Diddy, back when he was called Puff Daddy, really started the whole, movement-to-myself rapper-mogul thing. He wasn't just a rapper and a producer—he was a conduit for other artists, products and a whole lifestyle. Diddy does a lot of things. There's Bad Boy Entertainment, the label he founded in 1993. Along with a collective of producers called The Hitmen, Diddy's made hits for TLC, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez (also Diddy's ex), Jay-Z, and Notorious B.I.G, Mase and Lil Kim, of the glory-days Bad Boy camp. There's also Sean John Clothing, which began in 1998. Diddy's also a weirdly good comedic actor (see: Made and Get Him To The Greek), a reality TV host (MTV's Making the Band 2, 3 and 4, which spawned the groups Da Band, Danity Kane and Day 26) and the spokesperson for, and partial owner of, Ciroc vodka. He's also a Twitter maniac.
How did he get his start?
While attending Howard University in Washington, DC, Sean Combs was an intern at influential hip-hop and R&B label Uptown Records. Eventually, he became the executive A&R rep (basically a fancy name for a talent scout) for the label. While at Uptown, Diddy helped develop the careers of Jodeci, Mary J. Blige and, of course, the Notorious B.I.G.
Diddy just samples hits of the past and nothing more, right?
His biggest hits often feature really obvious samples (The Police's “Every Breath You Take” for “I'll Be Missing You”), but this kind of sampling dominates mainstream and underground hip-hop these days. He's both a hack and an innovator.
He doesn't write his own rhymes, right?
While not writing your own rhymes is the biggest offense in hip-hop, Diddy stands out for not hiding this fact. On “Bad Boy For Life,” from 2001's The Saga Continues, he raps rather infamously, “Don't worry if I write rhymes/I write checks.” In an interview with Stylus magazine, underground rapper Pharaohe Monch mentions ghostwriting for Diddy. Diddy told Monch he was “a fan” and the track “The Future,” from 2007's Press Play was written by Monch.
Some people say Diddy ruined hip-hop. Is that true?
Hip-hop seems to be doing pretty well, so no, Diddy didn't kill it. He certainly spruced rap up and made it brighter and shinier and rappers chased his formula until everything looked like the shiny suits and slow-motion explosions of videos like Notorious B.I.G.'s “Mo' Money, Mo' Problems” and Mase's “Feel So Good,” but that's not Diddy's fault.
What's his relationship to the Notorious B.I.G.?
Diddy discovered and developed the late Christopher Wallace, better known as the Notorious B.I.G. They were close friends as well. Songs like “Juicy” from Biggie's 1994 debut, Ready to Die, a glossy remix of “Big Poppa” and post-humous hit “Hypnotize” from 1997's Life After Death demonstrate Diddy's ability to balance the Bedford-Stuyvesant rapper's hard-edged hip-hop with the shine of pop radio.
What is Diddy's role in the infamous “East Coast-West Coast” beef?
The rap beef between Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur, which spread to a feud between two regions, is a dicey, loaded issue. Both murders remain unsolved. Diddy's expressed remorse over a rap beef gone horribly wrong many times in interviews and in his rhymes. From “We Gon' Make It”: “Tell me who shot Big/And take the bullets out of Tupac's ribs/ If I could I would reverse the car, reverse the beef.” The tragedy also led to Diddy's pop star ascendance. Where public mourning ended and opportunism began is also dicey.
What's with all the name changes?
Who knows. Sean Combs became Sean “Puffy” Combs the producer and remixer, who turned into Puff Daddy on 1997's No Way Out and 1999's Forever. In 2002, for The Saga Continues, he changed his name to P. Diddy. In 2005, it was simply Diddy and 2006's Press Play features that credit. The recent project Last Train to Paris is credited to Diddy-Dirty Money.
What's the deal with Dirty Money?
Dirty Money is Dawn Richard, formerly of Danity Kane, and Kalenna Harper, an industry singer-songwriter. In an interview with Spin, Diddy cited the '80s R&B duo Loose Ends, “which was two guys and a girl,” as an influence. Given Diddy's turmoil-filled personal life (he's never been married, has six kids by three different women), the album's attempt at male-female dialogue is fascinating. With Last Train to Paris, it sounds like Diddy is entering his mature period.