Diddy - Biography
By Paul Glanting
The term “mogul” in hip-hop has come to be the crowning achievement of the genre. The primary reason for the steep value placed upon this accolade comes from the fairly tumultuous relationship which has developed between hip-hop artists and the labels which house them. This tense relationship has been characterized by one side striving to remain “true” to their roots while the other is accused of trying to colonize the genuine nature of the music. However, when people like Russell Simmons--who actually emerged from a hip-hop background began to run record labels, the revelation that autonomy within hip-hop was possible, made it all the more desirable. Unarguably one of hip-hop’s most prolific moguls, Sean “Diddy” Combs took the business behind hip-hop and made it an integral part of the genre’s public image. Sean Combs has miraculously found equilibrium between the true and the commercial. It’s maddeningly difficult to sum up Combs’ contributions to the genre with just a few sentences. But, if one were to try they’d perhaps state that he’s run one of hip-hop’s most lucrative labels, launched the careers of a plethora of hip-hop and R&B mainstays such as the Notorious B.I.G., Lil Kim, Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige and 112; he’s produced a steady streak of widely circulated hip-hop singles; he’s launched a clothing line, as well as a premium vodka...and this list could easily continue.
Sean Combs was born in Harlem to a drug-dealer father who was tragically murdered when Combs was still young. Flashing early signs of ambition, Combs juggled a prestigious internship at Uptown Records with an equally prestigious education at Howard University. Combs would eventually drop out of Howard to pursue a career in music. His internship at Uptown paid off and Combs became a top executive at the label, signing heavyweight R&B acts such as Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. Combs contributed a good amount of production to Blige’s debut album What’s the 411? (Uptown-1992). Combs also came into possession of a demo-tape from a young Brooklyn-based rapper named the Notorious B.I.G. also known as Biggie Smalls. After being impressed by the demo, Combs signed the fledgling rapper. However, despite the good degree of success Combs was able to mine, he was eventually fired from Uptown.
Distraught but determined to take his career into his own hands, Combs formed Bad Boy Records. Following Combs was his protégée the Notorious B.I.G. Bad Boy Records’ inaugural release would be the Notorious B.I.G.’s watershed album Ready to Die (Bad Boy-1994), which Sean Combs excessively produced. From the uplifting rags-to-riches musings on “Juicy” to the nihilistic aggression on “Gimme the Loot”, Ready To Die was hailed as a hip-hop classic and cemented Biggie Smalls as one of hip-hop's most skilled rappers. Bad Boy--along with Combs’ production credits would quickly balloon. Jumping on-board with Sean Combs’ label were groups like Total, the Lox, SWV and 112. The Harlem-born entrepreneur also contributed production to several tracks from TLC’s immensely popular album CrazySexyCool (LaFace-1994).
After a streak of success behind the mixing board, Combs would step into the limelight himself. Dubbing himself Puff Daddy, he recorded the single “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”, which used a catchy sample from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s hip-hop classic “The Message.”
As the nineties began to pass their midpoint, a war of words began to emerge between hip-hop artists on the West Coast and those on the East Coast. The Notorious B.I.G. was Puff Daddy were both targets of West Coast rappers, mainly from Tupac Shakur--who would mysteriously be fatally gunned down.
Along with being his mentor, Puff Daddy had developed a personal friendship with B.I.G. Much like his overseeing of Biggie’s acclaimed first album, Puff Daddy oversaw the production of its follow-up, Life After Death (Bad Boy-1997). However, two weeks prior to Life After Death’s release, Biggie Smalls was shot and killed after he attended an awards show. Devastated, Puff Daddy concocted a song called “I’ll Be Missing You”, which closely sampled The Police’s melodic song “I’ll Be Watching You.”
On the heels of success from singles like “I’ll Be Missing You” and “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”, Puff Daddy released his album No Way Out (Bad Boy-1997). The remarkably radio-friendly album quickly ascended to number one on the billboard charts and was supplemented by a plethora of hip-hop mainstays such as Busta Rhymes and Jay-Z, along with Bad Boy label-mates like Lil Kim, Mase and the late Notorious B.I.G. Puff Daddy would also take home a Grammy for the album in the category of "Best Rap Album."
Puff Daddy’s utilization of a preexisting samples from The Police and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five would be the first in a lengthy streak of symbiosis where Puff Daddy used samples from bygone songs to power his radio hits and simultaneously breath new life into these classic songs. For the next couple of months, Puff Daddy sampled other classic songs such as Led Zeppelins “Kashmir” for his song “Come With Me” from the Godzilla: The Album (Epic-1998). The Harlem-born mogul also reworked David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” for the single “Been Around the World” from No Way Out.
Puff Daddy followed his successful No Way Out with Forever (Bad Boy-1999) and despite a fairly successful commercial showing, the album was not received favorably by critics.
Perhaps hoping to reinvent himself, Puff Daddy announced that he was changing his stage-name to P. Diddy. Under his new moniker, P. Diddy released The Saga Continues...(Bad Boy-2001). With his sizable Bad Boy roster in tow, P. Diddy’s third effort yielded several prolific hip-hop singles such as the bouncy “Bad Boy For Life” and the ballad “I Need A Girl.” The album reestablished P. Diddy as one of hip-hop’s most ubiquitous entities, seamlessly fusing the world of gritty urban tales and nightclub-friendly radio hits.
Hoping to capitalize on his already commercially-savvy catalogue, P. Diddy released We Invented the Remix (Bad Boy-2002). While P. Diddy and his in-house production team had handled a majority of the production on past P. Diddy/ Puff Daddy albums, P. Diddy recruited many other big-name hip-hop producers such as Megahertz, Irv Gotti and Mario Winans to remix past singles. Also, joining P. Diddy on the reworking of his past singles were hip-hop and R&B icons like Ghostface Killah, Usher, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg.
Diddy then linked up with MTV for the second season of the show Making The Band, a reality show where Diddy was to assemble an elite rap group. Eventually the group, dubbed Da Band, released the marginally successful album Too Hot for TV (Bad Boy-2003).
After dabbling with acting and even a Broadway role, P. Diddy announced he was once again altering his stage-name to just "Diddy." After a four-year hiatus from recording, he released his first album under the Diddy alias Press Play (Bad Boy-2006). Press Play was another commercial success, springing to number one on the Billboard charts, probably thanks to catchy singles like the Keyshia Cole-assisted “Last Night” and “Come to Me.” Like each of Combs’ previous albums, Press Play again featured an all-star lineup of perennial hit-makers including Timbaland, Kanye West and The Neptunes, as well as guest vocals from Christina Aguilera, Big Boi (of Outkast) and longtime collaborator Mary J. Blige. While the album is credited to Diddy, the album also features a good amount of ghostwriting from some of hip-hop’s elite, as well as a few under-the-radar artists such as Pharoahe Monch and T.I., Nas and Ludacris.
For a genre that was never expected to last long, Sean Combs continues to defy expectations. Along with flawlessly creating some of hip-hop’s most aesthetically enjoyable classics like clockwork, the Harlem-born rapper/producer continues to venture into nearly every direction he can and truly proves that hip-hop is beyond just a musical genre, it’s an empire.