Combs, Sean "Puffy" (Contemporary Musicians)
Producer, record company executive
Sean "Puffy" Combs bends the ear of the rap and hip-hop community with intriguing releases, combining his production savvy with relentless promotion. The 24-year-old Combs runs Bad Boy Entertainment, a division of Arista Records, and stands behind several gold and platinum artists, chief among them the Notorious B. I .G., Craig Mack, and Mary J. Blige. His reputation among his R&B peers is that of an aggressive promoter with an ear for the street and the music created there. Despite his impressive credits, Combs's stature was threatened following nine deaths at an event he had organized. While the tragedy threatened to forever mar his career, Combs turned the setback around, emerging as a sought-after producer of hit singles and videos, ready to bring his efforts to a wider audience.
Combs earned notice in New York's hip-hop scene at the age of 19. He landed an internship at Uptown Records after being recommended by local rapper Heavy D. Uptown, affiliated with MCA Records, was then headed by Andre Harrell, himself an ex-rapper with the group Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Combs's tenure as an intern was briefoughly three monthsefore he was selected to head Uptown's Artists & Repertoire (A&R) department, a prestigious posting as this is the department that discovers and signs talent. "He was cool and energetic and I brought him in. He learned fast," remarked Curt Woodly, former head of A&R at Uptown, in the New York Times. As chief of A&R, Combs managed talent and helped artists choose and produce their releases. He also became known as a fiery and obstinate young man, making a few enemies along the way.
Deadly Accident Threatens Career
His musical interests not satiated by his work at the label, Combs also staged hip-hop parties in Manhattan clubs, something he had been doing since his days at Howard University in Washington, D. C. It was one of these events that brought Combs down in a matter of minutes. Combs arranged a charity basketball game with teams composed of rap and hip-hop stars to be played in a City College of New York (CCNY) gym in December, 1991. Anxious party-goers, unsure that they would be able to enter the already crowded venue, stormed the entrance. Nine were killed in the crush of bodies. When one man lost consciousness near Combs, he quickly began attempts to revive him. "His eyes were going to the back of his head. I could feel his death going inside of me," he told Newsday.
While an ensuing mayoral investigation dispensed blame to police, City College officials, Combs, his staff, and the crowd itself, Combs took the brunt of the blow. Media attacks centered on the fact that Combs had not insured the event, as required by his contract with CCNY, and that adequate security was not made available. Combs retreated to his Mt. Vernon, New York, home, depressed and angry over the event. He told Newsday, "It's hard to teach people to respect each other. All the security in the world won't achieve that. That has to come from inside."
Opportunity Followed Disaster
Combs was shuffled out of Uptown with a leave of absence that became permanent nearly a year after the CCNY incident. The split was difficult for Combs, who had come to view Harrell as more a mentor than a boss. Harrell had filled a role for Combs that had been vacant since his father was killed when he was three. He confided to Rolling Stone, "I was fired. It was like the old sensei [teacher] rejecting the student." The student, though, proved he had learned enough, signing a deal just two weeks later with Arista Records to form Bad Boy Entertainment. With Combs as president and his mother, Janice, acting as owner, Bad Boy was responsible for bringing new energy to a style of music already known for its intensity. "I like things harsh and basically different to the ear. I'm trying to think about what's not out there but still give you that same feel and vibe of the way kids are moving," he told Rolling Stone.
Bad Boy scored big with releases by cutting-edge performers Craig Mack and the Notorious B.I.G. Reportedly, Mack was homeless, subsisting on Long Island when Combs discovered him performing in a Manhattan club. B.I.G. was selling drugs and making demo tapes in a basement before one of them reached Combs. It is this ability to scour the streets for talent that sets Combs and Bad Boy apart from other labels. Combs is among an elite group of hip-hop producers and promoters with similar ties to large labels who have succeeded in bringing new acts to prominence. These include Teddy Riley, Dallas Austin, and Jermaine Dupri. "Of course the record companies offer them these [custom] labels, because it's a cheap way to get the talent they couldn't find," commented Motown Records chairman Clarence Avant in Newsweekof Combs and his fellow hip-hop entrepreneurs
Maintained Street Connection
This sort of characterization aside, Combs sees himself and his company as a direct outlet for urban hip-hop. "I'm a student of the culture that I make music for. It's important to go out and vibe with the kidso see what they're groovin' to and how they groove to it," he explained in Billboard. Billboard rap columnist Have-lock Nelson told the New York Times, "He's one of the best young executives who is rolling with the big guys. Right now Puffy has his finger on the pulse of the music industry. Older executives could learn a lot from him." Bad Boy's offices are, in fact, graced by genuine hip-hop devotees, many straight from the street and hoping to bring the next rap superstar to the public eye. Surrounding himself with a young, aggressive staff brings fresh blood into the business and allows Combs to pass on to others the opportunities he had at Uptown.
While managing a burgeoning record label, producing hit records, and making videos, the ambitions Combs has also tried to break into acting. He is nonetheless best known as a top producer in a world that reveres producers nearly as much as artists. Bad Boy Entertainment planned to boost production to four projects a year by 1996. The success of singer Faith Evans in late 1995, facilitated by a well-organized label campaign, suggested that the company was keeping to its development schedulend that Sean "Puffy" Combs was still on the rise.
Jodeci, Forever My Lady, Uptown, 1991.
Mary J. Blige, What's the 411?, Uptown, 1993.
Jodeci, Diary of a Mad Band, Uptown, 1993.
Mary J. Blige, My Life, Uptown, 1994.
Craig Mack, Project: Funk Da World, Bad Boy, 1994.
The Notorious BIG., Ready to Die, Bad Boy, 1994.
Raymond Usher, "Think of You," LaFace, 1994.
Faith Evans, Faith, Bad Boy, 1995.
Also producer of records by Supercat, 7669, Keith Sweat, and Caron Wheeler, among others.
Billboard, January 25, 1992; May 20, 1995.
Newsday (New York, NY), January 3,1992; January 6,1992; January 15, 1992; January 16, 1992.
Newsweek, May 8, 1995.
New York Times, January 5,1992; January 16,1992; November 6, 1994.
Rolling Stone, April 20, 1995.
Source, January 1995.
Schwann Spectrum, Summer 1995.
Washington Post, December 31, 1991.
Daddy, Puff (Contemporary Musicians)
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 ratherthan a record label, andike the Motown and Def Jam founders before himanaged 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 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 violenthe 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 underthe 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. Inordertolure 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 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 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. As Combs and Notorious B.I.G. were meeting with success on the east coast, Suge Knight and his Death Row Records artistsupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Doggy Doggeref lourishing 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 mid-1990s, 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