Puff Daddy and the Family: MMM

The flashy rap mogul takes it back to hard beats and smooth vibes on a strong mixtape

Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

The last time Puff Daddy made a pure, uncut hip-hop album intended for car stereos instead of techno-fried dance floors was back in 2001 – before mixtapes like 50 Cent Is the Future made his big-budget rap albums unfashionable, and before YouTube made his big-budget music videos unnecessary. In those days, before he went by "Diddy," he was the rap mogul who got Sting to sing about the Notorious B.I.G. on the MTV Video Music Awards, who got Jimmy Page to remake "Kashmir" for a Hollywood Godzilla reboot, whose videos had speedboats and Dennis Hopper. Can you imagine that guy releasing a mixtape … for free?

It seems Puffy is glad to play the game the way it's played in 2015. But even when doing something as low-stakes as this mixtape, he's still a consummate professional. The beats are funkier and harder than the low-bitrate laptop-speaker rap clogging download sites, and the guest appearances feel collaborative as opposed to being phoned-in cameos. Though the album is full of classic Bad Boy artists (Jadakiss, Lil Kim, Styles P), it's a decidedly modern affair, though often viewed through nostalgic Wayfarers. The first half has the lurching feel of B.I.G.'s Life After Death as filtered through the monolithic bass of Rick Ross and the wistful cruise of the Drive soundtrack (dutifully sampled in "Harlem"). The back half nods to Memphis rap, samples chillwave dude Toro Y Moi ("Workin'") and grooves like uptown funk circa 1983 ("You Could Be My Lover"). The man who used to "take hits from the Eighties, but don't it sound so crazy" re-emerges in a future where contemporary underground music already captures a vaguely Eighties, Ferrari-at-night feel — and Puff wants to cruise along.

MMM is named after "Money Making Mitch," the guy Mekhi Phifer played in the 2002 film Paid in Full (itself, of course, named after a landmark hip-hop LP). As an extended metaphor comparing Puff's rise to power with that of a fictional drug dealer, it works surprisingly well – like a savvy counterpart to the music of guests Future and French Montana, minus the posturing and tall tales.  "Fuck being on the block, chopping them grams," Puff says. "See my Oscars and Grammys, yachts in Miami."