As this year marked hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, plenty of props were given to the pioneers who launched the Bronx-born culture in the ’70s and ’80s. And rightly so.
However, a ’90s game-changer – the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy – was strangely kept away from the festivities, such as the epic Hip Hop 50 concert held at Yankee Stadium in August.
But it was impossible to deny Sean “Diddy” Combs’ lasting influence as the 53-year-old rapper, producer and all-around mogul rocked the MTV Video Music Awards stage on Tuesday with a career-spanning performance that more than earned his global status Icon Award – and showed kids half his age how it’s done.
And there’s plenty of love — the middle name Combs officially adopted in 2021 to replace John — for the younger generation’s Daddy Diddy on his star-studded new album, out Friday.
The Love Album: Off the Grid – Diddy’s first studio LP since 2010’s Last Train to Paris with Dirty Money – features everyone from pop stars (The Weeknd, Justin Bieber) to R&B divas (HER, Summer Walker) to young rappers enough to be his children (21 Savage, Swae Lee), all of whom show up to kiss his glittering ring.
And if you thought “Diddy” sounded like your formerly hip dad crashing the party, think again. In fact, The Love album shows how much Combs is the blueprint (sorry, Jay) for hip-hop music today.
While some hip-hop purists rejected Diddy when he began bringing a more melodic R&B and pop feel to hip-hop in the ’90s – sometimes basing entire tracks on sampled songs like Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” (on his 1997 album). The hit “I’ll Be Missing You” was the template for the modern hip-hop sound with Kanye West in the 2000s and Drake in the ’10s and even today.
“He comes from Harlem and brings that Harlem sensibility to everything he does,” said cultural expert Emil Wilbekin. “He really pioneered this great blend of hip-hop and R&B when you think of Mary J Blige, Jodeci and Heavy D.” [& the Boyz].”
In fact, all of these artists were developed by a young Diddy, who worked in A&R at Uptown Records before founding his own label, Bad Boy, where he launched the careers of the Notorious BIG Mase and his own act Puff Daddy & the Family.
“Think of the storytelling and the melodies, the male vulnerability, the women singing with passion — all of that was work he pioneered,” said Wilbekin, who compares Diddy to a musical giant of an earlier generation.
“The person I often think of when I think of Diddy is Quincy Jones,” Wilbekin said. “Quincy Jones is a musical genius who wouldn’t be afraid to take pop music, R&B music, rap music and jazz and mix it all together.”
But of course, Diddy’s influence on hip-hop goes beyond the music. In addition to running Bad Boy Records, he also launched his own clothing line, Sean John, his own alcohol brand, Ciroc, and even his own cable music network, Revolt.
In the process, he’s shown the world what it means to be “ghetto-fabulous” – a phrase coined by his late Uptown Records mentor Andre Harrell – be it with his luxury branding or his “Great Gatsby” like white parties in the USA Hamptons.
“Diddy made it a lifestyle … with a very uncompromising black perspective,” said Wilbekin, who placed the star on his first cover as editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine in December 1999. “He really brought hip-hop music and culture to life,” a lifestyle brand.
“He had a huge impact on changing not only the way black Americans saw themselves, but also the way luxury brands saw themselves. Now you see all these high-end luxury brands attracting rappers and R&B singers around the world during Fashion Week. He pioneered things like that.”