Things I Learned from Diddy at Peter Rosenberg’s “Noisemakers”
Last week (7/6) I attended Peter Rosenberg’s “Noisemakers” series at 92y Tribeca in NYC. His interview subject for the evening was none other than the veritable Quincy Jones of our generation, Puff Daddy.
I think Diddy’s an amazing business man and has an undeniable passion for music. That much was evident from just hearing him talk about his experiences working for Andre Harrell, babysitting Jodeci, spitshining Mary J. Blige into the voice of the ghetto everywoman, recording with Biggie and so on. People tend to forget Puff, much like Jermaine Dupri, started his career as a dancer. Just goes to show you what type of linearity you can have in this business if you know what you want.
On the other hand, I think the Diddy effect created lots of the current problems in hip-hop. It takes years for a culture to be affected on a macro level by micro events, but all that shiny suit shit from the late 90s, the million dollar videos, the big first week sales, the Source Power 30 jockeying… all that stuff was great for the business of rap, terrible for the music itself.
And still, looking back, Bad Boy was an incredible label. Even in its lean years (mostly post-2000, G-Dep era), it was a better label than whatever flavor of the month powerhouses exist now (Young Money and…. Young Money?).
Ten years ago I never thought I’d be rationalizing the value of Puffy. But whatever, times change, and my view may be obscured (watching him stand around for hours in blazing heat on the set of “Making His Band” last summer increased my respect for the guy). He’s an elder statesman now, and I can only tip my hat. The following are my notes from Noisemakers. Things I just jotted down while he was talking.
- Was a corner back/running back in high school (Mt Saint Michaels Academy in the Bronx) Thought he’d win Heisman and Super Bowl, but broke his leg on last day of camp. “If you were out for the season, the coach just stopped talking to you.”
- Worked as a doorman at the Marriot during Howard college years. “I didn’t have no ego. Doormen had to wear crazy hats. I looked like Troy, Roman times. I looked like two weeks after slavery ended. Made good money.” Made 1000 dollars a week, mostly from tips. Also says his parties were bringing in 5000 a week. Moved into a duplex.
- When he was trying to get a music industry internship, he interviewed with Lyor Cohen. Lyor doesn’t even remember him. Heavy D introduced him to Andre Harrell, who he knew from Mt. Vernon.
- Locked himself in bathroom on Amtrak to go back and forth from Howard to his internship at Uptown Records.
- Father MC’s “I’ll Do For You” is hist first credit on record
- First complete LP he worked on was Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411?
- Big break was making sure Jodeci got back and forth to studio. A producer was supposed to show up to remix “Come and Talk To Me” and didn’t show up. Puff put EPMD’s “You’re A Customer” under it. Sold 2 million records.
- Method Man/Mary J. Blige remix for “All I Need” is his favorite collaboration ever. The song was credited to Rza (who produced the original version), so Diddy never got sent the Grammy they won for the track. “I need to call Def Jam.”
- Why Craig Mack? His style, his flow. Always attracted to melody. So unorthodox. His tone too. Big fan of EPMD, and Craig was down with them.
- First saw Biggie in The Source’s unsigned hype. It was the era of pretty boy type rappers. Matty C told him about Big. “He didn’t have no six pack. I was like, what am I gonna do? But I just heard the tape and I knew he was gonna be a supertar. I also knew he’d be a sex symbol.”
- He had to teach Biggie how to count bars and write a chorus.
- Puffy and Big butted heads on “Juicy” and “Big Poppa.” Big wanted “Machine Gun Funk” to be a single. “[We] was studying what Dre and them was doing, with Niggaz4Life and The Chronic. I wanted to come with the sound of the soul of New York.”
- The unknown edit on “Gimme The Loot” was made because of Puff’s religious beliefs. “I don’t care if your pregnant, gimme baby ring and the number 1 mom pendant.”
- Was strongly against the record “Suicidal Thoughts.”
- “My eye was never on competing with other hip-hop artists. My eye was on competing with rock artists, [because there’s] no point in being in the game if you’re not being heard.”
- Got idea for Bad Boy being a real business when he saw Mahogany. Modeled himself after Berry Gordy. He had a film division. “If he would have came out with a Diana Ross clothing line it’d be crazy.”
- Artist he passed on- Ludacris
- On Rick Ross: “I never compared Ross to Biggie. Biggie is a one of one. I liked Ross separately as an artist. I saw him going into a certain zone. I felt I had some information to give him. He has a great sense of music and musicality. He has a unique flow, unique style. On “Angels,” I explained it to him like it was inspired by Big. I told him when he did his part I felt the spirit of Big.”
- On Jay Electronica: “We work together in an unofficial capacity. He’s just a friend of mine. I think there’s a way for me to work with jay from the sidelines and be a part of his success.”