Producer, record company executive, 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. The sometimes controversial Puff Daddy has sold 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. Combs discovered this at the age of 13, while when perusing old newspaper clippings in the library. He lived in Harlem until the age of 12, where he enjoyed block parties that featured hip-hop and rap music and attended musical rhyming contests in Central Park. His family moved to Mount Vernon, New York, when he was 12 and he attended the all-male private school Mount St. Michael's Academy. Small in stature, he earned the nickname "Puffy" while playing football for the school, because he would puff out his chest in an attempt to look bigger. In 1988 he attended 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 by promoting house parties and campus concerts. But he felt unsettled and left Howard, eager to enter the work force and make his fortune. Later, after he had amassed considerable wealth in his assorted business enterprises, Combs would endow half a million dollars to his alma mater for a scholarship fund.
Seeking His Fortune
Combs 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's efforts soon eclipsed those of entire departments at Uptown, and his contributions to hit singles by artists such 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 celebrity charity event at New York's City College basketball auditorium. The event was so popular that 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, but this early experience tested his resiliency and resolve, and he emerged optimistic about his future.
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 prompted Combs to consider founding his own label, Bad Boy Records, within Uptown. The first artist he wanted to sign was a Brooklyn-based rapper named Biggie Smalls (born Christopher Wallace) who performed under the name Notorious B.I.G. In order to lure Notorious B.I.G. away from 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 co-workers. 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 with Craig Mack and Notorious B.I.G., and his involvement in the artists' videos and on their songs and remixes heightened his own profile. While 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 remained 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.
For the Record …
Born Sean Combs on November 4, 1970, in Harlem, NY; son of Melvin and Janice Combs; two sons: Justin and Christian Casey; two daughters, D'Lila Star and Jessie James. Education: Attended Howard University.
Started as intern at Uptown records in New York City; promoted to vice-president of the promotion department; founded Bad Boy Records, 1991; contributed to releases and oversaw music and careers of numerous well-known hip-hop and rap artists; produced, directed, and was featured in film No Way Out, released "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down," 1996, with rapper Mase; released "I'll Be Missing You," 1997; performed on No Way Out Tour, 1998; opened soul food restaurant in Manhattan, mid-1990s; founded Daddy's House Social Programs for local underprivileged children; created Sean John clothing line and Bad Boy Films production company, 1999; released Forever, 1999; The Saga Continues, 2001; Broadway debut in Raisin in the Sun, 2004; sold Bad Boy Records to Warner Music Group, 2005; released Press Play, 2006.
Awards: ASCAP, Rhythm & Soul Award for "Juicy," 1995; Gavin, Rap Indie of the Year, 1995; 3M, Visionary Award for Producing, 1994; Impace, Award of Merit for Creative Excellence, 1994; ASCAP, Songwriter of the Year, 1997; National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (Grammy) Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (with Faith Evans and 112), Best Rap Album, 1998; World Music Awards for Best-selling Rap Artist and Best-selling New Artist, 1998; Howard University Alumni Award, 1999; ASCAP Songwriter of the Year, 2000; Grammy Award, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (with Nelly and Murphy Lee), 2003; Menswear Designer of the Year, Council of Fashion Designers, 2004; Patrick Lippert Award, 2004; Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, 2004; NAACP National Equal Justice Award, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Bad Boy Records/Arista, 6 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019, phone: (212) 489-7400.
The feud between Knight and Combs escalated; a friend of Knight's was shot, and Knight blamed the shooting on a member of Combs's entourage. In March of 1996 there was a standoff in the parking lot of the Soul Train Awards between the Combs faction and the Knight faction; guns were drawn, but no one was shot. In September of that year, however, Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas. Shortly thereafter, 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. Then, in March of 1997, Notorious B.I.G. was fatally shot after a Soul Train Awards party. In the aftermath of the tragedy Combs released a tribute to B.I.G., called "I'll Be Missing You," which featured the melody and hook from the Police hit of 1983, "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 the 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.
Selling a Lifestyle
After the birth of Combs's first son, Justin, in the mid-1990s, the rapper 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 in 1999. Yet on December 27 of that year, Combs became involved in an altercation outside of a nightclub, which rapidly escalated into a shooting. Combs was arraigned on a stolen weapons charge that included charges of bribery and kept Combs in the scandal spotlight for much of 2000. A high profile trial ensued early in 2001, although the incident proved to be a relatively minor setback for the streetwise impresario; he was acquitted of all charges in mid-March.
Combs is noted for working as many as 20 hours in a day and for partying just as hard. He founded a charity called Daddy's House Social Programs, a nonprofit organization for underprivileged children that provided access to computer camps, social clubs, and other beneficial outlets. He raised $2 million for children's charities by completing the New York Marathon in 2003, and in 2004 he unveiled plans for Citizen Change, a nonpartisan campaign to mobilize youth and minority voters to participate in the presidential election that year. In addition to such charitable pursuits, Combs established the Sean John clothing line in 1999 and expanded Bad Boy productions into the filmmaking arena. He did not abandon his music enterprise in deference to other interests, however. He released the album Forever in 1999, and by 2001 was under production with his first gospel album, beginning with the release of the single "You," featuring Faith Evans, Carl Thomas, and others, including Bad Boy newcomers Asia & Ashley. Also that year he issued a debut album for a new quartet called Dream, and announced a change of his of stage name from Puff Daddy to P. Diddy. On April 26, 2004, Combs made his Broadway debut, opening in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun to positive critical reviews. Later that spring he carried the Olympic torch for one lap through the streets of New York City.
In 2005 Combs announced that he was dropping the "P" in "P. Diddy" and that henceforth he wanted to be known as "Diddy." This caused some problems in the United Kingdom, where music producer Richard "Diddy" Dearlove had been using the name Diddy for over a decade; a British court ruled that Dearlove's claim took precedence, so in the UK and Europe Combs is still known as "P. Diddy."
In 2006 Combs released Press Play, which featured guest performances by Christina Aguilera, Nas, Big Boi, Twista, Just Blaze, Pharrell, Brandy, and Mary J. Blige. The album reached the number one spot on the charts during its first week. In December of that year his girlfriend, Kim Porter, gave birth to twin girls, D'Lila Star and Jessie James Combs. Also in 2006, Combs began working on a television adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, in which he would recreate his former role on Broadway.
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 has transcended the role of label CEO, producer, and recording artist, taking on what many consider to be the role of generational lifestyle leader. In Essence, Jeannine Amber summed up Combs's constant, restless energy and his drive to do new and bigger things: "Combs is caught in a perpetual quest for the next big thing, the next challenge, the next spectacle of which he is the shining star." This is little doubt that he will find many more challenges.
No Way Out, Bad Boy, 1997.
Forever, Bad Boy Records, 1999.
The Saga Continues, Bad Boy, 2001.
Press Play, Bad Boy, 2006.
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.
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