Combs, Sean “Puffy” 1969
Sean “Puffy” Combs 1969–
Rap musician, producer, music executive, fashion designer, entrepreneur
Very few people can follow popular culture today without knowing the name of Sean Combs, whether it is as Puff Daddy, the rapper of the mid-nineties, as P. Diddy, the rapper/actor/entertainer of the new millennium, or as Sean Combs, the mind behind Bad Boy Entertainment, the Sean John clothing line, and the producer with sure-fire hit making instincts. While he has had monstrous successes, Combs has had his share of rough times in the past decade. But, no matter where critics stand on Sean Combs the man, it is true that Combs’ name is synonymous with the rise of the hip hop culture in America.
Combs has had a prolific presence in the media. He has grown from producing albums for other artists to being the artist featured on his own albums. He has moved from the music world to acting in movies like the 2001 acclaimed Monster’s Ball. Lately, his entrepreneurial exploits have allowed him to depart from the entertainment industry to found a successful urban clothing line, Sean John. In 1997, he had a number one single “I’ll Be Missing You”. This single was replaced as number one on the Billboard Top 100 by a hit single by Notorious B.I.G., featuring Combs, “Mo Money, Mo Problems”. This feat was previously only met by Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Boyz II Men.
Sean Combs was born in New York City on November 4, 1969, to Janice and Melvin Earl Combs. Combs grew up believing his father was killed in a car accident when Combs was three, but found out at age 14, through research at a public library, that his father had been a small time hustler who was shot in the head on Central Park West. His widowed mother worked three jobs, including work as a teacher and a model, in order to scrape together money to buy a house in suburban Mount Vernon, New York.
“At first I thought nobody would accept me as a rap artist,” Combs later told Chuck Phillips of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “After all, it’s not like I came from the ‘hood,” he added. But his mother maintained the family’s ties to New York’s Harlem, and it was there that young Sean Combs obtained a remarkable cultural education, soaking up the creations of the founders of rap music: Grandmaster Flash, Run D.M.C., KRS-One, and more. “I would be 12 years old, and sometimes I’d
At a Glance…
Born Sean J. Combs on November 4, 1969, in New York, NY; son of Janice and Melvin Earl Combs; divorced; children: Justin and Christian Combs. Education: Attended Howard University, 1988-90.
Career: Uptown Records, New York, intern, 1990-91, director of artists and repertory, 1991, vice president, 1991-93; record producer, 1994–; Bad Boy Entertainment, founder and chief executive officer, 1994–; rap musician, 1997–; Sean John clothing line, founder and chief executive officer, 1998–; actor, 2001–; television producer, 2002–.
Memberships: American Federation of Television & Radio Artists; American Federation of Musicians; Daddy’s House Programs; Sean “Puffy” Combs and Janice Combs Endowed Scholarship Fund, founder.
Awards: 3M, Visionary Award for Producing, 1994; Impace, Award of Merit for Creative Excellence, 1994; ASCAP, Rhythm & Soul Award “Juicy”, 1995; Gavin, Rap Indie (Dist. by a Major) of the Year, 1995; Gram-mys, Award for Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group, with Faith Evans and 112, Best Rap Album, 1998; Howard University, Alumni Award for Distinguished Postgraduate Achievement 1999.
Addresses: Office —Chief Executive Officer, Bad Boy Entertainment, 1540 Broadway, 30th Fl, New York, NY, 10036.
be out until 3, 4 in the morning, seeing the music. I had to sneak out to do it, but I was doing it,” he told Rolling Stone’s Mikal Gilmore. He obtained the nickname “Puffy” from a childhood friend. “Whenever I got mad as a kid, I used to huff and puff…. That’s why my friend started calling me Puffy,” he told Jet.
Combs enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1988. Although he spent much of his time promoting rap-music events, he managed to remain at Howard for at least two years. Recommended by rapper Heavy D., he parlayed his musical activities into an internship at New York’s Uptown Records in 1990. After just three months, Combs attracted the attention of label head and former rap artist Andre Harrell, who named his young protege director of artists and repertoire, a position of extraordinary influence for a twenty-year-old with a keen understanding of the city’s flourishing rap scene. Within a year he became vice president. Combs quickly became an accomplished producer, working on such successful Uptown releases as Jodeci’s Forever My Lady and Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411?.
Things took a turn for the worse at a disastrous celebrity basketball event that Combs promoted at New York’s City College in December of 1991. Nine people were killed in a stampede at the gates. In the aftermath, Combs received some blame for the deaths, but was successfully defended in court by renowned attorney William Kunstler. In 1993 he was fired from Uptown Records. The split with Harrell was difficult for him. “It was like the old sensei (teacher) rejecting the student,” Combs told Rolling Stone.
A scant two weeks later, however, Combs finalized a deal with the large music conglomerate Arista to distribute the musical output of his new company, Bad Boy Entertainment. Bad Boy succeeded from the start and over the first four years of its existence posted skyrocketing sales; estimates of total sales over the period 1993 to 1997 range from $100 million to $200 million. Arista rewarded Combs with a $6 million cash advance when he renegotiated his relationship with the label in 1997.
Although Combs has produced top-chart-level recordings by Bad Boy artists Mase, Craig Mack, and others, and has worked with outside artists of the magnitude of Aretha Franklin and Sting, his greatest success at the helm of Bad Boy came with the recordings of New York rapper Christopher Wallace, better known as Biggie Smalls, who recorded under the name of the Notorious B.I.G. Smalls was Combs’ first major project at Bad Boy. “He saw things so vivid,” Combs recalled in a 1997 interview with Rolling Stone. “If you sat and listened to a Biggie Smalls record in the dark, you see a whole movie in front of you.” The first Notorious B.I.G. album, Ready to Die, attracted widespread attention; the second, the prophetically named Life After Death, was one of 1997’s top sellers, spawning an unprecedented two Number One singles after Smalls’ murder in March of that year. Combs, who had earlier moved in the direction of mainstream R&B and was credited by some with founding a hybrid named hip-hop soul, proved himself, as executive producer of the Notorious B.I.G. recordings, master of the hardcore gangsta rap style during its period of maximum sales.
He was to achieve even greater success on his own, recording with various other Bad Boy artists under the name Puff Daddy & the Family. The No Way Out album, released in July of 1997, included “I’ll Be Missing You”; the album took the theme of a tribute or a requiem for the murdered Smalls. Musically, the album was marked by wholesale adoption of the melodies and rhythm tracks of familiar pieces of R&B and rock from the 1970s and 1980s. Writer Sean Piccoli of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel dubbed the practice “stapling,” as opposed to the “sampling” present on earlier rap recordings, where only short snippets of music would be borrowed from earlier sources. “I’ll Be Missing You” was directly based on the 1983 Police hit, “Every Breath You Take.”
Combs has taken criticism for this practice, both from other hip-hop artists and from fans of the artists whose work he borrows. Yet Combs was not the inventor of such wholesale borrowing; as he was putting the finishing touches on the No Way Out disc, movie star/rapper Will Smith recycled Patrice Rushen’s 1982 hit “Forget Me Nots” on the soundtrack of the film Men in Black. The style dated back at least to MC Hammer’s 1990 “U Can’t Touch This” (based on Rick James’s “Super Freak” of a decade earlier). Furthermore, those who claimed that Combs in “I’ll Be Missing You” was coasting along on the strength of the Police recording mostly failed to notice the other quotation contained in the song: the early twentieth-century Protestant hymn “I’ll Fly Away,” and, on the album, the classical orchestral work Adagio for Strings, composed in 1915 by Samuel Barber. Clearly, for millions of listeners, the works blended into a convincing expression of Combs’ grief over his friend’s death.
The end of the 1990s saw a rise in Combs’ presence in various courtrooms throughout the country as well as a rise in Combs’ presence in the business and philanthropic world. Daddy’s House Social Programs began in 1995. This charity organization, guided by both Combs and Executive Director Sister Souljah, seeks to promote the positive influence of parents, teachers and mentors for urban youth. Daddy’s House has spearheaded programs in academic tutoring, promoting higher education, and international travel for students. The charity even runs summer camping programs in upstate New York.
In 1997 Combs opened up Justin’s, a fine dining restaurant in New York and another in Atlanta in 1999. He has plans to build restaurants in various locations like Washington, D.C., Chicago, Miami, and Detroit. In 1998 Combs made his run at a clothing line, Sean John. Designed with urban male youth in mind, the clothing line became an almost immediate success and has been nominated for a CFDA fashion award every year since its inception. In 2000 Combs appeared on his own reality show on ABC called Making The Band. The series ran for two seasons on ABC, but moved to MTV under the name Making The Band 2 for its third season. Recently, Combs has been slated to make his Broadway debut in the revival of Raisin In The Sun.
In 1999 Combs was brought up on charges of assaulting record executive Steve Stoute. Stoute was one of the executives who allowed the airing of a video on MTV that pictured Combs nailed to a cross. Combs was upset at the disrespect he believed the video showed to God. After a public apology to Stoute, the charges were dropped. In 2000 Combs was charged with criminal possession of a weapon stemming from an incident at a New York nightclub on December 27, 1999. Combs was at the club with then girlfriend singer-actress Jennifer Lopez. A jury, in March of 2001, found Combs not guilty of all charges. On May 24, 2000, Combs settled the lawsuit that was a result of the 1991 New York City College tragedy.
All of Combs’ legal and personal problems culminated in a public persona name change. In 2001, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs made an announcement that the entertainment world would now know him by the name “P. Diddy.” The name change stemmed from the legal issues, but that was not the only reason. Combs believed that he was not given the respect and admiration he deserved for his entertainment work. He looked at himself as a person who, for the most part, stayed out of the east coast/west coast rap wars, looked to better the quality of hip hop entertainment, and tried to become a role model and leader for people of his race. A name change would allow him to wipe the slate clean and start anew. However, Combs found that even as P. Diddy, his past still haunted him and his respectability was still in question. On New Year’s Eve of 2003, according to Villa, Combs announced at a party, “First they called me Puff Daddy, then they called me P. Diddy. But now I’m just Sean Combs.” It is clear that with the success Combs has had since his first name change, the next few years will prove to be both exciting and profitable for Sean Combs.
No Way Out, Bad Boy, 1997.
Forever, Bad Boy, 1999.
The Sage Continues, Bad Boy, 2001.
Monster’s Ball 2001.
Britney Spears, In The Zone, BMG International, 2003.
Faith Evans, Faith, Bad Boy, 1995.
L.L. Cool J, Phenomenon, Def Jam, 1997.
Lil’ Kim, Notorious K.I.M., Atlantic, 2000.
Mary J. Blige, Love & Life, Geffen, 2003.
The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die, Bad Boy, 1994.
The Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death, Bad Boy, 1997.
The Notorious B.I.G., Born Again, Bad Boy, 1999.
Combs has also produced recordings by Bad Boy artists Total, 112, the Lox, and others; he has produced recordings for artists associated with other labels, including Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Keith Sweat, and the Police. He has worked in remixing on a number of albums by artists like Janet Jackson and even the 1999 tribute album to Princess Diana. He also appears in his own reality show called Making the Band.
Billboard, August 30, 1997.
Black Enterprise, December 1, 1999.
Entertainment Weekly, October 31, 1997.
Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, October 19, 1997.
Hip Hop News, January 13, 2004.
Jet, January 12, 1998; February 21, 2001; April 16, 2001; January 12, 2004.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 26, 1997.
New York Times, January 1, 1998.
Rolling Stone, April 20, 1995; August 7, 1997.
Source, May 1997.
USA Today, July 22, 1997.
Vibe, December 1997/January 1998.
P. Diddy & the Bad Boy Family, www.p-diddy.com (February 2, 2004).
—James M. Manhiem and Adam R. Hazlett
"Combs, Sean “Puffy” 1969." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 16, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/combs-sean-puffy-1969-0
"Combs, Sean “Puffy” 1969." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved March 16, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/combs-sean-puffy-1969-0
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