#TBF: it's 2006. diddy and cassie aren't a couple... yet. but they are on the cover of i-D
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, we go back to the future and remember the time P.Diddy fronted i-D's The Older & Wiser Issue with his beautiful young protege, Cassie. At the time he was running his music empire; preparing to drop his Press...
It can't be easy handling business when your companies include a multi-platinum plaque stacking record label, a multi-multi-million dollar clothing line, a chain of upscale soul food restaurants and the US's current No 1 fragrance, Unforgivable. As well as overseeing three No 1 debut acts - Cassie, Yung Joc and Danity Kane - there is of course the small matter of your own deliveries; a new solo record, Press Play, and twin daughters are both due before Christmas.
With one eye on his BlackBerry and the other on his empire, P. Diddy runs his world in a way that is befitting of one of entertainment's most enigmatic entrepreneurs. A $650,000 customised, chauffeured, whipped-cream tinted Maybach Benz is on 24-hour standby, awaiting the Bad Boy's next move, whether that be to the office, apartment, record label, club or studio. Every place he graces is softly scented with Diptyque candles before arrival; room temperature Fuji water and a selection of snacks are at the ready (Apple Sauce is a must-have, apparently) while the glam squad are in full effect. Three personal assistants tend to their boss's every need - Puff's very particular when it comes to couture, camera crew's film, photographers snap, journalists delve and groomers gloss. In between the cover shoots, pre- VMA parties, live rehearsal sessions, album playbacks, Sean John meetings and studio time (all this is squeezed somehow into an 18 hour time period; time seems to bend to meet Comb's requirements; not the other way round), the one- man brand manages to approve album artwork, work on a deal with an infamous fast-food chain, film two more installments for his ongoing semi soap opera on YouTube, attend a party with MIA and Janet Jackson and receive visitors including video director Little X (Jay-Z, Foxy Brown) and filmmaker Bryan Barber (Outkast, Missy). "Juggling 50 things is what I do best. The problem is that I can't do less things," reflects Sean John Combs in a rare quiet moment during our day together. "I'm trying to get to that point in my personal life where I can sit down with my girlfriend and spend time with her and not be on the phone or the pager. To not juggle is what I'm trying to learn."
There's a lot to keep up in the air at any one time, but the 36-year-old has had years of practice to get it just perfect. Beginning his formative business life selling Malcolm X T-shirts as a student at Howard University in the early '90s, Puff Daddy, as we knew him then, worked his way from putting on parties in Manhattan to Vice President at Andre Harrell's Uptown Records. Overseeing the careers of Jodeci and the debut of Mary J Blige, it wasn't long before he set up his own situation, Bad Boy records. Bringing us Biggie Smalls as well as Faith Evans, Ma$e, The Lox, Shyne, Craig Mack and more recently Boyz In The Hood, Yung Joc and Cassie, it's important not to underplay the impact P Dot has had not only on hip hop but popular culture. Above and beyond the millions earned from music, this self-made mogul is a heat-maker, star-creator and all-the-way round entertainer. Through the controversies, craziness, bullets and beefs, Combs is still the go to guy when you need your shit to be just right. F all the other trying-to-be-bad Bad Boys; he's the biggest, the best and the baddest. He can run a marathon in four hours with barely any training. Get a starring role on Broadway without an ounce of theatre experience. Run a clothing line without a fashion degree, a restaurant without culinary knowledge, and a production company without film training. Making music though is where the heart is. And this time, he's ready to get it just right. Yep, ya boy is back with easily his best record yet. So if you're not ready to Press Play, get ready, beatch.
Part One - 9am, Fast Ashley photographic studio, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC, NY.
The P. Diddy show has arrived. In a blur of Bentleys, gold glasses, grillz and a 60-strong glam squad, the shoot gets under way to the sounds of Cassie's self-titled debut and P. Diddy's latest opus, Press Play. In between studying the rails of Gucci, perfecting his protégé's hair, making numerous phone-calls and taking a meeting with the actor Jackie Long (Idlewild), Puff is keen that we do more than press a button; he needs us to really listen.
Before we get going, we have to sort out the name situation. What do we call you? Diddy, P. Diddy, P, Puffy, Sean or Mr Combs?
(Laughs) OK, it's P. Diddy in the UK and Diddy in the US. Someone here already has the name Diddy, so I'm more than happy for them to have it. I have many to choose from. I got the nickname Puffy from school and then Daddy came from my love of women. Someone had called me a Daddy and then from there it became Puff Daddy.
Where did Puff come from?
(Grins) Nah, nobody will ever know why they called me Puffy. Something immediately obvious about you right now is the lack of jewellery. What happened to the Ghetto Fab Puffy?
You get tired of it. I still wear jewellery but it's more mini-flavours. There's more freedom. I'm not trying to live up to that 'I'm going out, I need to wear diamonds'. It's about not getting caught up in the hype and falling into the stereotype. But isn't it true that you're currently the richest man in hip hop?
See, I'm not really rich though. I would say I'm blessed and definitely appreciative. I like nice things and I don't make no apologies for it; I do like to splurge. I like boats and cars and my kids going to good schools and my mother feeling good about herself. If you ain't ever had it, when you get it, you like to spend it. But a car or a piece of jewellery can come and go. Being able to put a roof over your children's heads, a good education and medical care... when you come from nothing, those are the things that really count. What type of father are you?
I'm pretty good, I think. I just want my children to be healthy, safe and happy and enjoy life. I don't put heavy expectations on them. Are you ready for twins?
Oh absolutely, I feel great. Ecstatic. I'm gonna be shooting a movie at the same time but I'm gonna have a jet on the runway so soon as she tells me she's feeling something, I'm a be there.
Another observation - the entourage. It's big. Massive, even.
(Laughs) Right now there's a lot of things going on. It's different from a regular entourage where it's just hangers-on. There's a lot of things happening - we're going for a global takeover of positive energy. There's a lot of planning needed and I can't do it by myself so I've got great people around me. Everybody here has got a position to play on the team.
Why so long between albums? It's been five years since The Saga Continues. ..
I took a little break for a couple of years and it was the best thing I could have done. I brought all the knowledge I gained from working with everybody from Aretha Franklin to Barry White, Sting, Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige, Snoop, Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas... and I got inspired.
The record is pretty diverse; you've got D&B on there, some Prince sounding stuff, beats from Kanye, features from Nas...
Yeah, one of the greatest things about this album was about being free and being strong. I got a tendency to pull back when I'm doing vocals, or to be clean and simplistic. It was time to step out of the comfort zone and put on some colours; mix it all up.
And there's a distinct lack of samples too.
You know what it is? It's just evolution and growth. When I was sampling, I was doing the best I could with what I had to work with. As I got more experienced, I realised I could translate the samples I was hearing in my head to make my own records. But I was just using it as a way to express myself like every hip hop group in the world. I was brought up in the '80s with Run DMC and the Bomb Squad and their samples. It just so happens that out of all the producers, I made Missing You, the biggest-selling record off a sample, so I had to bear the brunt of it.
What's Press Play about?
It's about a guy who thinks he's one of the baddest cats to ever walk the face of the earth. He meets this girl, she seduces him, he seduces her, they fall in love and then comes the pain. So it's me talking about relationships. I have a lot of female collaborations on the record - Christina Aguilera, Keyshia Cole, Mary J - and they get to play the role of the women that I've been in relationships with.
Who plays J Lo?
To be honest, it's not really about Jennifer; it's about Kim (Porter) who I've been with off and on for 12 years. I was with Jennifer for three years and I'm quite sure somewhere in there there's something about that relationship, but the majority of the album is about Kim. It's about that person you can't get out of your head. In life, there's a lot of people you meet but there's only one person you can't ever stop being in love with. Kim.
What does she think of the album?
To be honest with you, she said she don't really care about me making no damn record for her, she just wants me to be a better man to her (laughs).
How faithful are you?
Well, this isn't in relation to Kim, but generally I don't think I ever really abused sex. If I had women around me, it was because I felt there was something special about them - I was never just sex-crazed. I may be called women-crazed but never sex crazed. In the past, it was a lot of running around and not being focused on the importance of love and the responsibility of it. At times being insensitive and selfish and not understanding that you can have all the money and success in the world, but without someone to love you, you really have nothing at all. I don't have it all perfect yet (laughs) but I understand a little more.
Is marriage on the cards?
I would love to settle down, but I take marriage very seriously. Some people just do it to do it or to make someone else happy. I've already disappointed people in the past with my relationships and I don't want to disappoint someone with marriage. I want to make sure it's the right thing to do.
Part Two. 6pm, Clinton Studios, 46th St, New York City, NY.
Diddy decides we need to hear the record in a proper environment, so we hop in the Maybach and head to a private playback he's giving to Atlantic Records execs, the label that distributes Bad Boy records. After playing them 8 slices of Prince flavoured, straight up dirty pop, he wonders if we could please come to the rehearsal studio where he's readying a 30 minute set for the NFL next week? "Do you have time? I really want to show you this shit live."
Upstairs in Studio A at Clinton studios, a 10 minute drive from Atlantic, a 15-piece band is perfecting old classics and working on the new. Puff is in his element, directing the drummer to "Give me goosebumps. I don't want to sugar-coat this shit, we gotta play soul. This ain't no pro-tools show." As they strike up Mo, Money, Mo Problems, Puff bounds onto the makeshift stage, performing as though there were 80,000 people before him, as opposed to five or six. Attacking the mic, he's utterly focused on the job at hand, requesting the band "Really feel it, believe it. You're talking about the 1 and the 2 and all that musician shit but the audience don't give a fuck - give me that punch-you-in-the-face club shit." His energy is un-relentless and it's only after a good three hours that he admits he's ready for a break. First though, he decides to rehearse Missing You. It sounds incredible. "That track is one of the most honest songs ever made. I haven't done that song in four years," he says later, pausing for a quick herbal tea. "I stopped doing it because it still hurts me so much."
What are your memories of Biggie?
When I think of Big, I think of the way he walked, the way he talked, the way he laughed, the way he rapped. He was always there for me in my times of need, that's what I remember. I don't really think about him actually as a rapper because when you lose a friend, you don't think about their profession. You think about how he made you laugh or was there for you in your time of need. So that's how I think about Big.
Tell us about the first time you met him.
Well, a lot of times when I meet artists they tend to be a little intimidated and he was a little shy. He was very quiet in fact; you saw his vulnerable side and I liked that about him. A lot of people don't know that Big never fronted. He never acted tough; if he was sad, he looked sad. If he was tired or angry he showed it. What you saw was what you got.
Are you involved in the case with Ms Wallace? Do you think his murderer will ever be found?
I really don't know. I haven't been involved in the case. Everybody has a different approach with dealing with it and I definitely understand the way she's dealing with it. There's definitely something fishy going on - I don't know what it is.
Do you know who killed him?
My focus is that I can't bring my boy back so I don't dwell on the speculation of who might have killed him. I do know God will handle his business. What moves me everyday is not who killed him, but that he's not here.
How come you never signed Kim?
I never had a chance to sign her to be honest. But I definitely would have if I had the chance. Now she's out, I hope we can work together again.
What was your initial vision for Bad Boy?
The initial vision is hopefully the same and will stay the same forever. It's music to make you dance and to make you focus on your emotions. It does what music is supposed to do - make you feel good.
What's your favourite Bad Boy track?
All of them give me a separate memory of something I was going through at the time. So Mo Money, Mo Problems reminds me of me, Biggie and Ma$e. The shit was just so incredibly powerful and intense at that point - it was like there wasn't enough room on the dancefloor, they couldn't keep enough records in the store. Then you have Missing You, which is obviously very close to my heart. Then Victory is my anthem, the soundtrack of my life. I really won't stop. I mean, I love them all. Benjamins, is one of my favourite joints though, because it was the first time I started getting money and I felt like I was making something of myself.
You're evolving the brand again with your MyTube videos. You've shown millions of people what you look like when you eat breakfast, when you take a pee...
It's time for me to take my shades off and let people see my eyes and see what I'm about. I want people to see that I'm not just about big diamonds and dating movie stars and making money. That's not really my life. Jewellery is just an accessory but I don't give a fuck about it like that. I'm not trying to be the king of bling - that shit is kinda corny. That ain't what I'm about. The power of the internet and the online community means I get to show people different sides of me. I get to make political statements, I get to have fun and I get to do it my way. Without no ulterior motives - I'm not trying to get nobody to like me or sell no records - I just want people to log onto me.
So what next - Puff for President?
Nah, nah, not at all. We all have the potential to be leaders but I'm not into politics, I'm into revolution. I don't want nobody to vote me in; I'd rather come snatch somebody's ass out of office.
You've had huge hits but tell us about the down years when Bad Boy couldn't quite repeat the success of Big and Ma$e.
I learnt how to lose at an early age by playing sports and getting beat up a couple of times when I was young. When you get your ass kicked and you realise you don't like the way that shit feel, you do everything in your power not to lose. But you learn it don't kill you. Me having a bad year or two ain't gonna kill me. Me getting unfocused ain't gonna kill me. But mark my words I know how to win; I specialise in winning. Cos I work hard at it. I'm a have my good days and my bad days and I'm a handle both. Whatever anyone has to say, I can handle it, I try to learn from it. I ain't gonna run from it. With criticism I've learn to cipher what's jealousy or envy or hate from the criticism that's real and that you can learn from.
Who's next to blow on Bad Boy?
There's this cat called P Diddy... Nah, 8Ball & MJG, Jordan McCoy and also Danity Kane. You're gonna love their stuff; it's great.
Bad Boy, Sean John clothing, your own fragrance, a solo career, acting on Broadway, running the marathon... What's the secret of your considerable success?
It's my belief and faith in God. A lot of people may think it's corny, but it's true. It's my faith in him that's made my dreams come true and I'm so thankful.
Part 3. Daddy's House studio 321, W44th St, New York City, NY.
Before he gets to mixing and mastering his record - a task he will be at most of the night - P. Dids takes a meeting about Sean John. Earlier on, he gave us a quick tour of Bad Boy enterprises at 1710 Broadway, which houses the Sean John design studio as well as the label. Quickly growing from an urban brand into an internationally respected label, the line now encompasses everything from sweats to shoes to suits. "I love Y3, I love tone on tone, I love it when it's right," he says of his eye for style. "I don't like bows though," he cautions the woman whose daunting task it is to help tweak details. "And I'm over the diamond shit."
When it comes to clothing, what's cool? The coolest thing about style is when it really fits, when it's really true to the person. You can be the wildest, most hippest dresser, you could be punk rock, ghetto glam - whatever - you gotta be true to you. I think people get inspired by other people, but you gotta be true to you and pick your own style, your own look. Pick your own style.
How do you go from hanging with the hoodest hip hop heads to upscale fashion designers like Donatella Versace?
I don't see them as different - it just goes with my many different personalities and styles. I appreciate what everybody has to offer. I know thugs, high fashion designers, Hollywood movie stars, gay designers, football players... I don't look at what they do, that's their business. As long as when they round me, their energy's positive.
That's quite a statement for you to make, considering hip-hop's latent homophobia?
I really don't think about it like that. It's not something I'm accentuating necessarily - it really don't make a difference what you are, I'm a love you for you. Whatever you do in your personal life, however you're getting down - that's your personal business.
What's the best party you've thrown?
The first White Party, because there were so many different people from so many different walks of life and classes that came together. And that's really what the White Parties about; it's about bringing people together. You had boys from Harlem to Hollywood actors to politicians to people that were out on parole to people who snuck into the party...
How do you feel about being a sex symbol of sorts.
Yeah, I've heard it's my drive and my confidence - my swagger. I can't say I'm pretty like Brad Pitt - but I may be sexier than him. I'm into adventure and a lot of people and women like adventure. I'm not predictable. You don't really know what you're gonna get with me. If you were to jump on a plane with me, you don't know where we're gonna go or how it might end up.
Part 4, In the Maybach, rolling around the streets of New York.
It's almost the end of the road - P. Diddy has to host a party for a New York magazine but before he heads into Bungalow 8 to greet his guests, he's ready to reflect a little more. Staring out at the soaked streets of the city, he waxes lyrical about the ways in which he's become older, and wiser.
Do you live any resemblance of normal life - like popping to the shops for a pint of milk?
Nah that's not really a reality for me until after 3am when the streets is cleared. I mean I can do it, I haven't become a prisoner of my celebrity, I can go outside but it's not a regular situation. Most times I go outside just to say 'Fuck it', cos I got to deal with it. It's gift and a curse, you know?
How different is life now to growing up in Harlem?
It ain't really that different. My mother always made sure that we had great experiences. The houses are a little bit bigger and there's a couple more cars, but my mother always made sure we had the best education and always made sure we were happy so I still feel as happy now as I did growing up.
Of what are you most proud?
In my personal life, my kids, and in my career, it's my Grammy's. When I was growing up I had this picture of Quincy Jones holding all these Grammys and I would say to myself 'One day I'm a have one of those'. Now I have three and every time I look at them, I can't believe it.
Is fame and fortune all you expected it to be?
I always knew I'd be somebody. I always knew I would do great things. Or attempt to do great things. I still feel I have a long way to go before I achieve greatness, but that's what my goal is. I could never have imagined that I'd be where I'm at in my life right now. It's a different point. With all the success I had, the crazy part about it is there's a chance I am getting better. Like what if that happens? How scary is that?
Why scary? Cos the amount of things that have been achieved at this point - to be perfectly honest with you I don't really write down and look at them - but it ain't a little. It's a lot. If I sit down and deal with it, it would come across as very arrogant and braggadocios but it's just the facts of what's been achieved in this little bit of time. It would get scary if it could get bigger and still be as authentic as it is. Most times when things get bigger they become watered down, too popular. Now it's in reverse. Now it's almost chic to be Puff Daddy. Sometimes the oddest things get to be chic. Like, it'll be the things that have been in your face for the longest time, things that don't fit that mould but... I don't know how to explain it. It's cooler. It definitely got to a point where it got so big that it felt a little corny. Most times, you get to the corny phase and you don't get to get cooler or become chic. You don't get to be back in style.
So you feel you've gone from cool to cheesy to cool again?
Yeah. P. Diddy's shit is some really up-to-date, culturally fashion-forward shit. Really culturally relevant. That's rare you have a second round of cultural relevance that could possibly be bigger. I feel I could have gotten better because I've learnt so many things and I've taken time. I looked at what was going on and I dealt with a lot of things that maybe people wouldn't deal with, when you look at yourself.
What did you learn?
Not to get caught up in the hype around myself. That's the biggest thing I've learnt. Don't believe the hype.
Who is Diddy?
To be honest that's a hard question to answer. I'm so many things, but I... I want people to know me as an entertainer. I don't take myself seriously. I'm very confident about who I am. But inside I'm still a hip hop fan that got a lucky break and got a chance to produce music and be in the music industry. From there I got up onstage and found out that I did it well when I was up there. I just try and get up and do me - be P. Diddy. I take pride in that there ain't nobody like me. But it's not purposeful, it's just the way God wanted me to be.
What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?
I think it's all been a risk, but starring in Broadway was the biggest one. I had never even starred in a movie let alone theatre. I was just crazy, but I believed I could do it. Once I make up my mind to do something, I never look back. I just try my best, I'm not afraid to fail. Failure is a part of life you have to go through in order to succeed.
Part 5: Cassie: She's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Girl and she makes us feel so, so, sooooo good! Signed to Bad Boy and managed by Mariah's ex husband, this former model is already R&B royalty. Super-sexy, super-smart, super-cool... damn it, Cassie is just so damn super-super.
Given the official seal of approval in March this year by P. Diddy himself, the Connecticut born and raised R&B singer is heating up worldwide radio- waves with her debut summer single Me & U, a sexed-up, stripped-back banger produced by Ryan Leslie, with her fabulous follow-up, the dark and daunting Long Way 2 Go getting clubs similarly steaming. "Right now life is crazy, hectic and very tiring. It's one day at a time cos I'm still in awe of it all," the just turned 20 year-old admits. "I got hot so quick and maybe I wasn't ready for it then... but I am now!" From signing her deal less than nine months ago to performing in front of millions for this season's inaugural NFL game, Cassie's ascent has been fast and, at times, furious. Before a single had even dropped, she had already amassed over 250,000 friends on MySpace, clocked up 500,000 plays of Me & U and attracted three quarters of a million profile views. "I didn't know MySpace and the blogs I was doing would actually work, but they did," she says of being the first artist to track her entire journey from signing to singing, online. "Not only has no one done that from the get-go - I was totally unedited. This was no reality TV show type situation. It's all from my mouth, uncut and un-pasted."
Unfortunately those ripe and ready lips have occasionally got this sumptuous young hotshot into some trouble. Internet geeks went nuts at the supposedly orally-orientated lyrics of Me & U, while an out-of-key performance on TRL saw the same haters hate even more. But, really, she could give a fuck. "There's been a lot of people not liking me for being me since the beginning," shrugs the part Philippine/ African American former model matter-of-factly. " It's like they build you up but as quickly they'll tear you down. The Internet was my gift and my curse." Regardless, Cassie is quickly shaping up to be R&B's Next Big Thing. Not only in control like her hero Janet J, she's on her grind. Despite being signed to the party-happy Puffy, late night parties and VIP passes aren't on the agenda right now; from here until album two, she's steady selling her album. "I'm in love with it. It's simple and it's real music," she says of tracks like Can't Do Without and Just One Night. "It's a short album - but it's to the point," she says of the 12-tracker that blends R&B with a little rock and a touch of pop. Besides, when you have P Dot as your label boss, the infamous Mottola as a manager and Leslie as as your production partner, you have to know how to handle yours. And just cos she's a pretty face doesn't mean the ex Catwalk Queen can't hold her own. "I feel like you have to have a personality behind a face in this business. If I was just pretty it wouldn't work. So I tell the guys what I want and how I want to do it. I lay it out and we get it done the way we want. I feel like no matter what you have or how you look, you have to have to have your say, speak up and know what you want."
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Sean Combs has yet to send her for a slice of cheesecake. "Not yet, anyway," she laughs. " But I've gotten lectures several times about myself. He always wants to make sure that I really want this. But trust me," she says seriously. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't want it."
This interview originally ran in i-D's The Older & Wise Issue, December 2006.
Photography Magnus Unnar
Interview Hattie Collins