Diddy: Press Play 

When you think of Sean Combs, you probably think of a businessman. But, he is the reason rap supergroup the Lox decided to record on label Ruff Ryder. In addition, he has a reputation for putting out artists for single albums and watching their stock plummet afterward. (Do you remember the girl group Dream? Maybe Harlem World? I know you've got a Boyz N Da Hood poster on your wall.) At any rate, as brilliant as his track record as an executive producer and producer has been, overall it definitely has its blemishes.

Even with all this against him, Combs (or Diddy, or Puffy, or Puff Daddy, or whatever he's going by these days) has created a niche for himself in today's musical landscape. You cannot discuss music's most prominent figures of the last 10, maybe even 15, years without mentioning his name. He is the man responsible for Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Faith Evans, and perhaps most importantly, the late and great Notorious B.I.G.

This new LP juxtaposes all of the good things that he has used in his music over the years and mixed them up like cookie dough in a Kitchen Aid blender from Dillard's. From the first track's ("Testimonial") resonating piano keys, to the 19th track's keyboard chords (courtesy of the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams), Diddy and his 10 or so guests absolutely show up. I can't begin to imagine the damage that this CD could do at a party. It has so many love songs, so many club bangers, so many just flat-out hard hip-hop songs that it would be hard to do them all justice here. There just isn't enough room. This in itself is amazing, considering Combs is notorious (no pun intended) for using ghostwriters throughout his career. Add how much critics have lamented his heavy use of samples, and it is hard to understand why he is still putting out music.

To quote Diddy, it is his "faith." He has believed in himself all his life, and perhaps that is why he has succeeded in so many different endeavors. He was the youngest VP at Uptown Records (a division of the defunct MCA Records, which is now under Geffen) at the age of 19, and has succeeded in television, film (remember Monster's Ball?), the clothing industry, he has his own shoe and, of course, his own cologne. This man must know something the critics don't about work ethic. All in all, this CD is worth whatever you would have to pay for it. The list of producers ranges from Timbaland all the way to Bad Boy mainstay Ryan Leslie to Kanye West, and Williams rocks the record with his funky keyboards and drums.

Standout tracks include the aptly-titled "Diddy Rock," in which Combs teams with Midwest heroes Twista and Shawnna over a rambunctious Timbaland concoction; "Tell Me," in which Combs raps and Christina Aguilera sings her "Beautiful" heart out (OK, that one was too easy); and the CD's last track, "Partners for Life," in which Combs wistfully discusses relationships with entertainment impresario Jamie Foxx over a stirring William's beat. This is a phenomenal CD--especially for someone whom critics have claimed has no musical talent.

--Michael Butler

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