Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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"Money back on anything that got my vocals," says Mase, a/k/a Ma$e, and he ain't jiving. The 20-year-old protege of hip hop superproducer Sean "Puffy" Combs has been heard on no fewer than four other artists' hits since the 1997 murder of Combs's homeboy, the Notorious B.I.G. On Harlem World (Bad Boy), the New York-based Tampa native's flowing drawl, magically articulate despite edges so soft you can see him grinning and shrugging, packs a sex appeal that's simultaneously confident and diffident. He isn't above pimp or gangsta talk, but those poses are only to establish street cred for a good-looking kid who has already set his sights on the romantic durability of an L.L. Cool J. Party raps like Love U So and the best-selling Feel So Good stand out on his pop-savvy, star-studded debut. But from the fierce 24 Hrs. To Live to the calm Cheat on You, his rhymes also show a realism that's sure to serve his careerism well.

In an r&b suddenly overflowing with winning guys crooning sex-positive come-ons, two of the cutest take radically different approaches. On My Way (LaFace), the second album by teen dream Usher, the 18-year-old makes clear that virginity is behind him without surrendering all of innocence's useful charms. Next's Rated Next (Arista), by three Twin Cities harmonizers who obviously studied Pop 101 with their famous neighbor Prince, is considerably more explicit. Genitalia male and female get loving attention on half these cuts, and in general carnality is viewed as a good excuse for love and happiness rather than vice versa. Hey, fellas--whatever works for you. Just be sure she's of age, OK?

Playboy, Nov. 1997

Oct. 1997 Dec. 1997