Welcome Back

Artist: MaseTitle: Welcome BackRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Matt Barone

“I’m just a Bad Boy gone clean,” admits the newly reformed Mase on the title track from his third disc, Welcome Back (Bad Boy/Universal). Back like the Prodigal Son featured in his favorite read, M-A-dollar sign-E has put down the Holy Book for his rhyme book after a five-year hiatus, guided by a new sense of positivity. No longer telling tales of excess and sexcapades, Mase has a deeper message, one that is barely touched upon on Welcome Back. Allowing his initial comeback release to please his devoted fans, his spiritual side is being saved for later, making his third album an exercise in feel-good music that entertains yet suffers from a lack of expected introspection.

Witty one-liners and confident quips were what made Mase the likeable MC that he was, and thankfully, these lyrical characteristics remain intact. Over rattling bass on the thumping “Do U Remember,” he pads his ego with, “See I’m classic like an oldie, saved the game like a goalie.” The dance-floor packer “Breathe, Stretch, Shake” finds Mase back in his early Bad Boy glory, alongside P.Diddy’s ad-libs and an aggressive instrumental, while “Wasting My Time” will make necks snap as Mase addresses the females over synth riffs and peppy percussion.

It’s not all one big party for Pastor Betha, though. On the heartfelt “Gotta Survive,” he confronts the demons that fame, and his departure from it, brought to him. A sweeping piano arrangement mixed with heavy electric guitar strikes provides the soundtrack for Mase to open up on the album’s true highlight. The verses heard on “Gotta Survive” are clearly derived from his recent awakening, as he concludes the track with, “You don’t even know success until you know him, and him is Jesus.”

While Welcome Back sports a sufficient number of winners, there are a few musical losers to sift through. “My Harlem Lullaby” plods along with a corny singsong hook and a weak sampling of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.” The backdrop heard on “The Love You Need” too closely resembles that of Notorious B.I.G’s “F*ckin’ You Tonight,” and painfully generic “Into What U Say” and “I Owe” sound stale enough to be leftovers from his ill fatedDouble Up album.

In a time when beef is steadily cooking and gimmicks are running rampant, Welcome Back is accepted with open arms, bringing some much-needed good times into hip-hop. The album may teeter on the overly happy side at times, leading to the unavoidable parallel of a more lyrically proficient Will Smith record. Some may miss the days when Mase was feeling so good telling females what he wanted from them, but 2004’s Mase should still be able to move crowds without any problem. Now that he has the public’s ears again, though, hopefully next time around he will touch on the deeper issues that he surely has inside his mind.