The Evolution Of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs And The Bad Boy Family Through VIBE's Covers

The Evolution Of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs And The Bad Boy Family Through VIBE's Covers

The launch of VIBE was the definitive introduction of the power of Hip-Hop and culture to move the crowd. Before the Internet, before email, before social media...there was VIBE. The magazine founded by the legendary musician/producer Quincy Jones, was created on the pulse of our music, as it was riding the power of television, radio, film and fashion becoming charged with the electricity of the streets. Thus, VIBE provided the all encompassing platform to showcase the evolving genre while it solidified a firm placement in the fabric of this nation. This new culture gave rise to stars, and none shone brighter than Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs. It was July of 1993, while we were moving into our new VIBE offices on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, we faced the excitement, the energy and the fear of which articles to include in our forthcoming September 1993 debut issue. The cover was easy since we were all sitting there listening to The Chronic by Dr. Dre and completely entranced by the Long Beach, California repping, sing-song delivery of Snoop Doggy Dogg, but prioritizing the contents....that would be much harder.

Scott Poulson-Bryant (Dr. Bryant now), a brilliant writer who also gave VIBE its name, spoke lucidly and clearly about an A&R Executive who was setting the entire music game on fire working at Andre Harrell's Uptown Records. He had been working diligently on a story about Sean Combs and his groundbreaking work with Mary J. Bilge, Jodeci, Heavy D and other acts on the powerhouse label.  All was good, we were hot, and the young genius known as Puff Daddy was in our first issue.

Then a confluence of tragedy and internal management struggles with the mogul Harrell led to Combs’ ouster from Uptown Records.  And this led to our FIRST serious editorial decision of our young magazine's career--”Do we keep Puffy in this issue or do we wait and see what happens with him and put him in a later issue?”

Photo By: Butch Belair

Photo By: Butch Belair

To our credit, we continued with the piece in the inaugural issue, showing Puff in his brash, bossy and shirtless glory. He soon secured a lucrative label deal with Clive Davis’ Arista Records for his own Bad Boy Records. The future for the young entrepreneur was bright, but not sparkly, as he has constantly been met with drama and severe loss during his journey. With unimaginable highs, like the platinum success of artists like Brooklyn’s The Notorious B.I.G., R&B trio Total and introducing the masses to Harlem World’s Ma$e, Combs would face the unfortunate battle of coasts with Death Row Records, the soul crushing death of The Notorious B.I.G and himself looking at serious jail time at one point.

Yet, surviving the times is what Combs does best. Not only surviving but thriving in an entertainment world that hunts you down to throw you out, he’s prospered in areas previously closed to young black executives. Defining eras from the early 90s to now, he’s stumbled and rebounded with stints in acting on Broadway and entering Hollywood’s silver screens to snatching prestigious awards in the fashion world with his Sean John clothing line. From philanthropy to politics to purified water companies, Combs has done it all...the man even ran the New York City marathon, hence the moniker “Diddy Runs The City.”

The path to over 20 years of Bad Boy Records has found Combs breaking the rules and making his own, and VIBE has been there for the whole ride. He’s been featured on six covers and a few non-Bad Boy covers, while his artists went on to rock another nine.

Puff took a pass that was played by Quincy and Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons, and added a whole new direction to infuse the culture. He constantly expanded the limits of industry and commerce while innovating aggressively and creating a history making enterprise fueled by the sound and hard work that was put forth by the countless moguls he helped create and longtime partner in building Bad Boy Records, Vice President Harve Pierre.

Aside from breaking the glass ceiling of mass communication and founding a cable network in REVOLT TV, Combs is now on the brink of kicking off the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour, bringing together the acts that he introduced to the world like The Lox, Ma$e, 112, Carl Thomas, Faith and many more... He said it from the beginning, "I thought I told you that we won't stop."

Damn straight.

Congratulations to Harve Pierre, the founder of REVOLT Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, and the entire Bad Boy Family. #badboy4life - Keith Clinkscales [Founding CEO of Vibe Magazine and is currently the CEO of REVOLT, the music and culture channel founded by Sean "P Diddy" Combs]

  • Puff Daddy: This Is Not A Puff Piece

    Written By: Scott Poulson-Bryant

    Photographs By: Butch Belair

    Issue: September 1993

    PROLOGUE: Before Andre Harrell fired Puff Daddy, there was another story. Before he walked into Puffy’s office on that nasty hot evening on July 8 and told his protégé that there was room for only one king at the castle called Uptown Entertainment; before Andre Harrell told Puffy that he would have to take his new record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, elsewhere; before Puffy packed up his office; before the telephone lines burned with theories )Andre’s threatened by Puffy’s success. Andre was pressured from higher-ups at MCA, Andre’s bosses never like Puffy anyway, they never understand him, never tried to, Puffy’s just a troublemaker); before Andre was saying that Puffy “had particular ways he wanted to do things that weren’t in the direction I wanted Uptown to go…” Before all that, before Andre decided that Puff Daddy was “unnecessarily rebellious,” there was another story to be told about Puff Daddy. A story that started like this…

    AS hip hop makers its mad dash toward the finishing line of high capitalism, it will need a hero. And there he is, shirtless, the waistband of his Calvin Klein boxer briefs peeking perilously over the edge of his black shorts, the skull tattoo on his left breast gleaming red, mingling with the other guests at Uptown Entertainment president Andre Harrell’s party in a posh suburb in northern New Jersey. It is summer 1992 and it’s the weekend that Whitney married Bobby and the cream of black entertainment society has invaded this coast for the show. The FOAs (Friends of Andre) swim in the pool, jam to Kid Capri on the 1 and 2’s, and play shirts-on-skins b-ball on the court out front, waiting for the catered food to arrive from the Shark Bar, Manhattan’s West Side eatery of choice for black entertainment types. Russell Simmons is there, and Veronica Webb and Keenan Ivory Wayans and Babyface. But Puff Daddy is the only one with a briefcase, one of those shiny, bomb-protectant joints, opening it and closing it periodically to show folks the information inside: initial artwork for the logo of Bad Boy Entertainment. And his first words to me, as I make my way onto the back porch, are not hello or even hi how are you, but, instead, “Yo, nigga, why you frontin’?” Frontin’, as in not calling him when I said I would.

    We’d actually met a few weeks earlier at a fashion show, and after introductions and small talk, he’s said to me then, “You should write a piece about me.” Not only, I thought, is he an A&R man, party promoter, stylist, video director, record producer, and remixer, but he’s also his own publicist. It’s that kind of boldness, that confident sense of purpose, that drives Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs along the path to success he has chosen. Indeed, he is a boy wonder, and, at 22 years old, possibly the second-youngest record-company president --- just two months behind Dallas Austin – when Bad Boy launches this year. Codirecting and costarring in the videos of Mary J. Blige and Jodeci – the jewels in his young crown achievement – he inspires the same kind of awe and jealousy usually reserved for a front-and-center star. There is so much to do, in fact, that he employs two live-in assistants to manage his growing schedule of meetings and growing roster of acts.

    And Puffy cherishes his status, thrives on the exuberance of his youth and its possibilities. He likes the hanging-out nature of his work – the club-going and party-hopping, keeping on the very edge of what’s young and black and hip. But Puffy brings something else to his behind-the-scenes machinations – he’s his own best logo. The postcards announcing the debut of Bad Boy feature Puffy in all his cultivated B-boy glory, shirtless and seated underneath a lonely streetlamp in one, poised behind jail-like bars, his arms raised dramatically, in another. He has the aura of a performer; quite possibly he is the only A&R executive in the business with as many groupies as his artists. He’s the shadowed love man in Mary J. Blige’s “Reminisce” video and the placard-carrying strutter in Heavy D’s “Don’t Cures” clip. “Puffy,” says Andre Harrell, “is the perfect icon. He embodies that kind of charisma and star power.” In the fickle world of hip hop, Puffy creates heroes and makes a hero of himself in the process.

    But heroes, because they are heroes, usually bear the cross of their constituents’ sins; heroes often take falls. And just after Christmas1991, as he attempted to present a gift to his community in the form of a fund-raising celebrity basketball game, Puff Daddy’s ascendency almost came to its first abrupt and complete – some say inevitable – stop. What began as “an opportunity to get dressed up in your newest gear, a colorful event ‘cause black folks always want something to go to to be colorful,” as Andre Harrell put it, ended up as a tragedy that would reverberate around the globe. At the Nat Holman Gym at City College in Harlem, nine people were killed, victims of a stampeded of bumrushing, overeager fans. Puffy was the promoter and organizer, and in the aftermath of the event, he found himself at the center of the serve-and-volley toss-up of laying blame and anointing responsibility. His name, once synonymous with all that was fierce, irreverent, and youthful about hip hop was now the very definition of all that was fragile, violent, and immature.

    “PUFFY was a ham,” says his mother, before rolling off a litany of examples like a proud stage mother. He modeled with Stephanie Mills in a Wiz layout for Essence. He was a Baskin Robbins ice-cream boy in another spread. But he’d always loved music. “ I didn’t know exactly what he would do, but he was blasting me out of the house with his mixing kit I bought him when he was 13, making that noise, scratching those records.” The house was an apartment in Esplanade Gardens, a middle-class complex in Harlem. Then, when his mother’s work for United Cerebral Palsy forced her to relocate to Westchester County, home became Mount Vernon, a mixed-race suburb just north of the Bronx. His father, who owned a limousine company, died when Puffy was three, and his grandmother raised him with his mother. “My mother was the man of the house,” Puffy says now. “She was running shit.”

    But Sean --- who became Puffy when he was about 12, in a game of dozens – was looking to the future anyway, to Howard University, where he would find out what being the man was really about. “I knew they had mad girls down there, and parties, but I really wanted to get a black education.” He found our in his first two weeks on campus that there was a world to conquer. “I was looking at things as a businessman by then,” Puffy says, remembering his introduction to black college life. “Experiencing black people from all different lifestyles, different parts of the country. I had to learn from this.”

    He had to learn, basically, that it wasn’t who you were but who you knew. He brought his Harlem flavor to bear by throwing parties that became the place to be Friday and Saturday nights on Howard’s campus. “I started gaining friends from that. I could get anything I wanted to on campus,” he says. “If I needed to get my car fixed, I knew where to go. If I needed the English paper, I knew who to go to. If I needed an exam or some weed, I knew how to get it.”

    So: schoolwork could be bought; life was easy; Puffy had it made. But he admits now that his methods were suspect. “I had a lot of immature ways about me. I don’t agree with all that stuff now. I had a lot of growing up to do.”

    BACK in the late ‘80s, when Puffy was in high school and grooving into the wee hours to the beat of house music and hip hop, artists would come to clubs to film their videos. Puffy found himself dancing for Diana Ross, Fine Young Cannibals, and Babyface. Seventeen years old and hungry for a life in entertainment, he was still confused: Should he be a shaker, doing the Running Man for admiring audiences? Or should he be a mover, actually running things as The Man? When he saw the “Uptown Kickin’ It” video and the young brother named Andre Harrell at the front of the boardroom table, he decided he “wanted to be the guy sitting at the head of the table, pushing contracts aside after signing them.” Heavy D, a fellow Mount Vernonite and a premier artist at Uptown, hooked him up with an interview that landed him an internship working Thursdays and Fridays. Up at five a.m. each Thursday to get to New York by 10, Puffy would make it back to Howard by midnight each Friday for his parties. Even sneaking onto the Amtrak, hiding in the bathroom to avoid paying conductors, he was happy. “I didn’t give a fuck,” he says. “I was at Uptown.”

    “My vision for the company,” says Andre Harrell, “was to create a label that was cool, that had that Harlem kind of cool hustler cachet to it.” Puffy impressed Andre, “in his shirt and tie, doing everything right, real polite and respectful.” But what he noticed underneath the polite attire was something else: “Puffy was a hustler.” So when Kurt Woodley, the A&R director at Uptown, left the company, Harrell wasn’t surprised that Puffy took him to lunch and asked to have the job. He was 18 years old.

    His first project was Father MC’s debut album, which netted a gold single and respectable sales, carrying on the too-smooth style that became Uptown’s specialty with Heavy D and Guy. But gathering dust were two other projects: Jodeci, a four-man singing group from North Carolina who first record had passed without notice, and future Queen of Hip Hop Soul, a Bronx girl named Mary J. Blige.

    Utilizing stereos at high volumes should be limited to VPs and Directors,” reads a memo on the walls of some offices at Uptown Records. Puffy takes this seriously. His office actually vibrates with the force of the beat. As I walk in, Puffy’s on the phone and before he cuts the call short I hear him say, “Nah, G, you think I’m gonna give the merchandising away? I come up with the flavor for my artists.” The flavor for Jodeci and Mary J. Blige, Puffy’s two biggest acts during his tenure as A&R man, came to him as a dream – soulful R&B singers in hip hop gear, a kid of mix-and-match approach that, in retrospect, seems absurdly obvious. A new genre was born. Hip hop soul, as Harrell calls it. Sound meeting sensibility at a typically contradictory African American crossroads. “And now,” says Puffy, “everybody’s trying to look like the groups that I put out, with the images I created.”

    Detractors point out that the style Puffy “created” is actually just an extension of his own Harlem homeboy style – that Jodeci, for instance, are just four Puffys onstage, playing out his own narcissism. “I wouldn’t say they’re exactly like me, but it’s a combination of me and young black America,” Puffy says. He stops, ponders for a second, and then continues. “But if I was a honey, I would probably be just like Mary J. Blige. A bitch. Not in the negative connotations of the word but like, ‘That’s a bad bitch.’”

    It was in this spare, busy office that the groundwork of the Puffy business occurred. The wall unit holds a small collection of books skewed mostly toward music and black studies, various Uptown artists’ 12-inch singles, and a large color television usually tuned to one video channel or another. A life-size cutout of Mary J. Blige stands at attention near the door, as if to greet visitors with the realization of Puffy’s dreams. A cactus plant, prickly as Puffy often seems, rests on the windowsill. His beeper, on vibrate mode, scurries around his desk like an impatient child; Puffy answers pages constantly. That is, when he isn’t working on the weekly column he writes for Jack the Rapper, an industry journal recounting radio activity of current records. Or when he isn’t meeting with prospective artists, who wait in the anteroom and grin at each other in anticipation of playing their demos for the man who seems to represent the increasing visibility and force of urban black boys in contemporary music. (“I saw him in that Karl Kani ad,” one of them said earlier, outside the office. “Who that nigga think he is?” “Puffy,” responded another, “that’s who.”)

    He is remarkably soft-spoken, communicating mostly through body language: He might break into a sliding dance move when describing his night out at Mecca or some other club-of-the moment. Or stand stock-still with a hard-headed stare, daring you to convince him. When a young designer comes in to show a video of his clothing collection, Puffy leaves the room after a glimpse at the screen, refers the video to Sybil, his assistant, then returns to the room and describes, to a T, what he saw only two seconds of.

    One day in the summer of ’92, Jodeci needed clothes for a Regis and Kathie Lee appearance. Puffy cabbed from store to store in downtown Manhattan, collecting baggy jeans and woolly skull caps, eating Chinese takeout, chatting into his cellular phone all the while. Late in the day, as I reached for my beeper, he said, “Damn, I never met a nigga get more beeps than I do.” Pause: “I bet you one of those suburban kids, got good grades in school, went to college. You wanna win a Pulitzer prize, don’t you?” This is Puffy: arrogant, boyish competition mixed with the seductive, coy recognition of ambition in others. I ask him later if he is conscious of the seduction. If, in fact, it gets him what he wants. “Anything I’ve wanted, I can say I’ve gotten it,” he says straightforwardly. “I just saw it and did it, you know? I observe. I always look at the situation before I speak and before I decide what I want. I don’t just jump my ass buck naked into the fire pit. I look at that motherfucker and see of there’s any space.

    AFTER a long day of listening to demos, scheduling studio time, and preparing for the imminent debut of his own company, Puffy is headed home to the tiny suburb north of Manhattan, in his white BMW, for a much-needed rest. In a contemplative mood, he takes a circuitous route through Harlem, crisscrossing the city streets as if on a memory mission, passing prostitutes on some side streets and lost-looking children on others. Here on the road, caught for a moment between the rare field world of Uptown (the record company) and the rapidly deteriorating world of Uptown (his teenage stomping grounds), he talks about his dark side.

    “A lot of my music is about pain. That’s why the masses relate to it. It’s attainable, people understand it. When Mary J. Blige sings about looking for real love, it’s fucked up, searching, you know? It’s realistic shit.”

    As he drives up to a stoplight, he says, quietly, “I don’t normally be smiling, real happy, youknowhumsayin’? Ain’t nothing to be happy about. Things are fucked up. You got little kids starving, getting beat up, parents on crack, ain’t got nobody to talk to. The only time I’m really happy is when I’m at a club or the rink and they play one of my records. The motherfuckers be screaming to it. They play one of my remixes and I see the look on their faces. Or I go to the concert and see all the kids dressing and looking like my artists.

    “I could have got off on the highway, but I just have to drive through Harlem to remind me about all the fucked-up shit. How fortunate I am.”

    THERE’S a story about Puffy that both his detractors and admirers like to tell. When he was a little boy in Mount Vernon, he wanted a pool, refused to swim in the public pool in the park. According to one version, Puffy begged and begged for the pool and was only happy when his mother took on a second job to pay for it. When Puffy tells the story, he describes the white kids across the street and how they teased him. “They would never invite me over. I used to cry. My Moms made sure she got me a pool that was two times bigger than theirs. It took her like a year to save for it and it was the only Christmas gift, nothing else, no socks, nothing.” I ask if he thought he was spoiled. “My mother tried to get me everything I wanted. She always sacrificed and didn’t do it for herself. Maybe by some other standards I was spoiled, but I didn’t think so. I never did no flipping-put brat shit on my mother.”

    When we get to his house, he tells me he bought it because of the pool. It’s a beautiful split-level, small by the town’s standards, but comfortable. Puffy shares it with his assistants Mark and Lonnie, who each have their own room off the main hall. Puffy’s bedroom is dominated by the closets and roomy, boxy shelf space filled with sneakers and shoes. Downstairs, a pool table takes up most of the space in the rec room, off of which there’s a bar and weight room and mixing room for late night scratching sessions.

    Mark and Lonnie come in, carrying records and Puffy’s suit, fresh from Agnes B. Shirts need to be ironed, so Puffy challenges Mark to a game of pool. The loser will iron. “I’ma make you my bitch tonight,” Puffy tells Mark as they square up.

    As Puffy wins game after game, the front door opens and his mother come sin, carrying paintings for the house. Everyone calls Mrs. Combs – a short, stylish woman with close-cropped hair – Mom. She eventually takes a seat at the bar and watches the game, telling me about her son’s hustling nature. She tells me about Puffy’s father, about how he was quite the player, the pool shark, how he would shoot pool and dice up around Lenox Avenue and 126th Street, and how Puffy probably gets his spirit, his competitiveness, naturally. Then her Mom-speak breaks in: You should ear if you gonna go out. What are you wearing tonight? You want me to fix y’all some sandwiches? And she does, heaping mounds of Steak-Umms with tomatoes and cheese.

    Mark irons, Puffy dresses, Lonnie scratches on the turntables. Boys at home, before they become men in the street.

    HIP HOP has always been – and will always be – about fabulousness and myth. It’s about building new stages to perform newer songs while wearing the newest clothes. But from its fitful birth on the cracked pavement that lined the blocks of upper New York City until the mid ‘80s, when Run-D.M.C. rushed up the pop charts with the other American Realness acts (Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp), “hip hop” was “rap,” ethnic and subcultural, taken for granted by the kids from around-the-way, dismissed by the High Pop tastemakers with the contempt they reserved for that which they didn’t understand. But there were a few who could keep the equation in their heads. Russell Simmons and Fab 5 Freddy, for instance, saw the “in,” saw the never-quenchable thirst of major labels and downtown art galleries as creating the next, and logical, pit stops for this new, evolving thing. Some called it selling out.

    But there was another generation behind them, who could also keep the equation in their heads, as they danced to the residue of black power that seeped through the grooves of Public Enemy and KRS-One records. They were also watching the decade-defining shenanigans on Dynasty and buying into the record-breaking event called Thriller and imbibing the language of bigness, or largeness, as it would be called in hip hop parlance, where words come and got a feverishly junk-bondish turnover rate.

    Puffy is from that generation. They know that blackness means fierceness in the face of adversity. They know that they can yell “Fuck white people” or call yourself a “nigga” and make millions. Their first hip hop shows were often stadium-size or live freestyling on, of all places, MTV. They are conscious of their era, and they know they exist because they spend money on entertainment that tells them they exist. And closer to home, they saw that the people with the fresh cars and nice clothes were not parents of kids their age, but actually kids their age, kids with lethally legal and illegal businesses. Gettin’ paid. Livin’ large. Whether on the money-makin’, boogie-down tip of the entertainment world or the hardcore of the street, black people could own. And what better to own and market, to turn into a mock grass-roots cottage industry, than the culture itself? Says one industry insider, “All these young boys wanna ne in the music business to get large, when they would be out in the street selling drugs. The music industry is perfect for them, ‘cause it’s just a legal form of drug dealing.”

    Listen to Puffy talk about drive, about the reason he gets up in the morning: “The young kids – all the real motherfuckers across the world that’s young and black – they need that real shit. Motherfuckers need that shit, youknowhumsaying’? They got to hear it. Like, if records stopped being made, motherfuckers would be jumping out of windows or something. That shit is almost like a drug.”

    That’s also the reason he started throwing parties.

    HIP HOP parties had, for the most part, been banned in New York, due to an increasing amount of violence and recurrent, racist complaints about noise. But Puffy needed a nightlife. Why not just create one? “I found myself being this senior executive of A&R,” he says now, “and I was like, yo, I wanted to use my power and my money and rent some of these clubs, so we could have a place to go.” Kicking off his reputation with a Christmas party in 1989, when he was starting out at Uptown, he threw a fete for the industry, he says, “to kind of announce myself. It was real dope.”

    He teamed up with Jessica Rosenblum, a downtown club fixture, who once womaned the door at Nell’s. She’d established a niche for herself by organizing social functions for the music industry and came with a reputation as a white woman on the hip hop make, one of the many white faces popping up more and more frequently on the scene. She and Puffy became partners with the opening of Daddy’s House as the Red Zone, a home for hardcore hip hop where you could roll with the flavor to the latest beats, complete with live shows and plenty of attitude. “We were equal partners,” Puffy says, “but I was more on the creative end, I knew more of the people.” Daddy’s House received the imprimatur of the hip hop tastemakers and Puff Daddy became synonymous with the hippest underground jams in New York City. Rosenblum describes Daddy’s House this way: “You know a party is a success when it turns up in a rap song. Daddy’s House did.”

    But its success was short-lived. Fights began to break out. Jessica wanted to expand her own operation. Puffy had a regular job, with increasing responsibility. “It just started to become too much pressure for me,” he says now. “And I was making money from work. I didn’t want party promotions to be the main thing in my life.”

    But in December of 1991, one particular party would become the only thing in his life.

    IT all started when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive. Puffy was upset and wanted to host a celebrity basketball game to raise both money and community awareness. Well-practiced by now in the art of promotion, on the day of the game Puffy had everything running smoothly. Heavy D had gotten involved in the plans, and by late afternoon a posse of usually reticent artists – Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Michael Bivins, EPMD – and hundreds of fans had shown up at the Nat Holman Gym.

    “As it started getting dark, we had to shut the doors cause the line had got disorganized out front,” Puffy says. “The police came in through the back door and we were like, ‘Yo, there’s too many people out there.’ We told them we really needed their help. This white sergeant said okay and they all left the building out through the back and then like about an hour later, the people in the pay line started pushing on the doors. Inside the gym, it was only 40 percent capacity filled. But we weren’t gonna let nobody else in. Anybody who got caught outside with tickets, we were gonna refund their money. We just didn’t wanna take chances by opening the doors back up.

    “But people started pushing from the outside and the doors just snapped off the hinges and people just started pouring in. People started jumping down the staircase. People started piling on top of each other and glass started breaking in the doors and people were getting scared and running.

    “Pushing and pushing. It was more pressure. Then all of a sudden, I’m on the other side of the door, pulling people through so we could open some of the other doors, but even as we started pulling people in, more people were pushing through. We started screaming to people to get back, to back up. And like a few minutes later, we saw people passing out cause of the heat.”

    He pauses, drawing in a breath. “And we started seeing some scary shit. People’s eyes were going back in their heads and I’m thinking, people could die out here. A big kid had gotten stuck in the door and we couldn’t pull him through or anybody else. The cops were being called, but nobody was coming.

    “And I could just feel it. I was thinking some of the people were dying or dead. People had started to regurgitate. Nobody was trying to give mouth-to-mouth resucitation, so I started and other people started. One guy that I knew, we were trying to revive him for like 45 minutes. He was throwing up in my mouth but I didn’t care. We were like, Yo, man, you gotta live. We were pumping his chest and breathing into him. And I’m seeing my girlfriend buggin’ out because her best friend is there, not breathing, and I’m trying to give her mouth to mouth. And I start to feel this feeling, in the breath I’m getting back, that people were dead. I could feel the death going into me.

    “Later,” he continues, his voice quietest now, “I went home, and I kept saying to myself that it was all a bad dream, that I was gonna wake up. But I never woke up. And the next day we contacted the police and the mayor’s office. But people just looked at the flyer and saw my name and Heavy D’s name and started blaming everybody, people saying whoever threw the event must have fucked up. And the press started drawing conclusions before the actual investigation.”

    Accusations flew from all corners. The director of the student center at City College blamed the president of the Evening Student Government, claiming in the New York Times that she had misled him about “her skill in organizing such events, the size of the expected crowd and to whom the proceeds were to be donated.” It turned out, also, that the AIDS Education Outreach Program, the charity to which a portion of the proceeds were to have gone, was questionable. It had not been registered as a charity in Albany, according to the Times, and “was not known among anti-AIDS groups.”

    In televised press conferences, Puffy looked shrunken and young, hesitant in speech and demeanor. He went underground to avoid ensuing melee of judgement. Even Rosenblum, whom Puffy had hired to work the door (not to co-promote, as was rumored), admits that the situation took its toll on him. “It made him learn to think things through,” says Rosenblum now. “Puffy’s used to telling people what he wants and having them execute it. Unfortunately, this time, the people working for him didn’t fully execute the plan. It wasn’t Puffy’s fault, but it was his responsibility.

    Says Puffy, “I started to lose it. I felt like I didn’t want to even live no more. I was so fucking sad. The legal counsel was not to go anywhere, not to talk to anybody. But I wanted to go to the wakes and funerals and try to provide some comfort, even though I knew my presence probably wouldn’t have given comfort. But what I was going through, with the blame and stuff, was nothing compared to what the families were going through.

    “I couldn’t eat,” he recalls now, sitting forward in his seat. “I was just sleeping, like a mummy. I didn’t talk to nobody. And every time I turned on the news there was something about the event of the money or something.

    “I was scared throughout the whole event. There’s no big hero story to all this. I’d never had that much up against me. I had to be a man or die. And I was deserted. There was like, fake, nosy support. But a lot of people I thought were my friends just fell by the wayside. I had my mother and my girl and Andre, and a few other friends.

    “But I have to live with the fact that people meet me or see me and no matter how many platinum records I have or whatever, they’ll think, ‘Oh, that’s the guy who murdered nine people at City College.’ Cause they didn’t check out the mayor’s report that cleared me of all the blame. [The City Hall report actually found that Combs had delegated responsibilities to inexperienced associates and should have arranged better security to handle the expected large crowds.] But I imagine the pain the families go through and I understand that what I went through and will go through is nowhere near their pain. And that’s the thing that kept me going, knowing if they had the strength to go on, I had the strength to go on and handle people looking at me and thinking whatever they’re gonna think.”

    “The City College event grew him up quick,” Heavy D says. “He was on a path where he could have destroyed himself. He was on a high, you know, he was ‘Puffy!’ doing all this stuff at his age. But every disaster has a delight. There’s a lesson in disguise.”

    Always a “panicky young man,” as Heavy D describes him, Puffy no longer moved with the same reckless abandon, rushing headlong toward whatever goal he set. And even though outsiders looked to place blame on easy official targets like City College or the police, Puff found the answer in the community that bred his style, in his music, himself. “It wasn’t that tickets were oversold like people said. It wasn’t the fire department’s fault or the cops’. And it wasn’t simply that ‘niggas are crazy,’ as people say,” he says. “It’s just that overall in the black community there’s a lack of self-love. The majority of the kids weren’t necessarily gonna put themselves in the position to get hurt, but when ti came time to love their neighbors and move back, they couldn’t love their neighbors because they didn’t love themselves.”

    And that’s probably the hardest thing for Puffy to accept: that, in essence, The City itself was responsible for the nine deaths forever linked to his name – The City and its dark side, which feeds on the constant restlessness of the shut-out and put-down, which takes away the places of recreation that might be a respite from the infrequent, hyped “events” kids are attracted to, the places where their heroes can shine bright and strong.

    BUT Puffy’s job was to create those heroes, and he had to go back to work soon after the tragedy. Jodeci and Mary J. Blige were blowing up around the country and bringing a whole new image of young blackness to the masses. Mary J. Blige’s blasé, Uptown Girl attitude mixed with hip hop beats, and a talent show vocal aggressiveness redefined the concept of the soul-shouting diva. Puffy was also at work on Blue Funk, Heavy D’s darkest album, full of pain of love lost and maturity gained. Jodeci became the standard-bearer of urban black-boy stoicism, but with a supple, gospel sound that made R&B edgy again.

    And edginess is what Puffy likes. In the works was Bad Boy Entertainment, Puffy’s own management and record company. During the aftermath of City College, says his mother, “A lot of people showed Sean there asses to kiss. I was there for him, and we became a lot closer, we started communicating better.” She realized just how determined her son was about having his own company. “I didn’t want him going down the drain,” Mrs. Combs says now. “I told him not to worry, that we’d have our own thing. I had planned to help him all along, but this seemed like a good time. I invested in something for him.”

    “Puffy is a warrior, he’ll go for his,” say Andre Harrell. Sean wants Bad Boy to embody to his own personal energy and philosophies. Bad Boy wants to be edgier, harder. They would sign a gangster rapper. I think Puffy wants to deal with more rebellious issues.”

    I ask Andre about Puffy’s rebellion thing. He laughs and outlines his Theory of Black Folks: There are “ghetto negroes, then colored negroes who are upper lower class or lower middle class who want to go to college and feel the need to be dressed up everywhere they go, you know, working with the system so the system will work for them. Then there’s just Negroes, saying’, I’ve had a credit card for ten years, my father went to college. Puffy is somewhere between ghetto and colored. He is very much like Russell [Simmons]. Puffy was raised colored, went to private school. And that’s why he wants to be rebellious. He didn’t grow up where rebellious was just normal. Colored folks want to be down with the ghetto.”

    LATE one Sunday night, Puffy and I sit in his white BMW, on East 21st Street in Manhattan, and I ask him about the ghetto thing and its influence on his music. He tells me that even though he didn’t grow up in the projects, he was “always attracted to motherfuckers who were real, niggas who really didn’t have a lot. Like, a person could live in the suburbs, but they may not have no friends there. You don’t really have nothing if you don’t have no friends and your mother is a single parent and she may never be around and you ain’t really got shit.”

    “Are you talking about yourself?”

    “Yeah, in a sense. But the majority of kids in the suburbs was made, you know? Their parents made them a certain way. These kids from the ghetto had no choice. They didn’t have shit, but they were real.”

    Finally he boils it down to its essence: “I don’t like no goody-two-shoe shit. I like the sense of being in trouble. It’s almost like a girl, youknowhumsayin’? Girls don’t like no good niggas. Girls like bad boys.”

    Heavy D believes that Puffy – the persistent kid from around the way, who found that all his dreams and nightmares could merge in a single moment – is “slowly yet surely realizing that what he has is a gift. In my opinion, Puffy was responsible for Father MC, Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. Especially Jodeci. You gotta remember that they had a record out before, and they only blow up when Puffy got in the loop. But Puffy has to realize that that gift ain’t for him. It’s for other people.”

    With the debut of the Bad Boy artists, Puffy’s ultimate test awaits him. The four acts on the roster are acts hand-picked by Puff Daddy himself, not acts passed down for his overseeing. Although the first release, Notorious Big’s “Party and Bullshit,” featured on Who’s the Man? soundtrack, has an irresistible street flavor that seems to have caught the attention of the party people, it remains to be seen whether Puffy has the ears to go with his eyes, whether he can see a project from its inception to its fruition with the same level of success. Faith, it seems, will show him the way.

    Sitting in the car on 21st Street, Puffy is preparing to go into Soundtrack studios to remix Mary J. Blige’s next single. Perhaps that, and recounting the City College nightmare, explains the sudden darkness in his manner. He leans back in the leather seat and sighs. “I just like talking to God, realizing that my shit ain’t nothing, my problems are so minute. I pray every night, every day, I talk to God a lot. I carry a Bible with me all the time.”

    He pulls a tiny, tattered, dog-eared Bible from his back pocket and turns to Psalms. He reads: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat at my flesh, they stumbled and fell.”

    This is the text of Puffy’s next tattoo.

    EPILOGUE: Whatever the reason for Puffy’s dismissal from Uptown – and we may never know the real reason, or, for that matter, the true nature of the relationship between Puff Daddy and Andre Harrell – both men continue to speak well of each other. Harrell’s Uptown will continue to oversee the development of Bad Boy’s first three artists – at Puffy’s request. Puffy will retain the Bad Boy concept and has the freedom to develop his dream elsewhere.

    Just three days after being fired, Puffy remained his cool and contained self. “My only regret,” he says, quietly, patiently, “is that if I had any flaws, I could have been nurtured or corrected, instead of people giving up on me. Somebody older may think I have nothing to be angry about ‘cause I did what they did in half the time. But I’m not ungrateful for what I’ve received.” He sighs, “But this is just another chapter. This ain’t no sad ending.”

    And he is right. It won’t be long before there is yet another Puffy story to tell.

  • BIG Wheels: Rollin' With The Notorious B.I.G. And Faith

    THINGS DONE CHANGED

    Written By: Mimi Valdes

    Photographs By: Eric Johnson

    Issue: October 1995

    Back when he dropped his debut, Brooklyn’s own Notorious B.I.G. was Ready to Die. Now he’s got a No. 1 single, a platinum album, a loving wife, and everything to live for. Mimi Valdes goes on tour with the hip hop giant to answer the question, How ya livin’, Biggie Smalls?

    “I didn’t know he was going to be this large,” says Mark “Gucci Don” Pitts, the Notorious B.I.G.’s manager, driving the black Lexus that doubles as his office. Pitts, 25, is a former employee of Sean “Puffy” Combs’s Bad Boy Entertainment who left to represent Biggie independently in 1993. “Damn,” he says, thinking back on the past 24 months, “I can’t believe we blew up that quick.”

    And he’s not the only one who’s surprised. “That star shit ain’t really hit me until a couple of months ago,” says 22-year-old Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G. Who could have predicted that the Brooklyn native would throw New York hip hop back into the spotlight? He’s the East Coast messiah; even KRS-One (he of the legendary skills and equally legendary ego) says it’s true. Biggie’s album, Ready to Die, is nearly a year old and still up there on the charts.

    His first single, “Juicy,” went gold. “Big Poppa” went platinum. And the souped-up “Ome More Chance/The What (Remix)” had been sitting atop the R&B charts for six weeks at press time. Michael Jackson even asked him to rhyme on HIStory. No doubt, B.I.G. is more than large.

    Christopher Wallace was born the only child of a Jamaican single mom. The two have always lived in the same flat in the Bedford-Stuyvestant area until this year, when Big moved into a duplex with his wife, singer Faith Evans, and her daughter. Before his rap career, Big didn’t give a fuck about anything – just look at what he named his album. “It was a lot of hard work, getting him serious about business,” says Pitts. Big remembers how Pitts helped him through the transition: “Mark used to come to my crib, and I’d be, like, ‘Fuck you, I ain’t doing shit.” But he’d take a hot rag, wipe my face, and help me up.”

    Biggie’s financial situation didn’t make things any easier. “When I stopped hustling and started making songs, it was the worst,” he says. “My advance from Bad Boy was just petty money, like 12, 20 G’s” – nothing in comparison with the “money money” that he was used to back when he was selling drugs.

    Most of Biggie’s money these days comes from live shows; he’s been touring steadily throughout the past year, picking up $20,000 per performance. “Big understands what he has to do, and being on the road is part of that,” says Hawk, who grew up down the block from Big and is now his road manager. Biggie rolls with a tight crew of seven or eight whom he considers “family.” It’s a good thing they’re so tight, because life on the road – shady promoters, broken-down tour buses, weed shortages, and too much McDonald’s – can get hectic.

    BIG doesn’t do much to prepare for this evening’s concert in Raleigh, N.C. – besides maybe smoking a few blunts. Wearing navy blue Sergio Tachini track pants and no shirt, he’s watching TV with Little Kim, the fly female MC from Junior M.A.F.I.A. (Big’s longtime partners and protégés). Although she calls herself Big Momma on “Player’s Anthem,” Kim, who’s actually slim and petite, is concerned that Big Poppa may be a little too bit.

    “I’ve never thought about losing weight,” says Biggie.

    “I just want you to be healthy,” Kim pleads, laughing.

    “Healthy, schmealthy. How much you think I should weigh?”

    “A hundred and eighty,” she says. But when the six-foot-three MC lets her know his weight (315 pounds), Kim reconsiders.

    “Two hundred, then. I didn’t know you weighed that much.”

    It’s after 11 p.m. when Big, now wearing a custom made 5001 Flavors linen suit, steps onstage at Club Rhythms. The stage is actually outdoors, facing a forest, a fence, and 500 fans standing on gravel, ready to go wild. By Big’s side are Little Ceasar (from Junior M.A.F.I.A.), Money-L (the hype man), and D-Rock (his right-hand man), who’s videotaping the show. And there’s a lot to capture: girls in front rubbing their titties during “Player’s Anthem,” kids sitting in trees outside the club pumping their fists, and chaos when 200 one-dollar bills are thrown into the audience during “Gimmie The Loot,” (Biggie used to throw the money himself until he lost a $5,000 ring Faith gave him.)

    After the concert, more than two dozen cars play follow-the-white-stretch-limousine. At the hotel, Big rushes to his room while his crew wait to see who’s in the cars. A few girls in evening gowns make their way inside. “I don’t want him to think we came to do the do-it,” says one autograph seeker. After standing around for a while, she and her crew decide he ain’t coming out. They leave, but some scantily clad girls linger.

    But Big ain’t trying to fuck with any chicken heads. Although there are rumors that his marriage to Faith was a publicity stunt, or that it was recently annulled, they’re totally false. The pair celebrated their first wedding anniversary on August 4, and are very much in love. At the video shoot for Faith’s “You Used To Love Me,” they could be seen giggling and calling each other nicknames (he’s Riccardo, she’s Moschino). They met at a Bad Boy photo shoot last summer and were married nine days later. “I had my share of all kinds of women,” says Big. “I can’t explain it. I just knew Faith was different. I wanted her locked down.”

    Of course, his friends were buggin’, especially his mom. Everyone believed she married him for his loochie, though at the time, Faith actually had more money than him because of her songwriting and background vocal work for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Color Me Badd, and Pebbles. “I’m, like, ‘Ma, what money? I owe you $300,’” says Biggie, laughing.

    As serious as Big is about his “baby,” she’s just as serious about him. One night after a show in Virginia, Big was arguing on the phone with Faith, who was in New York. He hung up, and when she tried to call back, Big refused to answer. Later, some girls came to the hotel and coupled off with Biggie’s boys. One was left out, and Big allowed her to sleep in his room. “It was some completely innocent shit,” insists Big. “We weren’t fucking.” They awoke at 8 in the morning to a knock on the door.

    “The girl’s, like, ‘Who is it?’” he recalls, “and a sweet voice says, ‘Housekeeping,’ She opened the door, and Faith beat the shit out of her. Oh my God. Punched homegirl in the face about 30 times, then got on the next flight back to New York.” Big was lying in bed speechless the whole time. “I was, like, Oh shit, that’s the illest right there,” he remembers. But Faith made her point: “I was so nervous, I jetted to New York ‘cause I wasn’t gonna leave her buck-wil’ing like that. The girl was mad cool and I felt horrible, but fuck that. I got on that plane.”

    For Biggie, being away from Faith is one of the hardest things about touring, but he’s got to get the paper. “I still haven’t gotten money from the album itself,” says Big. “I spent a lot, and the label has to recoup first. That’s why I sold half my publishing to Puffy. I was br-zoke, and if a nigga could make a quick quarter of a million just from signing a few papers, you gotta let it go.” Puffy may have hit him off with a nice chunk, but it’s nothing compared with what Big might’ve made had he struck a publishing deal after he blew up. Some may say Big got jerked, but then again, Puffy is very much responsible for his success.

    Biggie wanted his first single to be “Machine Gun Funk,” but Puffy knew which songs would take him to a wider audience. “Puffy was on some, ‘Yo, let’s get rich. If we drop “Juicy,” you’ll have a gold single,’” recalls Biggie. Puffy compromised by letting him do an ill B-side. “If people weren’t with ‘Juicy,’ they could turn it over and hear ‘Unbelievable,’” says Biggie. “My niggas weren’t mad at me, so I was straight.” Puffy wanted to drop “Big Poppa” next. “I was, like, Oh man,” says Biggie, rolling his eyes. “But then Puffy started talking that money shit again.”

    AFTER a 12-hour bus ride from Raleigh to Cleveland, and three stops at McDonald’s, Big’s getting set for tonight’s concert. The smoke detector in his room has been covered with a towel so his King Edward blunts won’t set off any alarms. “I’m feeling kind of sluggish,” he says. “Maybe it’s because I didn’t take no vitamins today.” He’s referring to his jar off yohimbe pills (made from African yohimbe trees) that promise “ultra strength, stamina, and energy.” After brushing his teeth near the TV, spraying on some Guy LaRoche cologne, and applying deodorant, Big’s ready. Two white limos bring everyone to the Gund Arena, which is like three minutes away.

    Once inside, the entourage head straight to their dressing rooms. A few minutes before he’s supposed to go on, Big decides to step to the backstage area, which is visible to some fans. Women of all shapes, sizes, and colors lose their minds the moment he appears. “Big Poppa, Big Poppa,” screams one beautiful sister. “Please, please, please, please come over here so I can feel you,” yells another.

    Though Ice Cube is headlining – on a bill that also includes Naughty by Nature, Heather B., and Kut Klose – Big steals the show. The crowd goes wild during “Big Poppa” and when DJ Enuff drops the beat for “Can’t You See” and Big starts his rhyme, the arena explodes. But when surprise guest stars Total begin singing, the vibe just dies. By the time they get to the chorus, someone has thrown water at one of the girls when Total finish, pennies and a half-eaten hot dog litter the stage. But Big picks up the pace and leaves the crowd wanting more before closing with “One More Chance” as an encore.

    Back at the hotel, it’s all chilling and cracking jokes. Because of Big’s size and demeanor, many would be surprised to learn that he’s a straight-up comedian. “I definitely can make a motherfucker laugh,” he admits. He gets all excited about a black female contestant on Jeopardy’s Senior Week: “Yo, you missed the introductions. Mama sais she was from Bed-Stuy, representing BK to the fullest.,” Big tells his boys, who knows he’s lying. “I swear. She even said she wanted to give a shout-out to Biggie Smalls!”

    When he recalls the surreal experience of meeting Michael Jackson, he can’t stop laughing. “When I found out he wanted to do a joint with me, that just tickled me pink,” says Big, who flew to the session in L.A. almost immediately. He heard the track for “This Time Around,” knocked out the vocals, and was ready to bounce when he heard Jackson wanted to meet him. “I was, like, ‘Do you like it? Make sure you use it. Please,’” says Biggie, who’s hoping the song gets released as a single. “Just imagine us playing C-Lo in the video. It would be over.”

    Five minutes after getting on the highway to Chicago from Cleveland, the bus runs out of gas. As the driver disappears to get help, the crew chat on their cellulars and play spades for $200 a game. It’s almost five hours later when the bus finally moves, and close to midnight before it arrives in Chicago. Everyone’s tired and hungry, but happy they’ll be in the city for three days and can finally do some laundry. “I ain’t got no draws,” complains Big.

    The next day, the promoter takes everyone out to a couple of malls in a white van. Biggie’s looking for Versace shades but instead settles for five pairs of multicolored Coogie socks at $17.50 each. At the counter, he flips through the Coogie housewares catalog of blankets, pillows, and curtains. “I can’t wait to get my house,” says Big. “I’m gonna get all this shit.”

    As soon as Big gets some of his big checks, he’s buying his moms a house in Florida and moving out of Brooklyn with a quickness. “I’d be a fool-ass nigga to sit in the ‘hood, on top of millions, thinking about nothing ain’t gonna happen to me,” says Biggie. But what about keeping it real by staying in the ghetto? “Keeping it real is taking care of your family,” he says, “not taking all that money and doing stupid shit.” That’s why Big has a screenplay in the works, plans to open a chain of 24-hour diners called Big Poppa’s, maybe even start a clothing company for big me. “I got the cars, the jewelry, the clothes,” he says. “Not it’s time to do something with money instead of just spending it.”

    After the mall, it’s off to a steak house, where the crew sit down to their first real meal in days. But when the check arrives, the promoter refuses to pay. Later that night, hotel personnel inform everyone that their rooms haven’t been paid for either. The next day there are pins in everybody’s doors, preventing them from using their keys. The promoter’s actions are worthy of a beatdown, but Big’s crew know better.

    You see, Big don’t get down like that. That’s why his recent arrest on assault charges is so unbelievable. Ain’t nobody trying to hear that bullshit about rappers happy to be locked up ‘cause they’ll sell more records. “I’d rather be dead than in jail,” says Biggie. “That shit is the worst. I was shaking, throwing up, ‘cause the shit was mad dirty, mice and rats all over.” Not the place for an MC who wants Coogie down to the socks, caviar for breakfast, and champagne bubble baths.

    On May 6, Biggie was supposed to do a show in Camden, N.J., but when he got to Club Xscape, the promoter (and Big’s money) could not be found. Pitts told Nate Banks Jr., who had brought Biggie to the club, to take them to see the promoter. Upset ticket holders followed Big in their own cars, joining the mission to find the promoter. When the caravan reached the promoter’s crib, his brother came outside to say he wasn’t home. According to Banks’s attorney, Banks was then beaten up and robbed of his necklace, bracelet, watch, cellular phone, beeper, and $300 in cash. “When he was down, Christopher Wallace comes across the street and kicks him in the head,” the attorney adds.

    “I saw the commotion,” says Biggie. “I got out my truck, Mark said, ‘Get the fuck back in the truck,’ and I did.” Exactly who beat Banks down – and when – remains unclear.

    Six weeks later, after a show near Philly, Biggie and crew jumped in their rides to leave. Outside the parking lot, they noticed flares on the ground and policemen giving directions. “We’re thinking it’s a police escort ‘cause there were so many people outside the club,” says Biggie. “They lead us to a lot and – whoo, hoo. I swear on my daughter, niggas rolled out the bushes on their stomachs and pointed rifles with infrared beams on my truck. Meanwhile, I’m in the passenger seat with a bottle of Dom Perignon, pissy drunk, like, What the fuck is going on?” No one in Biggie’s circle even knew that there was a warrant out for his arrest.

    “They got me on my belly, in the grass, with mad bugs crawling on my face,” recalls Biggie. “Next thing you know, one guy got the shotty with the flashlight on the tip leaning on my head. They took me to the precinct and niggas were giving each other high fives and doing belly slaps. I’m looking at them like they crazy.” The copes even asked him to sign autographs.

    Biggie was held in jail for three days before being released; he then turned himself in to Camden police. His trial date has yet to be set. “Somebody told me I should just give duke [Banks] some money,” he says. “Whatever, man. I’ll see that nigga in court.”

    The whole ordeal, however, pit a temporary strain on Big’s relationship with his mom, a Jehovah’s Witness. “That shit made her think of the old Christopher, like I was still on the same bullshit,” Biggie says. “I’m telling her that I didn’t hit him, I didn’t rob him, and she looking at me, like, Whatever. I mean, that’s my ol’ MO, you know what I’m saying?”

    “Things done changed,” raps Biggie on his debut album, and that song has since taken on a multitude of meanings. Yes, he went from negative to positive, but nothing’s ever all good. A few years ago the possibility of prison was an occupational hazard, but at least he knew the risks. Now that he’s turned his life around, he’s got a whole new set of problems to worry about.

    Biggie says he’s “the same ol’ nigga – maybe a little but more bossy.” The letters of his stage name used to just mean “big.” Now he likes to say they stand for “Business Instead of Game.” And if he was Ready to Die two years ago, now he’s got everything to live for. He know it too. He’s already decided on a title for his next album. It will be called Life After Death. ~ Mimi Valdez

    ~~~~~~~

    YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH

    Written By: Emil Wilbekin

    “I asked for it,” says Faith Evans, laughing at the thought of her crazy, busy life. “I knew what I was getting into.”

    And the 22-year-old singer of the hit “You Used To Love Me” ain’t lyin’ – she keeps a hectic schedule. On any day, the ghetto chanteuse might be getting her weave done, paying her bills, talking on the phone with Biggie, feeding her two-year-old daughter Chyna, making travel arrangements, and trying to keep it all together – all at the same time.

    It isn’t easy, but it’s fun,” she says. “I wanted a child, a husband, a career. I’m on e of those people who always has my hand in everything.”

    That’s how her musical career began. “I started singing when I was two at my church in Newark,” Faith says. “I don’t remember how I ended up at the mike, but I sang a song I heard on The Flintstones: ‘Let the Sunshine In.’ That was my little debut thing.”

    She didn’t stop there. Faith appeared in high school musicals, studied jazz and classical music, and even ended up with a New Jersey Miss Fashion Teen title. Then the high school honor student started at Fordham University on an academic scholarship, majoring in marketing. After a year, though, she left to market herself.

    And it’s worked. Aside from sounding lovely on her self-titled first album, Faith’s stirring voice can be heard on Biggie’s “One More Chance.” Plus she’s written songs for chart-busters like Mary J. Blige and Color Me Badd. In fact, it was while working on Usher’s debut album that Puffy Combs got sparked by her skills and signed her. She’s been upward bound ever since.

    While Faith’s voice conjures a resonant mix of Minnie Riperton, Ella Fitzgerald, and Chaka Khan, she’s most often compared to May. But the sultry songstress shakes her head at that notion. Despite the platinum blond hair, pouty lips, and Puffy connection, Miss Faith has her own style. “Me and my album,” she says, grinning, “can’t even be categorized.”

  • East vs. West: Biggie & Puffy Break Their Silence

    STAKES IS HIGH

    Puffy and Biggie break their silence on Tupac, Death Row, and all the East-West friction. A tale of bad boys and bad men.

    Words By: Larry "The Blackspot" Hester

    Photographs By: Dana Lixenberg

    Issue: September 1996

    Now, we can settle this like we got some class, or we can get into some gangster shit. –Max Julien as Goldie in The Mack

    It’s hard to believe that someone who has seen so much could have such young eyes. But the eyes of Sean “Puffy” Combs, bright, brown, and alert, reflect the stubborn innocence of childhood. His voice, however, tells another story. Sitting inside the control room of Daddy’s House Studios in Midtown Manhattan, dressed in an Orlando Magic jersey and linen slacks, Puffy speaks in low, measured tones, almost whispering.

    “I’m hurt a little bit spiritually by all the negativity, by this whole Death Row-Bad Boy shit,” says Puffy, president of Bad Boy Entertainment, one of the most powerful creative forces in black music today. And these days, one of the most tormented. “I’m hurt that out of all my accomplishments, it’s like I’m always getting my most fame from negative drama. It’s not like the young man that was in the industry for six years, won the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year, and every record he put out went at least gold…All that gets overshadowed. How it got to this point, I really don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

    So is everyone else. What’s clear is that a series of incidents—Tupac Shakur catching bullets at a New York studio in November ’94, a close friend of Death Row CEO Suge Knight being killed at an Atlanta party in September ’95, the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac facing off after the Soul Train Music Awards in L.A. this past March—have led to much finger-pointing and confusion. People with little or no connection to Death Row or Bad Boy are choosing up sides. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, hip hop heads are proclaiming their “California Love” or exclaiming that the “the East is in the house” with the loyalty of newly initiated gang members. As Dr. Dre put it, “Pretty soon, niggaz from the East Coast ain’t gonna be able to come out here and be safe. And vice versa.”

    Meanwhile, the two camps that have the power to put an end to it all have yet to work out their differences. Moreover, Suge Knight’s Death Row camp, while publicly claiming there is no beef, has continued to aggravate the situation: first, by making snide public comments about the Bad Boy family, and second, by releasing product that makes the old Dre-vs.-Eazy conflict look tame. The intro to the video for the Tupac/Snoop Doggy Dogg song “2 of Americaz Most Wanted” features two characters named Pig and Buff who are accused of setting up Tupac and are then confronted in their office. And the now infamous B-Side, “Hit Em Up,” finds Tupac, in a fit of rage, telling Biggie, “I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker,” and then threatening to wipe out all of Bad Boy’s staff and affiliates.

    While the records fly off the shelves and the streets get hotter, Puffy and Big have remained largely silent. Both say they’ve been reluctant to discuss the drama because the media and the public have blown it out of proportion. At press time, there were rumors festering that Puffy—who was briefly hospitalized June 30 for a cut arm—had tried to commit suicide, causing many to wonder if the pressure had become too much. Determined to put an end to all the gossip, Puffy and Big have decided to tell their side.

    “Why would I set a nigga up to get shot?” says Puffy. “If I’ma set a nigga up, which I would never do, I ain’t gonna be in the country, I’ma be in Bolivia somewhere.” Once again, Puffy is answering accusations that he had something to do with Shakur’s shooting at New York’s Quad Recording Studio, the event that sowed the seeds of Tupac’s beef with the East.

    In April 1995, Tupac told VIBE that moments after he was ambushed and shot in the building’s lobby, he took the elevator up to the studio, where he saw about 40 people, including Biggie and Puffy. “Nobody approached me. I noticed that nobody would look at me,” said Tupac, suggesting that the people in the room knew he was going to be shot. In “Hit ‘Em Up,” Tupac does more than suggest, rapping, “Who shot me? But ya punks didn’t finish/Now you’re about to feel the wrath of a menace.”

    But Puffy says Tupac’s barking up the wrong tree: “He ain’t mad at the niggas that shot him; he knows where they’re at. He knows who shot him. If you ask him, he knows, and everybody in the street knows, and he’s not stepping to them, because knows that he’s not gonna et away with that shit. To me, that’s some real sucker shit. Be mad at everybody, man; don’t be using niggas as scapegoats. We know that he’s a nice guy from New York. All shit aside, Tupac is a nice, good-hearted guy.”

    Taking a break from recording a new joint for his upcoming album, Life After Death, Big sinks into the studio’s sofa in a blue Sergio Tacchini running suit that swishes with his every movement. He is visibly bothered by the lingering accusations. “I’m still thinking this nigga’s my man,” says Big, who first met Tupac in 1993 during the shooting of John Singleton’s Poetic Justice. “This shit’s just got to be talk, that’s all I kept saying to myself. I can’t believe he would think that I would shit on him like that.”

    He recalls that on the movie set, Tupac kept playing Big’s first single, “Party and Bullshit.” Flattered, he met Tupac at his home in L.A., where the two hung out, puffed lah, and chilled. “I always thought it to be like a Gemini thing,” he says. “We just clicked off the top and were cool ever since.” Despite all the talk, Big claims he remained loyal to his partner in rhyme through thick and thin. Honestly, I didn’t have no problem with the nigga,” Big says. “There’s shit that muthafuckas don’t know. I saw situations and how shit was going, and I tried to school the nigga. I was there when he bought his first Rolex, but I wasn’t in the position to be rolling like that. I think Tupac felt more comfortable with the dudes he was hanging with because they had just as much money as him.

    “He can’t front on me, “ says Big. “As much as he may come off as some Biggie hater, he knows. Kne knows when all that hit was going down, I was schooling a nigga to certain things, me and [Live Squad rapper] Stretch—God bless the grave. But he chose to do the things he wanted to do. There wasn’t nothing I could do, but it wasn’t like he wasn’t my man.

    While Tupac was taking shots at Biggie—claiming he’d bit his “player style and sound—Suge was cooking up his own beef with Bad Boy. At the Source Awards in August 1995, Suge made the now legendary announcement, “If you don’t want the owner of your label on your album or in your video or on your tour, come sign with Death Row.” Obviously directed at Puffy’s high-profile role in his artists’ careers, the remark came as a shock. “I couldn’t believe what he said,” Puffy recalls. “I thought we was boys.” All the same, when it came time for Puffy to present an award, he said a few words about East-West unity and made a point of hugging the recipient, Death Row artist Snoop Doggy Dogg.

    Nonetheless, Suge’s words spread like flu germs, reigniting ancient East-West hostilities. It was in this increasingly tense atmosphere that Big and the Junior M.A.F.I.A. clique reached Atlanta for Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party last September. During the after-party at a club called Platinum House, Suge Knight’s close friend Jake Robles was shot. He died at the hospital a week later. Published reports said that some witnesses claimed a member of Puffy’s entourage was responsible.

    At the mention of the incident, Puffy sucks his teeth in frustration. “Here’s what happened,” he says. “I went to Atlanta with my son. At that time, there wasn’t really no drama. I didn’t even have bodyguards, so that’s a lie that I did. I left the club, and I’m waiting for my limo, talking to girls. I don’t see [Suge] go into the club; we don’t make any contact or nothing like that. He gets into a beef in the club with some niggas. I knew the majority of the club, but I don’t know who he got into the beef with, what it was over, or nothing like that. All I heard is that he took beef at the bar. I see people coming out. I see a lot of people that I know, I see him, and I see everybody yelling and screaming and shit. I get out the limo and I go to him like, ‘What’s up, you all right?’ I’m trying to see if I can help him. That’s my muthafuckin’ problem, Puffy says, pounding his fist into his palm in frustration. “I’m always trying to see if I can help somebody.

    “Anyways, I get out facing him, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on, what’s he problem?’ Then I hear shtos ringing out, and we turn around and someone’s standing right behind me. His man—God bless the dead—gets shot, and he’s on the floor. My back was turned; I could’ve got shot, and he could’ve got shot. But right then he was, like, ‘I think you had something to do with this.’ I’m, like, ‘What are you talking about? I was standing right here with you!’ I really felt sorry for him, the the sense that if he felt that way, he was showing me his insecurity.”

    After the Atlanta shooting, people on both coasts began speculating. Would there be retribution? All-out war? According to a New York Times Magazine cover story, Puffy sent Louis Farrakhan’s son, Mustafa, to talk with Suge. Puffy says he did not send Mustafa but did tell him, “If there’s anything you can do to put an end to this bullshit, I’m with it.” The Times reported that Suge refused to meet with Mustafa. Suge has since declined to speak about his friend’s murder.

    Less than two weeks later, when it came time for the “How Can I Be Down?” rap conference in Miami, the heat was on. Suge, who has never concealed his past affiliations with L.A’s notorious Bloods, was rumored to be coming with an army. Puffy was said to be bringing a massive of New York drug lords and thugs. When the conference came and Puffy did not attend, Billboard reported that it was due to threats from Death Row.

    `On December 16, 1995, it became apparent that the trouble was spilling into the streets. In Red Hook, Brooklyn, shots were fired at the trailer where Death Row artist Tha Dogg Pound were making a video for “New York, New York”—which features Godzilla-size West Coasters stomping on the Big Apple. No one was hurt, but the message was clear. Then came “LA, La,” an answer record from New York MC’s Tragedy, Capone, Noreaga, and Mobb Deep. That video featured stand-ins for Tha Dogg Pound’s Daz and Kurupt being kidnapped, tortured, and tossed off the 59th Street Bridge.

    By this time, the rumor mill had kicked into overdrive. The latest story was that Tupac was boning Biggie’s wife, Faith Evans, and Suge was getting with Puffy’s ex, Misa Hylton. Death Row allegedly printed up a magazine ad featuring Misa and Suge holding Puffy’s two-year-old son, with a caption reading “The East Coast can’t even take care of their own.” The ad—which was discussed on New York’s Hot 97 by resident gossip Wendy Williams—never ran anywhere, but reps were tarnished nonetheless. Death Row now denies that such an ad ever existed. Puffy says he didn’t know about any ad. Misa says, “I don’t do interviews.”

    Meanwhile, Tupac kept rumors about himself and Faith alive with vague comments in interviews like “You know I don’t kiss and tell.” But in “Hit Em Up,” released this May, he does just that, telling Biggie, “You claim to be a player, but I fucked your wife.” (Faith, for her part, denies ever sleeping with Tupac.)

    When talk turns to his estranged wife, Biggie shrugs his shoulders and pulls on a blunt. “if the muthafucka really did fuck Fay, that’s foul how he’s just blowin’ her like that,” he says. “Never once did he say that Fay did some foul shit to him. If honey was to give you that pussy, why would you disrespect her like that? If you had beef with me, you’re like, ‘Boom, I’ma fuck his wife,’ would you be so harsh on her? Like you got beef with her? That shit doesn’t make sense. That’s why I don’t believe it.”

    What was still mostly talk and propaganda took a turn for the ugly at the Soul Train Awards this past March. When Biggie accepted his award and bigged-up Brooklyn, the crowd hissed. But the real drama came after the show, when Tupac and Biggie came face-to-face for the first time since Pac’s shooting more than two years before. “That was the first time I really looked into his face,” says Big. “I looked into his eyes and I was like, Yo, this nigga is really buggin’ the fuck out.”

    The following week’s Hollywood Reporter quoted an unnamed source saying that Shakur waved a pistol at Biggie. “Nah, Pac didn’t pull steel on me,” says Big. “He was on some tough shit, though. I can’t knock them dudes for the way they go about their biz. They made everything seem so dramatic. I felt the darkness when he rolled up that night. Duke came out the window fatigued out, screaming ‘West Side! Outlaws!’ I was, like, ‘That’s Bishop [Tupac’s character in the movie Juice]!’ Whatever he’s doing right now, that’s the role he’s playing. He played that shit to a tee. He had his little goons with him, and Suge was with him and they was like, li, ‘We gonna settle this now.’”

    That’s when Big’s ace, Little Caesar of Junior M.A.F.I.A., stepped up. “The nigga Ceez—pissy drunk—is up in the joint, like, ‘Fuck you!’” Big recalls. “Ceez is, like, ‘Fuck you, nigga! East Coast, muthafucka!’ Pac is, like, ‘We on the West Side now, we gonna handle this shit.’ Then his niggas start formulating and my niggas start formulating—somebody pulled a gun, muthafuckas start screaming, ‘He got a gun, he got a gun!’ We’re, like, ‘We’re in L.A. What the fuck are we supposed to do, shoot out?’ That’s when I knew it was on.”

    But not long after the Soul Train incident, it appeared as if Death Row might be starting to chill. At a mid-May East-West “rap summit” in Philadelphia, set up by Dr. Ben Chavis to help defuse the situation, Suge avoided any negative comments about Puffy (who did not attend because he says there was too much hype around the event). “There’s nothing between Death Row and Bad Boy, or me and Puffy,” said Knight. “Death Row sells volume—so how could Puffy be a threat to me, or Bad Boy be a threat to Death Row?” A few weeks later, however, Death Row released a song that told a different tale.

    When Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up”—which mimics the chorus of Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s Player’s Anthem” (“Grab your Glocks when you see Tupac”)—hit the streets of New York, damn near every jeep, coupe, and Walkman was pumping it. No fakin’ jacks here, son; Tupac set it on the East something lovely. He says he put out the song in relation for Big’s 1995 “Who Shot Ya,” which he took as a comment on his own shooting. “Even if that song ain’t about me,” he told VIBE, “You should be, like, ‘I’m not putting it out, ‘cause he might think it’s about him.’”

    “I wrote that muthafuckin’ song way before Tupac got shot,” says Big, like he’s said it before. “It was supposed to be the intro to that shit Keith Murray was doing on Mary J. Blige’s joint. But Puff said it was too hard.”

    As if the lyrical haymakers thrown at Bad Boy weren’t enough, Pac went the extra mile and pulled Mobb Deep into the mix, “Don’t one of you niggas got sick-cell or something?” he says on the record. “You gonna fuck around and have a seizure or a heart attack. You’d better back the fuck up before you get smacked the fuck up.”

    Prodigy of Mobb Deep says he couldn’t believe what he heard. “I was, like, Oh Shit. Them niggas is shittin’ on me. He’s talking about my health. Yo, he doesn’t even know me, to be talking about shit like that. I never had any beef with Tupac. I never said his name. So that shit just hurt. I’m, like, Yeah, all right, whatever. I just gotta handle that shit.” Asked what he means by “handling” it, Prodigy replies, “I don’t know, son. We gonna see that nigga somewhere and—whatever. I don’t know what it’s gonna be.” In the meantime, the infamous ones plan to include an anwer to “Hit ‘Em Up” on the B-side of an upcoming single.

    In a recent interview with VIBE online, Tupac summed up his feelings toward Bad Boy in typically dramatic fashion: “Fear got stronger than love, and niggas did things they weren’t supposed to do. They know in their hearts—that’s why they’re in hell now. They can’t sleep. That’s why they’re telling all the reporters and all the people, ‘Why they doing this? They fucking up hip hop’ and blah-blah-blah,’ cause they in hell.

    They can’t make money, they can’t go anywhere. They can’t look at themselves, ‘cause they know the prodigal son has returned.”

    In the face of all this, one might wonder why Biggie hasn’t retaliated physically to Tupac’s threats. After all, he’s the same Bedstuy soldier who rapped, “C-4 to your door, no beef no more.” Says Big, “The whole reason I was being cool from Day One was because of that nigga Puff. ‘Cause Puff don’t get down like that.”

    So what about a response on record? “He got the streets riled up because he got a little song dissing me,” Big replies, “but how would I look dissing him back? My niggas is, like, ‘Fuck dat nigga, that nigga’s so much on your dick, it don’t even make no sense to say anything.”

    Given Death Row’s intimidating reputation, does Puffy believe that he’s in physical danger? “I never knew of my life being in danger,” he says calmly. “I’m not saying that I’m ignorant to the rumors. But if you got a problem and somebody wants to get your ass, they don’t talk about it. What it’s been right now is a lot of moviemaking and a lot of entertainment drama. Bad boys move in silence. If somebody wants to get your ass, you’re gonna wake up in heaven. There ain’t no record gonna be made about it. It ain’t gonna be no interviews; it’s gonna be straight-up ‘Oh shit, where am I? What are these wings on my back? Your name is Jesus Christ?’ When you’re involved in some real shit, it’s gonna be some real shit.

    But ain’t no man gonna make me act a way that I don’t want to act. Or make me be something I’m not. I ain’t a gangster, so why y’all gonna tell me to start acting like a gangster? I’m trying to be an intelligent black man. I don’t give a fuck if you niggas think that’s corny or not. If anybody comes and touches me, I’m going to defend myself. But I’ma be me—a young nigga who came up making music, trying to put niggas on, handle his business, and make some history.”

    The history of hip hop is built on battles. But it used to be that when heads had a problem, they could pull a mike and settle it, using hollow-point rhymes to run their competitors off the map. Well, things done changed. The era of the gun clapper is upon us, with rappers and record execs alike taking their cue from Scarface. Meanwhile, those on the sidelines seem less concerned with the truth than with fanning the flames—gossiping about death threats and retribution, lying in wait for the first sign of bloodshed.

    When the bloodshed came, it wasn’t quite what people expected. On June 30, Puffy was rushed to the emergency room of St. Luke’s—Roosevelt Hospital in Upper Manhattan, where he was treated for a deep cut to his lower right arm. New York’s Daily News called it a “slit wrist,” implying that it was more than an accident. Puffy calls the story nonsense. “I was playing with my girl and I reached for a champagne glass and it broke on my bracelet, cutting my arm,” he says. “I ain’t tryin’ to kill myself. I got problems but it ain’t that bad.”

    More than anything, Puffy seems exhausted by the whole ordeal. But after all he’s seen in the past two years, nothing can surprise him—except, maybe, the squashing of this beef. “I’m ready for it to come to a head, however it gotta go down,” he says. “I’m ready for it to be out my life and be over with. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I just hope it can end quick and in a positive way, because it’s gotten out of hand.”

  • The Notorious B.I.G.: ‘Chronicle Of A Death Foretold’

    ‘Chronicle Of A Death Foretold’

    Written By: Cheo Hodari Coker

    Issue: May 1997

    Exactly six months ago, with our November issue on its way to the printer, we received word that Tupac Shakur had died in Las Vegas after being shot in a drive-by. This time, again as the presses were about to roll, we were hit with more terrible news: Th e Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, born Christopher Wallace, had been shot and killed while driving away from a party cosponsored by VIBE at an L.A. nightclub.

    This latest tragedy came a week after Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight had been sentenced to nine years in prison for parole violation. In just a few short months, two extraordinarily talented young men who were at the center of the stupid and overhyped rivalry between Death Row and Bad Boy, played out so extensively in our pages over the past year, were dead, and another was behind bars.

    This month we had planned a special Sex issue, an exploration of matters of the heart and the flesh. It’s our intention that VIBE cover the whole spectrum of urban culture, including the fun stuff. But as long as our icons keep dying in bursts of gunfire, that kind of fun needs to take a back seat so we can begin rebuilding. As soon as we heard about Biggie, we knew that this issue’s cover had to change. The juxtaposition of these grim stories-Biggie’s murder, Suge’s incarceration-with the remnants of our Sex issue may seem strange, but it’s no stranger than the situation we find ourselves in: We set out to write about sex but ended up, once again, having to confront death.

    There’s a wonderful diversity of individuals in the hip hop community, and in that diversity lies strength. We all need to come together and take responsibility for ourselves and for each other before more lives are lost. If we simply allow things to stay as they are, if we’re afraid to take a moral stand, there will be blood on all of our hands. We have passed the point for words; now is the time for action and change.

    Let us all pray that this is the last time we at VIBE have to cover the murders of our music’s heroes.

    Our deepest condolences go out to the Wallace family, Bad Boy Entertainment, and all of Biggie’s fans.

    Everything was looking good for Biggie Smalls on March 8. It was a warm and sunny L.A. Saturday, and he was chillin’ like a star. The big man had spent much of the day with his agent, Phil Casey, discussing his upcoming tour with Dru Hill, BLACKstreet, and Heavy D. The day before, he’d presented a Soul Train Award to Toni Braxton before spending the evening in his plush hotel suite, watching the awards show on TV, and talking with a journalist about how far he’d come in his 24 years.

    When Biggie showed up at the Peterson Automotive Museum in L.A.’s Mid-Wilshire district Saturday night for a party cosponsored by VIBE, Qwest Records, and Tanqueray, he was dipped in a black suede shirt, a gold chain with a Jesus pendant, and clear-framed wraparound shades. He looked confident and relaxed, a long black cane supporting the slight limp he’d acquired in an automobile accident six months before.

    “The party was a nice scene, especially after the stress of the Soul Train Awards,” said Kevin Kim, security guard for Big’s ex-wife, Faith Evans. “Nothing but celebs there, people having a good time. Everybody was dancin’ together; artists hugging each other, congratulating each other on the awards they won.” Shortly before midnight, the DJ blew up the spot with Big’s new single, “Hypnotize.”

    “I was sitting across from Biggie for most of the night,” said Def Jam president and CEO Russell Simmons. “I was throwin’ paper at him, tellin’ him how much I liked his record. These girls were dancin’ for him, and he was just sittin’ there, not even movin’ his cane. I told him I wanted to be like him. He was so cool, so funny and calm.”

    At around 12:35 a.m., fire marshals shut down the party, apparently because of overcrowding. People filed out into the parking structure connected to the museum and found their rides. After bumping some tracks from his then unreleased album, Life After Death:’Til Death Do Us Part , Biggie got into the front-passenger seat of a GMC Suburban. His man D-Rock was driving. Little Caesar from Junior M.A.F.I.A., Big’s own lyrical cartel, was in the back. When they turned out of the lot onto Fairfax, they were traveling in a line of three cars. Directly in front of them was another Suburban containing members of Biggie’s entourage; behind them, a Blazer with personal security guards.

    According to police, the three cars had slowed to a stop at the first intersection, Fairfax and Wilshire, when a dark sedan pulled up along the right-hand side of Biggie’s vehicle and someone fired six to 10 shots from a 9mm weapon. Biggie lost consciousness immediately after being shot. He was rushed to nearby Cedars-Sinai Hospital and pronounced dead at 1:15 a.m. Bad Boy Entertainment president Puffy Combs and Faith were both at the hospital when the announcement was made.

    The LAPD’s Lt. Ross Moen said that the Blazer with Big’s security guards chased the dark sedan for a couple of blocks but lost sight of it without getting a license plate number. At press time, the department had assigned 22 detectives to the case and was interviewing 200 witnesses. According to Moen, they had some solid leads but could describe the suspect only as “male, black, early twenties.”

    “We’re not ruling out the fact that this was possibly a hit,” said Moen at a press conference the day after the murder. “We’re investigating possible connections to other murders in New York, Atlanta, and L.A. We can’t ignore the fact that there have been a number of murders involving rap singers recently.” Moen said also that they were looking into the possibility of the killing being gang-related, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

    “This was a hit, something preplanned,” said one Compton resident a day after the murder. “And there’s going to be a few more hits.” According to another source, the hit was pulled off by gang members who came to the party in the entourage of a well-known rap artist and coordinated the shooting over cell phones. Another report put an individual outside the party with a cell phone saying, “He’s comin’ out now,” as Biggie left the party.

    Various industry insiders have speculated that the killing had more to do with personal beefs than with rap itself, but that it’s now spilling over into the music. “Puffy thought it was all calmed down out here,” says Phil Casey. “But at Soul Train there were boos, and they were throwin’ up Westside from the balcony. That should have been a sign right there.”

    Sources close to Bad Boy and Death Row dismissed widespread speculation that Wallace’s slaying was payback for Tupac’s murder. “It’s ludicrous for anyone out there to blame Death Row,” said Norris Anderson, who took over as label head after Suge Knight wa s jailed. “We do not condone this activity, and Death Row certainly had nothing to do with it.”

    “It didn’t have nothin’ to do with East-West rivalry, but it does now,” says one former Death Row artist. “I heard somebody say it’s over now. How can it be? Now you’re gonna have muthafuckas from the East who gonna just start to shoot at muthafuckas from the West. It shouldn’t have to be this way;doesn’t make no goddamn sense.”

    September 27, 1994; nightfall
    Brooklyn, N.Y.
    “Whatup?”

    The Notorious B.I.G. sits on the front stoop of a brownstone near the corner of St. James Place and Fulton Street in Do-or-Die-Bed-Stuy. His first album, Ready to Die (which would eventually go double platinum), has been in stores for just over a week, and already every car that passes seems to be playing a different cut. Today Brooklyn; tomorrow-who knows?

    As twilight slips into darkness, Big calmly recounts his life story in the same ultrarealistic terms that made his album so damn compelling. As he talks of his own criminal days-doing everything from subway robberies to selling crack to pregnant moms-his eyes begin to fire up. Not with anger, but as if he’s watching each episode unfold with the telling.

    “When I say I’m Ready to Die, people may be, like, `Oh, he’s on some killing himself shit,’ ” says Biggie. “That’s not what I meant.” He pulls out a lighter, flicks it, and brings the flame up toward his lips, where a tightly rolled blunt awaits his attention.

    “I meant that I was willing to go all out a hundred percent as far as the music was concerned. When I was hustlin’, I was doing that shit every day-waking up, putting drugs in my pocket, and not even thinking about the police, stickup men, or my competition. I was riskin’ my life, so that meant I was ready to die.”

    Catalina Gonzales

    Photo By: Catalina Gonzales

    Even at this early stage of his career, it was already clear that Brooklyn couldn’t contain Biggie much longer. “Juicy,” one of the weaker tracks on the album, was leaping the Billboard charts with alarming speed. The cream of his dreams was within reach: fantasy houses in the country, girls in the pool. And then what?

    As he talks, Biggie’s eyes suddenly widen with fear. He actually seems frightened at the thought of leaving Brooklyn.

    “How real can your music be if you wake up in the morning hearing birds and crickets? I never hear birds when I wake up. Just a lot of construction work, the smell of Chinese takeout, children screaming, and everybody knocking a different track from Ready to Die as they pass down the street,” he says. “Brooklyn is the love borough. Everywhere you go, we’re already there.”

    I ask if it’s true that he’s just gotten married. Biggie turns his head from the street and looks into my eyes before telling me about Faith. “When you start hustlin’, you get introduced to shit real fast,” he says. “You be gettin’ pussy real quick, because you be fuckin’ the users sometimes. I done had every kind of bitch. Young bitch, old bitch, users, mothers, grandmothers, dumb bitches-and I never, ever met no girl like my wife. She talks to me like nobody else talked to me before. When I first saw her, she was killing me with those eyes. I rolled up to her and said, You’re the type of girl I would marry. She said, `Why don’t you?’ So I was like, Fuck it, it’s on. We had only known each other eight days.”

    I ask him if that wasn’t kind of soon. “She ain’t speaking to me right now,” he says with a smile, “but it’s all good.”

    When we met again almost three years later, Big and Faith’s marriage wasn’t all good. They had been involved in a messy separation that got played out in the press. Tupac’s B-side “Hit ‘Em Up,” in which he called Big a “fat muthafucka” and claimed to have slept with Faith, couldn’t have helped them work things out.

    Biggie clears up the misinformation in matter-of-fact tones: “People was like, `When she stopped fuckin’ with Big, she started fuckin’ with Tupac, and Big started fuckin’ with Lil’ Kim.’ That’s the summary of the Biggie Smalls/ Faith shit right there. But we wasn’t fuckin’ with each other way before the rumors popped off.

    “I married her after knowing her eight days and I was happy,” he says. “That was my baby. At the same time, with us being so spontaneous, we did it backwards. Maybe she won’t admit it, but I will. We should have got to know each other and then got married . The relationship kind of dissolved, but we’re still going to be friends. I love her. We have a baby together, and we’re always gonna love our kids. Who knows? Ten years from now we might even get back together.”

    I ask the baby’s name. “Christopher Jordan Wallace,” Big proudly replies. And what of his sarcastic comments on wax, like the line on “Brooklyn’s Finest,” his duet with Jaÿ-Z? “If Fay has twins, she’ll probably have two pacs. Get it? Tu…Pac’s.”

    Biggie laughs deep, long, and hard. “I got to make jokes about the shit,” he says, his stomach damn near jiggling. “I can’t be the nigga running around all serious. The shit is so funny to me because nobody will ever know the truth. They’ll always believe what they want to believe. ‘Pac says he fucked her. I asked Faith, You fucked him? She said no. I can’t get to ask him about it. So am I gonna hate her for the rest of her life thinking she did something, or am I gonna be a man about the situation? If she did it, she can’t do it no more, so let’s just get on with our lives. I hold grudges but I can’t hate nobody, that’s not my nature.”

    Born Christopher Wallace to Jamaican parents, the man who would one day call himself the Notorious B.I.G. had strikes against him from the moment he checked into this world on May 21, 1972.

    His father left his mother when he was just one and a half. Other than pictures in a scrapbook, Biggie had no tender memories of him. “I didn’t know him and I don’t want to know him,” he says coldly. “Moms should have just pushed him off and not even had me if he wasn’t going to handle his business. I couldn’t even speak to him. I don’t need that cocksucker for nothing.”

    So little Christopher grew up with his mother in Brooklyn and spent the first 22 years of his life on St. James Place. Working two jobs and attending night school, Voletta Wallace remained a stable presence in her son’s life. She tried her best to shield her sensitive, introspective child from the streets.

    The only problem was that nobody was protecting the streets from young Wallace. Way before he hooked up with Puff Daddy, Biggie already had visions of becoming a bad boy. “I was a sneaky motherfucker, I guess,” he says with a laugh. “I was real, real bad. You know what made it worse? Motherfuckers would tell my mother that I did something, and she just wouldn’t believe them. `Not my Christopher,’ she would say.”

    One of Big’s earliest interests was art; but growing up young, black, and poor, he found there was little he could do in that field that would change his everyday reality. “Back in third grade they used to say, `Take whatever talent you have and think of something you can do with it,’ ” he recalls. “I liked to draw, but what could I do with it? Maybe I could be an art dealer-nah, can’t see myself doing that. Maybe I could do commercial arts? But once I got introduced to the crack game-commercial arts? Please.”

    At 13, he was schooled in the game by a member of the Junior M.A.F.I.A. clique (the street gang the rap group took their name from), and things started rolling quickly. In the space of a few weeks he went from begging his mother for ice cream money to never having less that $700 in his pocket, and all the designer gear he could imagine.

  • Why Kids Go Koo-Koo For Cocoa Puff

    NY PD BLUES

    Written By: Sacha Jenkins

    Photographs By: Andrea Giacobbe

    Issue: December 1997 - January 1998

    It’s been said that real bad boys move in silence. And as I cruise through Harlem U.S.A. with Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs in a coal-colored van that looks as though it belongs to a team of KGB operatives, silence is the code. No one in this death-defying mobile – neither Jason the personal assistant nor the two Lou Ferrigno- necked security types-says word one.

    “Common courtesy” is how Combs explains the unnerving carpool quiet. “I’m trying to run a business,” he barks, juggling tiny dueling cell phones. “I’m not trying to run no young, reckless black man-type of situation.”

    At age 26, this fudgey Thurston Howell II definitely has a situation on his hands. Puff Daddy has mutated into a monster bigger than hip hop, bigger than rock n’ roll, bigger than comet-worshipping cults and Bigfoot sightings. He’s become a franchise, a brand name-a plastic-and-rubber action figure who dances like Savion Glover, golfs like Tiger Woods, flies like R. Kelly believes he can.

    His Bad Boy Entertainment has delivered mucho-selling talents like the B.I.G. (5 million albums sold between 1994’s Ready to Die and the recent Life After Death) Biggies’s widow, Faith Evans (1995’s, Faith, nearly one million sold), and the vocal groups 112 (831,000) and Total (475,000). Plus, Puff co-manages Lil’ Ceasar and Lil’ Kim. Bad Boy’s worth a million Benjamins and better, bee-yotch.

    His remixes for artists like Mariah Carey and Method Man have mined more platinum and gold than the San Francisco 49ers. He’s produced singles for Aretha Franklin, Boyz II Men, TLC, Lil’ Kim, and KRS-One. He owns an elaborate recording studio called Daddy’s House. He has a 10-deep beat-production team called the Hit Men. He just opened a luxe restaurant named for his four-year-old son. He plans to branch out into filmmaking. Can Bad Boy toothpaste and tampons be far behind?

    Opposition from lesser hobglobins is an inevitable by-product of the game, but Puff’s got a middle-finger message for all you suckaz who don’t wanna see a young brotha make good (real good): “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.” The cut, from Comb’s own debut, No Way Out- a multiplatinum opus of Cristal and and concubines- took liberties with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s 1982 smash social critique “The Message,” causing hip hop purists considerable pain. But the hits kept hitting. Astounding Puff-spiced singles like Biggie’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and “Hypnotize,” and Puff’s own “I’ll Be Missing You” helped Bad Boy lock down the No. 1 post on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 22 consecutive weeks. At the end of the day, Puff’s little engine that could was responsible for roughly 60 percent of 1997’s hit pop songs. “I’ll Be Missing You” alone reached No. 1 in 15 different countries, including Belgium. For today, though, Combs is back in his old neighborhood, showing this reporter where he’s come up from.

    Harlem, an island nation with its own free-trade agreements and protective tariffs, is beehive hectic. Frantic toddlers with weathered faces buzz in and out of antiquated tenement buildings. Plaque-stained ivory police officers anticipate black rage on tumultuous corners. It was on a block in Harlem that Sean’s father was shot dead in 1973. But it was also on the streets of Harlem that Sean was introduced to the sonic expression of hip hop culture.

    When Combs talks about Harlem’s tough love, his mostly sunglass-shaded eyes bug out. “Parties at the Rooftop- that shit was like one of the most incredible experience ever, “he says, recalling the famed roller rink/after-hours hip hop haven. As we chat, PD’s rented enforcers scope the asphalt terrain for playa haters. “This was when crack first came out- niggas fourteen, fifteen riding around in jeeps with the tops off. If you wasn’t hustling, you wasn’t on the list. I wasn’t hustling,” Combs says this carefully, as a curvy hot baby-mother approaches and asks him to sign her Benjamin. “But I had to make sure my gear was up to par.” It was at the Rooftop that Puff the magic dance star first started to shine. “The Wop originated at the Rooftop,” he says. “You’d have niggas Wop like you never seen niggas Wop. We talkin’ about some shit that looked like a fuckin’ African dance.”

    We exit Puff’s funky tank in front of building 720, where he lived with his grandmother until he was 12. Building 720 isn’t really the ghetto; it’s one of those government-subsidized settlements that sprout up perpendicular to the projects of Anytown, U.S.A. “I remember going to that store right there one time to get a pack of cigarettes for my grandmother,” says Puffy. “A kid came up to me, like, ‘Yo, can I get a dollar?’”

    “I thought I was big and bad,” says Puff, who’s leaning, chest first, on a dingy green mailbox, glittery Rolex dangling from his wrist. “So I out the change in my pocket and threw up my hands.” The ruffian got Combs’s change all right. “This boy punched me in my face three or four times. I got my first lesson in life: Before I get into a fight, I gotta make sure I can win it.” Still, Puff’s thug-toddler side has final sat on the matter. “I fought back though,” he says. “I was always a fighter.”

    That’s the thing with Puffy Combs: his confused pith makes him a man of multiple personalities. The cartoon character on his Bad Boy Entertainment logo- a baseball cap – wearing infant in workboots – is a fitting caricature of Comb’s own big and bad inner child. An inner child that struggles with grown-up death, grown-up deals, grown-up disorder. If you listen close enough to Puff’s rhymes, you can hear him teething on the mike.

    Perched across the street from a noisy bus station ripe with exhaust fumes, Sean seems torn apart. On one hand, his icy grill says Hey, I’m being all that I can be and more, motherfuckers. But, on the other, his mug is saying, Damn. I can’t believe I’m not still living here/ How come I’m not still living here?

    Money Earnin’ Mount Vernon

    On our way to Mount Vernon – the upper-Bronx, upwardly Afro HOMETOWN OF Combs, Heavy D, and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, among others – Puff gets seven different phone calls from seven different studio sessions being worked by seven different Hit Men. For every call, he has a word of advice or, better yet, an order to be carried out. During one conversation, his mercury reached the boiling point. Fortunately for the producer concerned, the beef is squashed, and that unnerving silence fills the invincible chariot once again. Driver, bodyguard, and assistant stay mum. Obedient Dobermans are like this sometimes too.

    On Puff Street in Mt. Vernon, the only slicing and dicing you’ll see come via buzzing lawnmowers. Station wagons jet by stuffed with pee-wee leaguers, while buck –wild squirrels play touch football. The getaway residence that Sean’s widowed mom worked three jobs to obtain is a modest model. There’s no house boy, no Rolls in the driveway.

    Moments before we enter the house, Combs gets heated once again. “You can’t talk about my mother; you can’t talk about my son,” he says. We had been talking about a captioned photograph of his son Justin, that appeared I VIBE and provoked Comb’s reckless young black man persona. “I’m gonna hunt that bitch down,” was the telephoned threat a female VIBE staffer received from someone who identified himself as Puffy.

    “I was an irate parent calling the school,” he now says of the outburst. “There was a picture of me and my son [on the “I’ll be Missing You” video set], and he was holding a pink water gun. And it said, ‘Didn’t Puffy learn yet?’ But everybody’s children play with waterguns.” Comb’s voice is officially on fire.

    “In the same VIBE issue, you have two men pointing guns to each other’s heads. Hasn’t VIBE learned yet? Basically, I flipped out. And it ain’t just the black shit either. I don’t care if it’s People or Rolling Stone.” It’s not easy to reconcile this tough-guy stance with the positive-black-man pose Puff struck during this year’s VIBE Music Seminar. When asked if his plans for the 21st century included violence, Puff replied, “It’s not about no violence.” But of course, he has plenty of minions to troubleshoot for him.

    The living room of chez Combs showcases a Picasso exhibit’s worth of family flicks and showbiz trophy-plaques. His mother, Janice Combs, has long, stylish fingernails and bleached-blond hair that looks natural against her even mahogany tone. She has he problems with the media as well (“They turn things around to sell papers”) and says, there’s a side to PD that’s never been seen in print. “Sean is a thinker. He’s very, very serious about what he’s doing. But Sean is a workaholic,” says Momma Combs, scowling at her only son. “Sometimes I get upset when he doesn’t get enough rest.”

    Puff reclines in the living room, hushed and zoned out after working in the studio ‘til the break of dawn. But he comes to when his mother speaks of his father. “He was a street man, a hustling ma,” she says of he deceased husband. “We met at a party in the Bronx. He used to love to dance. We used to crack up on him ‘cause he used to think he was the baddest thing. When I see my son on television, it reminds me of Melvin so much.”

    Before driving back to Manhattan, Puff detours toward a spot far from his hometown. I wasn’t invited out of the Puffmobile to meet Justin Dior Combs. I watched while the CEO pops played amusement park with his son on a tiny steel gate. Through the windshield I witness yet another of the many transformations Combs would make over a two-day span. Hot 97, a local power station that plays a good 45 minutes of Bad Boy material per hour, rocked me, Jason, and the two silent muscle-folk to sleep.

    Show Me Some Love

    Later that night, we roll to Daddy’s House, Puff’s very own factory of hits located in the heart of scenic Midtown Manhattan. At 2:30 in the a.m., Sean Combs runs back and forth between the two recording-ready rooms. He’s mixing an L.L. Cool J track in one; a Faith Evans track in the other. At one point, he disappears to work on an R. Kelly session that’s happening at a studio a few blocks away.

    “Whenever I deal with an artist,” he says, “I put my ego in my pocket. I may ask R. Kelly, Would you like something to drink?” As Combs sits Captain Kirk-like behind the boards, the final seconds of the Hector “Macho” Camacho/ Oscar De La Hoya bout unravel on a screen overhead. Puff pumps the volume on the Faith tune he’s working on, “You Told Me.” It comes off like a Bad Boy score for Rocky 98. But Puff’s not in love with the vocal sound he’s getting.

    Whereas most people would stop and say, “That’s okay,” mix engineer Michael Patterson says, “Puffy keeps going until it’s perfect.” Some have suggested that the Hit Men – particularly Stevie J.- are the real cut creators, while puff takes the credit. “Once you see him in a session,” counters Patterson, “and hear the comments he makes, you know tat every record that come out of here is his record.”

    De La Hoya would go on to whip Camacho’s ass; Combs would retire to a lounge area, nursing an excruciating toothache. “I think people see my life as, I’m rich; I go shopping all day,” he says, faded but somehow alert. “Or that I hang around with a bunch of thugs. Or that I shoot videos all day long and ride around in fancy cars.” Not that the Bad Boy fam doesn’t dabble in Big Willie ways. “We’re blessed,” he says. “But we sacrifice a lot: not having no personal time, not having no privacy, having to constantly keep going on an on.”

    Like most pop stars, Combs is well acquainted with the ever churning rumor mill: He’s been accused of attempting suicide (the unique slash-scar on his right wrist, he explains, was the result of a mishandled champagne glass), and a Web site belonging to shock-jock Wendy Williams supposedly boasted “homoerotic” Puff pics. “Don’t ask me no stupid shit like that,” says a peeved Puff Daddy. “I got too much to live for, you know? I ain’t leaving my son for nobody. And picture me being motherfucking gay. I can’t even fathom that. I don’t have nothing against nobody gay, I just ain’t one of them. Every nigga that has blown up, I’ve heard about that, from Mike Tyson to Eddie Murphy to Russell Simmons.” Right about now, PD says his focus is on internal weightlifting; he wants his character muscles to grow better, stronger. “I’m working every day to become the best person I can be, you know, instead of just being the best producer.”

    Naysayers notwithstanding, he’s comfortable in his relationship with hip hop. “As a rapper, I’m hotter than a lot of niggas that call themselves rapper,” Puff says, “But I have respect for the art of rap. If you gonna judge a rapper, you really judging him by his lyrical skills. When I’m writing, I’m thinking about how the video is looking, how I’m dancing on stage, what I got on, what I’m saying in the chorus. I’m just trying to entertain you. Like –” he pauses. “I’m not thinking that I’m a dope rapper…” There are definitely people out there who agree with Puff’s self-appraisal. Believe that.

    “As a black entrepreneur, he’s a good example,” says rapper Jeru the Damaja, whose song, “One Day,” from 1996’s Wrath of the Math LP, blames Puff Daddy for hip hop’s decline. “He’s said that all he wants to do is make people dance, but if the police run up in your house, and you just dancin’ what’s gonna happen? He don’t symbolize nothin’ more than the state that we in – material worship and all that.”

    “I think a lot of people are hypocrites, because the biggest criticism that I hear about Sean is that he’s so commercial,” says Sister Souljah, executive director of Daddy’s House Social Programs, Inc. – the Puff-own non-profit organization that works with youth in the greater New York area. “But the bottom line,” says the high-pitched activist, “is that all the artists I know in hip hop are in it to make money.” Perhaps Kris Parker said it best: “Rebel, renegade, must get paid.”

    And paid Combs has stayed. (“He’s a fucking greedy-ass businessman,” says Hit Man Nashiem. “But that’s cool; that’s why he’s my manager.”) Track the Puffster’s rise: from selling sodas and T-shirts as a knuckleheaded underclassman at Washington D.C.’s Howard University (where he showboated his footwork in front of the cafeteria and maintained a C average with wee participation) to interning at New York-based Uptown Records while attending school to turning A&R at the label – and party promoting all the while to supplement his income and build his rep. Somehow, it’s not surprising that he found a way to sell hip hop soul to billions.

    Puffy’s chart-topping accomplishments have earned him top billing in the pop pantheon alongside such goodfellas as Elvis and the Beatles. How does it feel? “I feel like, Damn. These motherfuckers were phenomenons. I feel proud. I remove myself; I leave my body, and I’m, like, I’m a young black man.” Such unprecedented prosperity has given master PD an optimistic outlook for the future of Earth’s chocolate folk.

    “You can't look at thing in black and whit as much anymore,” suggests Combs, whose releases are now nestled between Jewel and Hanson albums in gated communities nationwide. “Yes, we’ll always have prejudice, but it’s definitely getting better.”

    When asked if he’s really contributing a remake of “I’ll Be Missing You” to a Princess Diana tribute album – revising a dead homie’s anthem to fit a member of Great Britain’s royal family – he doesn’t say no. “The situation with Lady Diana… she was beautiful. She’s just somebody that ain’t fuck with nobody. The way she died was tragic, and I think it affected everybody.”

    Puffy’s happily somber Police jack, “I’ll Be Missing You,” truly took it to that other level. In the ode to his fallen comrade Christopher, PD found a way to rock everybody’s last party. “On that song, I just let myself go, and I talk to Biggie,” he says. “I’m not performing; I’m talking to him through my dance.”

    But there are those who question his sincerity. “I was very cynical in the beginning,” Janet Jackson told an industry tradesheet. “I was sittin’ back, thinking, How much pain is he really in? It seems like he’s taken his and ran with it. Part of me wondered if it was really real. But only he knows that – and God.”

    It’s a bit past three in the a.m., and Combs is still soaking up Faith Evans’s previously recorded serenade through a cracked door. “Some people have not even tried to pursue their dreams,” he says, still clutching his aching jaw. “They look upon what they’re supposed to get. I go after the things that haven’t been obtained before.”

    Love Fellowship Tabernacle

    We didn't leave the studio until 3:30 a.m., but I was instructed by PD to call him at 10 to arrange an evangelistic journey. By 11:30, Mr. Combs, one shield agent, and I are back in the gray leather-lined chariot with the multiple micro TV screens and the Sega Genesis video-game system welded to its ceiling spine.

    Dressed in a lime green and yellow pinstripe Matsuda suit, Sean Combs pumps gospel music like it’s something off The Chronic. “You trials make you strong” chimes the testimonial hook. Atlantic Avenue’s Sunday traffic is tame; pothole are spread out like land mines in Southeast Asia. Of course, the red Pathfinder that glides up beside us at a red light is blazing “Hypnotize.” Rocking his neck, serpent style, to the B.I.G. beat, the Pathfinder kid stared at out tinted window as if he can see the young tycoon inside, as if to say, Biggie was mine too, niggas. But he can’t see Puff Combs, not unless he’s an alien, or Biggie’s guardian angel. Puff’s shades remain aimed on windshield No. 1. He hits switches and throws on a jam voiced by him that I’ve never hear before. I caught some lyrics, though “And if you kill me / Me and Big’ll be reunited.”

    The day before, Puff had much to say about his friend Christopher. “Me and BI.G. was on top of the world. Imagine going for two years, dealing with this East/West shit – and that’s what you’re getting known for – that’s depressing. But we took the higher road.”

    But when Tupac was murdered in Las Vegas, maintaining became difficult. “Tupac’s shit was crazy because of all the beefs…” Puffy trails off. “I was, like, Motherfuckers gonna try to associate us with that bullshit now. It’s fucked up that he passed. We didn’t get to squash all the quarrels we had.”

    “Me and Big was so happy. We made a record [Life After Death] that we felt was going to bring East and West coast back together.” Then violence struck again. “I was stunned; in a total shock,” Puff says of the night Christopher Wallace was murdered in Los Angeles. “I was praying crazy. I was praying that I had got hit and I was in a coma and I was just dreaming. I was, like, I know I’m in a coma or I’m on fire.” Combs clearly misses his man. “I wish there was stuff that me and B.I.G. could have done together. I wish we would have gone on vacation more, or just he would have come over my house more. Even though we has such a personal relationship, it’s like we were always working.”

    When asked about the future of Death Row Records, Combs goes limp. “I hope Death Row stays afloat. They opened doors for us.” Asked if he thinks Marion “Suge” Knight will be a different person when he gets out of jail, his response is muted. “I don’t know.”
    Hezekiah Walker’s Love Fellowship Tabernacle Church in East New York, Brooklyn is packed tight. Globs of sweat cascade down the faces of the faithful as manual fans – photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on one side; ad for a local funeral home on the other – blow cooled heat. Puff sits front row and center, but no one bats an eyelash in his direction. Here’ Puffy loses out to electricity of the Grammy-winning preacher.

    Walker, who looks like a distant cousin of Grand Puba’s, talks of heavenly father who wants his sheep to have money, Versace, and all the finer things. A glistening gold-painted eagle podium supports Walker’s Bible as he recites holy verse a la Chuck D. There are no “suckers” in the house, he announces at one point. Keyboards, drums, and bass guitar cut in and out, bringing the gathering to frenzied heights. Hit Man Stevie J. is here with his fiancée; EPMD’s clean-domes manager is representing for Jesus as well. Combs remains meek but attentive throughout the service. Call and response, interactive soul searching – this is a completely different experience from the Catholic altar-boy realm Sean Combs grew up in.

    “After Biggie died,” says 22-year-old Stevie J., “I think Puff needed to know who God really was. Not to say that he didn’t before, but after that he put things in perspective.”

    A hungry Puff Daddy order his helmsman for hire to make a postworship pit stop at Carolina Country Kitchen. Before stepping in, he fields a call from his supermanager, Benny Medina (whose clients include Will Smith, Jada Pinkett, Vivica A. Fox). “Don’t be a coward, just handle it – no running and hiding from shit,” Puff says, breaking down the day’s gospel. Then a sudden knock on his window produces respected underground rapsmith Smoother da Hustler.

    “I know you hear this from a lot of niggas,” Smoothe SAYS, “but me and my brother Trigga some shit.” A politely receptive Puff-fresh-squeezed lemonade in hand- encourages them to keep in touch but indicates that we gotta keep it moving. Smoothe and Trigga flash peace signs in the foggy distance as we drive off like a single-vehicle presidential motorcade.

    Puff the Magic Dragon

    We breaks for Daddy’s House to check the Faith joint’s progression. After grabbing a tape of the song, Puff heads into the next room, only to find Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters – game face on, golden Les Paul ax in tow – working on a crunch-rock remix of “It's All About the Benjamins.” (For the record, Bad Boy has signed its first alternative rock band, Fuzz Bubble.) Puff seems just as flabbergasted as I am to see Nirvana’s ex-drummer chilling.

    “I was really flattered when he called and asked me to do it,” Grohl tells me later. “I’d seen his videos on MTZ, and he seemed like this was larger-than-life pop star, this bad ass. But then he shows up to the studio in his church clothes. That fuckin’ blew me away.”

    As soon as we jump into the rugged roadster, Puffy pops in the Faith tape. He head-nods to the beat, seatbeltless, one hand on the volume. Next stop is the Trump International Hotel for a wardrobe change. Puff’s suite is registered under the name Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown Records dynasty. His alias is based on serious accomplishments. Bad Boy racked up its first four No. 1 hits within a 12-month span – a Motown milestone that has stood unequaled for 33 years.

    No time is lost. There’s a Euro-tour meeting to make in Benny’s room in five minutes. There are fabric swatches to approve, stage blueprints to scrutinize. Will Lil’ Kim’s sex-freak entrance – on a bed rising from beneath the stage – come off? Questions, questions. An hour later I find myself jogging to keep pace with a walk-sprinting mogul in a baseball cap. The two gold Jesus pieces around his neck jungle like cowbells in Kansas.

    We’ve come to Central Park to see James Brown do his thing. Mr. Combs and his beefy hamburger helper are escorted onstage while the Godfather of Soul puts it down. JB does his signature dance with the finesse of a 19 year old, flame-red outfit rippling like old glory in the wind.

    At stage left, Puff greets Rev. Al Sharpton and soul brother extraordinaire Isaac Hayes. When James Brown announces “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” Puff stands behind a speaker and play-conducts the 15-piece band. Then he clutches a mike stand and sways to the rhythm. The audience’s eyes dart between JB and PD.

    As we bid Brown adieu and exit stage left, a brown-suited Caucasian gentleman comes fumbling toward us like an anxious game show contestant. “I’m James Brown’s lawyer,” the man says, “and I was just wondering, Would you be interested in working with James?” The two men exchange business cards; Puff assured the fellow that he’s down. The original hardest working man in showbiz is sweating the new hardest working man in showbiz.

    African-Americans are in love with Puff-Puff’s death-defying fortitude and system –breaking tactics: He knows how to deal with street-minded, real motherfuckers and, in the same breath, works the ivory chessboard to his advantage – hoardin’ cash money, legally, like Bill Gates and Bill Cosby.

    To European American, Puff Daddy Combs is a G.I. Swartz-a-nigger Ken doll, fully equipped with real working bullets, old-time tragedy, and good-time sensibilities. He can be heard jukebox-rocking tattoo-clad, beer-bellied barflies in pubs that never entertain black faces. They want him to survive the game, but not unscathed. They don’t want him to die because they’re entertained by the roller-coaster characteristics of his blackness.

    And, yeah, there are those humanoids who plain conclude that Combs’s blithe toonage is the bomb just because it is. Word is bond: Puff Daddy’s larger than white; he’s dollar-bill green.

  • Don't Hate Because The Ladies Love Mase

    State of Mase

    By: Minya Oh

    Photographs By: Marc Baptiste

    Issue: June 1999

    Three years ago, folks in the world called Harlem knew him as “Murder.” But when Sean “Puffy” Combs waved his magic wand—and after the poof of blunt smoke cleared—a cute and cuddly Mason “Mase” Betha appeared. But now, with his Double Up disc, the dimpled Bad Boy returns to burn lyrically with the street-corner stylings that used to blaze his days and illuminate his nights. Minya Oh finds out why can’t nobody smudge his shine.

    1995: Summertime in Harlem, USA. Back then, be it sneaker pimpin’ at Dr.Jays, snackin’ at greasy spoon Pan Pan’s, or trolling down Seventh Avenue during the African-American Day Parade, it wasn’t hard to spot 17 year-old Mason “Mase Murder” Betha (also known as, “Murder Mase”); folks had grown accustomed to seeing the gregarious rap star-to-be blend into Uptown Manhattan’s popular spaces and places.

    But it was hard for around-the-way folks to remain nonchalant when that same young Casanova got hold of a microphone. As “Murder,” Betha was tearing up mix tape freestyles and amateur showcases with fellow up-and-coming partners in rhyme like the Lox, DMX, McGruff, Big L (God bless the dead). Betha’s name rang bells. In 1996, Harlem locals were proud to hear that Sean “Puffy” Combs had signed Murder to Bad Boy Records on the strength of one freestyle.

    Even though he was no longer Murder but Mase when he debuted on some R&B shit for 112’s “Only You” remix, the Kid stepped out in the video next to the Notorious B.I.G., holdin’ hands with Keisha from Total, Averix-ed down, standing in front of a Hummer in the middle of Times Square. And killin’ it with: “Now you can hum all you want to, cum all you want to/Money I’m a front you, girl I wanna flaunt you…” It was a beautiful thing.

    And even though he was no longer rappin’ about bloodshed and drug-lord drama, Uptown, Downtown, ‘Crosstown, and every other town was loving Mase when he led Puff through the superproducer’s first rap song, 1997’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.” We loved Mase on B.I.G.’s 1997 “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” and it was dope to see him partying up in Las Vegas for his own debut single, 1997’s “Feels So Good.” More than 4 million of us loved him enough to pick up his 1997 debut LP, Harlem World (Bad Boy). Maybe it was Mase’s rap-along/slow-as-molasses flow. Or the comical party moves, the heart-stealing smile, those twinkling almond-shaped eyes. Those dimples. Whatever it was, the Kid was doing it—MTV, Teen People, sold-out tours, the minimum!

    But the same things that spark a young girl’s lust often spur a small man’s hatred. “Why’s he always dancin’? Why’s he getting all the shine on Biggie’s song? Is he retarded? Is he gay? What’s with the silver suits? Playboy, where the Hummer at?

    Walking into a bare-bones dressing room, while a packed Floss Angeles crowd awaits him outside, Mase, freshly dipped in Yellow Timberlands and an Iceberg sweater, is relaxing with his Harlem World hypeman, Huddy Combs (no relation to Puff), away from the fray.

    Tonight, the only parts of his wardrobe that are silvery are his diamond-infested Rolex, basket weave bracelet, and dangling Jesus piece. Outside the door, the scene is pure Hollywood: A screw-faced bodyguard stands in attention; Mase’s new manager, Earvin “Magic” Johnson (yes, the Magic Johnson), presses the flesh like a true politician; buppies sap-rap to overdone ladies; and a dookie-braided Kim “Tootie” Fields cuts deals while in the bathroom (“Call my agent,” she says). Mase knows he’s a long way from 133rd Street and Lenox Avenue, so he wears a dingy rubber band on his right wrist, he says, to remind him of where he came from.

    And if you give Mase a minute of free time, he’ll go back there. As soon as he’s done performing at the club, he’s right in the middle of the crowd, doin’ “Da Butt” with every honey in reach. The next day, after making an uneventful appearance at the Soul Train Awards, Mase hops on a plane to go see his moms. And two days later, when he’s finished with his VIBE shoot, all Mase wants to do is hangout with his “lil sisters” Tiana and Lisa—two budding basketball stars from Harlem. Mase pays their tuition at Laurinberg Institute, a boarding school in North Carolina. This is not Lauryn Hill’s Refugee Project or The United Negro College Fund. This is personal. T and Lisa let Mase escape the rap game for a while; he gives them a future to work for. The kid has grown into a man.

    But even with all the opportunities that success brings, a few minutes with Mase (or a listen to his compelling new album, Double Up) will tell of the wear and tear of pop life and of his longing for the simpler times from the back in the day. But Double’s tales of lost friends and betrayal show that this MC is coming to terms with the fact that the world of Mase Murder is gone. (“It’s like when I hurt, y’all laugh..I show people love and then they underhand me,” he raps on “Same Niggas”) All of this makes one wonder; If you could make retirement money at the age of 19, travel the world, be linked to sex symbols, and take care of you entire family, would you put on that shiny suit too?

    You’ve caught a lot of flack for the whole shiny-suit thing. Was the wardrobe change your idea? Was it away to shed the Mase Murder image?
    This is what happened: You got rappers that think they the best, lyrically. You have rappers that want to be the best performer; some that want to be the best story teller. I just want to be like Michael Jackson—the best all-around entertainer. So when people don’t me one of the best rappers, I don’t get mad, ‘cuz I’m not here to be the best rapper. If you’re doin’ it for the hood, do it on the corner. This is show business. If you’re tryin’ to be in show business, gimme a show.

    When we were on the “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” video set, it was like, We’re gonna put the lights on this and were wearing this. I didn’t go in there and say, “I can’t wait to put that shiny suit on.” {The director, Hype Williams,} had to explain it to me. He was like, “That’s what’s gonna come across better on TV. You could put on what you want to wear, but not everything that looks good in the ‘hood looks good on TV.” I don’t think that the guy from OutKast dresses like that every day. I see Busta all the time; he don’t always dress like that. Hype had Missy is a plastic bag, and [her album] sold a million copies. A man can’t reach his peak if he is scared to experiment. It ain’t like it was a miniskirt—it was a shiny suit. I said, “All night, just make it baggy, and gimme some [Nike] Air Ones.”

    Did it bother you that some rappers were dissing you because of your pop success?
    One time I was chillin’ with Nas and he was like, “Yo, don’t ever let any of these niggas fool you. If they could have your success, they’d put that [shiny] shit in too.” I don’t pay none of that stuff no attention, ‘cuz the real men that got a problem with you ain’t goin’ to be talking about it. That’s point-blank. What Biggie and Pac had was a problem. With everything else that be going on, these are not problems. It’s just music. Me and Cam don’t got no problems. I see Cam, we shale hands, whatever , go our ways. It ain’t no problem; if we did have a problem, when we saw each other there’d be fighting. Ain’t no problem with me and Jay-Z. That’s why all of this stuff is becoming redundant. I don’t even want my name involved with nonsense like that.

    So you never feel the need to respond to your detractors?
    When everybody was dissin’ me for a moment, like during the summer and all of that? I didn’t really respond, but thought about it.

    How did you hold yourself back?
    I think about all the people that depend on me. Whenever I’m about to do something really crucial, I think about everybody that benefits from what I do. I got seven nieces and nephews. I got six brothers and sisters, a mother and a father—and I take care of that whole family. Then I got Harlem World, and that’s a whole other family to take care of. ‘Cuz it’s like, if you’re gonna do something stupid, you’re gonna be sittin’ in jail time like, I don’t even belong here!

    Like when Tupac went to jail…
    That’s when every black man realizes—the world don’t stop for none of us! The world ain’t stop for Biggie and Pac. Mase came up, DMX came up, Jay-Z, came up. We can sit up here and cry and say how we love this nigga and that nigga, but if we’re still gonna be doing the same stupid things, it’s like, what are you saying as a man? How could be doing something that two niggas got killed for doing? At one time we was all niggas just trying to come up. Whether you was in school or you was hustling. So how come we all get here, and then B.I.G. start doing this and Pac start doing that? You won’t never see [Arista Records Head] Clive Davis make a song about [Sony Music honcho] Tommy Mottola and dis everybody on his label. So what am I arguing about? It ain’t like if I do this Clive Davis is gonna come out his house and say, “Niggas said this about Mase?!” He’s not thinking about that. So you’re fighting for somebody who ain’t gonna fight for you.

    How did you approach Double Up?
    When I was writing this album, Puff said, “Yo, just open your heart and you won’t have to worry about nothing. You’ll sleep better.” He didn’t tell me this exactly, but I took it as whatever you say, you feel it. You want to do this, so do it. I wrote most of the album on the Hill [neighborhood in Harlem around 135th Street and Amsterdam Avenue]. I was just walking through the ‘hood like, seven in the morning, just watching everybody going to school, cuttin’ class, everything. It brought me back in touch with reality. Just seeing Big L get killed, it let me know that niggas still get murdered.

    Would you say that you’ve lost touch with your old reality over the past two years because of all your success?
    You wake up, people bring you your food. They come pick you up, train you—that type of lifestyle. Clothes laid out for you. “Oh, I want my feet washed”—whatever I want. So I had to step away from that, ‘cuz once you lose touch with the ‘hood, you’re over with. But I remain just far enough away from the ‘hood to be able to get where I need to go and not get caught up. That’s my whole philosophy; right there with the’hood, but in-between.

    So you stay in between the ‘hood and what? What is that next level that you aspire to reach?
    I always said my dreams don’t just consists of music. Music is my stepping stone. When you see me on TV, you can tell I got another personality besides music. I could be on TV getting’ $100,00 a week because they’re going to know I come with a soundtrack! That’s what I want to do—music is just going to allow me to get there. All I need is 10 minutes with Jim Carrey or Will Smith. My 10 minutes gonna seem like 40! Some people, they got style but they’re not good looking. Or they good-looking and have no talent. I’m in-between-I got a little bit of looks to me and I got a little bit of talent. I got a face you could see on TV every day.

    I know you also want to establish yourself as Mase, not just the rapper Mase or even Bad Boy’s Mase. But will you ever be able to shine outside of Puffy’s shadow?
    That’s just another obstacle I got to go through. When people ask me, “What would you be without Puff?” I say, “Well, the same thing Puff would be without Mase.”

    And what’s that?
    It’s just like, you can’t think of Michael Jordan without Scottie Pippen or Pippen without Jordan. They’re just a great team.

    Well, actually, Jordan without Pippen is still Jordan—the greatest basketball player of all time.
    He wouldn’t have them rings, though. Puffy would still be Puffy the hot producer, but he wouldn’t win overall. I’ma be the person who don’t get then win overall. I’ma be the person who don’t get the credit— a good team player understands his role. Puff might have an off series; it might be my series. But he’s still gonna get MVP, ‘cuz he’s Puff.

    But don’t you ever want to switch your role? Don’t you ever want to get MVP?
    Ego is what destroys every man in the world. Pride and ego. Who cares who gets MVP—as long as I’m standing up with the same No.1 in the air, down on one knee with the ball in my arm. People think Mase should do this, Mase should do that, he don’t need Puff, he don’t need this. But then I would be an ungrateful nigga. When I had nothing, that’s the man that said, “I believe in you.” So that’s who I got to roll with till the boat goes under the water and we all drown. That’s who I have to sink with. That’s loyalty.

    [Loyalty] is what’s missing from this game right now. That’s why you got to respect when you are see Jay Z, [and Roc-A-Fella Records big willies] Dame Dash, and Biggs together. That’s one thing I respect about Ruff Ryders. I miss niggas with loyalty. I miss sharing. Not saying I want to go back, but I miss when you had a dollar and you get mad’ cuz he took the long part. Now, no matter whst you’re doin’ you don’t know who really loves you, and that’s, like, the worst part of this business. [In Harlem,] nobody can be second. Everybody gotta be that niggga. Harlem is the only niggas that don’t move together.

    But you’re from Harlem—what makes you different from the rest?
    I’m a team player. I signed with a team knowing that I wasn’t going to be No.1. It’s like going to be North Carolina and you know Jordan is there. But you goin’ there to win a the championship. I knew when I signed with Bad Boy that I wasn’t going to be the nigga over Biggie. Biggie’s the hardcore nigga, but he ain’t going to appeal to the hoes like I do. That was my point. So I looked at it like, I gotta go where I fit in.

    Weren’t you breaking away from the team when you signed your label deal, All Out Records, with Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Records instead of Bad Boy?
    When I did All Out, I knew I could deal with Puff, but I wasn’t sure if my sister could deal with Puff. He’s a perfectionist. He stays on top of you, and everybody can’t take that. Once you put all of that in the same basket, then you’re forced to make the decision of money and family. And guess what? I’ma be with family. Like, you work for VIBE, but if the director of VIBE smack your mother, it’s no more VIBE.

    Now you’re apart of another team — tell me about new manager, Magic Johnson.
    At the time I was kinda lost; I didn’t really have any management. And he approached me. With every other manager there was always some ulterior motive. But with Magic, I know he doesn’t need nothing from me, and I have everything to learn from him. He says to me, ‘I don’t mange you, we’re business partners. And I want this to be the last Rollie you ever buy, the last chain, the last Benz. I want to invest in you.” And I look at Magic—his money just makes more money. Everything is about the team. You could be a secretary in his company—if you don’t get something right, he’ll tell you the team can’t win with-out you. That’s real. I’ve even hooked him up with my man Allen Iverson. It’s like a family. I was playin four-on-four with Magic on my team! And he gave me the no-look pass!

    Have you gotten over that initial female feeding frenzy that all young rapper go through?
    When “Only You” just came out [in 1996], I was trying to to be with everybody. But then I got older and I just started being more discreet. You gotta think, my sex is worth a million dollars. If [a woman] gets pregnant [by me], it’s worth a million dollars. At least. So a smart man is going to think before he go dippin’ in every well. Is this worth a million [dollars] or two to five years in jail? Is this worth everything I work for?

    So what do you do when you see a pretty girl now?
    Pretty girls don’t excite me no more—a brain and a heart is everything. Some my best relationships have been with girls that was just a-aight looking. I wouldn’t say I want an ugly girl—I just like a girls who bring more to the table than just looks. By the time you get 40, your titties ain’t gonna sit up like that.

    How do you know if a girl is right for Mason Betha?
    You gotta give a girl a two year period. My mother taught me that. It take me twp years to buy a girl a gift. You know how girls say they‘re not there for the money? All right, then put in your internship! For two years there ain’t no Christmas, ain’t no Easter, ain’t no birthdays.

    Well, what if I’m your girlfriend and I want to get you something?
    Well, you don’t have to do that. If I can’t be happy with just you, there ain’t no gift you can give me to make me happy. Girls always say it’s the little things. So we gonna base two years on the little things. We could go out, phone calls, the movies, regular stuff. Nothing extra: no bracelets, no rings, no trips, no nothing. How many girls get diamonds from a nigga that don’t care nothing about them?

    So we’re gonna base it simply on how love started. With just affection, and heart, and mind, and soul. Otherwise, no matter what we do, it’s not going to work’ cuz in the back of my head I’ll be thinking, Is this chick with me for my money?

    Has it ever worked?
    When it works, that’ll be the right one.

    I guess it didn’t work with Brandy, huh?
    Not to dump on honey—me and Brandy was cool, but she was never my girl, you know what I’m sayin?
    I’ll put it this way: I might have drove down the block, maybe even backed in it a couple of times, but I ain’t never came out the car, and I ain’t never park.

    What do you think is the most misunderstood part of Mase?
    The thing that I feel most misunderstood about is that I can’t be more than one thing. Let me be hardcore and party and anything else. Because I am all those things at different times. I can be anything you want me to be.

    But what do you want to be?
    This album, a lot of people was fronting on Bad Boy. I feel like right now, nobody wanna see Puff do it again. So if I call somebody to sing on the song, it’s like, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” It wasn’t about the money. It was something, but I don’t know what it was. Everybody who asked me to get on their songs—I did it. I was on everything.

    Did that discourage you or make you more determined?
    You can’t live your life for everybody. You got to live your life for yourself and do whatever you can live with. With the whole Harlem World situation, that’s my family! I don’t care if they sell one record! That’s my sister, my brother, and some niggas off the street. Regardless of what they make, it’s more than they had. Who cares? I got millions for it, and whatever! And even though their debut sales weren’t all that, they ain’t fall, they just stumbled. And I caught them. Now, it’s on them to start running again. In the end, they’ll will because I’m a winner.

    Do you feel like you’ve achieved happiness?
    Probably a month ago, I started being happy’ cause I just started analyzing happiness. People can’t make you unhappy unless you allow them to do that. I realized that I can’t look for no one else to make me happy. Whatever I say is my law.

    Mase is my city, my state. Everybody is their own state. If a nigga disrespect Mase, he disrespecting my state. As the president of my state, I can let you slide, [or] I can give a two-to-three. The State of Mase may say that you deserve a lynching. Or you might need parole. You might need two years isolation to think about it. Mase is my state. Can’t nobody disrespect my state without dealing with the consequences.

  • Puff Daddy: "It Will Never Be Over"

    Against All Odds

    Written By: Jeannine Amber

    Photographs By: Albert Watson

    Issue: December 1999 - January 2000

    Dogged by lackluster album sales, anti-Puffy websites, and his own hot temper, Sean Combs is fighting to prove he’s still got it. Jeannine Amber gets the story behind the struggle.

    There’s this scene that sometimes floats into Sean Combs’s head. It’s like a picture out of one of those old movies where a man has been wrongly accused, and the whole town has gathered to watch him get hanged. The man is up on a platform with his legs dangling in mid-air. Only instead of choking, he refuses to die. Days go by, and he’s still hanging in. The townspeople throw rocks at him, but he won’t give in. Finally, they cut him down, and this guy – Sean “Puffy Combs” himself – just walks away. “Weird shit like that,” Combs says, “sometimes goes on in my head.”

    There are other variation on the theme: Like the one where Combs is dead and everyone comes to view the casket, and just as he’s about to enter the gates of heaven he comes to his sense like, “Hold up, God!” and gets out of the coffin. Or the one where there’s some 600-pound man blocking the door and Combs is getting no oxygen. “And it’s either him or me, and I don’t care if the nigga’s 1,000 pounds,” he says. “I’m gonna eat that nigga. I don’t care if I have to start chompin’ away, I’m gonna get through to the other side.”

    Combs describes these visions late one night in the back of his tour bus. He’s being driven from a sound-stage in Burbank, Calif., where he’s been rehearsing for the premiere episode of BET Live From L.A., to the five-star Beverley Hills Hotel and Bungalows. He’s so agitated he’s standing up, waving his hands around and making sound effects (“Whooosh, I come back from the journey to heaven,” and “Shikaaa, I raise out of the coffin”). Then he starts to yell: “It will never,” he says, “never, never, never be over.”

    In all fairness, this high-drama interlude didn’t come out of nowhere. The man’s been provoked. He just got asked, “Did you know that when your new album, Forever (Bad Boy), debuted at No. 2, behind former Mousketeer Christina Aguilera, people in the music industry went bananas, calling each other and sending crazy e-mails about how it was over. How no one gives a shit about Puffy now that Biggie’s dead. With lots of exclamation marks, like they were happy. It’s over!!!”

    “Never, mutherfuckers,” he says. “Never.”

    Only two years ago, in ’97, Bad Boy Entertainment CEO Combs and his roster of young artists (including the Lox, 112, Mase, and The Notorious BI.G.) dominated the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart for an astounding 22 weeks straight. “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “I’ll Be Missing You” pounded clubs, bounced Jeeps, and spun relentlessly on MTV. That year, Bad boy sold $200 million worth of records.

    Combs’s greatest skill has always been as a discoverer of talent, a producer of albums, and a businessman extraordinaire. He parlayed his love of music into a multimillion-dollar enterprise: There’s Justin’s, a chain of soul-food restaurants with locations in New York City and Atlanta, and tentative plans for Chicago and Miami; Sean Jean, his clothing line (which grossed $32 million since its launch in February ’99); Notorious, his glossy lifestyle magazine; and a new production company, Bad Boy TV and Films, currently developing the comedy King Suckerman with Miramax.

    But the success of Combs’s empire depends, at least in part, on the power of “Puffy” – the name, the logo, the celebrity. The question is whether Combs’s rapacious efforts to turn himself into a hip hop star will lead to his undoing. A businessman’s achievement is measured by the money he makes. But a star’s success rests on his ability to capture the imagination of his fans and prove he’s worthy way – with a mediocre album or a cocky attitude – and they’ll knock you off your pedestal in a hot second.

    By the third week of its release, Forever had fallen to No. 13 on the Billboard 200 and still hadn’t gone gold. Given that his first album, No Way Out (Bad Boy, 1997) sold more than 560,000n units in its first week and went on to become seven-times platinum, the press had a field day. There were scores of bad reviews, with many sounding the death knell: “Puff, the Magic’s Draggin’,” declared the New York Post.

    In addition, Bad Boy Records suffered more than a 75 percent drop in revenue in 1998, grossing barely $35 mil. And the talent that helped turn the label into a hit factory is slowly slipping away. Combs’s ace, Biggie, is dead; Mase went to follow God; and the Lox hooked up with Interscope Record’s Ruff Ryders imprint in August after complaining on New York’s Hot 97 FM that Combs wasn’t paying them their due.

    To top everything off, Combs is still trying to get out from under the cloud of bad PR stemming from his much-publicized attack on Interscope exec Steve Stout in April. (Following the attack, Combs was charged with second-degree assault, and faced a potential seven-year sentence. In August, amid rumors that he’d paid Stoute a six-figure settlement, Combs pleaded guilty to a violation and was ordered to attend a one-day anger-management course.)

    Some people are so disgusted by what one hip hop fans refers to as Combs’s “materialistic, money-hungry, wannabe-rapper” ways that they’ve gone to the trouble of launching their own anti-Puffy websites. Under cyber-headlines like “I Hate Puff Daddy,” “Why Puffy Sucks,” and “Please Puff Daddy, Ruin This Song Too,” music fans complain about everything from his lack of skills to his excessive sampling to his over-the-top arrogance. One site is so vicious it features an image of Combs having his brains blown out. Things are getting ugly.

    It’s humid and hot and excruciatingly early and everyone is waiting patiently for Combs at Miami International Airport. Not in the spot where the regular planes land, but on a separate stretch of asphalt behind a chain-link fence where the private jets touch down. On the tarmac, half a dozen ground crew in white coveralls pace back and forth. Two khaki-suited men – Combs’s manager Steve Lucas and Bad Boy’s VP of Marketing Ron Gillyard – sit in the back of the black Town Car calling air-traffic control, trying to track down the plane. Over to the side, four police escorts in black knee-length boots and shiny white helmets idle their bikes. They’ve been arranged for by the city to weave in and out of traffic, blazing their blue flashing lights, clearing a path for Combs’s motorcade, because, as Gillyard says with a laugh, “He’s fly like that.”

    The plane finally arrives at 7:42 a.m., more than an hour past schedule. It’s white, with “PD” emblazoned on the tail and “Puff Daddy Forever” across the body. Half a dozen duffel bags, a black Prada garment bag, a Gucci shopping bag, a stroller, and a car seat are loaded into the back of a black Navigator with tinted windows. Combs, his security man, his 2-year-old son, Christian, the boy’s nanny, his much-hyped new artist, Shyne, and a blond stewardess in an impossibly short gray skirt and matching jacket emerge silently from the plane. Combs says what’s up to his manager, kisses a reporter on the cheek, confers quietly with his security, and gets into the Navigator.

    For the rest of the day, Combs is motorcaded from radio stations to interview to a press conference on the 55th floor of the First Union Financial Center, in downtown Miami, which boasts a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, Neisem Kasdin, the mayor of Miami Beach, declares August 30 Sean “Puffy” Combs Day and gives Combs a key to the city, saying “I’ve met Clinton, but no on has attracted more attention than you!” Combs holds up his foot-long gold-colored key. “Wow,” he says, looking genuinely pleased. “I never got one of these before.”

    In the afternoon, there’s a record signing at Spec’s on Collins Avenue and Fifth Street in Miami Beach. The line extends halfway down the block. One teenager in braces and a ponytail is so bugged out she’s sputtering, her hand trembling in front of her face. Meeting Puffy is, like, her dream. Combs puts his arm around her, smiles stiffly, and gives the cameras a “No. 1” sign with his index finger.

    If Combs is in a slump, you’d never know it by the way he rolls: all-the-way extra celebrity, pop-star dignitary, with entourages and motorcades and barbers flown in to cut his hair just so. When his publicity tour is over he throws a soiree at his Hamptons home overlooking the ocean. Rich and totally random white folks like Chevy Chase, Christie Brinkley, and David Copperfield come to party with a live salsa band (¡Queremos a Puff’s Daddy!) and hot cha-cha dancers in little white dresses with halos and angel wings strapped to their backs. Combs works the crowd, flashing his platinum pendants and his sparkling watch, and don’t forget the two Bentleys in the garage.

    “Before he even dropped Forever, I saw the wall of hate building up,” says one industry insider who didn’t want to be named because he has “business dealings” with Combs. “You can’t really smack people in the face with wealth that they gave you. Take Will Smith: He has as much money as Puffy, but you don’t see him with mad ice, a ridiculous amount of ice. You don’t see it. But Puffy is really overdoing it with the jewelry these days. You have to have a certain degree of humility. Like, remember when you step into your limo or your Benz that the fan who put you there is getting on the train with a MetroCard.”

    For Combs, it’s not just the tinted windows of his ride that separate him from his fans. He’s deeply ensconced in a crew that shield him from the real world. This constantly shifting group of men, several of whom insist that “Puff’s like a brother to me,” do the practical: get his stuff, run his errands, handle his business, keep him company. And they provide a tacit endorsement that everything he does is A-OK. When he flips out and starts screaming at one, “You must be a stupid, stupid mutherfucker,” because the guy knocked on the door while Combs is doing an interview, no one said a word. So who’s going to step to hi about him wearing too much jewelry?

    Then again, why should they? “Puffy owes no one any apologies for his success,” says MC Hammer, whose own $33 million career self-destructed in the early 90s mid criticism that he was crossing over and selling out. “Anybody who makes revenue from the culture of hip hop has benefited from the presence of Puff Daddy over the past five years We’re talking about everything from FUBU to Tommy Hilfiger to soundtracks to everything else. And as far as humility goes, Puffy knows that, as a man, he would want to work on that. But knowing the type of man he is, he probably is working on that.”

    When he was little, “back in the olden days,” as he puts it, Combs lived in Harlem. His father was a hustler who was killed when Combs was three. His mother was an ex-model and part-time kindergarten teacher. Sometimes he hung out with a few friends. They called themselves the 7-Up Crew (on account of there were seven of them). But mostly he was a loner.

    In the summers his mother would pack him up and send him to Pennsylvania Dutch COUNTRY, COURTESY OF The Fresh air Fund. (The nonprofit program enable low-income New York kids to have a summer break in the country with volunteer host families.) Combs was hooked up with some Amish folks who had no electricity, no TV, no cars. They had horses and wagons. Think Harrison Ford in Witness. “That’s where I learned a lot of my focus,” says Combs. Plus, he says, “I seen shit.”

    One day, 8-year-old Combs got it in his head to jump on the back of a red rocket wagon and take a spin. The wagon was perched on the top of a hill. At the bottom was an electric fence that kept the livestock from wandering away. (As for why the no-electricity-having Amish had an electric fence, he says it must have belonged to the neighbors.) So Combs jumps on the wagon and it starts careening down the hill, headed right for the fence. “I was going straight toward it, full speed. I’m talking, like, 50 miles an hour,” he says. Then suddenly the wagon just stopped. “Right before it, like, decapitated me,” says Combs. “So I seen a miracle happen.”

    Memorable as the experience was, it wasn’t enough to keep him from returning to his non-Amish TV-watching ways back in New York. He was especially fond of a soft-core porn show on cable access called Midnight Blue. “I used to watch it and jerk off when I was 11,” he says. This came in handy when he lost his virginity at the ripe age of 12. “I was acting just like porn stars act. I was smacking that ass. I was smackin’ the girls’ ass! I didn’t do it on my own, she wanted me to smack that ass. I flipped her over because I saw it on the movie and then she told me to do it again, so, you know.”

    Later, when Combs got to Mount St. Michael Academy, an all-boys Catholic School in Mount Vernon, he learned a few new tricks. “You have to write this so it comes out right,” he says, lounging in a booth at the front of his tour bus. He’s dressed in a plush Sean John track-suit number. “I discovered that being natural was the best way to win a girl over. Like, you watchin’ movies, you listenin’ to older brothers saying things like, ‘Hey, ma, lemme holla at you for a second,’ you think that’s the way to get a girl. But I realized in high school, girls liked me if I was a friend to them. That’s when they would just start laughing, just by me being my natural persona. I was like, Oh! The light bulb went off. Ding!”

    After high school, Combs spent a little more than a year at Howard University and became known for throwing huge parties on the weekends. In 1991, he and rapper, Heavy D organized a charity basketball game at New York’s City College where nine people were trampled to death in a rush to get inside. (In 1998, Combs paid $750,000 to the families of the victims as part of a settlement ordered by New York State’s Court of Claims.)

    At the time of the City College disaster, Combs was interning at Uptown Records, where Andre Harrell was the president. As the now legendary story goes: Combs hustled and got promoted to VP of A&R within a year. He brought future platinum artists Mary J. Blige and Jodeci to the label, dressed them in Timbs and suits and leather and silk and gold and diamonds, creating the prototype for “ghetto fabulous.”

    “Puff was my young warrior,” says Harrell. “I could send him into the jungle and he’s bring back the lion’s head every time.”

    Eventually though, the warrior, the chief, and MCA – the company they worked for – began to have issues. “We had this meeting and Puff told the general manager, ‘I will never listen to you. I work for Dre. I don’t give a fuck about you.’” So in 1993, Harrell cut Combs loose. Combs was 23 years old.

    The following year, Puffy began doing business with music mogul Clive Davis, the head of Arista Records and the man who discovered Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, and Aerosmith. Soon after, Davis signed up Combs’s Bad Boy Records and, according to Forbes magazine, gave the young mogul $10 million and 50 percent ownership stake in the label. Combs retains the right to but back his masters and Arista’s 50 percent in the year 2003. Presumably buoyed by the phenomenal dollars Bad Boy generated in ’97, Davis gave Combs a $55 million advance in 1998 against future Bad Boy Records earnings.

    Given Forever’s relatively modest sales, it’s fair to wonder how soon Davis will recoup his investment. For now, he doesn’t seem concerned. “The picture won’t really be clear until next spring,” he says. “Look at Whitney Houston, she’s been on the charts for over 40 weeks.” Though Houston’s album, My Love Is Your Love (Arista, 1998) didn’t hit big out the box, it recently passed the double-platinum mark.

    “Anytime an artist has a huge first album, there are always doubting Thomases in the world as to whether or not they can repeat that,” says Davis. “I think it’s easy to mark Puffy, to underestimate his staying power.”

    Here’s what happened in hip hop,” says Andre Harrell, who’s sitting in a black Benz in a parking lot behind the soundstage of BET’s Live From L.A. “The concept of ‘ghetto fabulous’ was more of a street kid’s dream of getting the riches, and getting the pretty girl. But then one of the ghetto-fabulous stars really became fabulous,” says Harrell, who Combs hired in October 1998 to be the president of Bad Boy Records. “Puff really is successful. He really dates a movie star. He really does all those things that people dream about. And once all those things are achieved, it’s no longer a dream we can all share in. So a lot of people were left out.”

    The way Harrell explains it, Combs’s real dilemma is that he has simply achieve too much, and his success is triggering resentment – that particularly potent mix of envy and resentment that philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said cause have-nots to vilify the successful. Think player hating. By extension, Master P, who is worth $361 million – significantly more than Combs – should inspire homicidal rage among his fans. Only he doesn’t. That’s because Master P, with his gold fronts and unapologetic ghettoism, fits so much more neatly into people’s idea of what a rapper should be. No matter how much money P has made off whitey, you just know he’s not gonna invite David Copperfield to his parties. Puffy, on the other hand, seems to love him some photo ops with Jerry Seinfeld and Donald Trump.

    When Biggie was alive, Combs could be as flashy as he liked. The former Brooklyn crack dealer acted as a giant counterbalance – the ghetto to Combs’s fabulous. “When Biggie died, Puffy lost a major source of his authenticity,” says Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of African-American studies at DePaul University in Chicago. “Biggie was, in one sense, his image bodyguard. So, predictably, when Biggie dies, Puffy gets rhetorically assassinated.”

    At the same time, the bigger Combs has gotten, the more complicated his fans’ expectations have become. “Hip hop has expanded so that now 80 percent of the audience is nonblack,” says Russell Simmons, founder and chairman of Def Jam Records. “And when those kids are exploring this new world, they need a tour guide. Puffy is their ambassador. Not that he isn’t ‘ghetto,’ but his scope is broader than that. Some people in the core hip hop community resent us speaking to a larger audience. They feel it is an abandonment of them.”

    And if the community feels like they are being abandoned, its resentment can only be inflamed by Combs’s relentless displays of wealth and his new embittered attitude. Two years ago, Bad Boy videos were all about having fun: Puff jumping for joy on the links! Puff hoofing it up with tap star Savion Glover! And Puff, in that shiny spacesuit, floating in silver orb, Mase by his side, Biggie smiling down on them. Now he’s all hostile, talking about, “You can hate me now” and “I’m public enemy No. 1” Bragging about you Bentley, babes, and Benjamins, and then acting like you’re torture by it all, is not particularly endearing.

    “I haven’t been the humblest muthafucka at times,” says Combs, his hands clasped in front of him. He’s got a little shock of gray hair on the right side of his head., just left of his temple. He says her doesn’t dye it. “I would dance in the end zone on your ass, and sometimes that right there would inflict certain emotions. But that’s who I am.”

    It’s 2 a.m., and Combs is still riding in the tour bus. There were some stops to make after the BET Live rehearsal. He went to look at a cut of his “Satisfy You” video and then spent half an hour making sure that the editor guy got the too ashy-brown skin tone in one shot to mat the just-right mahogany tone in another. Then he stopped off at a liquor store for some provisions.

    His girl, actress/singer Jennifer Lopez, obviously exhausted, is laid out on a sofa, the top of her head poking out from under the brown blanket she’s cocooned in. HBO’s series Real Sex is on the tube: Six naked white people and one confused sister rolling in a big pile of mud flashes across the screen. “I cannot be quiet and passive,” Combs says. “I’m sorry.” He shrugs. Reluctantly he talks about what it feels like to have people put up websites celebrating how much he sucks, and worse. He says all the contradictory, illuminating, slightly defensive things anyone might say: It hurts; he doesn’t care; he pities those people; don’t they have better things to do with their time; and of course he has feelings. And fuck them.

    Then he says: “It enters your mind, about it breaking you. It crosses your mind sometimes, like I’m tired of this shit. But that’s the way America is. They gonna put you through living hell. We put Vanessa Williams through hell. They broke her ass. She was never the same. They tried that shit with Madonna and she said, ‘Fuck it. I’ma get all-the-way nigga. I’ma make a porno. I’ma eat some pussy.’” He pauses. “So you know, at the end of the day we’ll just see who’s still here.”

    He gets up then, walks over to the fridge and takes out bottle of Alizé, Malibu Rum, and Belvedere Vodka to mix himself a drink. He turns his back to the reporter. “Are you done now?” he asks, clearly frustrated. One of the bottle slips from his hand and goes crashing to the floor.

    Snoop Dogg, who has had his share of career ups and down, sighs and shakes his head when he talks about Combs. “That’s what the black community is built on – bring people up and bring them down. It’s sad. It’s terrible. I’ve seen that situation before when I’ve been on top of the world, and then I’ll put out an album that people didn’t feel was as hot as the other one and they labeled me a fall-off. That’s a bad feeling,” Snoop says. “[Puffy’s] success happened so fast that he didn’t get the chance to learn or grow or to understand. So now it gives him a chance to get everything in proper perspective. Keep you head up, Puff. Fuck the haters.”

    The next day is the taping for BET Live From L.A. There’s a crowd of 100 or so kids gathered in front a small stage at the back of the lot. Some of them have been waiting for hours to watch Combs perform. Michael Colyar, a comedian in shiny alligator shoes and a brown five-button suit, warms up the crowd. “We’re about to bring on the coldest artist in the world,” he says, “The man of the millennium!”

    Then Combs comes on. He’s got dancers in short-shorts, bikini tops, and long hair extensions. He’s got three back up singers and a live band led by Mario Winans (who produced much of Forever) on percussion. And he’s got pyrotechnics galore. Canons, airbursts, fireballs, flame projectors, and plenty of blue and white sparkly things. The set opens with the swelling operatic intro to rock group Queen’s “Flash’s Theme” and segues into “It’s All About the Benjamins” then “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and “P.E. 2000.” It’s a medley of hits, and every four beats a set of firecrackers blows up and a string of lights explodes. Flecks of white ash rain on the audience. One kid turns to another and shakes her head. “This is ridiculous,” she says, and she doesn’t mean in a good way. Some kids cover their ears against the sound of the explosions.

    But no one in Combs’s camp appears to notice. Their boy is onstage doing his thing! And that’s all that seems to matter. He’s still here, he’s still swingin’, he’s still trying to prove, like the lyric says, Can’t nobody hold him down. Harrell, standing in the back of the crowd, does a little jig. “It ain’t over,” he says, grinning “It’s definitely not over.”

  • Sex Kitten: Lil' Kim Is Ready To Roar

    BLOWIN’ UP

    Written By: Robert Marriott

    Photographs By: David LaChapelle

    Issue: June-July 2000

    Everyone’s got their eyes on Lil’ Kim, from her fashionista friends to her ghetto constituents. But what they don’t see is the soft center beneath her hard-core raunch. Robert Marriott explores the Queen Bee’s resilient soul.

    Consider Kimberly Denise Jones, the exalted nasty girl turned glamour baby, sitting quietly in Daddy’s house, Sean “Puffy” Comb’s slick mid-Manhattan recording studio, sporting a shoulder-length platinum-blond ponytail and eyebrows dyed to match, sitting cross-legged in her favorite designer jeans decorated with ostrich feathers. The 4-foot-11 Kim gets up to kiss Puffy’s mother, Janice Combs, goodbye, “Thank you, Mama, for coming to see,” she says in her sweetest little-girl voice, blinking her lashes, smiling ear-to-ear. She’s ready to enter the booth and lay down vocals for a track on her upcoming sophomore album.

    A lurching, uneven beat engulfs the studio. Lil’ Kim, now in character, is rapping in the prototypical raunchy style she has become infamous for. “Just lay me on this bed and give me some head/ Got the camcorder laying on the drawer where he can’t see / Can’t wait to show my girls he cucked…”

    Lil’ Kim’s mythology is about pussy, really: the power, pleasure, and politics of it, the murky mixture of emotions and commerce that sex has become in popular culture. Like a priestess out of some ancient matriarchy, she makes songs that deify, demand we respect, revere, and glorify it.

    She is, perhaps, the greatest public purveyor of the female hustle this side of Madonna, parlaying ghetto pain, pomp, and circumstances into mainstream fame and fortune.

    Kim’s reality, on the other hand, is about love. It is her true currency. She trades in love the way Mary J. Blige trades in survival, Lauryn Hill in consciousness, and Missy Elliott in invention. The entirety of her appeal has much to do with the fact that love – carnal, familial, self-destructive, or spiritual – is the root of who Kim is. Pussy is just the most marketable aspect of it. Kim gives and craves love equally; her devotees range from luxury-tank-pushing street niggas who lust for her to transvestites whose masquerades she inspires to the silent legions of dispossess women – stripped, ho’ing, and hustling – to whom she has given an urgent, uncensored voice.

    Her capacity to calculate what you want her to be and then become it – a skill she honed in the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y. – makes her damn near interactive. Raunchy, vulnerable, demure. Mae West. Bessie Smith. Lady Godiva. Blue-eyed Barbarella, aqua-haired ghetto mermaid – she’s the virtual black girl staring at you from billboards and magazine covers in a dazzling array of guises.

    But as her stature as pop and fashion icon grows, as her hair and eyes take on new colors, the raw streets survivalist she once signified must now be perceived through shiny layers of artifice. At times, it’s difficult to determine whether she’s the hustler (subversive manipulator) or hustled (sacrificial black girl, complicit in her exploitation). It’s precisely her ability to thrive within this web of cultural dilemmas that makes her one of the last truly charismatic figures left in the aging machinery of hip hop.

    Kim’s charisma is the result of her lifelong struggle with love.

    Flash back to the dawning age of hip hop, 1980. Imagine 6-year-old Kimberly Jones in her mama’s bedroom playing with a black Barbie – one of a large, multicultural collection of dolls and accessories – in her parents’ Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn apartment. She’s covered in her mother’s makeup, leafing through fashion magazine. She cuts out the model’s eyes and lips. Standing in front of a mirror, she places their eyes against her eyes, their lips against her lips. It begins there. Kimberly Jones discovers Lil’ Kim.

    Later Kim’s cousin watches her dancing around the apartment and belting out radio tunes. “Kim is gonna be something,” she predicts. Gifted at sports, Kimberly wins medals at the Colgate Women’s Games competitions while attending the Queen of All Saints Catholic School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Her mother, Ruby Jones, then a fashion-conscious department-store clerk, remembers Kim running with her cousins and brother, the only girl among all the little boys: “She was always determined. I never worried about leaving her. I knew she could take care of herself.”

    Her father was a man with a penchant for Member only jackets and Marc Buchanan leathers. He was a provider and a disciplinarian. “He was so sweet when I was a baby. I would jump into his arms when he would come home,” Kim recalls about the man she rarely speaks with now.

    Divorce tears the family apart. Kim and her older brother must fend for themselves emotionally. Ruby Jones: “I wasn’t financially ready but I had to choose between leaving and my sanity.” Ruby slides into transient life: living out of her car, from couch to couch, Kim in tow. They stay with a friend in New Rochelle, N.Y., where Kim attends Jefferson Elementary School, one of the few black children in a class of whites. Kim: “That’s when I realized there was still prejudiced people. But I didn’t hold a grudge. I did well, though, and they wanted me to stay, but I left after a year.”

    Shortly thereafter, her father wins custody of Kim. Blaming herself and struggling with her self-esteem, Ruby falls in with a bad crowd, losing herself in the smoky music of Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight. Kim returns to her father’s house angry and regularly talks to herself. “I would tell myself stories. It would make me feel better. He thought I was crazy. I knew I wasn’t crazy.”

    There is heavy tension. During one argument, Kim’s father calls her a bitch. The word cuts her to the core.

    Flashing police lights dance across the windows. Kim’s father sits bleeding, looking a the stranger his daughter has become. They had been fighting. Amid the tussling, she picks up a pair of scissor and stabs him in the shoulder. Kim: “The police were there and said, ‘Well, what do you want to do with her? We can put her in a home.’ And, honestly, I just wanted to be away from him so I said, ‘I wanna go.’ He looked really sad, like he wanted to cry. He turned to them and said, ‘No, no, I’ll handle it.’”

    Kim’s father and his new wife take her to a therapist. Kim senses a racist tinge to the white therapist’s questioning. “I said, ‘You know what, lady? I don’t like you.’” When her father chides her, she curses him. “Some people might think that was fucked up of me, but I didn’t know how else to let my father know that I wasn’t a stupid girl,” she says.

    It’s the late ‘80s. Some older girls take Kim out. Kim is thinking it’s a kid’s birthday party; instead, she finds herself at Manhattan’s Latin Quarter nightclub. Underage but welcomed by the older hustlers, she sees cats dressed in thick gold ropes and custom-tailored Louis Vuitton – and Gucci-style leather made at Dapper Dan’s, the infamous Harlem clothier of mike Tyson and young capitalists growing rich from the crack trade. Kim and the older girls roll with big-money players, cats who push Roll-Royces and hang out at after-hours spots where the glamorous niggas showed out.

    Kim runs away from home to live with her Panamanian boyfriend. She continued to talk to herself. “I still feel that voice inside to this day,” she says. “I think that was God speaking to me, but I wasn’t listening. I was wild, doing what felt I had to do.”

    Kim’s lessons in hustling begin. “I always had a man to take care of me,” she remembers. “Sometimes, if I though I could get some more out of a guy, I’d sleep with him. And I got kinda caught in that mentality.” She lives from boyfriend to boyfriend, learning hard lessons, getting betrayed.

    Imagine Kim, black-haired, brown-eyed, flat-chested, chocolate, walking down Brooklyn’s Fulton Street on her way home from her job as a clerk at Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan. She meets the man who would change not just her hustle but her entire life. Sitting on a garbage can in front of a liquor store on St. James Place, a young Christopher “B.I.G.” Wallace strikes up a conversation with her. Kim: “We were just there talking. He was not the kinda guy I was used to talking to. I would deal with niggas with money. But her had this confidence about him. Later, he got me to rhyme for him. After I rhymed, he said, ‘I’m fucking with you, Ma. We gonna make some money.’”

    Kim finds a father figure in The Notorious B.I.G. “It was everything I wanted in a relationship,” she says. “Biggie gave me his keys, and I remember thinking he wasn’t doing this for other broads.” She sleeps with him on his twin bed in a tiny corner room, on his mother’s apartment. “We would lie together talking about what we was gonna do the next day.”

    By ’95, the articulation of Biggie’s plans for Kim is clear. Big and Lance “Un Rivera.” A former drug dealer turned music executive, form Kim’s first group, Junior M.A.F.I.A., and release their gold-selling album Conspiracy on Undeas Recording/Atlantic Records. Her performances on the platinum smash “Gettin’ Money” and gold hit “Player’s Anthem” create enough buzz to motivate Un and Big to start working on her solo album.

    They begin recording her seminal debut, Hard Core. “Kim grew up in the studio,” says Un. “It’s like she took all the bricks, all the heartache, all the pain and used them as stepping stones. We started getting real good records.”

    They shoot a promotional poster of Lil’ Kim with her legs akimbo, displaying the outline of her punanny through animal-print panties. The image provides the first glimpse of her specific band of alchemy. Prey playing predator, doe-eyed lamb dressed in a wolf’s lacy get-up. She’s an empowered sexual vixen wielding the mysterious power of the pussy like a weapon.

    But her struggles with love continue. She watches Biggie marry Faith Evans. “I was so hurt,” says Kim. Un: “I used to take care of her. I used to always tell her, ‘Yo, whatever you do, don’t give Big no pussy.’ She never understood why. Because Big had a mentality, in terms of control, that was powerful over women. I used to tell her, ‘Mentally, he will destroy you.’ And he did. Once upon a time, she was on the edge. If niggas wasn’t there to pull her back…”

    “I never brought another man around Biggies,” says Kim. “I never felt the need to fuck with another man. Even though Biggie may have been doing things on his own, I felt like if I showed real love, one day I’d win my prize.”

    Today, Kim is tormented each day by Biggie’s memory. “When he did, it was like the record skipped,” she says. “God shook me to let me know what he gave me.” The title of the upcoming release, The Notorious KIM, is her attempt to create a symbiotic mythology with her mentor. She plays Isis to his Osiris. The queen rising from his ashes. “I just want him to know that I loved him.”

    Now Kim shoulders the burden of Biggie’s musical legacy. “It’s been on me for the last three years,” she says of her obligation to the Junior M.A.F.I.A. family. She shares her Englewood, N.J., home with the M.A.F.I.A. crew Lil’ Cease, Damion “D-Roc” Butler, Gutta, and Larce Banger.

    Kim and Un (who last year was stabbed in an incident allegedly involving Jay-Z) no longer speak, although she remains contractually obligated to Undeas/Atlantic for more albums. “[The split with Un] was a little bit of everything,” explains one of Kim’s managers, Hillary Weston. “After Big died, [Un] didn’t stay true. Un had his priorities, and he gave [Junior M.A.F.I.A.] a shitty deal. But it wasn’t just the business thing. Un really hurt her.”

    The decision to push back her album’s release date, the favor Kim did for “ya’ll hoes,” was the result of the contractual chaos left in the wake of Biggie’s death, a boycott against Atlantic Records because of its lack of marketing support for Lil’ Cease’s 1999 solo album, The Wonderful World of Cease a Leo (the first project on Queen Bee Records), and a series of mishaps that culminated in bootleggers getting hold of seven of her songs.

    Back at Daddy’s House, Kim’s newly completed “Suck My D!#k,” a transgressive response to male catcalling, bangs up the studio. Meanwhile, Cease and Gutta are on a roll, cracking back-to-back jokes about the size of a Bad Boy employee’s head as Terror Squad producer Rated R looks on. Kim laughs, momentarily relieve of the intense pressure she’s under. “We’re like a family now,” she says. “I’m like the mother. D-Roc is like the father, Hillary is the aunt, Gutta is like the uncle, the M.A.F.I.A. ARE like the children, and Puffy’s like that uncle who ain’t shit but we love his stank ass.” With Big gone and Un out of the picture, Puffy is the project’s surrogate executive. He’s trying to push Kim to finish.

    “Kim is a true artist,” says Puffy. “[The reason why the album’s so late] is because sometimes she’ll go on a dry spell for three months. She’s a perfectionist. Sometimes she’s lazy, and I have to crack that whip.” Kim smiles and says, “I do be lazy. I can’t front. But you know what it is? I’m a dreamer.”

    “Suck My D!#k” sounds like a sequel to he cameo on Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm.” Prodigy of Mobb Deep confides in Rated T after hearing the track: “You keeping my girl in the streets where she belongs.”

    But Kim is no longer just in the streets. She is fah-bulous now, a darling of the fashion elite, a card-carrying member of the ghettorati. Donatella Versace, Giorgio Armani, and Andre Leon Talley are among her friends and associates. Prodigy’s concern – that hip hop’s raw bitch will be lost to that illusory world of glitz- is one that hangs over everything about Kim right now. “All I can do is remain myself. There’s two sides to me, and I can get ghetto red and let a nigga have it or let a girl have it. But I can also be civilized enough to deal with people who are fabulous.”

    Kim knows what works and for whom. The ritzy Midtown eatery Mr. Chow. It’s one of those events: The steaming plates of lobster, the clinking of champagne glasses, the murmur of aimless banter. The heavy-lidded beautiful people throwing their heads back in forced laughter. Missy, Maxwell, and Puffy await the guests of honor; M.A.C. spokeswomen Mary J. Blige and Lil’ Kim. Above the crowd hangs an oversize, heavily air-brushed poster of the two divas drape in gold, surrounded by several near-naked male models painted with kisses. The image is an ad for M.A.C.’s new lipstick, Viva Glam II (the proceeds of it’s sale are donated to people living with aids). Similar models are hired to stand outside. Mr. Chow and they shiver in the February air as they wait to escort Lil’ Kim into a mob of international paparazzi. Kim enters wearing a Misa Hylton-Brim custom-made minidress, her blond flip falling just past her shoulders, and steps with a dramatic pause onto the red carpet. Lil’ Kim is on her game, and the gather eat it up. Surrounded by bodyguards and onlookers and photographers and handlers, she is ushered into the restaurant and presented to the president of M.A.C. Cosmetics, John Demsey, a distinguished-looking man. She offers her hand. He grips her fist, soul-brother-like. The Cosmetics King and the Queen Bee exchange wide smiles in the flashes of the light, the dollar signs glistening in their eyes.

    In the treacherous world of glamour, where the rules change and racism is in the details, Kim’s blond wigs and nose contouring give stylists, photographers, and editors permission to eras race from her equation. It is the unspoken price of entry. Vanity Fair photographer Annie Leibovitz says of the portrait of Kim that she included in her and Susan Sontag’s collection Women: “Sociologically, [this picture of Lil’ Kim] is really fascinating because she is not only dressing up to be a woman, but she’s dressing up to be a white woman, with that blond wig.”

    “We like to give people something to hold on to and then move on,” counters Kim. “I think I’m beautiful because of my heart. But, like Halle Berry, Salli Richardson, Stacey dash, Jada Pinkett Smith? I used to wish I looked like them motherfuckers!”

    But smoothing the jagged edges of her race and class is not the only adjustment made for fashion, and Kim is not immune to the les-tan-subtle suggestions. In a vanity industry, her breasts, or lack thereof, quickly became an issue. “Hector Extravaganza, the fur designer, was saying on me, ‘Girl, you be rocking them pictures, but how the hell you gonna be modeling with no fucking titties! You are so fucking flat-chested!’” Kim reflects, “I laughed, but then I went home and thought about it. I went to the best, most expensive doctor available, but that was the most pain I ever felt in my life.”

    It’s nighttime in the heart of Bed-Stuy. March 9, 2000, three years to the day Big was gunned down in Los Angeles. There’s a commotion on St. James Place between Gates Avenue and Fulton Street, his old neighborhood. Junior M.A.F.I.A. are shooting the video for “Biggie,” their tribute song on multiplatinum posthumous album, Born Again. The block is lit up in a surreal ix of orange and blue. Expeditions and Navigators and black Benzes fill the block. A sizeable gathering of Brooklynites come out: plaited, dyed, friend, and dreaded. Inside a trailer, Kim and crew sit in the dark hugging up Biggie’s daughter, T’yanna, and quietly reeling from a recent betrayal by someone Kim considered a close friend. Betrayal, the counterpoint to love, has also been a theme in her life. She smiles through her pain and anger. “I hurt real hard, you know When I was young, I’d take it there. You get stabbed. You get shot. I didn’t give a fuck,” she says, the frustration rising in her voice. “But I got to think about my actions now. I got kids who depend on me. I got my family depending on me. I got God depending on me.”

    Outside children and acquaintances crowd around the darkened trailer, hoping for a glimpse of the starlet. Wearing a tight white T-shirt with tiny rips at the chest, aquamarine Versace boots to go with her custom-made wig of the same color, and skintight shorts with dangling straps, Kim descends into the anxious crowd. Klieg lights swing wildly. Little girls squeal her name and beg for a hug. Kim is lifted to her pedestal atop a gleaming white Cadillac Escalade. Biggie’s voice rises up from stereo speakers, booming and echoing down the block. Kim gyrates, twists, and pops, opening her legs and bouncing in an intricate pantomime. Tonight, she is the queen of all lost girls, looking ghetto angelic, resurrecting her king. Once the shot is wrapped, the lights go down and security surrounds her whisking he into a white Navigator.

    Consider Kimberly Jones, survivalist turned surrogate mother, babysitting D-Roc’s son, little Damion. Happy to be home, not working for once. “In this world, money is power, but if I was in the land of paradise, love would be power to me. But in this world, you can’t get nothing off of love,” she says. “People don’t show you love back. But if I can get a Queen Bee island one day, love would be power.” Little Damion starts to cry. “Come ‘ere, pookie-pumpkin,” Kim says, soothing his tears and promising him they’ll go roller-skating later. “I think God has a plan for me,” she says. “There are some people who still don’t understand. But I know by the end of my fulfillment they will.”

  • P. Diddy: Can Hip Hop's Man Of Steel Rebuild Bad Boy?

    THE PASSION OF PUFF

    Written By: Lola Ogunnaike

    Photographs By: Guzman

    Issue: August 2004

    Even with his music empire in question, P. Diddy refuses to drop out of the race. Lola Ogunnaike examines the life of the ever-evolving artist, activist, fashion designer, thespian, and marathon man. Will the curtain ever come down on the incredible Mr. Combs?

    HERE, at Manhattan’s Royale Theater, you are only to refer to him as Walter Lee. No Sean Combs, no Puffy, no P. Diddy. All reminders of his bold-faced life are to be left at the door. “I’ve got to stay in character,” the music mogul turned actor explains. “Because I’m not as experienced as everyone else, where I know how to turn it on and off.” Complete with flat-screen television, tricked-out iPod system, and exquisite chocolate-leather side chairs, Diddy’s dressing room, no bigger than a sizable walk-in closet, still has the flavor one would expect of a man of his stature. What is surprising, however, are the pictures of black luminaries, both living and late, that wallpaper the tight quaters: the Notorious B.I.G., James Brown, Run-DMC, Malcolm X, Sammy Davis Jr., Ossie Davis, Coretta Scott King, and Jay-Z. There are several photos of his idol Muhammad Ali, including a beautiful candid shot that hangs in the restroom.

    “Denzel’s my acting hero,” Diddy says, pointing to a shot of the Oscar-winning veteran. “Flavor Flav was different,” he says gesturing to Public Enemy’s resident court jester. “It takes a lot of guts and heart to be yourself.” MC Hammer also earns a place on Diddy’s wall of fame. “A lot of people try to hate on him because he danced, but he danced his ass off. I think he’ll be more appreciated in years to come.” Even more curious than Mr. Too Legit to Quit, however, is the O.J. Simpson mug shot.

    “I’ve been right at that place,” Diddy offers quietly. “It’s a constant reminder of what they can do to you if you ever get too comfortable. I’m one of those Negroes that’s allowed into certain parties, but if I start believing the hype, like I’m the ‘special Negro,’ then I could end up just like that.”

    Six days a week, for the past three months, Diddy has starred in the Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play about a 1950’s family struggling to fulfill its dreams on the segregated South Side of Chicago.

    In the production, he plays a frustrated, down-on-his-luck chauffeur, who longs to use the life insurance money left to his mother (played brilliantly by The Cosby Show alum Phylicia Rasha) to open a liquor store. It is a role immortalized by Sidney Poitier, who acted in both the stage and screen versions. Diddy refers to the part, which he landed after two auditions, as “a chance of a lifetime.”

    Combs’s casting, however, caused plenty of controversy. Many believed the role would have been better served by a true thespian. Until Raisin, the music mogul’s acting resume was comprised of bit parts in small movies (Made and Monster’s Ball) and big parts in music videos. Theater-tested, he was not. “I think it’s a stupid choice,” actor Omar Epps railed in New York’s Daily News. “You can’t just decide what you want to act and be good... There are people who devote their lives to acting who don’t get a shot like that.” Epps, ex-boyfriend of Raisin costar Sanaa Lathan, added, “With Sean Combs in it, it could be like a B movie.” Ouch.

    Still, no stranger to arched eyebrows and below-the-belt jabs, Diddy persevered, studying with veteran acting coach Susan Baston, who has trained the likes of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, into the wee hours of the morning. “Nothing has been as hard as this,” Diddy says one recent evening after a matinee performance. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

    Lathan admitted she was nervous that Puffy would be unable to deliver. Once rehearsals began, however, her fears were alleviated. “He worked harder than I’ve ever seen anybody work,” Lathan gushes. “I watched him go through the process and be like a sponge. I watched him fall down and get back up and not worry about what the world is saying.”

    There is no disputing Diddy has been drawing audiences both young and old. But reviews of his performance have been mixed, ranging from pretty damn good to pretty darn awful. The same traits that make him a brilliant businessman in many ways inhibit his ability to play the complicated Walter Lee. “The hardest thing for him is to surrender to the pain and the hurt,” Baston explains. “One day I was screaming. Haven’t you ever lost? And he says, ‘Yeah, but do you think I hold on to that feeling? I refuse to remember those type of feelings.’”

    “This role is so against everything I’ve become,” Diddy says. “Over the years, I’ve had to learn to control my anger and rage. I have to have tough skin, ‘cause I gotta wake up and hear so many lies about me and deal with so much envy. It’s created a numbness, so I can handle whatever you’re going to hit me with.”

    Taped to Diddy’s dressing-room mirror, next to a photo of Hansberry, who died of cancer in 1965 at age 34, is a snapshot of his father, Melvin, who was murdered when Combs was just 3. Langston Hughes’s poem “Dreams Deferred” (Raisin borrows its title from a line in this poem) rests next to a junior-high version of Combs scrambling across a football field. “That’s my dream deferred,” he says as When We Were Kings, the famed Muhammad Ali documentary, plays in the background. “I wanted to be a football player, but I broke my leg.”

    Twenty-minutes before showtime, Diddy heads outside to jump rope in an alley, where he moves with the grace and agility of a seasoned boxer. It is a nightly ritual, one of the many that prepares him for the three-hour spectacle that awaits him. “When I’m jumping rope,” he says, “I’m listening to my body, trying to find a rhythm that I can control. When I find that rhythm, nothing can stop me. I can squeeze through corners.”

    SQUEEZE through corners, leap buildings in a single bound, turn water into wine. At this point, the question is no longer what can he do, but rather what, dear God, can’t Diddy do. The answer to that is yet to come.

    You’ve watched him mold artists like Mary J. Blige and Mase into stars; peeped him sauntering down red carpets and runways in getups from his Sean John fashion line. You’ve shared his pain as he’s mourned the loss of his label’s biggest superstar, the Notorious B.I.G., stood amazed as Combs narrowly escaped prison, cheered as he carved his hair into a Mohawk and ran all 26 miles of the New York City marathon. And you’ve marveled as he turned his grandiose dreams into one of the most influential labels in hip hop. Now the indefatigable Diddy, who recently signed a fragrance deal with Estee Lauder, is jumping into politics by developing a show for MTV.

    There, Puffy hopes to grill Kerry and Bush about problems that affect everyday Americans. “We’re going to talk to the man that’s fucked up and can’t feed his family,” he says. “We’re going to talk to kids who go to schools with no desks.”

    TUCKED away in the backseat of his chauffeur-driven SUV, three days before he makes public his decision to dismantle Bad Boy’s Da Band, Diddy launches into a passionate diatribe about work ethic and the group’s lack thereof. Borrowing a line from Raisin, he diagnoses Dylan—the group’s resident rebel—with “acute ghettoitis.” “He has a self-destruct button and doesn’t take life seriously. So many young men and women don’t take life seriously and don’t decide to get off the corner until they’re around 35. But don’t nobody want to hear from your old ass at 35, talking about you wanna own a record company or open up a store,” says Diddy. “You wanted to spend 10 years hanging on the corner, smoking blunts, sleeping all day, and when it’s time to get serious at 35, you wanna look at other cats that’s hustled since they was 16 and be mad at them?”

    Standing tall on his soapbox, and amped Diddy continues. Da Band’s initial refusal to walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn to fetch him cheesecake comes to mind. “If I were them, I would go get cheesecake right now, butt naked with some razor-blade slippers on, sliding through an alcohol pond.”

    He says he had no problem pulling the plug on the band, sending home Dylan, Sara, the singer and mother of three, and Dred, the thumb-sucking knucklehead from Miami. Only Ness (Diddy’s favorite) and Babs (the people’s choice) were invited to stay. After the show wrapped, Puffy signed Young Cuty, aka Chopper, to Bad Boy South. “I wanted to make the decision to end it a long time ago, but for the first time in my life, I didn’t thoroughly read a contract, and I was stuck,” Diddy explains. “When the time came and I was able to do it, I let them have it.”

    In an over-the-top display, clearly designed to humiliate, Diddy ordered Dylan to “Get the fuck out of my house,” repeatedly. Dylan quiet as a mime, quickly packed his things and bounced – a terribly un-gangster moment for someone who claims his last name is Dilinjah. Diddy remains unapologetic. “What was I supposed to do? Kindly ask him to leave? It’s television, baby. Hollywood.”

    Dylan now claims that the spectacle viewers were treated to that evening was far from reality. “All that shit you seen was a fraud,” he says. “I never never saw Puff that evening. That was old footage that they edited together. I love MTC – the exposure was great. But that was wrong how they made it look like he was disrespecting me.”

    While all agree tha thte band’s dismantling was for the best (“I got fed up with dealing with everyone’s issues,” says Fred. “They were holding me back”), Babs says she was shocked by the news. “When he called that meeting, we thought it was going to be about the second album, but obviously it wasn’t,” she said.

    WITH his reality series off the air, for now, and his A Raisin in the Sun schedule almost over, Diddy may finally have time to focus on Bad Boy, the company he founded more than a decade ago. It’s no secret that, in recent years, the label has lost some luster. A scant seven years ago, Bad Boy dominated the charts with hits like “Mo Money Mo Problems,” “I’ll Be Missing You,” and “It’s All About the Benjamins.” Since then, the label has put out enough bricks to build a housing project. Some say Diddy’s outside ambitions are to blame. “Puff used to eat, sleep, and shit that label,” a former Bad Boy executive says. “It was like his child. And now, basically, he’s been a neglectful father. He only takes care of it when he has the time.”

    Even Da Band makes not of his absence. “We hardly seen Puff that whole season,” Young City shares. “We maybe saw him, like, three times, but that MTV editing made it seem like he was there every day.”

    While Diddy approaches the apex of his multifaceted career, the label appears to have reached its nadir. Biggie is dead. His widow, Faith Evans, has jumped to Capitol Records, 112 skipped to Def Jam. Total has disbanded. G. Dep is on hold, “dealing with personal issues,” Diddy reluctantly offers, before confirming that “Whoa!” one-hit wonder Black Rob is, according to Diddy, incarcerated once again. Loon’s debut tanked, (a meager 325,114 in sales). The sophomore jinx has gotten the best of Carl Thomas. While 8Ball and MJG give Bad Boy some Southern credibility, Mario Winans has sold an impressive 955,497 – still not exactly the sales Bad Boy is used to. And Dream, Bad Boy’s marginally talented girl group, if we ever hear from them again, will release what will surely be one of the most unanticipated albums.

    It’s hard to suppress a giggle when Puffy says that he has signed ‘80s R&B boy group New Edition, as if a group of retirement home-bound crooners will lead his label back to greatness. To the TRL generation, you point out, NE might as well be the Temptations. Diddy grows defensive. “It’s definitely one of the best albums I’ve been involved in,” he says of this yet-to-be-titled set. It’s right up there with What’s the 411? and My Life.” At any hint of skepticism, he adds, “I’m used to people questioning or second-guessing. Just like people laughed at A Raisin in the Sun and had bets on what I’d do in the marathon. The next thing is New Edition.”

    Talks turn to Shyne, who recently inked a reported multimillion dollar deal with Def Jam. “He signed with my blessing,” Diddy makes clear. Late last winter, after receiving a call from Shyne’s attorney requesting that his client be allowed to shop for a new deal, Diddy says he released the artist in an effort to give him a fresh start. Although Shyne has publicly denounced his former label head, Combs says, “That don’t build no animosity up in my heart.” Shyne, currently serving 10 years in prison on charges stemming from a shooting in a Manhattan nightclub, has said that he took the fall for Puffy. When asked about this, without missing a beat, Diddy says, “I’m my own man. I can stand on my own two feet. Whatever I’ve done in my life, I can handle myself. I don’t need to never put nobody in front to block me. I don’t use no shields for nothing.”

    The plate of lobster salad and vegetables au gratin his personal chef has prepared this afternoon grows cold as Diddy, sitting in the kitchen of his Park Avenue town house, discusses his plans for the future of his label. He is determined to “resurrect and revitalize the Bad Boy movement,” he says. “I had to put a couple of artists on hold just to see if they’re going to be headed into the next era. I’m trying to build a championship team, and I definitely have to approach it more like Steinbrenner building the Yankees.”

    If anyone can lead a team to victory it is Mase, who, fresh from a five-year hiatus as a reverend, has returned to the rap game with “Welcome Back,” a classic Mase feel-good track (proving rappers never retire). His yet-to-be-titled upcoming disc, a classic Mase party album, due out in August, could be the jolt Bad Boy needs.

    Diddy claims he never tried to dissuade Mase from abandoning rap for the Lord. “I don’t question God, and I believed what I was seeing. It was a look in his eyes that I had never seen before. Was my pockets hurt? Yeah, my pockets was fucked up,” Diddy admits. “I had just given him a seven-figure advance.”

    Over the years, the two kept in contact sporadically, but weren’t bosom buddies. “I ain’t gonna lie,” Diddy says. “I was still a little mad about my money, but he was still my brother. He was a preacher with seven figures of my money in his pocket.”

    Just as he is attempting to get his label in order, Diddy is also simplifying his love life. Kim Porter, a gorgeous model and mother of his 6-year-old son, Christian, has won Diddy’s heart. The couple has been dating on and off for almost a decade, and there have been a few speed bumps: Public perception was that he dumped her for J. Lo; she sued him for more child support. All that is behind them now. “The shorty that ride and die with you ended up getting my heart,” says Diddy. Not exactly the stuff of Hallmark cards, but the point is made. “Once all the smoke cleared, she was there. She knows how to support me, and most importantly, she knows how to be my friend.”

    BACK in his dressing room, Diddy is surrounded by friends and well-wishers, most notably comedian Chris Rock and his very pregnant wife, Malaak. They are not the first, nor will they be the last, celebrities to pay Diddy a visit. Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey, Sean Penn, Bono, and Muhammad Ali have all dropped by. Rock and Combs exchange pleasantries.

    “Yo, that burgundy suit was a good look,” Diddy says, referring to the outfit Rock sported on his recent Never Scared HBO special.

    “A little bit brighter and it would have been country,” Rock snickers. “I would have been like Steve Harvey.”

    The two men at the top of their respective fields go back and forth about who has worked harder in recent months. Diddy gives it to Rock. “You were on the road for eight months, man.” Rock gives it to Diddy. “You’re onstage every night.”

    Before leaving, Rock exclaims, “Man we got to do something together. Let’s set this world on fire.”

    “Let’s do it, baby,” Diddy says. “I got the gasoline and the dynamite. You tell me when.”

    When everyone has left, Puffy stands staring at another photo on his wall. It is of him, in high school, competing in the 4x400 race at the Penn Relays. He leads a pack of runners by several feet, and it is clear he will be victorious. “That’s the way I run my life,” says Puffy, smiling. “Even though there’s no one next to me, I’m really racing against somebody. I’m racing against myself.” And can you imagine a more formidable opponent?

  • Shyne: Why Is This Man Worth More Than $15 Million?

    TIME WILL TELL

    Written By: Akiba J. Solomon

    Photographs By: Dana Lixenberg

    Issue: September 2004

    In his first interview from prison, Shyne lets loose on P. Diddy, 50 Cent, and the conspiracy that put him in jail. Akiba J. Solomon locks in to discover why, four years after the debacle, the former bad boy refuses to banish freedom form his mind.

    Jamaal “Shyne” Barrow, 25, sits on the prisoner side of the table. He’s wearing the perversely preppy L.L. Bean-esque prison issue – forest green. Correction officers oversee his every transaction. And yet the Belize-born, Brooklyn-bred enigma insists that he’s not really here at Clinton Correctional Facility serving the third year of his decade-long sentence. He won’t give this place the satisfaction. “You call it prison,” he says in the baritone that was once famously compared to the Notorious B.I.G.’s. “But it’s more like being on a journey. When I’m able to think clearly, to bow down and praise my maker, it don’t get no freer than that.”

    Despite Shyne’s self-preserving perception, it’s hard to ignore the physical reality of Clinton, a massive state prison surrounded by a bleak sharp. The walls are thick. Almost all of the guards are white, while nearly three-quarters of the prisoners are black and Latino. Tupac spent nearly a year here. And former Black Panther Robert “Seth” Hayes still languishes at Clinton.

    Once inside, every visitor must go through a metal detector, creep across a barren courtyard, and take a seat at the long low, wooden table that separates the visitors from the inmates. In here, whether your spirit is free or not, shit is real.

    Choking on the fetid air of Clinton, you could make a Scared Straight! kind of argument of why Shyne’s moral stance carries more consequences than rewards. However, the time away has invigorated his career rather than killed it. In the present rap climate of 50 Cent’s commercial gangsta appeal, Shyne has become a folk hero whose legend grows with each day of his absence.

    “Shyne’s story alone will sell records,” predicts Sway, and MTV News commentator and cofounder of the legendary Wake Up Show, a syndicated radio program. “He appeals to the same audience as 50 Cent: inner-city youth who feel like they got it bad in the struggle, nerds who want to seem down, and people who don’t live in the community but are fascinated by our lives. Shyne will validate their hipness.”

    Fat Joe elaborates: “There’s so much fakeness in hip hop, so many gimmick rappers and character dudes. But she is as real as any soldier.”

    Kanye West ramps up the lovefest: “I had Shyne in mind when I made ‘Lucifer.’ I could have pictured him on ‘Jesus Walks.’ He is one of the few niggas who really lives by his word.”

    M-1 of dead prez, a onetime skeptic, pays his respects: “Honestly, I just listened to his album in 2003. I get inspiration from him. He’ll say things like, ‘Hip hop is not responsible for the violence in America’ in the middle of a song about slinging mad coke. He’s a struggling black man, and his struggle is real.” Even Puffy, his onetime codefendant, concedes: “He’s definitely a musical genius.”

    Which brings us to Bidding War: The Sequel (in 1998, Bad Boy won the first bidding war for Shyne debut, signing him for over a million dollars.) Last spring, Shyne began taking meetings with the check-signer who had come courting shortly after his sentencing. True to form, Shyne refuses to name names but says that “every major label boss” trekked upstate, spawning enough fake rumors to crash a BlackBerry. The were Shyne sighting, premature news stories about his still-pending appeal, and reports of a $7 million deal with Columbia or Warner Music Group or Elektra of Death Row of Ruff Ryders or Shay or Interscope of The Inc. or Jesus Christ (okay, not Jesus).

    Also among the suitors was 50 Cent, who, according to Shyne, hoped to enlist him as a soldier in his G Unit. But then 50 went on N.Y.C.’s Hot 97 and rapped: “I heard Irv is trying to sign Shyne, so I don’t got no love for him / Tell him 50 said he’s soft and won’t shoot up a club again.” After that, Shyne was unmoved by the possibility of working with 50, in any capacity. “The little doggy still a wanted to sign me and wanted me to ride with him. He apologized for the comment,” says Shyne. “But before that, I was angry.”

    According to Shyne, when word of 50 Cent’s dis reached him, God created a response through “immaculate conception” titled “For Record,” on which he questions 50’s street credibility and threatens to reunite him with his dead mother. “You just wanna sell records… You don't want to ride,” Shyne raps. “You want to get rich and hide / Cause niggas would have died if shot me nine times / That’s why he tried to sign me to G Unit, tell em how you made me offers / But I don’t run with rats, I’m Godfather.”

    “I couldn’t get on the radio or mixtapes and defend myself from here,” Shyne says of his dis record, confident that the battle will stop with his rhyme. “I had to hold it. And I still didn’t send the wolves after him, so at the least, he has to hold.”

    The song appears on his sophomore album, Godfather Buried Alive. Whether 50 Cent, who was unavailable for comment, will respond is yet to be determined.

    In the end, Island DefJam prevailed in the competition to sign Shyne, inking what it calls “a multimillion-dollar joint venture” between the company and Shyne’s Gangland Record Corp. Sources close to the seal say it’s a $15 million agreement – a risky venture for artist whose debut barely sold 900,000 copies and who has no prior experience as a music executive. Not since Tupac has an artist been able to squeeze as much juice from behind bars. “Shyne’s personal issues do not stop him from having a voice,” says IDJ honcho Antonio “LA” Reid of his decision to work with a man who may not get out of prison for another seven years. “Shyne has demonstrated a keen understanding about both business and creativity. He understands that business is about vision and knowing what it takes to monetize that vision into economic empowerment.”

    Godfather Buried Alive piece together the political possibilities and the street arrogance of a pre-jailed Shyne. He lyrically slow-rides over the hypnotic “Quasi OG,” which samples Bob Marley & the Wailers’ haunting song “No More Trouble.” He tough-talks to Siwzz Beatz’s steadily pounding drums on “Shyne.” And through it all, you get that there’s a message beneath the gangster lean.

    “I’ll lean ride to the end for him,” he says Foxy Brown, who’s rumored to have linked up with Shyne and Jay-Z to form a supergroup of the Firm proportions (as in Foxy, Nas, Dr. Dre). “He’s sitting in prison barking out order like, ‘I need you to be in the studio at 7 p.m.’ I’m like, Wow, you’re running an empire from behind bars.”

    VIBE: How did this idea for a Brooklyn supergroup come about?
    Shyne: I knew Inga [Foxy] since we was in high school. Jay-Z is someone who I have a distinct level of respect for, musically. I spoke to Inga and Jay-Z about it, and we're working out the logistics. Right now, it’s really just a vision. It ain’t solidified.

    Do you think the music you recorded when you were on trial still represents you?

    Oh, absolutely. You’ll feel what I was going through – the fuckin’ pressure of havin’ to go from the courtroom straight to the studio and really make some shit, because this could be the last song I record for who know how long.

    What do you think about hip hop right now?
    Four years ago, I made a conscious decision not to listen to the radio or watch TV. I was thinking about why God had me trapped off like this, as if he was telling me that he ain’t want me to do music on some Mason Betha shit. But during that time, records just started created through me. I became the artist I always wanted to be without trying.

    So you’re saying that for all these years, you haven’t thought about the competition?
    Look, I’m not concerned with the external shit. I got an appeal pending. I’m fighting for my life. Fuck what these cartoons are out her talking about, man. So many things come before what’s happening with music.

    ~~~~~~

    So here’s a refresher on how Shyne wound up on this… journey: On December 27, 1999, Natania Reuben, Julius Jones, and Robert Thompson were shot while partying at midtown Manhattan’s Club New York. By most accounts, the gunfire stemmed from a heated exchange between Sean “Puffy” Combs and Matthew “Scar” Allen. Combs, his former girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, and longtime bodyguard Anthony “Wolf” Jones fled the club and led police on an 11-block chase. Shyne, however, was nabbed right outside the club with a 9-mm tucked in his waistband.

    On March 16, 2001, after seven-week trial, Combs was cleared as was codefendant Jones. (Last November, Jones was killed by a stray bullet outside of an Atlanta night club.) Shyne, the only defendant who copped to having and firing a weapon, was convicted of weapons possession, reckless endangerment, and assault – all but the most serious charge of attempted murder. And while Shyne has publicly ridiculed Combs, labeling him a snitch and a rat, Comb’s account of that night differ from his former protégé’s. “None of my testimony could have, in any shape, way, or form, hurt him,” says Combs. “Anything that I ever said was only dealing with me. If I didn’t have a gun, I’m gonna get on the stand and say I didn’t have a gun. But I ain’t never gonna sell out anybody else and say I ain’t have a gun but he did.”

    The trial infuriates Shyne. Three years removed, and he still believe he was wronged by Combs, a man he once called a brother. “He wouldn’t even out up my bail!” Shyne says. (Combs claims that he did, and contributed to Shyne’s appeal.) “I had to beg and cry for him to pay for the lawyers. He did not personally contribute to appeal. Whatever money he gave me was from my recording budget by Arista.”

    ~~~~~~

    Let’s go back to before the trial – 1998. There was talk of Puffy signing you for more than a million dollars after a heated bidding war. You were going to be the next Biggie. By ’99, you had a reputation for unjustifiable arrogance. What happened?
    I ain’t never been given nothin’ in my life; all I had was just the richness of my thought. So when the shit finally translated into material, I ain’t know how to act. I’d get up at, like, 7 at night and drive around in my Mercedes 600, just looking for something to to run up in. I’d go to the club and spend thousands of dollars on Cristal. Healthwise, I was fucked up.

    How’d you find the energy for all that?
    Sometimes I didn’t. I remember me and this chick – she’s like one of the biggest stars ever – we was almost ready to go for the home run, and I fell asleep!

    Asleep on the job? Whoa. When did you decide to putt it together?
    Me and the R&B chick had a little argument, and she was like, ‘Yo, duke, you ain’t even sell one record. Who the fuck do you think you are?’ That shit reminded me that since I’m a music nigga, I’m supposed to be making music.

    Did your relationship with Puff transcend the professional?
    Yeah. When my funds were fucked up at the end of 99, he let me stay at the crib. I was with him and homegirl J. Lo all the time. When the nigga had Thanksgiving, I was there. His family was there. Wolf-God bless the dead – and his family was there. At that point, I was his little brother, so despite whatever I heard about homeboy, like the way he treated his artists, I ain’t seen that until the trial.

    When you saw where the confrontation was going – money being tossed, voices being raised – why didn’t you just walk away?
    That wasn’t my beef, but I wasn’t gonna walk away – I live with this nigga. I roll with this nigga every day.

    During Puffy’s testimony, his attorney asked him if you were friends, and essentially, he said that you were no different than his other artists. What did your relationship have to do with the criminal charges?
    There’s a New York self-defense statute that says that you don't have the “duty to retreat” if a loved one or friend is still in danger. So fi Puff would have said I was his homeboy, my lawyers could have argued that I had no duty to retreat. Instead, Scrams go tot the stand on some, ‘Yeah, he’s just another artist on my label.’ This fucked me up with the jury.

    I can imagine it hurt in other ways, too.
    You know, after the conviction, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. This was based on me being shot when I was younger; you know, when I was like, 15 they shot me and they blew my homeboy’s brains out right in front of my eyes.

    But why did you accuse Puffy of being a rat?
    They call this chick, Cherise Myers, to testify. She said that I pulled out my gun and started shooting all crazy, and that Wolf – God bless the dead – was tell me to stop. That’s just the fucking farthest thing from the truth. As my homeboy, how you gonna put somebody on the stand whose lie could put me behind bars for 25 years?

    Where were your lawyers in all of this?
    Murray Richman is supposed to be one of the best lawyers; he helped Jigga, he got DMX off. But he was trash. He did nothing in comparison to Comb’s attorneys, Benjamin Brafman and Johnnie Cochran. They were just asking commonsense questions, but Richman wasn’t even making sense, man. Like he was smoked out or something.

    Did you confront him?
    Yeah! I was like, What the fuck are you doing?! I couldn’t even speak to this nigga after the first couple of days of testimony. After that, Ian Niles took over.

    Are you still angry at Puffy about the trial?
    I got eye; the metaphysical and the material. Right now, I’m on some metaphysical shit, like this happened for a reason. I’m extraordinarily blessed. My career ain’t destroyed, and the love I’ve been getting from the people is unimaginable.

    But the material eye wanna pop his top, because this shit didn’t just affect me. It affected my mother and my grandmother, and it could have destroyed my livelihood. More than that, it could have been prevented. All he had to do was tell the truth.

    What’s the truth?
    He could have just said: “Matthew ‘Scar’ Allen was arguing with us and threatening us. One of his doggies pulled out, and then I pulled out in self-defense.” That’s all he had to do.

    ~~~~~~

    Nile was unavailable was unavailable for comment. For his part, Richman contends that Shyne stymied his own defense. “I have no allegiance to Puffy, and nobody took a fall. If you’re looking to find fault as to why he was convicted, stop and think of what the evidence showed, then come to that conclusion. Here was a 21-year-old man thinking he knows how to try a case better than a lawyer who was practicing for 40 years.”

    Combs feels that he is being scapegoated along with the attorneys who worked on Shyne’s case. “I didn’t know Ian as a criminal lawyer. He asked me to pay for his legal fees, and I did. But I did not consult him on which lawyers should be chosen except when I was offered my legal team to work on both our cases, and he said, which I would understand, that he didn’t want that.”

    Combs also maintains that he lawyers tried to work together to support each other. And as for the duty to retreat statute, Diddy says: “I never went on record that he wasn’t a friend or anything like that. Besides, no lawyer said, ‘Can you please make it a point to say he’s your friend.’ That never came up.”

    Last spring, Shyne enlisted Charles J. Ogletree, the Harvard Law professor and trial attorney who secured Tupac’s bail release from Clinton. At press time, Shyne has two options pending for an early release. The first is an appeal that, according to Ogletree, details “multiple examples of error in the case” that prevented Shyne from presenting a viable defense. The second is a motion that includes what Shyne calls “bombshell evidence” of an alleged romantic relationship between a key witness and a woman who worked for the prosecutor. “The goal is for Jamaal to get this conviction reversed and get a new trial, so he finally has a chance to present the substantial evidence that could create a different result,” Ogletree says. Both attorney and client are optimistic, with Shyne predicting he’ll be out on bail at worst by the end of 2004.

    ~~~~~~

    So what are you going to do the first day you get home?
    I’ll pay a visit and go to the studio. I got damn near 10 albums to put down. And this ain’t about me coming out and being the biggest superstar; it’s about making this music and, hopefully, affecting people the way Bob Marley and Pac did.

    So after you leave the studio, then what?
    I’m not gonna leave the studio. There’s a lot of record to be made.

    Did this environment force you to become more spiritual?
    Being here just magnified what I really was. I’ve gone through so many different phases trying to understand the Most High, from Islam to Christianity. But what the Hebrew talk about just simplifies everything, it’s just the Mist High and you, there’s no intermediary.

    Have you ever asked God why he chose this path for you?
    The Most High took me from Flatbush, Brooklyn – from my moms scrubbing other people’s toilets and me sleepin’ on a couch til I was 17 – to a record deal. So I can’t complain now. There’s motherfuckers in here that got natural life. Hen I look at their burdens, my load doesn’t look so heavy.

    If this is indeed a journey, are there any unbearable moments?
    Don’t get it twisted or tangled, it’s serious. Being here is like walking on clear water, and hell is beneath. I see the fire burning, I see motherfuckers being tortured, but I can’t look down. I can only look up – and ahead.

  • Hip Hop's Messiah Is Mase For Real?

    DELIVERANCE

    Written By: Carlito

    Photographs By: Erin Patrice O'Brien

    Issue: October 2004

    Five years after swearing off rap music and devoting his life to God, Mase has returned with a new reason to rhyme. Carlito testifies as Pastor Bertha takes us to church…and beyond.

    You’ve probably heard the buzz about Mase’s reentry album, Welcome Back. You’ve most likely grooved to the set-up single, “Welcome Back,” and bopped to the club-shaker “Breathe, Stretch, Shake.” But it’s a good bet that during the five years he’s been preaching down South, you haven’t witnessed him in action and shouted, “Amen!” // Five minutes from Interstate 85, on a tree-shaded road near the outskirts of Atlanta, the parking lot of S.A.N.E. Church International has just about reached critical mass. The sticky heat this Sunday morning mean nothing to the devout souls who’ve come to hear the Word. // They fill the main hall in the low, wide building that looks more like a meeting lodge than a traditional church. Soon every seat is full. A closed-circuit A/V hook-up simulcasts from the main hall to the overflow room, which does its best to accommodate the late risers before all its seats are filled as well.// The church—its name an acronym for “Saving a Nation Endangered.”—will soon move to brand-new and much bigger digs, complete with a school and related facilities, according to the architectural pen-and-inks hanging on the walls.

    The first thing that hits you as you glance around is how young everyone is. Even the “elders,” handsome cats with silk ties and beautiful sisters with eyes that smile, can’t be more than 32, 33 years-old. Young husbands and wives. Young mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

    The next thing you’ll peep us the dress code. Although a good half of the congregation adheres to the custom of rocking one’s Sunday finery, more than a few worshippers a, let’s say, hip hop look: fresh Air Force Ones and striped button-downs, for example. But right in line with the minister of S.A.N.E. Church’s decidedly different modus operandi, no one gets a sideways look for dressing down.

    Then there are the salvation-minded folks, most of whom are in these seats every Sunday without fail, and they don’t care one iota about some rapper named Mase. The man they’ve come to hear is an older, wiser, and ultimately more serious man they call Pastor Betha.

    You’ll notice that today’s sermon, peppered with many an interpreted Biblical reference to having money, sounds a lot like a spiritual version of Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. “My message is you can live well and you don’t have to do all the wrong things,” Mase will say later.

    “He always had the tailor-made suit, the brand new Range, and the iced-out watch and wedding band. But he never was too iced out,” says Samuel Hayes, who was once a regular at S.A.N.E Ministries. “He did focus a lot in his sermons on monetary wealth. But he is in a city where there are quite a few millionaire pastor as examples.”

    In the Atlanta area, Bishop Eddie L. Long (New Birth Missionary Baptist Church) and Mase’s pastor, Dr. Creflo A. Dollar (World Changers Church International), helm two of the largest—and most successful—African-American congregations in the nation. Dollar, it should come as a no surprise, preaches about the power of faith along with the rewards of, well, the dollar. He has a million-dollar home, a jet, and other trappings he believes befit a man of God.

    Pastor Betha’s S.A.N.E hasn’t had the same financial success as Dollar’s church, nor does it boast the healthy flock (23, 500 strong) of Long’s. But that doesn’t mean money ain’t a thing. “One day he took offerings, and there was like $67 there with 80 people in church,” recalls Hayes. “He got mad and made everybody come up to the altar and get their money back. He said he was disgusted that we can spend $4 or $5 on drinks at Justin’s but couldn’t tithe or give to the Lord.”

    Though Hayes has since left the church and takes issue with some of the pastor’s methods, he does see some positives. “I think that his technique and delivery were good for certain types of people,” Hayes says. “He has a tough love ministry. It could be a wake up call.”

    An awakening is just what Mase is going after. When he raps, “Need a plane? I explain it to my broker,” on “Welcome Back,” Mase says he’s not boasting. He’s just revealing to you that there are options to finding your treasure here on earth while still securing your place in the afterlife. “That’s just common sense. If you need a plane, you speak to a person who goes out and buys it,” he says. “Bragging is to say, ‘I have a plan and you don’t’—boast in your own ability without relating it to the higher power. Because I have a relationship with the power. I’m expected to succeed.”

    But Mase, 29, would rather keep his ministry separate from his music—at least when it comes to questions about the two. “Trying to get dirt on a church for a story is not something beneficial to you,” he’ll say when asked whether disgruntled members of like Hayes ever discourage him. “It will totally backfire on you. My job as a minister is to warn you of things that you may not see.”

    Though it may seem curious that a pastor might guard ministry’s reputation with karmic warnings, Mase believes what he says. After all, he has learned that his job has certain implicit hazards. Falling out with former friends and past running mates, for one.

    During an interview on New York’s Hot 97 at the end of July, Mase fielded questions concerning his deteriorated relationship with former rap partner Cam’ron. Then Jim Jones called up and blasted up the pastor for allegedly requesting $50,000 to appear in Cam’Ron’s video. “Horse and Carriage.” Cam did the video without him. According to Jones and Cam’Ron, who also called to berate Mase, the pastor is lying about their split and using their names to gain publicity. “I will do it to you,” Jones threatened on the air. “You shouldn’t have come out your mouth. I’ll put some dentures in your mouth.” “For you to sit there and lie…,” added Cam’Ron, “you are a reverend!”

    Jones alluded to the notion that Mase’s leaving New York had something to do with him being exorted and fearing for his life. “I know the young man from his teenage years,” Jones tells VIBE later that day. “When he was talking shit on the radio today and not telling the truth, I had to step in. There was a reason you left Harlem and a reason we stopped fucking with you. Don’t try to use as one of your ploys to get people’s attention.”

    Apparently Jones sees Mase as a man, before he recognizes him as a pastor. “I’m a man of God, nigga,” says Jones, whose debut LP is titled The Diplomats Presents: Jim Jones on My Way to Church. “I believe in God. I pray, too. But when you say something out of line, you will get checked like a man.”

    During the commercial, Mase said he prayed for Jones and Cam’Ron. “I don’t have any problems with them,” he said in response. “Even in the bible, when a person knows that you come to say something powerful, they try to discredit your name. One word from God can wipe out years of wrongdoings.”

    And judging by the energized crowd that came to listen to Pastor Betha’s message today, there are many who find hope in his words. And those who don’t? “They do more judging of me than I’m doing of them,” Mase says. “You would think I would come back judging you. But I’m not judging you, so people say. ‘Let’s go after him.”

    Something like eight years ago, an aspiring MC attending Purchase College SUNY convinced his manger, a long-time friend named Cudda, that if they could get to Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party in Atlanta, he’d make sure they would return to New York with a record label. Cudda sold his car and bought airline tickets.

    You’ve heard the story about how the kid noticed Sean “Puffy” Combs strolling by. At the young’un’s urging, Cudda gave Combs the proverbial tap on the shoulder, and the rapper let loose. By the time the kid got back to New York, Puffy had made a plans to use him on a remix for 112’s “Only You.”

    “He was Murder Mase when we first met him,” says Jadakiss, whose first encounter with Betha was as a rap adversary. Along with the members of the Lox, Jadakiss and Mase squared off in a war of words on 125th Street in Harlem. “He was a lil’ more grimy then,” ‘Kiss says. “Puff made him pretty. He was Murder Mase, but he couldn’t wait to step into the other thing and do all that dancing and smiling ,and whatever it took. He always said if he ever got the chance to do the shiny-suit thing, he was gonna take it and run with it.”

    One signed contract and a promotional mixtape appearance later, the kid dropped the “Murder” from his stage name and took his place playing Bad Boy’s prince to Biggie’s king.

    The rest, as they say, is hip hop history. Harlem World sold more than 4 million copies and confirmed what, by then, had become a foregone conclusion: Mase was a genuine superstar, and life was good.

    Or so we thought. On April 4, 1999, not long before the release the of Double Up, his sophomore project, Mason Beth abruptly called it quits. Citing a contradiction between his livelihood and his religious beliefs, the self-proclaimed “young Harlem nigga with Goldie sound” packed his bags, and moved on, and pitched his tent in Atlanta—the very place where he had started his life as a professional rapper—and promptly began a new career as a minister.

    “I was lying to myself,” he says about his decision to retire. “I could hear it on my second album. I had to fake it and be this dude they like. I started asking myself , Why is it that I have morals but I’m not living by them? And then asking people to be real with me is to say, I really don’t belong here.”

    Radio phone lines lit up, barbershops and hair salons buzzed, and everybody had a theory. “Puff jerked him on his publishing!” and “Suge got him under pressure!” were among the more popular. But the truth according to Mase wasn’t anything as juicy as the grapevine or Jim Jones could come up with. The decision was altogether simple. “When I left, it was because of God,” he says. “And when I came back, it was because of God.”

    Unlike Michael Jordan and a certain hip hop icon who comes to mind , people thought Mase would stay retired. Except for the publication of his memoirs, Revelations: There’s a Light After the Lime, hip hop didn’t hear from Mase again…until now.

    ~~~~~~

    VIBE: When you announced your retirement in ’99 you seemed very clear in your conviction that the life of a hip hop celeb was not for you. Why the come back?
    Mase: If I want to tell somebody something, I don’t print it in a newspaper they don’t read. I felt like my life would be more effective in hip hop. And I had to get strong enough to be able to live and maintain my lifestyle right in the midst of everything that made me contrary.

    But if making “gospel rap” isn’t your intent won’t making secular music conflict with your beliefs, your duty as a man of God?
    At one time it did. I told people I would never do music again. I couldn’t see it. It’s almost like when Jesus said, “Father, if there is any way for you to take this cup from me, take it from me.” But in the same minute, he turned right back around and said, “Not my will, thy will,” In other words, it’s really not about me anymore, it’s about what God wants me to do for people.

    Do you get more fulfillment from music, as opposed to preaching at your church?
    If I reach a guy who knows how wild I used to be, win that person is even more effective. I could move to Alaska and touch people there, but it’s nothing like touching your own, touching the people that know you. They saw your highs, your lows, they saw you confused, they saw you trying to find yourself. It would be robbery for them not to see me now. That’s what had to be revealed to me.

    What was the revelation?
    Jesus said, “I came to heal the sick, to give the blind their sight, to help lame men to walk.” The healed don’t need a physician. Why am I hiding myself in Atlanta? Who cares if I change the whole in Atlanta?
    I’m not from Atlanta. It’s like, you get rich, okay, you live in L.A. now. That’s all good, but you haven’t touched anybody you grew up with. I can’t respect that.

    How did your congregation take the news of your decision to return to rap music?
    The majority of my church is young people, so they’re not looking at me like I’m buggin’ out. They’re looking at me like it was supposed to happen.

    What makes you think they’ll still follow you?
    Because when I tell them something, I’m speaking as a player in the game, not somebody that never experienced it. Whenever somebody relayed messages to you, it wasn’t somebody you could relate to. But now, if Mase tells it to you, get this: He ain’t even coming to tell it to you; he’s gonna live it, and let you ask him about it.

    Had you been thinking about coming back for a while, or were you honestly okay with the idea of retirement?
    When I left, I was totally separated from music. I didn’t watch TV for a couple of years, no BET or anything. People would offer me millions of dollars just to do a feature on a song. It clearly wasn’t about money. Then one day, it dawned on me: You were not saved and brought out of that world just to cut yourself from it. I was thinking that the separation was supposed to be forever.

    Did you miss anything about your old life?
    Really, there was so much good happening, I had no time to even think about rap music. In my first year away, millions of lives were touched from just that one decision. In my second year, I began to go around the world, preaching. And people who wouldn’t normally come to church. It would be like concerts almost, ‘cause those types of people would come out. With the same outfits and everything! And then in my third year, I ended up getting my family back together. My life changed. My insides changed. I changed. I didn’t feel I was Mase, so I didn’t miss anything that Mase had.

    What about friends? Did you stay in touch with anybody from the heydays?
    Throughout all of the people that I’ve given jobs to, supported their families, put their children through school? When it was all said and done, there were three people, out of at least 200, who even called me some of the time.

    Was Diddy one of them?
    Being that I’m a man of faith, I can’t lie: We weren’t in contact as much as I thought we would be. But he was supportive. What people don’t realize is that, when I first left, Puff could’ve sued me. He could’ve asked for his money back. He didn’t. He supported me leaving; he supported me coming back. He was instrumental in breaking my career, and I’m forever loyal to him because of that.

    Who were the three people you stayed in touch with?
    Groovey Lew, Cudda, and Phil Robinson. You know, Cudda is the only one who has donated anything to the church? Him and Nelly bought buses for the church. And I know a lot of millionaires who could have done things.

    Like the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind.”
    My five years away was like five years locked up. You know, because I can’t be on that song this week, I’m not as important. I can’t model your clothes, so I’m not as important. At first, that made me bitter, but I can’t get mad at them. This is what I wanted to know: If I didn’t have the bling, who would be there?

    Ever hit any low points that made you question your decisions to quit?
    One year, it seemed I was going to lose everything—my house, my mother’s house. All the things I had pending, that if I would’ve kept doing music, I could’ve paid for you. I think that was the hardest year if my life, 2001. That year, I began to miss monetary things, financial things. I’m over here doing right, and ain’t nothing going right.

    But you could’ve gone anywhere and gotten a record deal.
    And at that time, I was ready to come back, but for monetary reasons. I remember that day, crying in my bathroom. What am I gonna do?! And then peace came on me. “You gonna be alright.” That’s just how I heard it: “You gonna be alright.”

    And that’s all it took? How’d you get through the financial situation?
    Miraculously, God would touch people in high places that would bring me all types of checks and things like that. This guy, I don’t wanna say his name, a football player from another city, came, like, “Yo, God told me to give you this check.” Another guy came, “God told me to give you this car.” So many great things were coming to me. We was having church in the school auditorium, we ended up getting our own building. Things started picking up. To the people, it was encouraging, because they’re looking at it like good stuff does happen to good people.

    ~~~~~~~
    From behind the mixing board in a basement studio, Mase explains his music’s bottom line. “I didn’t come to preach to people,” he declares, the overhead lights giving his eyes a friendly twinkle. The basement he’s been using to record Welcome Back happens to be the garage level of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmond’s former home, a $25 million spread tucked away near Bel-Air. And the light twinkling off the sherbert-colored diamonds in his watchband would blind a disco ball. But lest you forget, this is Mase, who along with B.I.G., Puff, and the Bad Boy family, spearheaded hip hop’s adoration of all things bling.

    He zips through a couple of cuts from the album, at times rapping and chair-dancing along with the beats and rhymes. Judging from his eagerness to show off his songs and from the quality of the tracks themselves, you wouldn’t figure that the man nodding his head before you—resplendent in sparkly cuff links and crispy white Jordans—who, along with his wife, Twyla, leads a congregation in word and prayer every Sunday morning.

    Let’s face it: devout Christians aren’t exactly known for their hipness, Kanye West’s current popularity notwithstanding.

    “When you think of a person who is spiritual, you think of some corny dude, running around with his Bible,” Mase explains when asked about the motivation behind his return and of the criticism he says he’s encountered for lacing his sermons with just as many calls for economic salvation as for the more traditional kind. “I could’ve made ‘Jesus Walks’ ‘Jesus Screamed,’ Jesus Wept,’ ‘Jesus Cried.’ But after the show, if you see me going upstairs with three strippers, that counts for nothing. So my point was not to talk about it anything, just be about it.”

    Despite not having grabbed a mike for hip hop reasons for some time, his rhymes—sprinkled with more references to pricey goods than you’d expect from a Christian minister—float effortlessly over the club friendly beats. Like with his sermons or the postings on his Web site, a cursory listen to his raps will tell you that Pastor Mason Betha sees no contradiction between divinity and dollars. “Luxury flow,” he calls it, giving a name to a trend that he helped jump off so many years ago.

    Every song he plays is infectious, polished, and more carefully crafted than “Welcome Back,” which fittingly lifts the them music from a ‘70s sitcom about a teacher who returns to his Brooklyn high school.
    “Not one name producer, and the album is crazy,” Mase brags. Writing the goal of outdoing Harlem World, he has delivered a feel-good disc. “I got beats from young hungry dudes that will blow them main dudes outta the water. My boys JB and Corron, their production company, the Movement, they’re doing beats that you would pay somebody a half-million and nine points for.”

    Now partners with Cudda in Fo’ Reel Entertainment, Mase is as anxious as a newbie rappper whose fingers are still wet from the ink on the contract. Not unlike the way he felt when he heard his voice on a 112 remix. Only this time, he gets to mogulize as much as he emcees. More important to him, however, in his ability to touch lives.

    “Yeah, I got all the bling,” he says. “I got colorful jewelry, I got everything. But this time, I’m not going to manipulate nobody for it. Before when I was doing music, it was like, I’m making all this money, but I’m killing you to make it. I’m singing your daughter out the house. I’m still having the same impact on her, but now she’s getting substance. That’s what’s lacking from music. You got all this money, but who have you touched besides you?”

    If you ask Mase, he’ll tell you he got saved, went off to the country, and got his spirit in shape. And now he’s ready to tackle any demons—internal and the flesh-and-blood kind—he encounters along his way. “I’m a solution for hip hop. Not a problem,” he’ll say.

    Mase will say that his music is nothing but a medium for a message. But it’s all still good if you cop his album for the hot beats and rhymes—and not because you’re looking for the Jesus angle. “Rap music is just a bridge for two worlds that need to collide,” he’ll declare. “Everybody in church wants their wealth, their jewelry. And everybody in hip hop wants their faith, their peace, and that love.” And we can only hope that salvation lies somewhere in between.

  • The Notorious F.A.I.T.H.: Tupac, Drugs, And Life After Biggie

    “WIDOWS PEAK”For some, Faith Evans will always be Mrs. B.I.G., caught up with Lil Kim, Tupac, and Puffy. But Aliya S. King finds the First Lady focused on her new family, new look, new album, and her version of that case in ATL.

    Written By: Aliya S. King

    Photographs By: Alexei Hay

    Issue: June 2005

    In a dressing room at the New York studio where BET’s 106 & Pak is taped, Faith Evans walks up to her manager/husband, Todd Russaw, and waits patiently for him to finish a business conversation. She stands about two feet away, her eyes set on him as he exchanges numbers with a producer. She bites the inside of her lip and clasps her hands behind her back. He catchers her eye for a moment and holds up an index finger.

    Evans has just finished an appearance on one of television’s most popular music countdown shows, introducing the brand-new video for her latest single and sharing some banter with the show’s hosts. Throughout the broadcast, Russaw kept his eyes focused on the monitors, his face expressionless.

    Evan’s crew packs up their makeup brushes and hair dryers while burly security guards flirt with stylists. A John Legend video plays as her husband slips his PDA back into his pocket and looks at Faith. “Good job,” Russaw says. His face is serious and determined. “Your poise was good, your enthusiasm was up.” He gives a thumbs-up sign. “Good work.”

    Evans, visibly relieved, smiles and gives a playful curtsy before joining her style team and preparing to leave. “All of the positive changes that my fans acknowledge – a lot of that is related to my husband,” Evans will explain later.

    It all began with a workout plan. About five years ago, Russaw bluntly told her she needed to lose weight if she was serious about taking her career further. “Personally, it doesn’t matter to me. She can be 200 pounds,” says Russaw, fiddling with his BlacBerry. “But for this work thing? If we gon’ be spendin’ time away from our kids?” He looks up and raises his eyebrows. He points across the room in Faith’s direction. “You gotta look good, be in your best shape, and make people feel like there’s something about you that they want to be. Until men feel like they gotta have her... Russaw shrugs his shoulders. “That’s the business we’re in.”

    At 32, Evans is thinner than she’s ever been in her adult life. Her newly svelte figure is poured into a pair of size 4 jeans and topped with a cinched-waist blazer. You would never suspect that she has three children back him in L.A.: 12-year-old Chyna; Biggie’s son, Christopher Jordan, 8; and 6-year-old Joshua, Russaw’s son. As she flits around the room, gathering her things, her husband’s eyes follow her. When asked his feelings on her hard-fought transformation from chubby to sleek, Russaw deadpans. “I thought it would have come earlier.”

    Even before she married the man who became her manager, the shadow of strong men followed Faith. The father of her first child, daughter Chyna, was a local Newark, N.J., music producer named Kiyamma Griffin. His relationship with ‘80s-era R&B singer Al B. Sure! Led to Evan’s first gig as a session singer for $2,000 per week. Later, she was signed to Bad Boy and often found her career vision eclipsed by uberproducer Sean “Puffy” Combs.

    But it’s her first marriage – an impetuous and tempestuous union with Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace – that continues to define her in the public’s eye, for better or worse.

    At 1:15 a.m. on March 9, 1997, the very moment that Wallace was pronounced dead, Faith Evans’s persona was immediately and eternally sealed into the title that would be typed into line 26 of his death certificate: Informant: Faith Renee Wallace, wife.

    And since then, the popularity of Biggie’s music has made him ubiquitous even in death. She can’t take a 10-minute ride anywhere without hearing her deceased husband’s deep voice blaring though the speakers. And every time she looks at her son CJ, Biggie’s round-faced doppleganger, she sees him all over again. Even her tribute to Wallace – the fabled B.I.G. tattoo on her breast, long since covered up – is back, in a way. The name Chris is spelled out in fancy script on her left bicep, this time in honor of their son, Christopher Jordan.
    While Evans was elevated to hip hop’s version of the bereaved first lady, she didn’t accept the idea that she should become one of those long-suffering, seemingly asexual widows like Betty Shabazz or Coretta Scott King.

    “We weren’t together when he passed,” explains Faith, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her head. “What am I going to do? Act like we were?”

    IT’S BEEN ALMOST 11 YEARS since she said “I do” to B.I.G. after a brief courtship, more than eight years since his casket took a final ride through the streets of Brooklyn. And after all this time, Faith is still hustling – working just as hard as she did before she met the man. Maybe even harder.

    In many ways, Evans’s current husband has helped her move on from that phase of her life. Russaw, a former Soul Train dance who’d once worked as a Motown A&R executive and managed the R&B trio 702, helped her negotiate an exit from Bad Boy in 2003. “Puff eventually told me himself that music wasn’t his first priority anymore,” she says while glad-handing BET execs. “My record came out in the middle of his label change. Who was going to help me support it?” Now signed to Capitol Records, she’s released The First Lady, arguably her best work since her classic self-titled 1995 debut.

    The first single, “Again,” is raw, heartfelt, and intensely personal. “If I gad to di it all again,” she sings in her signature choir-girl wail, “I wouldn’t take away the rain/ ‘Cause I know it made me who I am.”

    The no-regrets theme could apply to many junctures in Evans’s life. She dropped out of Fordham University after one year (although she says she was on a full academic scholarship). She became an unwed mother soon after. She married Wallace before even meeting his mother. And four years ago, she shays she was found guilty of battery after a tussle with an Atlanta police officer. Beyond the facts, there’s been enough rumor and innuendo about Evans to fill an entire boxed-set of confessional songs.

    The Philadelphia-based songwriting duo Carvin Haggins and Ivan Barias (CarMul), who cowrote and produced “Again,” advised Evans not to avoid her life’s tougher episodes. “People need to hear your business,” Haggins told her, “and they need to hear it from you.”

    The main thing that needed to be addressed was Evans’s 2004 arrest for drug possession. In January of last year, she and Russaw were pulled over in Hapeville, Ga., for, as she explains, having an expired temporary license on their Hummer. The officer asked about the smell of marijuana coming out of the car.

    “I told them my car was used in a video, and I had just gotten it back that day,” says Evans. The officers searched the car and, according to the arresting officer’s statement, “upon searching the vehicle, we discovered marijuana roaches on the center console and suspect cocaine in the passenger side door as well as a silver tin with a built-in mirror and a razor blade with further suspect cocaine.”

    When asked about the incident, Evans’s answers become vague and she launches into the soliloquy that addresses everything except the facts. “Ten people see the same accident, you’re going to get seven different stories,” she says. “I heard three different reports from three different precincts....there were no containers, nothing was ever sent to a lab.”

    When stopped in midsentence and asked directly what the officers did find in the car, Evans exhales sharply and rolls her eyes. “They foind a cigarette case with half a joint in it,” she says. She denies that they got caught with any cocaine in the car, and she says she has no idea why published reports would say there was.

    “I’ll be the first to admit that I have experimented with drugs,” says Evans. “I don’t have to go into detail. I’ve tried a few things. Am I a drug addict? No. I’m living responsibly, not recklessly.”

    In February 2004, Evans and her husband agreed to complete a 13-week drug rehabilitation program for the possession charges. Upon completion in May 2004, charges were dropped.

    On the second verse of “Again,” Evans addresses the rumors that spread after her arrest. “In ATL I caught a case/ And the media tried to say/ I had a habit I couldn’t manage/ And I’m throwing my life away.”

    Handling the issue in her first single was an audacious move – but not as daring as it might have been. “Actually, the original lyrics to the song were a whole lot more risqué,” says Haggins. In the first version of the verse, Evans name-checked radio shock jock Wendy Williams and mentioned old rumors about a romance with Tupac Shakur.

    “Originally, it said, ‘In ATL I caught a case/ Wendy Williams tried to say/ I was an addict/ With a habit/ And I was throwing my life away’,” says Haggins. “And then it said, ‘Now all the rumors got to stop / No I didn’t have no two ‘Pacs/ Had a son that was born from my husband / Mr. Christopher Wallace’.”

    The notion that she could have even been possibly carrying “two ‘Pacs,” as Biggie once rapped, stemmed from her 1995 recording session with Shakur. True to form, B.I.G.’s crack about Evans having twins was more real than most people knew. “CJ was initially twins,” says Evans. “The second sac didn’t develop.”

    The year before, Tupac had been shot in the lobby of a Manhattan recording studio. He’d tell any reporter who would listen that he believed Wallace and Combs were among those responsible. Evans insists she had no idea that going to the studio with ‘Pac would be so scandalous, so suspicious, such a flat-out dumb move.

    “I didn’t even know that Tupac was on Death Row,” says Evans, her voice rising. “I was used. I’m not perfect. I didn’t think it out. When I got to the studio, it just didn’t feel right. I said, Let me just do this song and get the hell out of here.”

    Evans has steadfastly refuted any reports of romantic involvement with Tupac, despite his emphatic proclamations in the press and on wax. “I can clarify it,” she says once and for all. Evans leans in close to the digital recorder for emphasis. “The nigga lied on me.”

    AT MATSURI, A JAPAENESE restaurant in Manhattan, Evans is talking a mile a minute. Her mannerisms are pure Jersey-girl swagger: neck swiveling, teeth sucking, and finger-pointing. And yet, she’s refined and fastidious with a sushi menu, discussing the intricacies of yellowtail shoulder with the waitress and knowingly suggesting lotus root and a spicy salmon roll to a sushi novice.

    Faith Evans has come a long way from her humble beginnings when she shared a home in the Weequahic section of Newak with her grandparents and the dozens of foster children they took in over the years. Her oversized Chanel bag and diamond hoops are sure signs of that. But Evans insists that she is by no means without monetary issues. Prior to The First Lady, she had released three albums in her career: two certified platinum and one certified gold. She co-wrote and performed on the tribute to her late husband, “I’ll Be Missing You,” which has sold more than 3 million copies. But she’s still not sure if she can afford Chyna’s tuition at a prestigious private school in Santa Monica. The ultraliberal institution, where, at presstime, Chyna had yet to be accepted, educates elite Hollywood kids like the children of Barbra Streisdans and Dustin Hoffman. “It’s like college tuition!” Evans says of the more than $20,000 per year it costs to attend the upper school.

    “People think that fame equals finance,” she says. “But it ain’t like that. There are perks, but it doesn’t mean sometimes I’m not trying to figure out how to pay the bills. ‘Cause we don’t get paid regularly. I may get a check every six months from BMI – it could be $2, $2,000, or $200,000. I don’t want to have to chase a check.”

    And even though she is the widow of an international rap star whose last studio album sold more than 10 million copies, she can’t rely on Wallace’s estate for stability. According to Maury Winkler, an entertainment lawyer, under the laws governing Biggie’s estate, when a married person with children dies with no will, as Wallace did, the courts immediately divide his estate in half. The first half goes to his spouse; the second half goes to his children. By this formula, Evans was likely awarded 50 percent of Wallace’s estate; their son, CJ would be given 25 percent in a trust fund, and his older daughter, T’Yanna, would also have been given 25 percent in a trust fund.

    Evans voluntarily gave half of her stake in Wallace’s estate to his mother. This arrangement is in sharp contrast to the drama currently surrounding the estate of deceased rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Like Evans and Wallace, ODB had been separated from his wife at the time of his death. However, ODB’s estranged wife, Icelene Jones, fought for – and won – temporary control of her late husband’s estate. Reports say she also had her husband’s body cremated, allegedly to hinder future paternity tests from other children who may have claims to the estate.

    Although Evans knew she would take care of Mrs. Wallace financially, she now admits that she may have gone overboard in trying to do the right thing. “To be honest, I handled it the way I thought was right at the time,” says Evans. “This is awesome who had a mother that he wanted to take care of. But just because you’re sharing profits doesn’t mean you need to shared control.” The Wallace estate governs record reissues, sample clearances, and merchandising.

    When asked specifically how she should have arranged things at the time of B.I.G.’s death, Evans chooses her words carefully, and her speech becomes slow and measured. “I would have more control of the decision making,” she says, “so we wouldn’t be taken advantage of.”

    BACK AT BET, EVANS AND RUSSAW say goodnight to Free and slop into a chauffeured SUV idling outside the building. Russaw is on his cell phone, admonishing a Capitol Records employee. Evans stares out her window, one hand propping up her chin, the other reaching out to touch her husband’s hand.

    Faith and Todd have been together for eight years, almost as long as Biggie has been gone. When Wallace was shot, he and Evans had been estranged for two years. So it was Russaw who comforted her in her hotel room on the night of the murder. “We just talked and talked for hours, until I fell asleep,” remembers Evans. Biggie had been dead for more than a year when Evans gave birth to Russaw’s child. They married not long after. Once again, Evans seemed to be moving a little too quickly, and there were whispers that she hadn’t done her time as a widow for long enough. “We couldn’t help how we felt,” she says. “I just had to figure out the most tactful way to deal with it.”

    By the time they were married, Russaw had already been functioning as a father figure to both Chyna and Christopher Jordan. “Since CJ’s been talking, Todd’s been Daddy,” says Evans. Russaw waves off any idea that raising the son of the Notorious B.I.G. may be any different than raising any other man’s son. “I talk to CJ about his dad more than anyone else in his life,” says Russaw. “CJ is very introverted. He won’t ask people a lot of questions. But he’ll ask me. Last week, he said, ‘Dad, if Puffy and Tupac were my dad’s friends, how come they never call me?’” Russaw shakes his head. “He hears ‘Pac on the radio so much, I have to reminf him that ‘Pac is dead.” And what does he tell him about Puffy? Russaw shrugs his shoulders. “I tell him that Uncle Puff is really busy. I try to make excuses for him.”

    THOUGH SHE’S HAD HER MOMENTS, everything in Evans’s life is not tinged with drama, death, and despair. She’s got a wicked sense of humor and an infectious laugh. She can do a hilariously flawless British accent when wants to amuse. She makes up on-the-spot nicknames in conversation. Refuse to have a drink and you may be dubbed “Sober Sally” ; she describes herself as a “Nervous Nancy” and a “Frugal Franny” in her early days as a performer. And she has an encyclopedic knowledge of music that borders on geekdom. She memorizes liner notes and album credits and can pull out obscure musical references in seconds flat. “I could meet somebody and be like, Oh my god! You played the timbale on the 1978 record by Linda Clifford, ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’.”

    Evans has three healthy children who keep her inspired and on the move. Chyna is writing and producing music, CJ is a sports fanatic, and Joshua looks like a future performer. She chuckles when discussing Joshua, who loves the attention he receives when he’s with Mommy-the-recording-artist.

    “On the red carpet at the Coach Carter premiere, he’s got his hands up like this,” she says, throwing her arms up and posing. “I had to be like, Um, Josh, can you put your hands down? They can’t see Mommy’s face.”

    She’s putting the past behind her, but doesn’t hesitate to straighten out any remaining misconceptions. The conflict with one-time collaborator Mary J. Blige was based on hearsay and today is nonexistent. “Back then, I heard that she alluded to me, saying I wanted be like her,” says Evans. “It was never my goal to be like her or anyone else. But I recognize where she stands, I know that she’s done a whole lot more than I have at this point in my career.” She insists that while she and Biggie had a few physical altercations, it was not a physically abusive relationship. “That’s not my story. I wasn’t the one hiding behind shades,” she says, perhaps referring to Lil’ Kim, who was reportedly abused by B.I.G.

    But even her well-documented feud with Kim is waved off dismissively. “She was a young girl, and he had her mind,” says Evans, who appears to be taking the high road. “We just happened to be in love with the same nigga. It happens. She’s now an icon in her own right, outside of Biggie.”

    Who can blame Evans if she just wants the same? With a hands-on husband/manager and a son who is hip hop royalty by birth, Evans may continued to be defined by the men in her life. But it is a woman named Johnnie Mae who knows Faith best.

    Evans calls Orvelt and Johnnie Mae Kennedy her grandparents, but Johnnie Mae is really her mother’s cousin. After Helen Evans, an aspiring black singer, gave birth to Faith (the father was a white musician), she sent the girl to live with the Kennedys while she got on her feet. Faith’s mother eventually lived with them in New Jersey. But when Helene got her own job and apartment, Faith decided to say with the Kennedys, who have also raised more than 100 foster children over the past 40 years. They celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year.

    ON A WINTER AFTERNOON, two young girls play in the driveway of the place Faith once called home. A nativity scene featuring brown figurines overlooks the tiny lawn from the bay window. Orvelt Kennedy, wearing a one-piece workman’s suit and construction boots, answers the doorbell. He’s a bit uncomfortable having a reporter in his home and mumbles something about being on his way out the door. “There’s not much I can tell you,” he says, standing in front of the étagère filled with family photos, including pictures of young Faith. “I’m proud of her, I love her to death, and she loves me. That’s my baby.”

    Johnnie Mae is just up the street at the very church where Evans dropped the microphone and ran away after nervously performing her first solo at the age of 4. In a back room at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church, Johnnie Mae is teaching a bible study class to two bored teenagers with their chins in their hands and Bibles in their laps.

    Johnnie Mae is dressed in her crisp white usher’s uniform. Her hair is hard pressed into shiny ringlets. She smells warm and fragrant, like a grandmother should. She’s been through a lot with Faith. She was disappointed when she dropped out of college. She was nervous and unsure when Faith left for L.A., pregnant and on welfare. She’s cheered her every success, yet she still hopes that one day her girl will return to her roots in gospel music.

    Of all the times Faye-Faye has come back home to visit Johnnie Mae remembers meeting B.I.G. most vividly. “We were having a cookout that day, and she brought him over,” she says. Faith asked her to come in the house so she could tell her something. Inside, she explained that B.I.G. was not just her date for the afternoon – he was her husband. Somehow, Johnnie Mae kept her cool.

    “I wasn’t happy, because I knew she hadn’t known him that long. But I didn’t let her know that. I just welcomed him into the family. My concern was, Is this for real?” She smiles. “It was real.”

    And Johnnie Mae knows, better than anyone, that in one way, Evans will always be the same woman she was on the night her husband died. “They weren’t together,” Johnnie Mae says. “But she was still in love with him.”

    LESS THAN 20 MILES AWAY from her grandparents’ house, Evans is heading to her midtown Manhattan hotel to prepare for an early morning flight back to L.A. From there, she will head to Minneapolis to meet with music retailers and then return to her family. But at this moment, her mind wanders to thoughts of B.I.G. Maybe Johnnie Mae was right about her feelings for Biggie. And apparently, his death hasn’t diminished those feelings.

    “It doesn’t change the impact he had on my life or the love I have for him in my heart,” she says. “It doesn’t change how much I still miss him. But I finally felt like it was time for me to move on.” And looking back sometimes helps.

  • 'The Ruler's Back:' Sean 'Diddy' Combs

    Oh, it’s a comeback all right. Thirteen rollercoaster years in the game, and SEAN “DIDDY” COMBS still won’t stop. With a new solo album, No. 1 album from Danity Kane, and explosive new records from Yung Joc and Cassie, Bad Boy Records is officially back. Diddy talks to DANYEL SMITH about the drama of being a winner…and still champion.

    Written By: Danyel Smith

    Photographs By: Matthias Clamer

    Issue: November 2006

    Google “Diddy” and among a zillion other details, you’ll find that Sean John Combs is a Scorpio. Born in 1969—the Year if the Rooster. Catholic schoolboy, with a gorgeous mom, a Baptist grandmother, and a father who was murdered when Sean was 3. Eventually acquired the name Puffy. Attended Howard University—promoted dance parties there, ran his own shuttle service—until the pull of N.Y.C. and hip hop yanked him to Uptown Records, where he was promoted to A&R director. Put together a steak of hits, including platinum debuts for Jodeci (1991’s Forever My Lady) and Mary J Blige (1992’s What’s the 411?) He got fired, then negotiated an Arista Records bankroll with which he started Bad Boy Records. There was, of course, the Notorious B.I.G.. And J.Lo. And the trial for which he was acquitted of felony gun possession and bribing a witness. That’s the bare bones.

    Hang out with the guy, though, and you get the muscle, a little heart, and a sliver of his Gordian soul. His crew still calls him “Puff.” He rents hotel penthouses for meetings and dips through New York City in his bullet-gray Rolls-Royce Phantom (with driver). One of his Manhattan residences—a chic, arbitrarily furnished crash pad with two assistants, racks and racks of clothes, and fresh fruit in the kitchen—overlooks the lush south end of Central Park. Diddy sweats through his clothes when he performs , even when it’s just a taping for a Wal-Mart promo video (with driver). He stood before it one recent afternoon, on a corner in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, teasing round-the-way kids and signing basketballs with borrowed ball points. In slacks, a white tee, and a back-on-black shell toes, Diddy could’ve been one of the hustlers gathered around the subdued spectacle of Diddy’s ride—one such in a Lincoln Navigator (with driver!) with front doors tricked out Lamborghini style. From Puff, there was almost an imperceptible nod, then a similar nod in response—a clear case of game recognizing game.

    It comes down to the fact that a boy from Harlem and Mt.Vernon, New Yotk, has been making phenomenal impact on hip hop, on music, on fashion, and on the culture for almost fifteen years. His parties remain bacchanalian. His ego remains gargantuan. He is a charmer; he is profane. He talks so fast, he seems almost to stutter. People say he is wicked. They say his personality is beautiful. From different eras and areas of his life, folks call him an ass, a terror of a negotiator, a grudge-holder, a gem—plus horrifyingly manipulative, the most fun, richer than he’s supposed to be, a genius.

    Right now, with Danity Kane, Joc, Cassie—it’s all about Bad Boy. You guys have had some lean years.
    Before, I’d say, Yeah, we’re back. People would say, “You ain’t back, you ain’t never went nowhere.” You know what? I did go somewhere. I did lose focus. It wasn’t like I was twiddling my thumbs. I was doing so much work as a producer. I ran a marathon. I starred on Broadway. I spread myself really thin, and my music suffered. But it was a blessing…because when I came back to music, I had clarity. Even for this new album [Press Play, released October 17]—the sounds and the melodies and the musicality of it is the perfect combination of sophistication and gutter. It’s feel-good music. We had our two and half years where [Bad Boy Records] fell off a little bit. I’ll take that one. Bur I’m focused now and…I’m better than ever.

    Did Puff put a bow tie on hip hop?
    I was trying to show that hip hop can be true to its roots, but that doesn’t mean every day you gotta wear a do-rag and white T-shirt. [laughs because he’s wearing a do-rag and a T-shirt] I wear it every other day. But you gotta make a more gutter album before you can test my gutter. You can’t even question my gutter until you do something gutter. That lane’s locked down. I put my stamp on that. At one o’clock in the morning, they’re gonna throw on “It’s All About The Benjamins,” and you’re gonna remember. I wanted to bring diversity to the game, and the idea we could do anything. Hip Hop is supposed to be all voices. You’re supposed to be all voices. You’re supposed to be able to say exactly what’s on your mind.

    The recent beef with you and 50 cent, was it real?
    It was surprising to me, because we never had any bad energy. One of the things about being successful for a long time…Bad Boy Records was the first to go through the beefs [chuckels]. At Bad Boy we specialize in that.

    Do you feel like—
    Let me finish. Whenever people do come at me…it doesn’t really upset me right away. Because I know that I’m a man, and I know that once I see another man, we’ll have a man-to-man discussion. And ain’t nothing really that deep. So it never really got to the point where it upset me, it got to the point where I was like, I’m going to see him, and we’re going to have a conversation man-to-man. I don’t think I pose a threat to anybody—because I’m in such a unique lane. To be honest, it’s not a lane a lot of hip hop artist want to be in. My lane is celebration. My lane is entertainment. In hip hop you’re going to get tested. That’s a part of the game. I’m not immune to it. But I’ve seen the results of playing that little game—playing with the name callers—and then you get male egos involved, and crews…so with me, if it ain’t a win-win, it ain’t really happening. I’m saying, in general, as long as a nigga ain’t putting his muthafuckin’ hands on me, we’re good. He can say what-ever he fucking wants to say. I’m out here getting money. Making history. Having me on your mind? If I’m not inspiring you, you’re not receiving it the right way. ‘Cause that’s all it’s meant to be—to inspire.

    You won’t let Mase record for G-Unit?
    I don’t have a problem with Mase going to G Unit. I mean, we got some unfinished business to take care of. I’d love for him to got off to G Unit or whomever he wants to record for—once our business is straight. I’d never hate on him living his life and doing the deal, but I cant just erase that checks [have been written]. Everybody’s adults and professionals, and we need to handle our business. The 50 shit—it wasn’t even that big. When we talked, it was like a five minute conversation, and we moved on.

    Are you in love right now?
    I’ve always been in love.

    Kim Porter?
    She’s the type of person I’ll fall in love with everyday.

    When you were involved with Jennifer—
    When I was with Jennifer, I got caught up. She was fine. I had my little complaints as far as Kim.

    People thought you and Jennifer were going to get married.
    I couldn’t marry Jennifer. I was in love with Kim that whole time. I’d never stopped being in love with her—you can’t fall out of love with somebody who’s your friend like that. I definitely left home. I admit I left home. The thing with Jennifer and me was we were so alike. Kim and I are opposite.

    Jennifer was somebody who ‘got it’?
    Somebody who got it. But after that runs out, you realize you’re really just friends, and you went out, and it’s all good.

    But you two went through it.
    The hype can pull you in. Y’all are lookin’ good together, and it’s feelin’ good, and the relationship is genuine…but I couldn’t commit to her the way she wanted me to. Everybody who ever meets this girl winds up marrying or wanting to marry her. I couldn’t be like Cris [Judd] and Ben [Affeck] and Marc [Anthony] and all. A lot of times…you think you can leave home—Oh yeah, I’ma leave home, I’m running away, I’m out—I talked that shit. Sometimes you think if people aren’t paying attention to you the way you want, or things aren’t going the way you want, you can go.

    How long have you and Kim been together?
    Twelve years. She’ll say it’s eight. Kim never really sweated Jennifer. She was, Ah, you’re playin’ yourself…you’re running around with your little Puerto Rican girlfriend. You’ll be back. Kim—just always cool, calm, collected—she knew I was gonna come back, and she was right. Some people just got your number like that. I ain’t gonna lie: I’m hard to love. My hat goes off to her or anybody else who’s dealt with me, because a lot of your time and attention is really not on that person. A woman deserves to be nurtured and taken care of. Kim taught me that. She…taught me how to love. Somebody gave me multiple choices early on—having a smooth working relationship, having a personal life, or being in the music industry. I chose the music industry.

    Why?
    It was such an in-love thing. Like love can you make you blind, you know. Some people fall in love with something, and they don’t see anything else.

    They don’t see the bad parts…
    I wasn’t listenin’ to nobody. I love so much what I do so…that was the choice I made. I knew that if I was gonna be great in this, I wasn’t gonna be great in any of the other things. I had to give my all. I didn’t understand balance.

    What would Kim say? You’re Kim right now.
    Kim would say, That nigga’s hard to love, but I love him. She’d say beautiful things. There are a couple of songs on the album about my relationship with Kim: “Partners for Life,” a story about how I met her, and this other song called “After Love.” I’ll be in the studio playing that song for her, like, Baby, I made this song for you. She’s like, Yeah. Check this out: You don’t have to make no more songs for me. What do you could do for me is start being the best man you can be.

    So you’re happy for Jennifer and Marc, and Jennifer and Marc are happy for you and Kim.
    I’m happy for her. I mean, I wasn’t going to marry her, so I never had a problem with it. There was love there, but it just wasn’t this type of love. It was two ships passing in the night.

    What is a girl who’s had sex with you going to say?
    I’m nasty [laughs]. I ain’t gonna lie.

    Let’s say, mid-‘90s? How was it then?
    I was buck-fuckin’ wild. Beyond ménage a trois. Crazy—you’re twentysomething and renting the presidential suite at the Hotel Nikko [now Le Meredien] in Beverly Hills. You got the bathtub filled with champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. You’re renting every Benz from the African guy who rented the cars in L.A. That was a wild time. Then sex became dangerous. You got to remember everything that happened with Eazy-E. Once it happened to Eazy, it was time to slow your ass down. And then all the energy you were spreading becomes a one-on-one thing. And, yeah, my girl right now is very happy. As meticulous as I am with my work, I’m even more meticulous with my lovemaking. I take much more time, and I like to do it for a long time. I like to look at my woman in her eyes and kiss her deeply. Sometimes I’m making love and she’s like, You gonna save some for the honeymoon?

    Has fatherhood changed you?
    Totally changed my life. And I’m having twin girls.

    You look as if you’re about to cry right now.
    People say, to a so-called ladies’ man or whatever, that when you have girls it changes you. So I was like, What’s God trying to tell me by giving me two girls? When I pray every morning, I thank God for showing me what He showed me while I still have a chance to enjoy myself.

    The rented islands, the yachts, the private jets. People would say that’s pure enjoyment.
    You can take your family out on a yacht, but if daddy’s on the top deck pacing and yelling on the phone and closing deals…I’m trying to focus on the things that are priceless, the things I should really be successful at, like being a great boyfriend.

    Are you going to get married?
    I would love to get married.

    What’s Kim say to that?
    I don’t want to make that pledge in front of God and not be able to see it all the way out. I didn’t grow up around a married family, so it’s taking me a bit longer. A lot of guys out there get married, and they still do their thing. I don’t want to get married and fail.

    After dealing with acts like Heavy—who was a kind of light-skinned, more pop version of B.I.G.—what made you look at Christopher Wallace?
    When I heard B.I.G., I heard an incredible artist B.I.G.’s stuff, though it was gutter, wasn’t a stretch for me because those were the things going on around me, around all of us. What drew me tom him was his artistry, his genius as a writer, the sound of his voice, his uniqueness as far as his approach to records. It was his spirit. He wasn’t a man of many words, but when he was on that mic , it was like listening to a miracle.

    Tupac Shakur. First thing that comes to your head.
    Genius, that’s all.

    The most meaningful moment to pass between you as men—
    When he came to my birthday party at [N.Y.C. nightclub] Roseland Ballroom. It became more of a meaningful moment after he passed. People don’t know we all used to hang out. Suge [Knight] used to pick me up from the airport when I’d go to L.A. You know how you have that person who comes to pick you up from the airport? Suge was the person. [We didn’t] have no car service—we’d just started getting money. And with me and Tupac, it was always a respect thing.

    One of the labels you’ve been associated with competitively is Death Row Records, and recently the founder/president Suge Knight was in bankruptcy court, What do you think about that?
    I have no thoughts about it…don’t have any emotion when it comes to him. It’s really none of my business. We’ve got our own lives, our own lanes. People ask a lot, because of everything that’s going on, but he’s not someone I think or know about as far as what’s going on in his personal or business life.

    You always say you don’t hate on anyone—
    On nobody. Hate is when you don’t give a cat his just due. We’re all cut from the same hip hop cloth…all represent each other…protect each other…because there are so many people intimidated by us now politically, economically, socially. This hip hop thing is a threat, beyond a phenomenon. If [hip hop] ever got focused…when it does get focused…it’s the moment that can change the world. We’re the bomb ass generation—but for real, we got guns and shit! You see how we can scare a muthafucker. We got tempers and we got guns and we got passion. Our passion is crazy.

    Bad Boy Records is back?
    We’re the last label standing. A lot of people came and gone…

    Who’s come and gone?
    Everybody! No disrespect, but to have a label go over ten years? You can go and sell your label—but it ain’t your label no more. To have your label exist, and you own it? Def Jam Recordings sold their label. LaFace Records sold their label. It’s hard to keep a label going. We get offers everyday to buy Bad Boy; I’m not stuck on this thing, like, I’m never going to sell it. But this is still hip hop—you’re able to pop shit: We’ve been here the longest. It’s what I’m most proud of. Through all the wars, the ups and downs, the cold times, the hot times, the rumors, the shiny suit shit, whatever—all that—we’re still standing. I’m like that old G on your block, and he still getting money. That nigga was getting money back in 68, and he still riding around in a Rolls-Royce. And you wondering, like, How in the hell is he still doin’ it? I’m the truest definition of the new Negro—rich, black, intelligent and powerful. I’m America’s worst nightmare.

    ~~~~~~

    CHANGE CLOTHES—AND GO
    The Notorious B.I.G. started out dressed for the streets, but Puffy & Co. turned him from ashy to classy.

    Written By: Mark Allwood

    In a nondescript Manhattan club one night in 1993, two future hip hop icons were in their de rigueur, ‘hood-certified garb: army fatigues and Timberland boots. Veteran New York television/radio personality Ralph McDaniels recalls the no-frills scene clearly. “I have footage of the Notorious B.I.G, and Nas at that party on rhe mic, “he says, laughing. “And there’s nothing fly about it.”

    Within a year, though, Biggie had left those utilitarian duds behind for a more polished look, dressing for success before he’d even really achieved any. With guidance from Bad Boy label head Sean Combs. Biggie would go to personify hip hop’s dramatic style shift—out went the Karl Kani and the hoodies, in came the Versace and the dress shoes.”We were like corner hustlers,” explains B.I.G.’s Junior M.A.F.I.A. cohort Lil’ Cease, remembering the crew’s early days in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy. “But the big-time hustlers that were really moving shit, the ones we kooked up to, wore Versace or Moschino.”

    Stylist Sybil Pennix helped crystalize Biggie’s—and Bad Boy’s—fashion turn around. “Puffy has a sense of style,” Pennix says. “Army fatigues were Brooklyn, but Coogi was Harlem, and that definitely came from Puffy. I exposed Biggie to designers he knew nothing about. We made B.I.G. look like a numbers man from the old days, with leathers and double-breasted jackets. That’s who he reminded us of.”

    Mark Pitts, Biggie’s former manager, now Senior VP at Zomba Music Group, recalls the impetus behind the late MC’s dramatic sartorial shift. “We were trying to damn near make him a sex symbol,” he says from his Manhattan office. “I didn’t even know what a Coogi sweater was until he said it.”

    Cheo Hodari Coker author of 2004’s Unbelievabl: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G. (VIBE Books), says the memorably glossy video for 1995’s “Big Poppa” cemented Biggie’s style change and gave cues to the rest of the world that with Biggie in a leather blazer, cashmere turtleneck, and a Kangol cap, the culture would never be the same. “It was the line in the sand in terms of ghetto fabulousness,” says Coker. “Before then it was about trying to look like you were literally two seconds off the block. After the video people started dressing up.”

    Soon B.I.G.’s hyperrealistic lyricism and menacing vocals became almost as silky as his new clothes. Producer Easy Mo Bee, who worked on both Ready to Die (1994) and the follow-up, Life After Death (1997), remembers recording brazen tracks like “Machine Gun Funk” and “Big Poppa.” “I don’t know if Puffy pulled him to the side,” says Mo Bee, “but when he made of ‘Big Poppa,’ all of a sudden his voice calmed down. That became his new vocal style. “It was a sound, like his look, that he’d finally grown into.

    ~~~~~~

    BEEN AROUND THE WORLD
    Before Cool & Dre or the Neptunes, there were the Hitmen. On one legendary trip, they earned their name.

    Written By: Gregory Johnson

    It was February 1996—the pre—“Diddy” days. Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs sat in Daddy’s House (his Manhattan recording studio) one wintry evening and weighed some sobering realities: Bad Boy Records, the label arguably responsible for fueling the East Coast hip hop’s commercial prominence—led by the Notorious B.I.G.’s landmark, multiplatinum debut, Ready to Die (1994)—was facing and an uncertain future.

    Negotiations over the renewal of his label deal with Arista Records were at a standstill, and tensions were escalating with West Coast competitor Death Row Records. Looking to bolster his position, Combs collected top producers—Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, Nasheim Myrick, Carlos “Six July” Broady, and Steven “Stevie J” Jordan, who were known as the Hitmen—and gave them notice: He was whisking them off to Trinidad for a four-week working vacation. Their goal? Complete radio dominance.

    “Puffy said in order to get focused, we needed to get away,” says Lawrence.. “He wanted every song on the airwaves to be Bad Boy record—all day.”

    By early March the Hitmen arrived in Port-of-Spain and settled into Carribean Sound Basin Sound, which boasted guarded gates, swimming pools, a basketball court, and villas with chefs on call. There were other temptations too: “Always beautiful Trini groupies hanging around,” says Lawrence.

    But Puff never let his troops forget their purpose. “We didn’t go to see the Trinidian sun or the women,” says Myrck. “ We were working for the Notorious B.I.G. That whole Life After Death album was our motivation.” Also flying in to the help were Faith Evans, R&B group 112, and the late songstress Aaliyah. “Who can say they’ve been on the beach with Aaliyah in Trinidad?” says Stevie J beaming.

    Every day in the studio brought fresh combinations of ideas, spurred by Hitmen’s diverse skill set: Lawrence polished sound revealed a Dr. Dre influence, Myrick and Broady diced up grimy samples with their MPC3000 and SP1200 drum machines, and Stevie J had proficiency on ten instruments. Supervising the group were D-Dot and Puffy, whose collective talent for fine-tuning beats into hits was then largely unparalleled. Quickly, Biggie masterpieces began to take shape. Says Broady, “We came with ‘My Downfall’ then Dot comes with ‘Hypnotized,’ and then [puffy] and Daron Jones [from 112] come with ‘#[email protected] You Tonight.’ It was always a friendly competition”

    Within weeks the Hitmen had amassed over 100 songs—collected on the “Trini-DAT,” as the Hitmen called it—that became the foundation for Biggie’s Life After Death (which included those songs as well as gems like “Notorius Thugs” and “Mo Money Mo Problems”) and provided key contributions to Mase’s 1997 Harlem World. (“What You Want”) the LOX’s 1998 Money, Power & Respect (“Money, Power & Respect”), and Puff’s 1997 solo debut, No Way Out (“Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”)

    All together, it was enough musical ammunition to help Puff lock down a reported $10 million agreement later that year. Backed by the Hitmen, Bad Boy would go on to release three multiplatinum and three gold records in the next two years—a nearly peerless streak, Though the Hitmen all continue to produce independently, they’ve never matched their incredible Trinidadian output. “You don’t get a chance like that,” says Broady, “ but once in a lifetime.”

    ~~~~~~

    Bad Boy’s Greatest Misses

    For years Diddy told fans to “take that.” Here, are a few stinkers we wish he’s kept.

    PUFF DADDY’s FOREVER (1999)
    If the hook to your single is “Public Enemy No.1,” well…

    FUZZBUBBLE
    After “It’s All About the Benjamins” (Remix),” this contrived rock act went on to headline Poserpalooza.

    THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.’s BORN AGAIN (1999) and DUETS: THE FINAL CHAPTER (2005)
    It is possible for the 300-plus- pound great to roll over in his grave? Twice?

    DREAM
    It Was All a Dream. No, really. Just a dream.

    CHERI DENNIA
    Bad Boy’s dark-haired stepchild has been pushed back more times than we can count.

    KAIN
    Diddy’s “Eminem” turned out to be Bad Boy’s great white nope.

    DA BAND
    Watchable for sixteen rounds, maybe. But listenable for sixteen bars? Not so much.

    MASE’S WELCOME BACK (2004)
    We’d rather wear a crown of thorns than listen to Rev. Betha’s comeback .

    BOYZ N DA HOOD
    Aside from Young Jeezy, these trap stars should’ve keep their traps shut.

    NOTORIOUS MAGAZINE
    Leave it to the pros, Puff.

    ~~~~~~

    Mo Money, No Problems: A financial history of Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group

    Written By: Robert LaFranco

    In January 1998 Sean Combs offered this insight into his business philosophy. “My friends call me the Black Sinatra,” he said over a Sunday dinner of pancakes, eggs and an entire Styrofoam container of bacon. “ He went through his ups and downs. People said he was connected to a bad crowd. But he came back on top. No matter what anyone says, thirty years from now I’m gonna still be in the game.”

    Soon thereafter his business hubris seemed ridiculously exaggerated. His sophomore solo release, Forever, critically bombed; his top stars had either died or left his label, Bad Boy Records; and the following year Combs was swamped by a myriad of court cases. But in 2006 his businesses—now including music, the Sean John fashion line, a licensed fragrance, a restaurant chain, a marketing business, and TV and film production company—show a man who is indeed a Sinatra like survivor. Here, a timeline of Comb’s business history:

    1998-99: After selling approximately 20 million units since Bad Boy’s inception in 1994. Diddy pockets $55 million from partner Arista Records. His label reportedly worth an estimated $300 million. Comb’s net worth: under $100 million.

    2000: Bad Boy Records has a truly successful year, with albums from the Notorious B.I.G. (Born Again) and Carl Thomas (Emotional) helping to move a collected 8 million units. Sean John retail sales are estimated at $30 million.

    2001: Comb’s struggling label has just two million certified album sales, the beginning of a protracted slump. But while music lags, fashion ascends: Sean John sale close in on $20 million.

    2002: Comb’s produces the second season of the popular MTV reality show Making the Band . The rag-tag winners, dubbed the “Da Band,” eventually hit gold with their debut, Too Hot for T.V.

    2003: Combs leaves Arista under a cloud of low sales, but lands—with his master recordings, a catalogue of more than 800 songs—at Universal Music Group. The deal reportedly nets him just under $20 million. With retail sales at $325 million, Sean John continues to thrive. Comb’s reported net worth: over $290 million.

    2004: Outside production helps maintain P.Diddy’s status as a musical force, with credits that include B2K’s “Bump, Bump, Bump” and Britney Spear’s “The Answer” With a six-figure endorsement deal from Pepsi, a top producer’s fee of around $150,000 per track, and television producer fees for Making the Band , Combs ranks as one of America’s top—earning music celebrities. His annual net income is estimated at between $10 and $20 million .

    2005: Sells half of Bad Boy Records to Warner Music Group for $30 million. Diddy produces another MTV hit, Run’s House, and launches Unforgivable, an Estee Lauder fragrance that almost instantly becomes the best selling colognes in the country, adding $10 million in revenue to Sean John.

    2006: A musical comeback? The self-titled debut of Making The Band’s Danity Kane hits number one on the Nielsen SoundScan charts, and albums by Yung Joc and Cassie outperform expectations. Sean John retail sales are said to be over $400 million. Bad Boy’s worldwide to business generate close to $250 million. Sean Comb’s estimated net worth: well over $315 million.

  • My Fair Lady: Janelle Monae On Style, Sexuality, And Self-Driven Revelation

    When it comes to sophistication and conquering R&B, no one knows the game better than Janelle Monáe. This singer-phenom is a force of nature.

    Written By: Deena Campbell

    Photographs By: Erin Patrice O’Brien

    Issue: August 2013

    When you hear the name “Janelle Monáe,” pleasant descriptors come to mind—drama-free, beautiful, talented—and for the most part, what you see is what you get. But as she sashays into a brightly lit New York studio for our August cover shoot on a warm afternoon, a new set of adjectives arise—feline, intriguing, powerful.

    Navigating the chaos surrounding the stark-white studio, she embodies the muse for her upcoming fourth album, The Electric Lady, which drops September 10th. “An electric lady,” says the 27-year-old, Kansas City-bred singer, “is quirky, unafraid, epic and ‘nicety’—that’s when you’re being nice and nasty, noble and naughty, all at the same damn time.”

    Her new album is a hodgepodge of electric heavy-hitters, including Prince, Esperanza Spalding, Miquel, and Solange, and delves further into the exploits of Cindi Mayweather, the android heroine of her first EP Metropolis. The Electric Lady serves as Suite IV and V of her sci-fi saga and where Cindi learns more about herself. Much like her cosmic counterpart, Janelle, too, has ripened over time.

    That might have something to do with her upbringing. Janelle comes from a working-class family that was backboned by her grandmother, a former Mississippi sharecropper and a mother who worked as a janitor. Her father was a garbage truck driver who struggled with drug addiction, and after years of seeing its negative effects, Janelle moved to Atlanta where she self-produced her demo, Janelle Monáe: The Audition. Grinding is in her genes.

    “I’ve evolved,” says an excited Janelle. “When you realize it’s your responsibility to be a leader and create the world that you want to see, you have to do it. It’s my responsibility to create music and come up with ideas that keep my community first.” Her personal community includes almost a half million Twitter and Instagram followers—all of whom are waiting with bated breath for The Electric Lady to surface.

    I ask a question from @EssKayGA: “Have you considered releasing an all-rap mixtape?” Janelle seems excited at the prospect. “I’m flattered that people wonder that,” she says, smiling. “I love rap music, and I love hip-hop. I use rap as a way to communicate [and tell a story]. Yes, I will keep that in my thoughts.”

    While her philosophy is grounded in innovation, style-wise, Janelle hasn’t achieved a myriad of transformations. Her popular tuxedo uniform pays homage to the working-class woman; but she did morph into a rocker chick for her recent “Dance Apocalyptic” video—a total 180 degrees from her norm. Our Instagram follower @christalbaybee noticed her makeover and asked, “Janelle! Your look in the “Dance Apocalyptic” video is SO different from your usual look. What inspired the change?”

    Without hesitation Janelle replies, “I was inspired to create a female rock star. I think an electric lady isn’t to be marginalized. As the narrator and creator of these characters, I have lived by not making myself a slave to my own interpretations of who I am or a slave to your interpretations or anybody’s interpretations of who I am.”

    No one knows Janelle’s style better than her stylist, Maeve Reilly who crafted looks for all of Janelle’s recent red carpet appearances, including the all-white Dolce & Gabbana suit she wore to the 2013 BET awards. “Janelle isn’t trendy,” says Maeve. “Tailoring is most important for her. She knows what she likes and she knows what fits. She’s just a classy lady with a great sense of style.”

    Her look on set is a fashionista’s wet dream. She steps out of the dressing room in a sparkled Catherine Malandrino jacket that’s complimented with black TopShop pants and Chanel fingerless gloves. Later on, she punctuates her style with snakeskin Christian Louboutins and exquisite broaches. Could she be anymore stunning? A true CoverGirl, Janelle wore the beauty brands lipsticks (Hot 305 and Spellbound 325) and bronzer (Ebony) to mimic a look inspired by the late Dorothy Dandridge.

    “What’s it like to be one of the hottest CoverGirl models ever?” I quote our Facebook fan, Kirista Sellers. Honored, Janelle replies, “Thank you! I feel privileged to stand alongside strong women like Ellen DeGeneres, Pink, Sophia Vergara, and Queen Latifah. We come in many shapes and sizes, colors. CoverGirl inspires young girls to dream big and say ‘I can be a CoverGirl too.’”

    Her beauty may be blown up on billboards, but her love life is one thing that is definitely not on display. She admits she only dates passionate androids who are smart, idealistic, and funny; however, most of her love life is protected by a well-oiled privacy machine. “An android is my preference,” Janelle says coyly. “Two androids and a cyborg. I’m someone who sees your spirit and soul. I love passionate androids; one that knows exactly what it’s going to do in life. I like an android who knows how to handle and support an electric lady’s dreams and wings when it’s time to fly.”

    @brialovesmj bravely questioned, “When are you going to have kids?” After a quick pause, she replies. “When the time is right, everything is about timing. But, right now I’m giving birth to this album.”

    And she is—complete with midwife Erykah Badu who is not only featured on “Q.U.E.E.N,” but is also one of her best friends. “‘Q.U.E.E.N’ really developed from a deep conversation Erykah and I were having about a woman’s place in the world. And how we were expected to be freaks and muses and virgin goddesses all at the same time by patriarchal cultures and religions.”

    Unfortunately, not all female artists remain relevant while steering clear of sexually-laced lyrics in the midst of a violent society. Janelle’s explanation? She uses her voice as a weapon, and empowers us to use her art as a medicinal treatment. An electric lady indeed.

  • Diddy's Commission: Welcome To The Darkside

    TABLE FOR ONE: After being taunted by 50 Cent, Sabotaged by a mind-fucking journalist, and labeled a crook by industry skeptics, has Sean “Diddy” Combs had enough of the spotlight?

    Written By: Jermaine Hall

    Issue: July 2010

    YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Diddy “ Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Chinies cuisine eatery Phillippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do, you don’t even live to see it.”

    He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zine. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as a Black businessman wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

    Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers – Rick Ross, Janelle Monae, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Wall Street gurr Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

    VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?
    Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he came in as a heabyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper ... going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

    What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?
    Jay, Kanye, Wayne and Drake.

    Jay still No. 1?
    Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to his last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

    People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.
    Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other, we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me . There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

    Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.
    I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about it – put our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not just talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies – just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

    Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About The Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?
    It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

    You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.
    I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out htere. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves ... I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

    Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?
    Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

    Are you happy with where Dirty Monet is right now?
    I felt the first time we earned our name, or people began to understand, was at the BET Awards. You tell that ... when Dirty Money was a trending topic [on Twitter]. Sometimes it just takes time, but you got to hold to your beliefs because you know something that the rest of the world don’t know.

    You’re managing Rick Ross now. Did you think that he was underperforming as a brand?
    I saw that he was ready to go when he the “Angels” remix. I saw that he was ready to start to really dig deep. I definitely think he’s a brand that is way bigger than he is ... the same thing with Nicki [Minaj].

    What is Ross’s best quality?
    His choice in beats. He is one of the best at choosing music. He doesn’t make stereotypical music for the South. He’s a very unique rapper from Miami. Ross is like that cat who is from the South that spends time in New York, spends time in Paris, London. Has a crib in Malibu. He has a very wordly point of view. And the way he talks about the streets metaphorically, it feels like soul music. It’s not like he’s glorifying street life of the South. He’s really found the tone in his voice.

    You know, people are upset over the comparisons to The Notorious B.I.G.
    When I think of him or look at him, I don’t think of Big. I think it was my fault in a way, ‘cause I know how the blogs work. I said when he did the “Angels” remix, I said I can fell you channeling the spirit of Big because his approach to the record was the way Big would have approached it. But that was not a comparison to him and Big. But that was what I said and everyone just ran with it.

    Is Nicki Minaj that good, or is she benefiting from a barren field?
    She’s really that good. To be honest, she’s really holding back.

    Are the comments from Lil’ Kim about Nicki disheartening?
    When I heard he say what she said, it didn’t really affect me. I didn’t get mad at her or anything like that. I knew how she felt. I ain’t agree with it. But also I know the motivation. I know that people say, “Oh, he’s trying to get a new Lil’ Kim.” I guess people will see me in time. Yeah, Nicki’s had flavored wigs on, but besides that it ain’t even the same approach to the writing.

    How are they different in respect to writing?
    It’s just a different approach. You just have to listen to it. Kim is real Brooklyn Biggie. She reminds you of a female B.I.G. You could tell she’s Biggie’s artist. She represents that well. Nicki really sounds like a Young Money artist.

    How is your temper these days?
    My temper?

    Yeah.
    My temper is good.

    You seem very even the last few times I’ve seen you. Why?
    Sometimes I look like my temper is on ten?

    I’ve definitely seen it on ten.
    Damn. My temper is good. Anger management, all that shit, it’s been like a very, you know, it’s almost like a new birth type of year. Born again. I’m really finding myself and also I just don’t have the time for any BS.

    Interview on Nightline?
    There were times in the interview when I had to give him an ultimatum. The questions weren’t being handled the right way. In hindsight, when I saw him I shouldn’t had done the interview because I know the style of interview that he does.... The whole thing about giving a Maybach to my son, that’s really like a racist question. You don’t ask White people what they buy their kids. And they buy ‘em Porsches and convertible Bentleys and it ain’t no question. It’s really a racist question and put things back in perspective with money and they way that people still look at you. And I’m not saying that consciously he’s a racist. But he probably don’t even realize that he would not ask Steve Jobs that. He would be like Steve Jobs has that money and that’s the gift his kid is supposed to get.

    When you saw him, didn’t you think, This was the journalist who railroaded Michael Jackson?
    When I saw him, I knew he was known for pretty volatile interviews. That’s not even where I’m at right now. I don’t need to be any more famous. I don’t need to be on Nightline. So I was like, why am I even doing this interview. Is it about my music? I should have more weren’t with my gut. But you live and you learn ... And, you know, I showed a level of maturity that young people of color, when they’re in that position, they’ll understand the way they’re supposed to handle it.

    I feel like old Puff Daddy wouldn’t have been so diplomatic.
    Yeah, yeah. But when you say old Puffy I think it’s just a version of somebody that was more moving off just emotion. That’s dangerous. There are people dead or in jail or ruin their careers [that act like that]. You gotta take the good with the bad. It didn’t really bother me. I t’s not like his interview really hurt me. I don’t think it was a bad interview. Matter of fact I’m proud of that interview.

    You told Bashir that he was pretty skilled at the mind fuck. How good are you at mind fuckin’?
    [Laughs.] I’m skilled and well versed. But it’s not like ... there’s one important thing that I wanted to get out in this interview. And you ain’t asking the question. There’s an off perception that needs to be addressed about me that I have ever robbed somebody or mistreated somebody. Or tried to be ruthless or whatever in this game. Like, all this year I’ve heard people say, “Where’s Carl Thomas, where’s Black Rob, where’ G .Dep? Where are these artists?” And for some reason they go ahead and equate that, ‘cause those artists aren’t with me, that I’ve done something wrong or malicious or conniving. It’s something that I do have a problem with because they don’t have no proof that I’ve ever done nothing like that.

    Does this really bother you, because you’ve talked about this before.
    It’s a misconception. Especially someone who;s been brought up like me. I’ve been brought up to work hard for mine and never take nothing from nobody. And to always try and help people. But people don’t understand this game that we’re in. You have a short life expectancy. It’s rare to be a me, to be a Jay-Z, an LL, a Nas. That shit is a rarity. That’s not even one percent of the rappers. If you look at any artists that were on Ruff Ryders, where they at? If you look at any artist that was on Def Jam at the time that we started, where they at? If you look at any artist that was on Roc-A-Fella, Jive, where they at? It’s not like anything was wrong with them. It’s just that you have a four, five-year average in this game. That’s just something I wanted to address.

    I think you’ve been tagged with that for so long that it’s hard to reeducate people.
    I agree, but I don’t have to settle for something that I can address. And if they feel like I’m being defensive, then, yeah, I’m being defensive, because that ain’t the truth. People at the end of the day, they gonna have to respect this legacy for what it is. How many lives I’ve inspired and changed, and changed the game. Gave birth to a whole generation of cats that believe they can do it.

    You’ve been quiet about your deal structure with Ciroc vodka. How do you get paid for all your promotion? How does it contribute to your empire?
    I think the years of me worrying about what number I come in on Forbes [are over]. To be honest, when Forbes calls, I have someone go off the record and lie to them. ‘Cause those lists get you in trouble. It’s to a point where people know that I’m well off. The less money that they know about, it’s almost better right now. I’m good and that’s all I care that people know. I definitely don’t need people thinking I’m the richest rapper. And I’m happy where the calculations are right now. It’s less stress on me.

    What’s going on with you and 50 Cent...?
    I’m not even gonna give that no ink, Jack. Can’t even get no ink. We’re in two different places. I don’t really have no energy for it.

    It doesn’t bother you that...
    We in two different places in life.

    You don’t want to address it?
    We’re just two different people in two different places in life. That’s the best way to sum it up.

    You really enjoyed your time on Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton. Why?
    I just felt like it was about Sean. It was about me as a person. It wasn’t about the money or Puff daddy. I just felt like it was about what makes up Sean.

    Do interviewers forget about that at this stage?
    Most interviews are very surface. I don’t feel like people have figured out how to go deep.

    So what makes you who you are?
    Like this ain’t really regular. There was no belief. This shit was like walking on water. I had to show that it could be done.

    You don’t think you get credit deserved?
    Nah, I don’t think they realize the overall impact [I’ve had] on the game.

    Maybe you’re a little too close to it. Maybe people do realize.
    I definitely think that I could be too close to it.

    But there is something in you that is making you feel like you’re not getting credit.
    Nah, it’s not like I’m bitter or mad. To me, I think we’re all too close to it. But I don’t think people realize how much of a drastic change that was. None of us was even close to these numbers. You understand I was the first one on the [Forbes] list ever? I was on the cover of the shit from our community. Now we have like six or seven on the list like matter of factly. I’m not saying I need any praise, but [recognize] the overall change. Like we would be shocked if we looked at the Forbes list and we didn’t see a bunch of us on there. There would be an upheaval. We’re shocked if LeBron didn’t get $120 million, we’re shocked if Jay-Z doesn’t sell out Yankee stadium. Cats wasn’t thinking like this... so when a ballplayer comes in the league, he’s trying to get his Diddy on. “Yo, I need my endorsements, I need this, that,” so I just take a lot of pride in people getting their Diddy on.

    So you want to be known for that change in mindset?
    Yeah. It was drastic. Quick. Compared to slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. This was quick. Our level of sophistication has changed. You see artists in Europe like that’s the way it was. It’s not something that’s light. It’s something that can change the world.