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Diddy

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Known alternately throughout his career as Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy, and less formally as Puffy, Sean Combs is one of the shrewdest and most successful figures in the music industry. Starting as a party promoter, background dancer, and label intern, Combs rapidly emerged in the early '90s as a talent scout, label executive, producer, songwriter, and rapper, among other roles behind the scenes and on-screen. After a brief stint fostering the success of Jodeci and Mary J. Blige at Uptown Records, Combs launched Bad Boy Records in 1994 and resumed his ascent with hits by Craig Mack and the Notorious B.I.G., leading to smash singles as a solo artist and with subsequent Bad Boy artists such as Faith Evans, 112, and Mase. Combs and his Hitmen production team conducted a raid on the charts. They were responsible for half of the songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997, beginning with Combs' own "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and including "I'll Be Missing You," his Grammy-winning tribute to the recently murdered Notorious B.I.G., stockpiling platinum certifications as they irked hip-hop purists with their mainstream appeal and brazen approach to sampling pop hits. No Way Out, Combs' first solo album, consequently topped the Billboard 200. Each of his later solo LPs, namely 1999's Forever, 2001's The Saga Continues..., and 2006's R&B-oriented Press Play, debuted at either number one or number two on the charts, and 2009's progressive R&B-dance hybrid Last Train to Paris, made with Kalenna Harper and Dawn Richard under the name Diddy - Dirty Money, likewise went Top Ten. In addition to other musical projects, and outside endeavors including a clothing line, reality television, and acting work, Combs has continued to operate Bad Boy, home to the likes of Danity Kane, Janelle Monáe, and French Montana. In 2022, he launched another label, Love Records, teaming with Bryson Tiller on "Gotta Move On" before delivering the R&B-leaning The Love Album: Off the Grid the next year. Sean Combs was born in Harlem in 1969 and raised in nearby Mount Vernon. Taking a cue from his mother, who worked multiple jobs to support her family, Combs was enterprising as a youngster, responsible at one point for six newspaper routes. He later majored in business administration at Howard University, and after his sophomore year put academics aside to chart his course through the music industry. Having begun as a party promoter, he became a background dancer for Big Daddy Kane and Heavy D. Combs persuaded the latter rapper, a fellow Mount Vernon native he saw as a big brother, to help him land an internship with Andre Harrell's Uptown Records. In short order, Combs was granted an A&R position and was an executive producer behind Father MC's Father's Day (1990), Jodeci's multi-platinum Forever My Lady (1991), and Mary J. Blige's even hotter seller What's the 411? (1992), as well as Heavy D's Blue Funk (1993). During the roll, Combs initiated a tight creative partnership with the Notorious B.I.G., who was featured on a remix of Blige's "Real Love," and on the last track of Blue Funk, and made his first appearance as a lead artist on Uptown's soundtrack for Who's the Man? with "Party and Bullshit." Combs had signed the Notorious B.I.G. to Uptown, but Andre Harrell refused to release the emergent rapper's debut album, seeing it unfit for his label. Harrell also relieved Combs of his duties, seeing the time was right for the protégé to strike out on his own. Combs responded by establishing Bad Boy Records, operating at first out of his apartment with a small staff. Aided by a distribution deal with Arista, the label struck platinum out of the gate with Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear" (the remix of which featured the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, and Rampage), and also by the end of 1994 released Ready to Die, B.I.G.'s landmark first album, containing the multi-platinum singles "Juicy" (produced by Combs and Poke) and "Big Poppa" (produced by Combs and Chucky Thompson). Ready to Die itself would eventually go platinum six-times over. During 1995 and 1996, Combs added three more eventual platinum-selling acts -- Faith Evans, Total, and 112 -- to the Bad Boy roster. Historic on a number of levels, Combs' 1997 was filled with profound tragedy and abundant commercial success. Most significantly, the Notorious B.I.G. was murdered on March 9. Shortly thereafter, Combs' debut solo single as Puff Daddy, "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down," featuring then-new Bad Boy artist Mase (and produced by Combs with Hitmen associates Stevie J, Nashiem Myrick, and Carlos Broady), topped the Hot 100, around the time B.I.G.'s double album Life After Death reached shelves and entered the Billboard 200 at the top. In addition to reeling from B.I.G.'s death, Combs experienced one triumph after another through the end of the year. For starters, he was behind four more of 1997's ten number one pop singles. In May, B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize" (produced by Combs, Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie, and Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence) dethroned "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down." Combs' and Faith Evans' B.I.G. tribute "I'll Be Missing You" (produced by Combs and Stevie J) started its 11-week reign in June, and in August it was knocked from the top spot by B.I.G.'s "Mo Money Mo Problems," featuring Combs and Mase (with production by Combs and Stevie J). Mariah Carey then crowned the chart with "Honey," which she produced with help from Combs, Stevie J, and A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip. Puff Daddy & the Family's No Way Out and Mase's Harlem World succeeded Life After Death as chart-topping albums. Combs was subsequently up for seven Grammy awards and won two of them: Best Rap Album (for No Way Out) and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (for "I'll Be Missing You"). The prolific rate of output slowed a bit over the next few years as Combs branched out with other endeavors, such as his Sean John clothing line. In 1998, he reached number four on the Hot 100 by repurposing Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" (with a featured credit from the band's Jimmy Page) for "Come to Me," recorded for the Godzilla soundtrack. His second album, Forever, followed in 1999 and spawned the number two pop hit "Satisfy You," featuring R. Kelly. Two years later, he completed The Saga Continues... Credited to P. Diddy & the Bad Boy Family, it spawned a Top 40 hit with "Bad Boy for Life," on which Combs was joined by Black Rob and Mark Curry. Both Forever and The Saga Continues... went straight to number two on the Billboard 200. Bad Boy continued during this period with projects from the LOX, Total, Faith Evans, and Carl Thomas, as well as the posthumous Notorious B.I.G. album Born Again. Additionally, Combs was involved with recordings by then-partner Jennifer Lopez, and was featured on Evans' Top 40 single "All Night Long." In 2002, Combs put together the chart-topping Bad Boy compilation We Invented the Remix, his label's last release through Arista. New songs "I Need a Girl, Pt. 1" and "I Need a Girl, Pt. 2" both became Top Ten pop hits, and Combs was featured on other Top 40 singles headlined by Fabolous ("Trade It All, Pt. 2"), Busta Rhymes ("Pass the Courvoisier, Pt. 2"), Birdman ("Do That"), and B2K (the number one hit "Bump, Bump, Bump"). Combs also became a reality television fixture in 2002, starting with Making the Band 2, and continuing the rest of the decade with Making the Band 3, Making the Band 4, and Making His Band. He remained busy on other musical fronts all the while. "Shake Ya Tailfeather," his 2003 collaboration with Nelly and Murphy Lee -- off the soundtrack for Bad Boys II -- won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Bad Boy celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2004, and label artist Mario Winans scored a number two pop hit that year with "I Don't Wanna Know," featuring Combs. The second posthumous Notorious B.I.G. album, Duets: The Final Chapter, was issued in 2005. Bad Boy's commercial resurgence continued in 2006 with Top Ten pop hits by new signings Yung Joc ("It's Goin' Down"), Cassie ("Me & U"), and Making the Band 3 product Danity Kane ("Show Stopper"), whose self-titled album topped the Billboard 200. That October, Combs released Press Play, his fourth album and first as simply Diddy. Mostly pop-R&B in nature with a long list of featured vocalists dominated by women, it yielded the Top Ten pop hits "Come to Me" and "Last Night," fronted respectively by Nicole Scherzinger and Keyshia Cole. Also among the double LP's contributors were Mary J. Blige, Brandy, and Christina Aguilera, with Combs joined on production by the likes of Havoc, the Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kanye West, Rich Harrison, and Danja. Combs then starred in the 2008 film adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun, and won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series, or Dramatic Special. Press Play pointed toward the direction Combs would take with his next project, Dirty Money. A duo consisting of singers/songwriters Kalenna Harper and Danity Kane's Dawn Richard, Dirty Money teamed with Combs under the name Diddy - Dirty Money, mixing progressive R&B and electronic dance music. They released their first two singles in 2009, reached the Top 40 in 2010 with "Hello Good Morning" (featuring T.I.), and in December 2010 issued Last Train to Paris. The Top Ten album showcased Harper and Richard throughout and was studded with appearances from featured stars including Grace Jones, Rick Ross, and the emergent Drake, as well as Skylar Grey, heard on the number 11 pop hit "Coming Home," the album's finale. Last Train to Paris was preceded and followed by the mixtapes Last Train to Paris: Prelude and Love Love vs. Hate Love, indicating that Combs, Harper, and Richard might be more than a fleeting partnership, but the group disbanded in 2012. The next year, Combs co-founded the digital cable television network Revolt. During 2014 and 2015, Combs issued stray singles such as the Pharrell-assisted "Finna Get Loose," teamed with high-profile tech-house producer Guy Gerber for the album 11 11, and more significantly issued the commercial mixtape MMM (short for Money Making Mitch). Combs reverted to his Puff Daddy alias for these full-lengths. The latter charted, and was highlighted by the title track, featuring Future and King Los, and "You Could Be My Lover," a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign and Gizzle. MMM also involved the likes of Sevyn Streeter, French Montana, and LOX members Jadakiss and Styles P. Combs struck a new distribution deal for Bad Boy with major-label Epic (which followed Warner Music and Interscope affiliations), and celebrated Bad Boy's 20th anniversary across 2015 and 2016 with performances and a box set. By then, Bad Boy had also helped develop the careers of signees Janelle Monáe, Machine Gun Kelly, and French Montana. Relatively quiet over these and the next few years, Combs nonetheless expanded his network as a featured artist on cuts by the likes of Nipsey Hussle, A$AP Rocky, Blood Orange, and DJ Khaled. He co-produced Kanye West's "All Day," a handful of tracks for Pusha T's King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, and material for Faith Evans' The King & I, featuring verses from the Notorious B.I.G. Combs extended his reach again in 2020 as executive producer of Burna Boy's Twice as Tall. He started the R&B-oriented Love Records in 2022 with the single "Gotta Move On," fronted by Bryson Tiller. "Act Bad," assisted by Fabolous and City Girls, arrived in 2023 as a second prelude to Combs' next full-length. The Love Album: Off the Grid was issued in September 2023 with additional co-starring roles filled by the likes of the Weeknd and Summer Walker, as well as Uptown, Bad Boy, and Love Records affiliates ranging from Mary J. Blige to Jozzy.
© Andy Kellman /TiVo
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