Earlier this week Revolt TV, the latest venture spawned from the mind of Sean “Diddy” Combs, was introduced into the home of millions, and nothing could’ve been more exciting. Defined by its founder as a different type of music programming channel, many folks who came of age in the 1990s—when Diddy was Puff Daddy, the shiny suit-wearing king of Bad Boy Records—were curious to see if the brother could once again reshape popular culture.
Without a doubt, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the launch of Bad Boy Records in 1993. Twenty years has passed since Puffy assembled an army of producers, stylists, songwriters, fashionistas, tastemakers and artists with the sole plan to take over the world. A mastermix of W. E. B. DuBois, Hugh Hefner and Ralph Lauren, Puffy, who got his start throwing parties while a student at Howard University, wanted Bad Boy listeners to be aspirational in all things.
Like Berry Gordy and Russell Simmons before him, Puffy was able to shape his own version of the ’hood into a marketable commodity. Bad Boy wasn’t merely about music, it was a lifestyle. Rocking diamonds and designer gear, sipping on champagne and Belvedere, sailing in St. Barts and chilling in Aspen, the Bad Boy motto was “all about the Benjamins, baby.”
While Bad Boy was originally supposed to a subsidiary of Uptown Records (where Puff rose from intern to head of A&R), after mentor Andre Harrell fired him in 1993, the future Diddy walked a few blocks east and partnered with music mogul Clive Davis at Arista Records. He was 23. DJ Clark Kent, who’s known Diddy since his Howard University years, says, “You have to understand, the Bad Boy era started with Puff working with Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. Puff took a little of what he learned from Andre, a little from the streets of Harlem, and a little of what Harlem sounded like when you went to clubs like the Rooftop. That was Bad Boy.”
With a sound that was slinky, seductive and funky as hell, Puffy was the captain that guided everything, and all eyes were on him. “For artists like me who have studied the industry, Puffy’s story is so inspiring,” says new jack R&B singer Sebastian Mikael. “He got fired from one job and then went on to build an entire empire.”
Indeed, years before regular people understood the concept of branding, Puffy was determined that Bad Boy Records—along with his artists Biggie Smalls, Faith Evans, Total, Carl Thomas, Mase, the LOX and others—would be a name as recognizable as Ivory soap or McDonald’s Quarter Pounders.
“It’s All About the Benjamins”
Puff Daddy ft. the Notorious B.I.G., the LOX and Lil’ Kim, “It’s All About the Benjamins”
“Bad Boy played a big role in a lot of different areas,” Sebastian continues. “This was the years before the Internet played a role in launching artists, but Puffy had street teams in various markets grinding and going hard. He was determined to make Bad Boy a success.”
Puff’s first Bad Boy releases were albums by perhaps the two most unattractive rappers in hip-hop: The Notorious B.I.G. (Ready to Die) and Craig Mack (Project: Funk the World). Promoting them together, Bad Boy sent out “Big Mack” sampler cassettes (yes, cassettes) featuring songs from both artists. While Craig Mack’s album was a dud compared to his labelmate’s, the brilliant remix of his first single “Flava in Ya Ear” featuring LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Rampage and Biggie became a huge hit.
“In the ’90s, Puff represented what hip-hop was all about,” explains music industry veteran Vincent Davis, who’s currently directing How They Get Down, a documentary about the music industry. “Puff took the hustler street vibe and commercialized it. He took the street opulence and merged that into making good records. Twenty years later, if ‘Flava in Ya Ear’ comes on in the club, you still put down your drink and find a girl to dance with.”
With the release of Biggie’s magnificent debut Ready to Die, the overweight rapper from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn not only became Bad Boy’s premier artist, he also became a sex symbol. “Biggie had a level of charisma and a great sense of humor,” says author and filmmaker Thembisa Mshaka. As the former rap editor of industry magazine Gavin, she was there from the beginning of Bad Boy’s launch.
With champagne flowing through his veins, the abyss that separated the Notorious B.I.G. from other rappers (and Bad Boy from other labels) went beyond simply being the best. “Big was just a genuine dude and a dope lyricist,” explains Mshaka. “When he walked in the room, he was like the mayor.”
Incorporated with the “style and grace” of his Hype Williams directed videos, countless magazines covers and awards, a hypnotic stage style and a steady rise from streets to suites that caused jealous ones envy to bubble in the bitter hearts of his rap rivals.
Big’s future wife Faith Evans, a