Sean “Puffy” Combs was all over ’97. The 27-year-old rap mogul released a multiplatinum album, No Way Out; produced hits by Mariah Carey, Mase and Lil’ Kim; and was an MTV main stay – if you got married this year, he probably turned up in your wedding video. As president of Bad Boy Entertainment and proprietor of Justin’s, a New York soul-food restaurant named after his 3-year-old son, Combs keeps on keepin’ on – perhaps unsurprisingly, he sleeps only five hours a night. Despite his success, ’97 will remain a bittersweet year for Combs: In March, his best friend, Christopher Wallace, a k a the Notorious B.I.G., was gunned down in Los Angeles.
What was the year’s highlight?
Just reading Billboard – seeing how many weeks I’ve dominated the No. 1 slot for rap, for pop, for R&B, and seeing the records I broke. I wake up every morning and I feel blessed. Statistically, this was one of the best years of my life, but personally, it was one of the worst. I would rather not have this. I would do anything – I would turn the hits into negative hits if I could just be with Biggie again.
Give me Puffy’s rules for living.
Make God first in your life. Treat others as you would want others to treat you. Have some fun while you’re here. Don’t listen to everything you hear. And love your mother.
What’s your average day like?
Up at 10 in the morning. Then I’m on the phone – I’m in the bed, I’m on the phone, answering calls and puttin’ out fires. I’m up at, like, 11:30; I go to the office for a little while, then I go past the restaurant and on to the studio. I probably have rehearsals or interviews after that, then I go back to the studio around 9 or 10 at night and work there until, like, 4 or 5 in the morning. Then I go to sleep and start all over again. And I love my job.
What are you like in the studio?
When I’m working with people, I’m not like Puff Daddy. I’m not like a star or nothing. I’m like any other producer – I’m working for somebody. I don’t really have no ego. I try to get whatever somebody needs – like, if somebody needs me to make them some tea. I’m also a fan: I’m like, “Dang, I’m working with R. Kelly; I’m working with Boyz II Men; I’m working with Mariah.”
Is there anyone you wish you could have worked with?
Yeah, Marvin Gaye. I liked his entire career. I wouldn’t change a thing – I just wish I could change places with his original producers.
Do you keep songs in mind for samples? If so, what’s next?
There’s a misconception that I have this big record collection. It’s not a plan, like, “Let me take all these records from the ’70s and ’80s, greatest hits off the TV, sample them and have somebody rap on them.” It’s not easy to use a hit record and make it become a hit that sells 2 million copies. Try it – be my guest, go sample … what’s a big record I could sample?
OK. How about … something from Cyndi Lauper?
Hold on, that is one of the samples I want to use. I can’t tell you which song, though. Uh, let me pick another. Michael Jackson – take any old, big Michael Jackson record. Sample it – see if it’d be a hit. Take anybody – a Phil Collins record. I mean, I may do it. But it’s an art form.
What would surprise people about you?
That at times I’m real shy. Like when I’m around a lot of people I don’t know. I love crowds. I just feel shy in them.
What book has influenced you the most?
The Bible. The psalms are my favorite and also the Lazarus story. Lazarus rose from the dead. That’s why I wear a Lazarus piece around my neck at times. I’ve risen from the dead a couple of times, just through all this stuff I’ve been through, man.
What bands do you like now?
I’m a big fan of Radiohead. I love the way their shit is orchestrated. It’s so emotional, so right-there-in-your-face.
Give me a school-days story.
I went to an all-boys school, and every day I used to do the same routine in the lunchroom: I saved the money my mother gave me, and I would ask everybody for 50 cents. That’s how I got my money.
Who were your childhood idols?
Muhammad Ali and my mother.
What was the best advice she ever gave you?
One day I came home crying and told her how this little boy hit me and stole my skateboard. She told me I better go back out there and beat him up and don’t come back home until you do [laughs]. I mean, it’s a big part of life – you gotta fight to survive in this world. I was, maybe, 11. I didn’t actually go beat him up – I got one of my older friends to help me.
You must like making videos.
[Laughs] I’m a video ho.
How many have you been in?
Come on, man, get off my balls! I only been in a couple. They’ve just been so big that everybody exaggerates. I’ve only been in, like, four videos this year. I had four hit records, I did four hit videos, motherfucker!
Yeah, but you do everything. I keep waiting for you to remix the NBC Nightly News theme.
You never know what will happen. I’m a big fan of Tom Brokaw.