Producer, singer, songwriter
Producer, songwriter, singer, and entrepreneur Puff Daddy, or Sean “Puffy” Combs, founded Bad Boy Records in 1991, and sold more than 12 million albums in three years, including five platinum and ten gold albums. His hit single “No Way Out” rose to number one on six Billboard charts for 12 weeks; the multi-platinum single was the best-selling single of the year, and captured audiences in Europe as well. As founder of Bad Boy Records, he contributed to or oversaw the music and careers of Notorious B.I.G., Mase, Ginuwine, The Lox, Foxy Brown, Black Rob, Lil’ Kim, Twista, Busta Rhymes, Carl Thomas, Faith Evans, 112, Jay-Z, Shyne, Fuzzbubble, Tanya Blount, Total, Q-Tip, Mariah Carey, and numerous other hip-hop and rap artists. In 1999, he started a clothing line called Sean John, and founded Bad Boy Films production company, which released the film No Way Out. The film starred Combs and was produced and directed by him as well. No other record label founder to date has been more in the limelight than Puff Daddy, and none have contributed as much musically for the artists. The sometimes controversial Puff Daddy is a generational leader, selling a lifestyle rather than a record label, and—like the Motown and Def Jam founders before him—managed to capture the spirit of his time in music and marketing.
Sean Combs was born on November 4, 1970 in the Harlem section of New York City as the first of two children born to Melvin and Janice Combs. His mother, an aspiring model, raised the two children. His father was a street hustler who was fatally shot in Central Park when Combs was three years old. He discovered this at a later at the age of thirteen when perusing old newspaper clippings in the library. He lived in Harlem until the age of twelve, where he enjoyed block parties that featured hip-hop and rap music, and musical rhyming contests in Central Park. His family moved to Mount Vernon, NY, when he was twelve and he attended the all-male private school Mount St. Michael’s Academy. He was thin in high school and earned the nickname “Puffy” while playing football for Mount St. Michael’s Academy, because he would puff out his chest in an attempt to look bigger. In 1988, he went to Howard University and stayed for a year and a half. While at Howard, he demonstrated his knack for entrepreneurial enterprise by selling term papers and old exams, and promoting house parties and campus concerts.
Feeling unsettled, he left Howard eager to enter the work force and make a name for himself. He contacted Andre Harrell, then president of Uptown records in New York City, and asked to work as an intern for the label. Harrell was so fond of Combs that he gave him room and board and a small salary in return for his promotional skills. Combs’ efforts soon eclipsed those of entire departments at Uptown and his contributions to hit singles by artists such
Born Sean Combs on November 4, 1970 in the Harlem section of New York City; first of two children born to Melvin and Janice (an aspiring model) Combs; father fatally shot in Central Park when he was three; children: two sons: Justin (born mid-1990s) and Christian Casey (born 1999). Education: Attended Howard University in 1988 for a year and a half.
Started as an intern at Uptown records in New York City; due to superb promotional efforts and producer contributions was promoted to vice-president of the Promotion Department; founded Bad Boy Records, 1991; sold more than 12 million albums in three years, including five platinum and ten gold albums; hit single “No Way Out” rose to number one on six Billboard charts for twelve weeks; contributed to the releases of and/or oversaw the music and careers of Notorious B.I.G., Mase, Ginuwine, The Lox, Foxy Brown, Black Rob, Lil’ Kim, Twista, Busta Rhymes, Carl Thomas, Faith Evans, 112, Jay-Z, Shyne, Fuzzbubble, Tanya Blount, Total, Q-Tip, Mariah Carey, KRS-One, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Brian McKnight, SWV, Boyz 11 Men, Q-Tip, Beck, Whitney Houston, and others; released and was featured in the film No Way Out, which he produced and directed; released the single “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” 1996 with rapper Mase; released “I’ll Be Missing You,” as a tribute to slain friend and rapper Notorious B.I.G., 1997; performed with other Bad Boy Records artists on the No Way Out Tour, 1998; opened a soul food restaurant in Manhattan, mid-1990s; founded a charity called Daddy’s House Social Programs, a non-profit organization for local underprivileged children; created a Sean John clothing line and a Bad Boy Films production company in 1999; released a gospel album titled Thank You in 1999.
Awards: ASCAP’S Songwriter of the Year Award, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Bad Boy Records,/Arista, 6 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019; (212) 4897400.
as Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, and others rendered him invaluable to the label. Within a year, he was promoted to vice-president of the Promotion Department. At the close of 1991, Combs organized a charity celebrity event at New York’s City College basketball auditorium. The event was so popular it became overcrowded and eventually violent—the audience, impatient to leave, broke into a stampede and nine people were killed as a result. The event’s poor organization and lack of security were attributed to Combs, and he was devastated by the experience. This early tragedy tested his resiliency and resolve, but he emerged optimistic and much stronger.
While at Uptown Records, Combs produced multi-platinum releases for Jodeci and Mary J. Blige. Blige’s debut CD, What’s the 411 ?, proved to be a seminal example of hip-hop and R&B fusion. His success with these efforts prompted Combs to consider founding his own label within Uptown, and the first artist he wanted to sign was a Brooklyn-based rapper named Biggie Smalls who performed under the name Notorious B.I.G. (born Christopher Wallace). Combs was given Notorious B.I.G.’s tape by an editor at The Sourceand he became captivated by Notoriouw B.I.G.’s vivid lyricism and distinct New York sound. In orderto lure Notorious B.I.G. awayfrom his already lucrative street-hustling lifestyle, Combs offered him a hefty advance and instant recognition on the soundtrack for the film Who’s The Man, as well as an offer to collaborate on a song with Mary J. Blige. The offer worked, and Notorious B.I.G.’s career skyrocketed.
In 1993, Combs was fired from Uptown Records, reportedly because he was overconfident in the eyes of his coworkers, who felt threatened by his success. Combs then negotiated a $15 million deal to relocate Bad Boy Records to Arista Records, retaining complete creative control with full support from Arista. He produced several number one hits withCraig Mack and Notorious B.I.G., and his involvement in the artists’ videos and on their songs and remixes heightened his own profile. As Combs and Notorious B.I.G. were meeting with success on the east coast, Suge Knight and his Death Row Records artists—Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Doggy Dogg—were flourishing on the west coast. Combs and Knight were friends until Shakur was wounded in November of 1994 by a gunshot in the lobby of a Times Square recording studio. Shakur blamed the assault on Combs and B.I.G., both of whom were, coincidentally, in the building at the time.
The feud between Knight and Combs escalated; Knight made a veiled yet pointed remark about Combs at The Source Awards. Knght also offered to sign to Death Row Records those artists who didn’t want a label’s CEO appearing in their videos and on their releases. A friend of Knight’s was then shot, and Knight blamed the shooting on a member of Combs’ entourage. In March of 1996, there was a stand-off in the parking lot of the Soul Train Awards between the Combs faction and the Knight faction; guns were drawn, but none were shot. In September of that year, Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas. Shortly after, Combs, then a nascent vocalist, released the single “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” with newfound rapper Mase. Notorious B.I.G. released Life After Death the same year, and the title single reached number one on the charts. In March of 1997, Notorious B.I.G. was fatally shot after a Soul Train Awards party. Combs was in the car ahead of B.I.G.’s when he was shot, and rushed his best friend to the hospital. After Notorious B.I.G.’s death, Combs released “I’ll Be Missing You,” as a tribute to him, which featured the melody and hook from the Police hit of 1983 titled “Every Breath You Take.” The single immediately reached number one on the charts, as did Notorious B.I.G.’s single “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” from his posthumously-released CD No Way Out featuring Combs and Mase. The release sold more than four million copies.
Combs and the rest of the Bad Boy Records family took center stage on the first No Way Out Tour, bringing together a diverse audience. It was the second biggest concert of the year, after the Rolling Stones Tour. Along with his astounding artistic and financial success, Combs has had to grapple with producer, artist, and DJ detractors who claimed his reliance on obvious samples such as Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” on Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down, the Police hit on “I’ll Be Missing You,” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” on Been Around the World detracted from the general artistry and creativity of rap and hip-hop music. His admirers felt these obvious samples were a choice and a message, and part of a larger, successful commercial picture.
Selling a Lifestyle
After the birth of Combs’ first son, Justin, in the mid1990s, he felt a deeper sense of permanency and responsibility in his life. He opened a soul food restaurant in Manhattan and named it after Justin. His second son, Christian Casey, was born on April 1, 1999. Combs, who is noted for working as much as 20 hours a day and for partying just as hard, founded a charity called Daddy’s House Social Programs, a non-profit organization for local underprivileged children. The program provides children with access to computer camps, social clubs, and other beneficial outlets. In addition to creating a Sean John clothing line and a Bad Boy Films production company, he released a gospel album titled Thank You to inspire the generation to turn to God.
Combs has produced music for KRS-One, Mariah Carey, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Brian McKnight, SWV, Boyz 11 Men, Q-Tip, Beck, Whitney Houston, and all of the artists at Bad Boy Records. He transcended the role of label CEO, producer, and recording artist to achieve what few have achieved before him: the role of generational lifestyle leader, always in sync with and frequently defining the times.
No Way Out, Bad Boy, 1997.
Thank You, Bad Boy Records, 1999.
Diana, Princess of Wales: A Tribute, Columbia, 1997.
Funkmaster Flex Presents The Mix Tape, Volume 2, RCA, 1997.
In Tha Beginning... There Was Rap, Priority, 1997.
Chef Aid: The South Park Album, American, 1998.
The Source, September, 1998.
—B. Kimberly Taylor
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