Ma$e returns to music while still serving God

On his new album, the rapper says he has a reason behind his voice.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Five years after he stunned the hip-hop world by giving up a multiplatinum career for a religious career, the Rev. Mason Betha is still talking about a resurrection -- this time, a music one.
A huge hip-hop star known to the world as Ma$e, Betha all but declared his alter ego dead when he traded in his hedonistic rap life in 1999.
He went to school, became a minister, married, got his own church and disavowed his former life, complaining that the rap world he once belonged to was corrupting the youth with sexual and violent lyrics.
Yet today, he has returned to the hip-hop community that he only recently had held in disdain. He's recorded a new album, titled "Welcome Back," reunited with former mentor P. Diddy and his Bad Boy record label, and has even collaborated with some of today's more raucous rappers on their hits -- though all his raps are now squeaky clean.
His sudden comeback seems as inexplicable as his now-ended retirement, an incongruous step in a life that had been steeped in the word of God. But ask Ma$e if he's veered away from God's path, and he simply smiles and explains that it's all part of the same plan.
"I'm already in my field. This is just another part of my entrepreneurship," he says in his typical slow drawl, sitting in the offices of his record label. "I've got a purpose for being here this time. I've got a reason behind my voice now."
In Betha's view, he didn't have any reason behind his voice when he gave it all up at age 20. A charismatic figure with a baby face and dimples, he had become a rap superstar with his laid back rhymes and party lyrics that referred to sex, drugs and more sex, and sold about 4 million albums with just two albums -- 1997's "Harlem World" and the 1999's "Double Up." His voice was on hit after hit, from his own ("Feels So Good") to the numerous verses he dropped on other people's songs (Mariah Carey's "Honey" and the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Mo Money, Mo Problems").
But he wasn't happy with the person he was -- he describes that Ma$e as "arrogant" and a "womanizer" who lacked spiritual character.
"Here I am a young man who has seen a great amount of success, and I already have the money and the fame and all of those things, but I felt like I wanted to be rich on the inside. I didn't like the fact that I had all of those things but I was empty on the inside," he says.
"I wanted a fulfilling life, what every person wants. And then I just made a decision to leave music to venture out and go after what it is I always wanted, and that was total life prosperity. I just didn't want a musical side of me being prosperous but I'm dying on the inside."
So he left New York for Atlanta, and plunged into religion and tried to shed all traces of his former self. He created the nondenominational Mason Betha Ministries Inc., started his own church in suburban Atlanta and says he gave friends the fancy cars and jewels he had attained while a star.
Surprise return
According to friends, he didn't appear to be restless to return to his previous life. Cudda "Country" Love, Ma$e's former and present manager, recalls the casual conversations the two would have; rap never came up.
"My mind-set was Ma$e was not never coming back; I never talked to him about music," says Love, who founded Fo' Reel Entertainment and discovered Nelly. "The first time I talked to Ma$e since he retired, he needed a church van."
Betha says he didn't miss rap, although he adds: "My biggest fear was, who would I be without music? I had to prove it to myself that I could live out there and once I proved it to myself, then I think that's how this all came about."
It also came about because Nelly had been needling Love to ask Ma$e to collaborate on a song.
"I was like, 'Nelly wanna talk with you,"' Country recalls. "[Betha] was like, 'What kind of business Nelly want with me other than Jesus?'"
Yet Ma$e, who turns 27 today, agreed to go to Los Angeles to listen to Nelly record some songs. The first song he heard from the St. Louis rapper -- known for sometimes raunchy lyrics and videos -- wasn't appropriate for him.
"[But] the next day I came back he was playing a more clean song, a song that had some substance to it, and I was listening to the music and I was like, 'Yo, I'm going to get on this song with you,' and he was like, 'Go ahead, go ahead!'"

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