The 24 Guiding Lessons for a Perfect Life, According to Mase’s ‘Harlem World’

Bad Boy

I was listening to the radio the other morning and Mase came up. Do you remember Mase? Of course you do, because you are perfect. I love you. And I love Mase too.

There was a moment between 1997 and 1998 when all of rap seemed to orbit around him. He was alley-ooped up into stardom by Puff Daddy as the replacement star for the Bad Boy label following the Notorious B.I.G.’s death.1 This was back when Puff was sort of ruling rap, so the cosign was truly powerful. Mase became enjoyably unavoidable. He did songs with basically everyone who was important then, glowing most radiantly on Biggie’s posthumous masterpiece, “Mo Money, Mo Problems.”

Mase was a marvel, his charisma a super-magnet. His voice effortlessly echoed, smooth enough to make you like him. And so everyone did. His debut album, Harlem World, which celebrates its 17th anniversary this week, hit no. 1 on Billboard’s pop and R&B chart, selling more than 3 million copies and earning unanimous praise. His place in history can never be denied.

But so the radio thing: He came up during a conversation on “The Breakfast Club,” a nationally syndicated morning radio show hosted by Charlamagne Tha God, DJ Envy, and Angela Yee. Charlamagne was explaining how he and Mase had gotten into a minor confrontation when Mase claimed that he’d been blackballed by the industry (he’s attempted several unsuccessful comebacks in hopes of re-creating his late-’90s run). Charlamagne’s argument to Mase was that there was no ban, nor would there be — people had just stopped caring about him.

While Charlamagne’s is a much more sensible idea than a worldwide shunning of one of rap’s onetime most likable figures, it doesn’t make it any more palatable. I’m sorry, Mase. I never stopped caring for you, but I did stop checking for you. So I’m sorry, Mase. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that. You’re an angel. And Harlem World is a revelation.

So, to celebrate: The 24 Guiding Lessons for a Perfect Life tucked away on Harlem World.

1. How to Be the Best at Picking Boats

On a yacht, n-​-​-​-​, fuck a boat that row.” (“Do You Wanna Get $”)

I definitely do not recommend ever getting on a boat. Every movie that I’ve seen that had a boat in it also had death upon death in it. There was a boat in Jaws and people on it were eaten by a shark. There was a boat in Amistad and people on it were tied to a weight and thrown into the ocean. There was a boat in The Perfect Storm and Mark Wahlberg had whatever it is that you call facial hair that’s between a goatee and a beard.


It’s just all bad. So stay off boats. If you have to get on one, however, definitely pick a yacht before you pick a rowboat.

Sidebar: If you were going to liken phases of Mase’s career to types of boats, then I guess back when Harlem World came out he was a yacht and now he is a rowboat. :(

2. How to Be the Best Financial Adviser

Yo, the reality of it all, everybody can’t ball.” (“Do You Wanna Get $”)

I have a finance lady. She’s super-smart and super-good with money. Our relationship is mostly me asking, “Hey, is there a way I can afford to buy the Spurs, or if not that can I at least buy Manu Ginobili?” and her ask-telling me, “Would you mind not emailing me with these sorts of questions?” Because the reality of it all, is that everybody cannot ball. How very sad.

3. How to Take Pride in Your Personal Appearance

“And brush my waves so I’m handsome when the bitches greet me.” (“Take What’s Yours”)

Sometimes I wear the same clothes to work for a week straight just because. And I probably spend maybe 75 percent of my days with a smear of Cheetos Puffs dust across my shirt. There are very few people excited to greet me.

4. How to Be an Equal-Opportunity Murderer

“We ain’t discriminatin’, even thugs gon’ be killed.” (“Take What’s Yours”)

Because you can be a murderer, but one thing you CANNOT be is a bigoted murderer. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and murder for all, is how that saying goes. Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be murdered, and we will do so without prejudice, is what’s on that plaque on the side of the Statue of Liberty.

5. How to Be the Best at Evading Detection in Your Storm-Bringing, Even by the Weatherman

“The weatherman don’t even know the storm I’ma bring.” (“Take What’s Yours”)

Every time I try to bring a storm, even a very tiny one, it is immediately detected. It’s a real downer. Sometimes I just want to show up like, “Surprise! It’s a storm.” But whenever I’m walking up, there’s always someone that’s like, “Hey. Hey, what’s that behind your back? Is that a storm? That’s a storm, isn’t it? Aw, man. Get outta here with that storm.” Sad.

6. How to Be the Best at Making Thugs Love Me

“Keep a gat by my genitals, thugs love me.” (“Take What’s Yours”)

The problem I was having before I listened to Harlem World was that thugs liked me, but they didn’t love me. But then after I heard this song, I knew what the problem was: I had zero guns by my penis. You want thugs to love you? Put a gun by your penis or vagina. That’s the first place they’re going to look for it. It’s like a secret handshake, except with your genitals. It’s all very complicated.

7. How to Be the Best at Holding a Grudge

“We beef ’89; still watch your back.” (“Will They Die 4 You?”)

God forgives; Mase doesn’t.

8. How to Be the Best at Appreciating Yourself

“I knock my own shit, like I’m on my own dick.” (“Will They Die 4 You?”)

My mom used to always tell me that nobody was going to be on my own dick until I was on my own dick. Moms are very smart. Moms and Mase have all the helpful advice.

9. How to Be the Best at Understanding That People Are Going to Look at You

Yo, I can’t get mad cuz you look at me / Cuz on the real, look at me.” (“Lookin’ at Me”)

This kind of falls within the same self-dick appreciation parameters as the last principle. It’s just good to reinforce. Mase wants you to love you. That’s too real. What an angel.

10. How to Be the Best at Spending Time With Your Family

I rent scooters, I’m with my family.” (“Lookin’ at Me”)

There are, like, about 50 different times on Harlem World when Mase says he’s going to kill someone or hurt someone, so what’s fun is to picture him shooting someone in the forehead and then driving to his sister’s house and kicking around outside on a Razor Scooter with those light-up wheels. Bro, have you ever even seen a Razor Scooter with the light-up wheels? Oh, man. One time I was riding my son’s and I did a jump off this ramp and so I was flying through the air and the wheel lights were flickering because the wheels were still spinning and — I am not making this up — when I did the jump I swear to God I saw the Virgin Mary and she was like, “That’s so rad.” The Virgin Mary is a big fan of Razor Scooters. Maybe you’d know that if you tried reading a Bible every once in a while.

11. How to Be the Best at Shopping for Coats

“Buy ’em all minks before December hit.” (“Love U So”)

If you’re planning on buying mink coats (or fur coats, or any coat, really), you’re definitely going to want to do so before winter comes. That’s just good planning.

Sidebar: I’ve worn a fur coat only once in my life. It was a fake. My wife (she was my girlfriend at the time) wanted me to take her to some fancy restaurant. I said I didn’t want to go. She said that she wasn’t asking, that she was going to get in the car and I’d better be in there in 10 minutes and I’d better have on a dress coat because it was the sort of place where guys wore coats. I said fine. I put on a muscle shirt and her fake fur coat. I wore it during the whole dinner. She never asked me to go back there. That’s a good example of winning the battle and the war.

12. How to Have Good Hygiene

“Though I puff trees my teeth never yellow.” (“Love U So”)

If your teeth are the same color as Michael Jordan’s eyeballs, then things aren’t going that great for you.

13. How to Be the Best at Knowing Where You’ve Been Shot

You be the same cat that I run up on and spit at /
 Bleedin’ all crazy and don’t know where you hit at.” (“The Player Way”)

This is, low-key, maybe the best rap line of 1997.

14. How to Find a Girl That’ll Make You Happy

“I need a girl that if I ask her handle me and my peeps / Get down dirty, and lick ice down my butt cheeks.” (“I Need to Be”)

Mase: So tell me a little about you.
Woman: Well, I’m 27. I work in marketing. I ha—
Mase: No, no. Not your job. Tell me about you.
Woman: Oh. Um, I’m a happy person, the child of a strong marria—
Mase: I want to hear about you as a person, not your history.
Woman: I’m a little confused. I don’t know how to answer.
Mase: OK. That’s fair. It’s a tricky question.
Woman: Seems so.
Mase: Basically, what I’m asking is …
Woman: Yes?
Mase: Will you lick ice down my butt cheeks?


Mase was a wild one.

15. How to Be the Best at Handling a Loss

If I lose I get loc, put a fool in the yoke.
 Two to his throat, take his jewels and his coat.” (“N-​-​-​-​z Wanna Act”)

If every time you take a loss someone gets shot twice in the neck and has his jewels and coat stolen, then guess what: You won’t be taking losses very long. That’s a little thing called good merchandise quantity management. When I was in college I had a part-time job at Abercrombie & Fitch. There was this loss-prevention officer fellow who would hang out at the store every few days. I remember he got fired because he was helping his friends steal clothes. He’s my second favorite loss-prevention officer of all time. Mase is the first.

16. How to Be the Best at Keeping Score

You kill my man, I kill your bitch, now we even.” (“N-​-​-​-​z Wanna Act”)

This sounds fair, but seriously, don’t kill people.

17. How to Be the Best at Managing Her Expectations in a Relationship

To keep it all real, you come second to my money.” (“What You Want”)

I have to assume that this is a line directed at a woman who is not the woman he loves. My wife, now, she does not come second to my money. She doesn’t come second to anything, except maybe she came second to Kawhi Leonard the night that he blocked Russell Westbrook’s layup in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals last year to send the Spurs to the Finals. I’ve had girlfriends who came second to money. I had one girlfriend who came second to NBA JAM. I had a girlfriend who came second to karate movies on HBO. I had a girlfriend who came second to Will Smith’s “Just the Two of Us” video. Never my wife, though. Priorities.

18. How to Be the Best at Managing Your Own Expectations in a Relationship

“All women flirt, all women cheat.” (“Cheat on You”)

This is only a true thing when it’s a true thing. Not all women cheat. But they will all cheat on you if you, say, put them second to NBA JAM. I’m just saying.

19. How to Be the Best at Using the Last 24 Hours of Life

I’d even look for my dad that I never knew.” (“24 Hrs. to Live”)

“24 Hrs. to Live” is all about what you’d do with your last 24 hours to live. Mase’s verse is full of this sort of sentiment. He talks about taking black kids out of the ghetto, bringing white kids into the ghetto, helping homeless people, on and on. DMX is on the song, too. His whole verse is about how he’d spend all that time killing people and then suicide-bomb himself because fuck you, Death, the only one who decides when DMX dies is DMX. I love DMX so much.

20. How to Not Pressure a Woman Into Sex

“So tomorrow I use that pressure to undress her /
 But the more I caress her, more I feel like a molester /
 So I wait for the day I deserve it.” (“I Need to Be”)

This is a good lesson because don’t ever do that.

Sidebar: I always thought his choice of the word “molester” was extra suspect, particularly when you consider that later in that same song he warns, “See nowadays man you got to know these bitches age.”

21. How to Be the Best at Being Petty

“Man who needs ya? You don’t need me, I don’t need you neither.” (“Wanna Hurt Mase?”)

If someone hurts your feelings, then you hurt their feelings. That’s how that works. That’s being an adult.

22. How to Be the Best at Accepting a Practical Joke That Has Been Played on You

“I don’t get mad when n-​-​-​-​’s bitches prank me.” (“Wanna Hurt Mase?”)

An admittedly weird piece of advice to find on a rap album, but a useful one nonetheless.

23. How to Be the Best at Understanding Irony As It Relates to Promiscuity

You can’t be a playa and hate the playas / That don’t make no sense.” (“Jealous Guy”)

It really doesn’t make sense.

24. How to Be the Best at Being Technologically Savvy

“Actually, anything you got to ask me, fax me.” (“Wanna Hurt Mase?”)

It’s so dope that back then a way that you let people know you were rich was to let them know that you owned a fax machine.

Sidebar: I was teaching class yesterday and we got into a conversation about how there was no Internet when I was a kid. A girl asked me if I had a cell phone when I was in middle school. I told her no, that I didn’t get one until I was 20 years old and in college. She asked what people did in emergencies when there weren’t cell phones. “Like, what if you got hit by a car? How did you call an ambulance?” I told her you just had to lie there and yell “Help!” real loud. She said, “So you really didn’t have a cell phone?” I said, “No.” She said, “Did you have anything?” I said, “No.” She said, “Was your cell phone two cans connected by a string?” I’m 33 years old. I might as well be 1,000.

Filed Under: Music, mase, Harlem World, puff daddy, Bad boy, Rap, The notorious B.I.G.

Shea Serrano is a staff writer for Grantland. His latest book, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed, is a New York Times best seller and is available everywhere.

Archive @ SheaSerrano