Double Up

[a]Notorious BIG[/a]was shot dead in front of [B]Sean 'Puffy' Combs[/B] in 1997. The news now that [B]Ma$e[/B] - the young rapper [B]Combs[/B] groomed as [B]BIG[/B]'s replacement - has also made his p

[a]Notorious BIG[/a]was shot dead in front of Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs in 1997. The news now that Ma$e – the young rapper Combs groomed as BIG‘s replacement – has also made his peace with the Lord must come laden with terrible irony for the pair’s mentor.

This time, though, the meeting between Combs‘ protigi and God is on mutual terms: Mason ‘Ma$e’ Bertha, 21, has turned his back on a brief but lucrative musical career (his debut LP ‘Harlem World’ sold four million) to follow God. With the kind of timing usually associated with Combs‘ business, Ma$e managed to record this one last LP for his label before retiring.

Oft mocked by the hip-hop underground for his commercial sensibilities and materialistic rhymes, Ma$e hasn’t changed the formula for ‘Double Up’, which was finished before his career change was first mooted.

He still trades – in that distinctive honeyed drawl – in mass appeal hip-hop, still shamelessly rips off ’80s pop for his samples (Gary Numan, Madonna: welcome), but scratch the surface and you can hear someone poisoned by money and fame. A young man wrestling with his conscience and sanity: “Got the words of a madman tattooed on my arm/ Fucking with my sister ‘cos I’m mad at my mom” he raps on ‘Same Niggas’, the drama authenticised by his subsequent calling.

‘Same Niggas’ is like a snapshot of the insecurities that inform the whole album: he’s made lots of money and new friends, but he can’t forget how poor he was growing up in Harlem, nor how many begrudge him his success: “My sister wants to rap and I wish her the best/But I would never wish her my stress/’Cos when I hurt you all laugh”.

Elsewhere, like on the edgy ‘F#!*@ Me, F#!*@ You’ and on the brilliant call and response of ‘Blood Is Thicker’, he’s fighting a war against snakes after his money and backbiters in general, but it’s one he ultimately didn’t have the heart for.

Of course, hip-hop has a history of surprise comebacks. And Ma$e hints at a future career when he claims in ‘Get Ready’ that, “When I do what I do I do what I’m doin’ but I doin’ what I do like I’m doin’ it for TV”. So maybe we’ll see him on telly again, as an evangelist doing God’s bidding instead of Puffy‘s. For now, though, the Lord’s gain is music’s loss.

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