Since establishing his own church in Atlanta, Mase can no longer be considered a rapper who preaches. He is a preacher who raps. That makes his a unique voice in hip-hop, and possibly one filled with contradiction. Yet, many preachers are better known for their flashy clothes and fancy cars than for their sermons.

Mase may be on to something. On his comeback album, Welcome Back, Pastor Betha boasts and brags about material things, yet spits like a self-proclaimed Bad Boy gone clean. His first two singles, “Welcome Back,” and the Rick Rock-produced “Breathe, Stretch, Shake” are sure-fire radio/club joints, and “Into What You Say” is a head-nodder too. All at once, five years rewind, and it’s ’99 all over again. Mase‘s slow-rolling flow and catchy rhymes still resonate. The rest of his CD, however, sounds rushed. Maybe because it was. Once fans caught wind of Mase‘s return, they fiended for product, and Diddy churned it out. “I Wanna Go,” a love joint for his wife Twyla are cutesy, while messages like “we don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time” are admirable. But “My Harlem Lullaby,” an “Isla Bonita”-sounding song and Mase‘s crooning a la Ja (Rule) on “Wasting My Time” and “Gotta Survive” are cringe-able.

According to one my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist): “From its very inception the human race has been condemned to exist within the eternal division [of good and evil], always moving between those two opposing poles.” We have seen Mase straddle both worlds, and heard him rap about both. He may not be the only one who has turned his world around, but he is the most popular – when he was at his spiritual worst and now at his best. When he claims, “I’m wanted in the world like I was Osama,” he might be right. Just check his first-week numbers. Love him or hate him, he is one-of-a-kind.