Mase

Welcome Back

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After five years of leading his own ministry and rap retirement, Mase is back with the same skills and the same lazy yet on-point delivery, but lyrically it's a whole new ballgame. Yes, he raps about Jesus, but no more than some thugs do. No, he doesn't want your drugs, booze, or loose women, but living the good life rarely sounds this fun, this hip. Don't think Mase is going to be joining the Partridge Family anytime soon; he's not naïve enough and his portrayal of day-to-day life on Welcome Back is real. Rather than going the "it says in the Good Book" route, Mase focuses on the consequences of a thug lifestyle throughout the album, without a cuss but with plenty of street smarts. The title track is the bouncy, sticks-in-your-head reminder of everything great about Mase. Like his past hits it's lyric-filled, driven but effortless, and has a crafty interpolation of a pop tune, this time the Welcome Back Kotter theme. Producers Rick Rock and the Movement take the Bad Boy Records way of borrowing from the pop world and pump new life into the tired technique more than once. "My Harlem Lullaby" uses Madonna's "La Isle Bonita" as a springboard, while "Keep It On" does some brilliant digging and uses Jermaine Stewart's cautionary chestnut "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" for its beat (the liner notes claim the sample is from "We Don't Have to Keep Our Clothes On" for some bizarre reason). Unfortunate, but Welcome Back runs out of steam toward the end, and spreading out some of the "don't sleep on this" material from the beginning would've worked wonders. It makes this the least necessary Mase album, but half the tracks point to a future that is brighter than ever.

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