“I met him when he was Puffy.” – Clive Davis
A man of many names, one thing has remained steadfast: Sean Love Combs has fulfilled goals and dreams while remaining true to form. This was the consensus on Saturday evening (Jan. 25), when the media mogul accepted the Salute to Industry Icon Award at the Pre-Grammy Gala sponsored by The Recording Academy and music industry veteran Clive Davis.
At the Beverly Hilton, 332 tables were filled with family, friends, peers, media professionals, record label giants, entertainers and more who’s who in town for Sunday’s Grammy Awards (Jan. 26). On the main stage, the musical melting pot of the room was represented by legacy acts like Carlos Santana, Cyndi Lauper, Beck, Wyclef Jean, Oscar-nominated actress Cynthia Ervio (who performed a tribute to Janet Jackson in honor of Rhythm Nation turning 30), Miguel, Khalid, Chance the Rapper, Brandi Carlile, and John Legend.
Touching various genres throughout his decade-spanning year, it’s only fitting that the musical acts represented the modes of sound that Combs has touched. From Rock N’ Roll to hip-hop to R&B to even professing his admiration for country music, the multi-hyphenate affirmed that his limit within the industry would know no constraint. To take a trip down memory lane with the artists he’s worked with down to his son King Combs’ performance of “I’ll Be Missing You,” artists like Faith Evans, Carl Thomas, and Lil’ Kim paid homage in song to the mogul.
“When people ask me did you ever know you’d get to a certain point, I always tell them yes but I never thought that I would get to this point right here where my peers would honor me, show me this love,” he said. At five years old, an unsuspecting Combs would soon realize that a “plastic record player” in place of a coveted bike would change the course of his life. After “20,000” spins of James Brown’s “I Got Ants In My Pants,” Combs planted the seed that would become a fruitful impact on the music industry.
Although the 50-year-old said he had dreams of playing in the NFL, a broken leg snapped his ambitions and led him to Howard University where he met his longtime business partner Harve Pierre and Mark Pitts (RCA’s president of urban music). Keeping in mind his love for music and wanting to become a record executive from witnessing how label owners carried themselves similar to drug dealers from his neighborhood, Combs began the long road to success.
While the tribute was in his honor, Combs turned his attention to Andre Harrell, founder of Uptown Records and the company where Combs entered the industry as an ambitious young adult to then being given the tools to strike iron while it’s hot on his own. “I’m only standing up here because you gave me the chance, you gave me the opportunity,” Combs said. “But most importantly what we all have to do, as a black man you took me underneath your wing. He was patient with me. You taught me, you talked to me, you taught me about the game and you taught me what it was to become a record man.”
Then Combs studied the blueprint that was mapped out by Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. When Combs viewed Mahogany, which was directed by Gordy, he understood the lanes outside of music that can allow one to make a global influence, “and the value and importance of black culture and the importance it was going to have on the world.” In Gordy’s recognition, Combs referred to him as a unicorn who “empowered me at another level.”
From that moment on, Combs established Bad Boy Records while still working at Uptown but was fired by Harrell for his hot-head antics around the office. Facing a roadblock, Combs phoned record exec L.A. Reid where they both expressed their frustration with that point in their career. Taking a trip down to Atlanta, Reid and famed record producer Dallas Austin introduced Combs to Clive Davis after he expressed establishing his own label. The rest is still history in the making.
With these accolades under his belt, Combs now sets his vision on revamping the Grammys’ image pertaining to hip-hop and music rooted in black culture. The three-time Grammy Award winner stated the entity treats the genre as if it’s not responsible for some of music’s greatest moments and innovations. “Hip-hop is going to go down in history as the culture that said, ‘We need to own our sh*t,” Combs asserted. “And for me it led to great success. It gave me the chance to do Ciroc, Sean John, Revolt, open three charter schools in New York.”
He then continued to point his message at the Recording Academy by calling out their neglect of the genre. “Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be,” he said. “So right now in this current situation, it is not a revelation. This thing’s been going on. It’s not just going on in music. It’s going on in film, it’s going on in sports, it’s going on around the world. And for years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us. And that stops right now.”
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While accepting the Industry Icon Award, Sean @diddy Combs called out the Recording Academy and urged artists to take back their power. “Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys,” he said before dedicating his award to classic black albums that never won a Grammy. They include #Beyonce (Lemonade) @missymisdemeanorelliott (Da Real World) Nas (Illmatic) and @snoopdogg (Doggystyle). 🎥: @desire_renee
Combs called on his peers in the room to help make that change and understand the olympic-size swimming pool of power that artists have to take control and revamp a longstanding tradition. He also dedicated his award to albums that deserved the Grammys’ highest honors: Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Prince’s 1999, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Missy Elliott’s The Real World, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, Kanye West’s Graduation, and Nas’ Illmatic.
The mind that can’t stop, won’t stop poses one question, especially with his mission for the Grammys in consideration: what will his next move be?