

Pastor Betha is nothing like the stereotypical fire-and-brimstone holy men playing to a bunch of Shouting Johns like Richard Pryor's Reverend Lenox Thomas in "Which Way Is Up" or Arsenio Hall's Reverend Brown in "Coming to America."

"I wouldn't look right being like that," he said. "I'm real cool, I think that's why people come from everywhere to hear me speak. They're like, 'Yo, when he speaks, I understand him. He's clear, he speaks in modern language where everybody can understand.' I use a very fun approach. I make you laugh to the point where you get it, without being offended."

As a video of a service on his Web site shows, Mase is every bit as charming standing in front of the congregation as he was dancing with Chris Tucker in the "Feels So Good" video. He's funny, thought-provoking and in full control of the room as he talks about imagination and how it can be quashed by naysayers. He tells stories of how Martin Luther King had to use great imagination to write his "I Have a Dream" speech, and how God needed an even greater one to create heaven.

They don't mind you using imagination when you thinking about that girl," Mase preaches. " 'Wow, I could see myself with that girl, or I could see myself doing this to her or doing that to him or both of them.' "

The congregation bursts into laughter. "As long as you [have] that imagination for filth, nobody has a problem with it," Mase says after a brief pause. "But as soon as you say, 'I could see myself wealthy, see myself healed today.' I could see people saying, 'Why you got to be talking about all of that?'

"At one time, people I loved had a problem with the things I imagined," Pastor Mase continues. "I saw this before I saw this. Everything that's happening in my life, I already saw it. I feel like Dr. King up here. I can relate when he said, 'I have been to the mountain top.' "


Mase Clears The Air About Diddy, DMX And Jay-Z

People have some strong opinions about Mase's return to rap, but what does he have to say about his peers? The always-smiling MC clears up some misconceptions.

P. Diddy and Mase have had a string of hits that rivals any twosome in rap. Mow that Mase is
back on Bad Boy, people are expecting more of the same, but they'll have to wait a little longer for remixes or Diddy's upcoming solo album. Although P.D. appears on just one track on Mase's Welcome Back, the bond uniting this dynamic duo is still strong.

"Puff always does great collaborations, it's just you need that flair to make it work. [When I first signed,] he was the guy with the money and I was the guy with the style. I needed the money; he needed my style. I took my style and I took his money and we worked pretty good together. Now, we gotta go and find some other hot artists to go along with Mase [on Bad Boy]. I don't [want to] be like Jordan on the Wizards: You gotta surround me with a team now."

From A Dog Collar To A Preacher's Collar ...

Mase is currently the only multiplatinum-rapper-turned-preacher, but he soon may be joined by DMX, who has barked about retiring from rap to pursue a career in the clergy. So what does Pastor Betha think?

"I actually would say when it comes to something like a person's spiritual walk, it's not really about what I think. That's the one thing you never judge, another man's spiritual walk. I wish more people knew that, because when you begin to talk about a person spiritually, you invite all types of bad things to happen to you. That's the worst thing you could do, because when you do that you're actually saying that you don't respect anything that's of substance. That's worse than wetting your hand [and] plugging a radio in the socket."

The Beef That Isn't

If you thought Jay-Z was venomous on "Takeover," go back in the files and listen to Jay's 1998 classic Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life. During a record called "Ride or Die," Hov let off a warning shot ("Shocked when I got the news that this ni--a ready for war/ Well, where that fool at?"), and then Jigga went for the jugular. Although he never named a name, everyone thought that lines like "Always gotta be the weakest ni--a out the crew/ I probably make more money off yo' album, than you ... Check your own videos, you'll always be number two," were aimed at hip-hop's number-one sidekick at the time, Mase.

Seeing that around the same time, Mase was on records making fun of rappers who talked about platinum jewelry but didn't have platinum plaques ("What we hear is platinum that, platinum this/ Platinum whips, nobody got no platinum hits"), people thought Jay, who didn't start selling superstar units until Hard Knock Life, was going at Betha.

"I don't know. Me and Jay never really had no problems like that. I know some things that was said could be taken certain ways, but we never had no problems ... at least not to my knowledge. I don't get into record beef. That's the wackest beef. That's not even a beef; that's entertainment. Might as well be a wrestler or something. I never had a problem with him 'cause I never seen him and he did anything to me, [and] I never had to do anything to him."

Mase ring tones

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