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Breakdown: Ma$e’s Rhyme Scheme on The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money Mo Problems”

Damn, Ma$e.
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In 2018, The Notorious B.I.G.’s second and final studio album, Life After Death, crossed the diamond certification threshold, becoming 11x platinum. It is the best-selling hip-hop album of the 20th century. As if that isn’t impressive enough, Life After Death is also the first hip-hop album released to host two No. 1 singles, “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money Mo Problems,” as noted by Hip Hop By The Numbers’ Ben Carter.

Released as a single 22 years ago this week, “Mo Money Mo Problems” came about, according to producer Stevie J, when Harlem rapper Ma$e asked him to sample Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” The inspired production excited everyone involved, and so this classic Bad Boy collaboration was born.

At the time of the song's release, Ma$e’s braggadocious bars, which center on his platinum self, were some of the most technical to appear on a Billboard-topping single. With that in mind, let’s breakdown the verse that Drake infamously interpolated the first six lines of, almost literally, on “Worst Behavior.”

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Some takeaways from Ma$e’s “Mo Money Mo Problems” verse above:

  • The verse is 17 bars long and contains 153 words
  • 102 of those 153 words are unique, or 67%
  • 86 of those 153 words include significant rhymes, or 56.2%
  • With 97 significant rhymes, Ma$e averages 5.71 rhymes per bar

Ma$e’s flow is the defining element of his verse, highlighted by the overlapping of his multis, which is a technique The Notorious B.I.G. famously employs on “Hypnotize.” To illustrate this method further, let’s focus in on lines 10 through 13:

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In the excerpt above, the first multi grouping, aka “play around/lay it down,” contains the latter half of the second. Play around, it’s a bet, lay it down. Notice, also, that the third and fifth group multi groupings both share the first two syllables.

By transitioning from multi to multi, Ma$e can deliver a smooth listening experience at no cost to his technicality; this is the distinction between trying to be technical and being a technically proficient writer.

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