Born Sean Combs on November 4, 1970 in Harlem, NY; son of Melvin and Janice (an aspiring model) Combs; two sons: Justin (born mid-1990s) and Christian Casey (born 1999). Education: Attended Howard University . Addresses: Addresses: Record company-Bad Boy Records/Arista, 6 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019. Phone: (212) 489-7400.
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 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 a later at the age of 13 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 musical rhyming contests in Central Park. His family moved to Mount Vernon, New York, 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. Regardless, he felt unsettled and left Howard, eager to enter the work force and make his fortune. Later, after he amassed considerable wealth in his assorted business enterprises, Combs would endow one-half million dollars to his alma mater for a scholarship fund.
Seeking His Fortune
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'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 charity celebrity event at New York's City College basketball auditorium. The event was so popular 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, 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, 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. Combs was given Notorious B.I.G.'s tape by an editor at The Source and he became captivated by Notorious B.I.G.'s vivid lyricism and distinct New York sound. 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, 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 artists--Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Doggy Dogg--were flourishing on the West Coast. Combs and Knight were friends until Shakur was wounded in November 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. Knight 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's entourage. In March 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 no one was 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, who was in the car ahead of B.I.G.'s during the shooting, rushed his best friend to the hospital. 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, 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 a 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'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 on April 1, 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 weapon charge that later escalated into 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 single day and for partying just as hard. He is credited with founding a charity called Daddy's House Social Programs, a nonprofit organization for underprivileged children, providing 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 on July 20, 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. Neither did he abandon his music enterprise in deference to other interests--Rather he released an album titled Forever in 1999, and by 2001 was under production with his first gospel album, beginning with the release of a single, called "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; critics were impressed. Later that spring, on June 19, he was honored to carry the Olympic torch for one lap through the streets of New York City.
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.
by B. Kimberly Taylor
Puff Daddy's Career
Started as an intern at Uptown records in New York City; due to superb promotional efforts and producer contributions was promoted to vice-president of the Promotion Department; founded Bad Boy Records, 1991; sold more than 12 million albums in three years, including five platinum and ten gold albums; hit single "No Way Out" rose to number one on six Billboard charts for twelve weeks; contributed to the releases of and/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, KRS-One, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Brian McKnight, SWV, Boyz 11 Men, Q-Tip, Beck, Whitney Houston, and others; released and was featured in the film No Way Out, which he produced and directed; released the single "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down," 1996 with rapper Mase; released "I'll Be Missing You," as a tribute to slain friend and rapper Notorious B.I.G., 1997; performed with other Bad Boy Records artists on the No Way Out Tour, 1998; opened a soul food restaurant in Manhattan, mid-1990s; founded a charity called Daddy's House Social Programs, a non-profit organization for local underprivileged children; created Sean John clothing line and Bad Boy Films production company in 1999; released Forever, in 1999; released The Saga Continues in 2001; Broadway debut in Raisin in the Sun, 2004.
Puff Daddy's Awards
ASCAP, Rhythm & Soul Award for "Juicy", 1995; Gavin, Rap Indie (Dist. by a Major) 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.
- Selected discography
- No Way Out , Bad Boy, 1997.
- Forever , Bad Boy Records, 1999.
- The Saga Continues Bad Boy, 2001.
- 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.
- Billboard, February 10, 2000.
- Entertainment Weekly, March 10, 2000; May 4, 2001.
- Interview, April 2001.
- Maclean's, January 10, 2000; March 26, 2001.
- People, April 2, 2001.
- Source, September, 1998.
- Time, April 9, 2001; December 20, 2004, p. 135.
- U.S. News & World Report, March 26, 2001.
- ABCNews.com, http://www.abcnews.go.com/wire/Entertainment/ap20031103_241.html?cmp=EM333 (November 3, 2003).
- E! Online, http://www.eonline.com (June 8, 2004).
- "46th Grammy Awards," Grammys.com, http://www.grammys.com/awards/grammy/46winners.aspx (February 8, 2004).
- New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/18/sports/basketball/18marbury.html (June 20, 2004).
- USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2004-06-02-pdiddy-lawsuit_x.htm (June 3, 2004).