DIDDY @ 50
It was a late August night in 2014, about 1 in the morning, and I was sitting across from Diddy in a barren storage facility that doubled as Revolt TV’s studio. He was wearing a chic all-black tuxedo, on the occasion of a downtown party he was hurrying to — with Naomi Campbell in tow, who helped powder him up for the camera — and I had 10 minutes to ask about the 20th anniversary of the Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album, Ready to Die.
The interview was for a half-hour broadcast special, and the other participants kept relaying that there was a need-to-know nugget about Biggie’s collaboration with Method Man, “The What,” track nine on the LP. You have to ask Puff about it, though, they all said.
Knowing my time was brief, I shot my shot right away, figuring I had an easy bull’s-eye.
“I don’t know,” Diddy declared, deflating me. “I can’t remember.”
His demeanor was relaxed, and he tried to dig deep, but there was just no handy recollection of why this particular record had a noteworthy story.
When we wrapped, after he’d given me some feel-good answers, he delivered an elegant, two-minute soliloquy of sorts, on why trying to pinpoint things like a story about “The What” was difficult for him.
In short, he’s done a lot of things, and he keeps doing a lot of things. You know the motto by now: Can’t stop, won’t stop…
Born to a Harlem hustler who was slain when Diddy was a child, the future entrepreneur and his family, led by his mother, Janice, who raised him, relocated to “Money Earnin’” Mount Vernon. There, he sought out local legend Heavy D in hopes of getting a meeting with Andre Harrell, then the head of Uptown Records, where Hev was signed. On account of his hustle, Diddy landed not only an internship with the label but scored a narrative that would frame his rise. As the story goes, he raced 10 blocks to a nearby studio to deliver tapes and returned huffing and puffing — he already had the nickname Puffy — before Harrell could finish the phone call he was on when Diddy left to run his errand. Harrell once told me it was that work ethic — more than his ear, taste or ambition — that was Diddy’s true gift.
Time and time again, Diddy would draw on his drive, first to help him launch the indomitable Bad Boy Records in his mid-20s, after an unceremonious departure from Uptown. He’d later re-center the label over and over, from its B.I.G. Mack beginnings to Biggie’s death and the Hitmen’s rise to the Black Rob, G. Dep and Loon resurrection. Not only did the saga always continue, it featured more and more popping champagne bottles — particularly in the late ’90s, when his stamp was all over the Billboard charts.
Diddy also danced in and out of other forays. In fashion, his leadership at his Sean John label earned him the prestigious CFDA Award for Menswear Designer of the Year in 2004; it was the first time an African-American designer received that honor. In nightlife, his Justin’s restaurants in New York and Atlanta were the places to be seen. He also accessorized his audience’s lifestyle with fragrances, media efforts (Notorious magazine and Revolt TV) and spirits (his CÎROC profit-sharing deal sealed his financial legacy). And he put footprints in the sand on Broadway, film, social media and, with MTV’s Making the Band, reality television.
Let’s not forget his civic-minded efforts: Vote or Die!, running the New York City marathon for charity and opening his own Harlem charter school.
Don’t worry if he writes rhymes; he draws blueprints.
At 50, Sean “Diddy” Combs remains as influential as ever. He’s refashioned himself as America’s dad by way of Combs Cartel, featuring his sons and daughters. It’s a role that fits as well as his tailored suits.
The man who rapped, Ain’t enough lime here for you to shine here, now trains his light upon others. An elder statesman, Diddy serves as an inspiration for a new class of music industry executives at Quality Control, TDE and the like. He’s also a mentor to stars such as the Weeknd, French Montana and Rick Ross, among others.
In Diddy, they see a man who’s experienced tragedy and triumph, who’s persevered through it all and paved new ground for the culture. Can’t nobody hold him down.
Happy Birthday, Diddy. Here’s to turning your golden year platinum.
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