It may be difficult for younger listeners to understand why Mase, who most recently went viral for misleading headlines suggesting he signed for rapper Fivio Foreign for a $5000 advance, has the clout he does in the industry.
That’s understandable; If you weren’t of age in 1997, it’s hard to explain just how massive Mase’s debut album Harlem World truly was. It made stars of a host of new talents and helped strike an exclamation point on one of Bad Boy Entertainment’s grandest years on record.
More than that, it positioned Murda Mase (who was once a member of Children Of The Corn alongside Big L, Cam’ron, Herb McGruff, and the late Bloodshed), as a bonafide superstar.
Flying high off of guest appearances on a string of inescapable hits, like 112’s “Only You Remix” and Biggie’s “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and settling into the role of the label’s flagship artist after the murder of Notorious B.I.G., the album was a runaway hit. It produced four singles and spent 54 weeks on the Billboard Hot 200, peaking at No. 1.
In celebration of the album’s 25-year legacy, here are 10 Things You May Not Have Known About Mase’s Harlem World.
First Major placement for producer Dame Grease
Harlem World marked the first major placement for fellow Harlemite Dame Grease, who provided the energetic soundscape for Mase’s relaxed yet hardbody flow and Busta Rhymes’ adlibs on “Niggaz Wanna Act.”
However, Dame Grease really took off the following year. He came out swinging in January of 1998, producing four tracks on The LOX’s debut album, Money, Power & Respect. Then, more notably, 11 songs on the late DMX’s iconic debut LP, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, four months later (which has since gone 4x platinum).
It Marked One Of DMX’s Earliest High Profile Appearances
DMX certainly wasn’t unknown in 1997; though his Sony debut “Born Loser” was a flop and a half, he had made a handful of appearances in the years since, guesting for bubbling underground New York acts of the day, like Pudgee Tha Phat Bastard and Mic Geronimo.
But 1997 proved to be his commercial breakthrough, first with an appearance on LL Cool J’s Phenomenon LP on the single “4,3,2,1” along with Canibus, DMX, Master P, Method Man and Redman. Then, a week later, he appeared on two tracks on Harlem World. First was the Nashiem Myrick and Carlos “6 July” Broady produced “Take What’s Yours.” The second was the LP’s third official single, “24 Hrs. to Live,” a blistering posse cut that also featured The LOX and Black Rob, which helped drive anticipation for his debut album to a fever pitch.
It Was One Of The First Major Successes For The Neptunes
After getting their footing working under iconic producer Teddy Riley and opening doors with some under-celebrated placements (for names like Total, SWV and MC Lyte), Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo’s unique brand of space-age, blingy Hip Hop came in like a wrecking ball with a pair of smash-hits. The first was the final single from Harlem World, “Lookin’ at Me,” which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it Mase’s third single in the top 10.
Their second hit was “Superthug,” off of N.O.R.E.’s eponymous debut LP, which interestingly dropped the same day as the single version of “Lookin’ at Me” (July 7, 1998).
It Took a Heavy Grammy Loss To Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life
Few albums in 1997 were as popular as Harlem World, which was almost impossible to avoid on TV and radio. However, when award time rolled around, he was bested by another New York heavyweight who had himself one of the best years of his career.
JAY-Z’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life gave Mase a run for his money. Not only did it outsell him by a million copies, but it also won Best Rap Album at the 41st annual Grammy Awards, beating out not just the Harlem MC, but also Big Pun, Jermaine Dupri and A Tribe Called Quest.
Sales Wise, It Tail Ended The Most Successful Years Bad Boy Ever Had
Mase [feat. Total] – What You Want (Official Music Video)
Harlem World was the end of Bad Boy Entertainment’s golden age in many ways, and it came at the end of the label’s most successful year in its nearly 30-year history. Following the death of the Notorious B.I.G., the brand kicked off 1997 with his posthumous, diamond-selling sophomore LP, Life After Death. Diddy also dropped Puff Daddy & the Family – No Way Out, which earned 7x platinum certifications.
Harlem World was the icing on the cake, and it was the imprint’s last massive physical sales success, selling more than 4 million physical copies. While many projects that preceded it saw platinum or double platinum success, none flew as high.
Kelis Had Uncredited Vocals On The LP
For liner note junkies, the album, unbeknownst to many, included an introduction of sorts to Kelis, whose vocals appear in the chorus of “Do You Wanna Get $?,” which also features Kelly Price (who is credited). In hindsight, her omission from the credits was foreshadowing, considering how her age and initial career naivety led her to admittedly making no money from her first two albums on The Neptune’s Star Trak imprint.
Capped Off A Huge Rookie Year By Then Unknown Kelly Price
Kelly Price’s big breakout happened in 1998, with her debut LP Soul of a Woman, which included the chart-topping hit “Friend of Mine.” However, 1997 was a big year for the then-under-the-radar singer. Many have missed her uncredited contributions to some certified classics on Bad Boy that year. She sang the hook on Biggie’s iconic “Mo Money Mo Problems” and “Young G’s”–a classic featuring JAY-Z and Biggie off of No Way Out–among other joints.
However, she was credited on Harlem World, notably appearing on the album’s platinum first single, “Feel So Good.”
The Album Included a Big Moment For Southern Hip Hop Fans
In 1997, New York heavyweights teaming up with bubbling southern acts wasn’t a regular occurrence; but then, 8Ball & MJG weren’t just any old group. The flagship act on the legendary Suave House Records imprint, founded by Tony Draper in 1990, they were on a high by 1995, with the release of their sophomore LP On Top of the World, which peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 200. However, their appearance on “The Player Way,” produced by Mo-Suave-A and the legendary T-Mix, was a massive milestone for their brand.
It was also the first of many collaborations with Bad Boy, as they later signed to the label, dropping a pair of LPs, 2004’s Living Legends and 2007’s Ridin’ High.
It Was A Mainstream Introduction To Black Rob
“24 Hrs. To Live” was a real mainstream introduction to not just The LOX and DMX, but also the late Black Rob, who was still a few years away from his own official Bad Boy Debut album, 2000s Life Story, and a year away from his first buzzworthy single, “I Dare You,” featuring Joe Hooker.
Black Rob later became a staple artist in Bad Boy’s post-2000 run, following Diddy’s acquittal in his weapons charges case (as part of the same case that saw Shyne ultimately spend a decade in jail). The mogul’s third album The Saga Continues… saw Rob sparkle on hits like “Bad Boy for Life” and “Let’s Get It,” which both broke the top 5 on Billboard’s rap charts.
It Remains His Most Successful Album
Harlem World sold over 4 million copies in the US, and another 300,000 in Canada (enough to earn three platinum certifications north of the border). It was, however, a high he never came close to replicating.
His 1999 sophomore album, Double Up, led off with the Blackstreet featured “Get Ready,” had all the right ingredients, earning gold certification roughly a month after its release. However, Mase took an impromptu retirement to pursue a new path as a Christian pastor, stunting the album’s success. His comeback, 2004’s Welcome Back, failed to lean into old ways or fully embrace his new righteous path, lending itself to mixed reviews. While his follow-ups had commendable (though brief) Billboard success, they didn’t reach the heights of his seminal debut.