Puff Daddy Details How “I’ll Be Missing You” Saved His Life & Put Hope In Rap Music

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Earlier this month, the third season of Hip-Hop Evolution released on Netflix. Hosted by veteran London, Ontario MC Shad, the documentary series continues to tell the stories of our culture through intimate interviews, rare footage, and all the right music.

In Season 3, Episode 2, “Life After Death,” Biggie’s later years and his untimely death are covered. The episode looks at the formation of Junior M.A.F.I.A., Black Moon’s influence on Lil’ Kim, and how Puff Daddy assembled “The Hitmen” production team for Bad Boy Records at just the right time. Specifically, the episode examines a 1996 trip to Trinidad, where Puffy, Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, Nashiem Myrick, Ron “Amen Ra” Lawrence, Chucky Thompson, Stevie J, and other members of the production team shipped records and equipment to the country, to work in isolation. Per the episode, would-be hits such as the Love Unlimited-sampling “It’s All About The Benjamins” emerged out of this critical studio sessions.

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However, the episode covers another seminal 1997 Bad Boy single. In the days before Biggie’s March 9, 1997 death, label founder Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs had been considering a solo career. After producing, providing adlibs, and appearing in many videos for his roster and friends, Puff’ was encouraged by Biggie to step further into the spotlight. In that era, other label-owning artists, including Dr. Dre, Master P, JAY-Z, RZA, and Buckshot were balancing roles.

In revealing interviews for Hip-Hop Evolution, March 9 derailed all of Puffy’s creative pursuits. “I remember the first day back in the studio after the funeral. Puff comes through; he’s done lost like 20 pounds. He comes to me and is like, ‘I’m through. I’m through with it. I can’t do it no more.’ So me and Dot [are] looking at him like, this ain’t Puff.” Diddy corroborates that story. “I was ready to quit; I wasn’t gonna put out any more [Bad Boy] records. Then I was watching TV one day—you know, one of those times of despair where nobody is around, and you’re like crying on the floor. The self-pity is at an all-time high, and you’re asking God ‘why?’ and then I just heard ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police. I just took it as a sign. Sometimes you just need that little bit of light to be able to express yourself. But I [then] thought that the best thing I could do was not give up. I was down, and I was out, but I wasn’t finished. All I could do was get up and start to fight. That’s the way Big would’ve wanted it.”

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Puffy says he went to Daddy’s House Studios the same day he saw The Police’s 1983 chart-topping single. “That song really kinda saved my life,” Puff reflects. “Before that, I was really kinda nervous about being an artist; Big was pushin’ me as far as being an artist. I felt like I’m a really good hype-man. But I remember recording ‘[I’ll Be] Missing You’ and just knowing that it was gonna change Hip-Hop. Because Hip-Hop wasn’t really vulnerable. This [music video] was like Hip-Hop artists dancing in the rain, walking up the green hills with kids, and wearing a suit. People may have considered it not gangsta or not keeping it real. I didn’t really care about any of that; I just wanted to express the pain.” Puff continues, “That song humanized us. We could be at our lowest point, and still have hope.”

Faith Evans echoes Puff’s point. “It was very healing,” Biggie’s wife remembers. 112 also sang on the song produced by Puffy and Stevie J., with Puff’s verses written by Brooklyn MC Sauce Money. “‘Missing You’ was the first record that was #1 in every country. So it wasn’t all pain. But it can never feel as great as it’s supposed to feel with Biggie being here.” The song would go on to win the Grammy for “Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group” in 1998 and achieve triple-platinum certification. Sting would later perform the song live with Puff and Faith.

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“Life After Death” also profiles the rise of JAY-Z and Roc-A-Fella Records. In addition to Puffy, Faith, and The Hitmen, the episode features interviews with Lil’ Kim, Dame Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke, Ralph McDaniels, Big Daddy Kane, Ski Beatz, Lil’ Cease, Fat Joe, Kevin Liles, DJ Clark Kent, MC Lyte, Angie Martinez, Miss Info, and others.

On Friday (September 13), Bad Boy Records’ first album, The Notorious B.I.G.’ Ready To Die, celebrated its 25th-anniversary.

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#BonusBeat: The “I’ll Be Missing You” music video, directed by Hype Williams: