"There's nothing in this world that can separate me from what I believe / From what I've achieved / All of this is because of Him / and I'm telling you now / As much as y'all don't want to hear this / I can do nothing of myself / It's all through Him, all through Him / So all around the world, you don't need to know success until you know Him / and Him is Jesus"
—from "Gotta Survive."

When rapper Mason "Mase" Betha hung up his microphone and headed for the pulpit back in 1999, nobody believed he was for real. Who would have? The emcee had sold more than four million copies of his 1997 debut, Harlem's World, and almost every single he touched with his suave rhyming finesse immediately turned to gold. He was the Prince Charming of hip–hop, whether he was dropping thugged–out club anthems alongside benefactor Sean "Puffy" Combs or flowing smoothly atop R&B jams with tons of for–the–ladies appeal.

This resilience plus his status as hip–hop A–lister made it harder to believe that God had chosen to knock him off his horse and put him on the road to Damascus—one that took him to seminary, eventually earning him the title of honorary Doctor of Theology. For a while, Betha took a hiatus from the musical spotlight, opting to focus on his spiritual growth. For a time he even stopped going by "Mase," saying it reminded him of his sinful past. He went on to lead a nondenominational congregation called S.A.N.E. Church in Atlanta, where he's currently head pastor.

So what prompted Betha to return to hip–hop? "When I left, it was because of God. And when I came back, it was because of God," he told Vibe recently. "If I want to tell somebody something, I don't print it in a newspaper they don't read. I felt like my life would be more effective in hip–hop. And I had to get strong enough to be able to live and maintain my lifestyle right in the midst of everything that made me contrary."

This renewed strength is evident in his new album Welcome Back. It's not one of those dense, inspirational "gospel rap" discs seeking to testimonialize his old ways and his newfound hope in Christ; the spoken–word segment near the end of "Gotta Survive" (excerpted above) is Mase's only explicit statement of faith. Elsewhere, he simply alludes to his beliefs in non–threatening ways, while making it clear where he's coming from.

For one, Welcome Back doesn't have one of those parental advisory stickers found on most mainstream hip–hop albums. There's no foul language, no references to drug use, and no gratuitous glorification of the bump–n'–grind tactics so prevalent in rap. Mase is clearly more about living out his faith rather than preaching about it. In the title track, for example, he recites, "See, I rep the Most High, still I'm the most fly…/I make my money without the coca/Living la vida without the loca…/I'm just a bad boy gone clean." "I Owe" expresses similar sentiments: "[I'm] back in the industry just to let the sinners see…/I got millions watching I can't go left/'Cause if I do then there go death."

Also unheard of in the hip–hop game is the way he approaches love, like in the unassuming and upfront way he dedicates "I Wanna Go" to his wife Twyla (wait, rappers get married?): "I'm in love with a girl named Twyla Betha." He no longer resorts to romancing voluptuous video girls, but he still has something to tell them: "We don't have to take our clothes off to have a good time," goes the hook in "We Don't Have To."

Good times is definitely the main feeling evoked by Welcome Back, an album that's by no means perfect—Mase still hasn't been able to shake off his "luxury flow," that is, the tendency to brag about his material possessions, however God–given they may be—but it's still a breath of fresh air amidst its other excess–laden contemporaries. Those looking for exegetical dissertations or vignettes of pastoral wisdom may want to look somewhere else, because "I'm not here to preach," he said in a press release. "I'm not here to market my faith, or judge anyone, but I do hope to show another, better way of life."

Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here.