Legacy: Why Going Back Is Best For Puff Daddy & Bad Boy’s Future
Following last month’s Bad Boy Records 20th anniversary set at the 2015 BET Awards, Puff Daddy announced that he is planning a tour with some of the artists he shared the stage with. Only mentioning Lil’ Kim by name (who, many know, was never an official Bad Boy Records artist), the label’s founder and CEO clearly reacted to the excitement of sharing the spotlight with Ma$e, 112, The LOX, and Faith Evans more than 15 years since “the shiny suit era” unofficially zipped up. Gizzle, one of BadBoy2K15’s artists, even told the world that Puffy is fast at work on No Way Out 2. Something retrospective appears in the air.
To some, a creative visionary like Puff Daddy going backwards is counter-intuitive. Sean Combs, Diddy, Puffy, Puff Daddy—has been as dynamic as his names. The Harlem, New Yorker took sampling and the Uptown blend tapes, and made the world feel like they had a predisposed “in” to hit records from fledgling artists like Total, Shyne, and Carl Thomas. Like the Dancehall-inspired DJ battles that helped cement Hip-Hop, Puffy was able to create a pounding sound that pulled attention away from booming movements such as G-Funk and Bounce. So going backwards is not something that should matter to a visionary like that. But it does—especially by another name, “legacy.”
Legacy is at the heart of why Lebron James returned to Cleveland. It is the driving force to do what has been left undone, and change the conversation that follows us beyond our performance. In Hip-Hop, those undone things can be a bit different than in sports, politics, or other artforms. However, they can be a lot like life, for all of us.
In the last five years, a sober Eminem refocused his career and devoted his profile and resources to fulfilling some of those objectives he set out with. This included making right with Royce Da 5’9″ and promptly beginning a Bad Meets Evil project, despite the fact that it’s plausible that suits at the record label would have preferred something more marketable. Em’ not only righted the course with Nickel (who did his part in the olive branch as well), he renovated Shady Records from a Gangsta Rap, pill-poppin’ house of cards, to a beacon for lyricism.
In 2009, Raekwon took a concept he had teased fans with throughout the 2000s, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, and he refaced his career. No, it wasn’t released on Aftermath, or executive produced by Busta Rhymes as once planned. The album did not result in mainstream magazine covers or a heavy MTV presence like the mid-’90s. Instead, Rae’ steamrolled a strategy that his peers (AZ, Capone-N-Noreaga, Mobb Deep) have used, even at a grassroots level. Chef Shallah certainly did not invent the Rap sequel album, but he proved that giving fans exactly the album they’d been asking for, in the most polished way possible, restores legacy. More than 20 years deep, Raekwon today is at the top of his veteran peers, and leading the Wu-Tang Clan in marketability, activity, and reach. He did not want to be held against the Purple Tape forever, so he simply changed the conversation. With a strong sequel, Raekwon was able to progress forward, over the misstep second and third albums that did not gain traction.
Cash Money Records signing Juvenile. Snoop Dogg and Suge Knight catching a photo together. Jay Z and Dame Dash seen laughing it up at a birthday party, or State Property supporting Jay in 2015. These are elements tied into legacy. Rather than have Wikipedia entries forever open in controversy, or destinies un-manifested, our stars are more self-aware than seemingly ever before. It is what gets Gucci Mane and Jeezy, two men who literally waged near-fatal wars on each other, to get into the studio, again (EPMD can say the same). Yes, it’s easy publicity, and presumably benefits both artists, but it ties up loose ends.
Loose ends can be the very undone items that alter legacy. Truly, Puff Daddy—in the dynamic role of artist/producer/executive/actor/media personality has a timelessness that is afforded to none of his artists, past or present. If Bad Boy Records and The LOX team for the Yonkers, New York’s trio’s third album, Sheek Louch, Styles P, and Jadakiss can gain much more than Diddy. More than 20 years in, the trio gets the fanfare of a media buffet of returning to their roots. On the contrary, Puffy could presumably net greater revenue signing a new artist, or spearheading the next trend. However, from a legacy standpoint, he finishes what he started in the late ’90s, and makes good on reputation and dedication to the hardcore Hip-Hop audience. Helping Lil’ Kim rebound from a series of career missteps and Faith Evans rebuild her place is a gesture to Puff’s late best friend, and shows a label unity often lost in modern times.
In 1997, No Way Out was a triumphant cry in the face of tragedy. “Victory” was a defiant refusal to be defeated, following Biggie’s murder. Puffy masterfully mourned, celebrated, and took a high road at once—moving from hit-making producer to the face of Rap music in the late 1990s in one fell swoop. No Way Out 2 has different stakes. But as Puffy jockeys for relevance in an age where temporal and financial peers, Jay Z and Dr. Dre, still have close ties to music’s biggest acts in Rihanna, J. Cole, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, what’s a Diddy to do?
Hip-Hop has never had its equivalent of a “Motown 25.” Even his greatest critics can admit that Sean Combs is one of the culture’s finest showmen. Bringing his gifts, his roster, and his affiliates past and present on the road is the smart money. If anybody can do that—not as a crutch, but as a step to tomorrow, it is the ageless intern-turned-mogul. There are jewels there, and everybody wins when Puff Daddy turns his remix skills to his legacy, before finding the next frontier.