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'Press Play' Finds Diddy in Good Company


He was once called Puff Daddy, then P. Diddy and now it's just Diddy. Whatever he's called, rapper and businessman Sean Combs has done pretty well. He's reportedly worth more than $300 million. Combs made his name in the ‘90s as a music mogul with a nose for hits, though lately he's been more at home on society pages.

Now he has released his first album in five years. It's called Press Play, and critic Will Hermes has a review.

(Soundbite of Diddy)

WILL HERMES: Sean Diddy Combs has a lot of new marketing projects this season. He's rolling out a line of old school fur trimmed parkas through his clothing company, Sean John. His record label, Bad Boy, has some hot new acts. Then there's his men's cologne, a citrusy scent called Unforgivable, which the perfume blog Now Smell This gave a fairly positive review.

And he has a new CD of his own, which despite his limited skills as a rapper and generally annoying look at me, I'm rich persona also deserves a fairly positive review. For one thing, he's trying different styles and attempting to look ahead rather than perpetually waxing nostalgic, like on this track titled The Future.

(Soundbite of song, “The Future”)

DIDDY (Rapper): (Singing) Main line, it's new Diddy, heroine in the Afro American dream is too evident. The potential to be the first black president, iTunes, download me in every resident. Early I skip breakfast, be on this grind like you need new brake pads. We in the hood like black soap and dollar vans. My CDs in 3D holograms. The future, y'all need to holla, man.

HERMES: Puffy, I mean P. Diddy - sorry - Diddy has always kept talented company and that's one reason why Press Play is not a bad record. He's got top shelf rappers like Nas, top shelf R and B singers like Mary J. Blige. And most importantly, he's got fantastic producers, including Kanye West, who built an awesome track for the song Everything I Love.

(Soundbite of song, “Everything I Love”)

DIDDY: (Singing) The world at my sneakers, gold pieces (unintelligible) with Jesus pieces, give the streets a fever from the way I spit the ether. Came on the scene at 19, a gritty fiend for money, power, respect, get it by any means. New Yorker, slick talker, walk like a (unintelligible), decimal doctor, multiply to get richer. I'm an entrepreneur, I'm the heart of the city, I'm a part of the sewers, I'm the honorable Diddy. I (unintelligible) my sweat, that's from the Harlem struggle. All in my swagger. That's the reason why I got my hustle.

HERMES: Diddy always seems to be a supporting actor on his own records. He's never been the most compelling rapper. In the past, he never even wrote his own rhymes, something that for most rappers would be an unforgivable sin. But Diddy is a mogul. Different rules apply.

On Press Play, he claims to have done some of his own writing for the first time. And while it's unclear which verses are his own and which are ghost written by other established rappers, you can tell the guy is trying to step up his artistic game, in part by adding more emotional substance to the usual rhymes about his massive wealth and overall badness.

(Soundbite of music)

DIDDY: (Singing) I told moms I would be something, I gave myself to the world and it's like you owe me something. Listen up, I got a story to tell, it's like I fell out of heaven just to walk through hell. But it fueled my fire, ignited my desire, it gave me the bricks and the sand to build the empire, so it's still in my forehead, my face strong, with all I been through, you would think my faith's gone. But nope, I hold my sand through stone, I move mountains with my will to succeed, that's how I keep going.

HERMES: Press Play is far from the rap record of the year, but it's definitely going to sell. And to its credit, you sense a bit of hunger on the CD of a guy grabbing for an artistic crown which even he realizes he probably isn't entitled to. At times, Press Play actually makes Sean Diddy Combs, multi-multimillionaire, sound like an underdog, and that is definitely an achievement.

SIEGEL: The new CD from Diddy is called Press Play. Our reviewer is Will Hermes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.