P. Diddy is Underrated

Originally posted 4.7.2007

No, seriously.

I know it sounds ludicrous to call a relentless self-promoter like Sean Combs underrated. It’s almost offensive to even suggest that to rational people, especially rational people who are music fans.

But I think Diddy has ironically created a career-obscuring backlash against himself by doing things like constantly changing his name, starring in outrageously contrived reality TV shows and pimping acne medication. His quest to become a worldwide business mogul has distracted the world from one of the best hip hop careers of all time.

Consider the following accomplishments:
— Discovered and signed the <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Notorious B.I.G</span>.
— Produced Notorious B.I.G.’s “<span style=”font-style:italic;”>Ready to Die</span>,” which is almost universally regarded as one of the top 10-15 rap albums of all time. Many, myself included, say it is No. 1.
— Produced Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, which completed the creepiest progression of album titles ever, considering that Biggie was dead before <span style=”font-style:italic;”>Life After Death</span> was released.
— <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Jay-Z</span> made one of his first appearances on <span style=”font-style:italic;”>Life After Death</span>

Diddy has had a couple of major problems, 1) he kept trying to be a rapper. And he’s a terrible rapper. “I’ll be missin’ you” is indisputably his best solo rap song and doubles as one of The Police’s best songs, which brings up Puffy’s other big problem, 2) virtually every song he ever produced was sampled from another popular song. Ostensibly, this looks cheap and lazy. But if you know anything about hip hop, you know that sampling music is the very root of the genre. The first MCs were just dudes at parties spinning funk records and rhyming over them. It is only within the last few years that sampling really took a nose dive in rap, with the proliferation of southern crunk rap, which relies mainly on a canned beat and clapping, and the productions of <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Pharrell</span>, who uses music sparingly like <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Mrs. Dash</span>. The best work of <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Dr. Dre</span>, <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Tupac</span> and <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Snoop Dogg</span> is all sampled. The only difference was, for those guys, the sampling was mostly from semi-obscure funk or soul records, instead of top 40 songs from the 80s, so they didn’t take as much crap for it.

P. Diddy hasn’t done anything that every other producer didn’t do. He just did it more openly. And it created much more radio-friendly music.

His career reminds me a lot of <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Jimmy Johnson’s</span> in this sense: When he had the talent (Biggie/<span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Aikman</span>, <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Irvin</span>, <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Smith</span>), he was a genius. He knows how to make a greatness out of really goodness, and he happened to strike gold early in his career (Landing Biggie at the beginning of his A&R career/Getting the perfect storm of the Big Three in the early 90s), but once that fell apart, he’s really just been kind of OK ever since, and now is in related fields, but isn’t completely ingrained in what made him famous (going from rap to clothing, etc./going from football to broadcasting). Plus, this all happened at about the same time for both men. Johnson won his first Super Bowl in 1992 and his last in 1996. Biggie released <span style=”font-style:italic;”>Ready to Die</span> in 1993 died in 1997.

Puffy is virtually irrelevant to rap music now. His last few attempts at either releasing his own albums or signing new talent have flopped spectacularly. He’s now more or less famous for being famous, which is why, before it’s too late, he deserves some recognition for what he once was, and what he did for hip hop.

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