At this point, Sean “Diddy” Combs is as well known for being famous as the reason he got famous in the first place; namely, being the chief architect of Bad Boy Entertainment and fostering the careers of The Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, and more. That imprint started up in ’93, and since then, Diddy has slowly morphed from producer, label boss, and rapper to an actor, entrepreneur, vodka slinger, and general very famous person.
Though Diddy has been an omnipresent figure in pop music for almost 40 years, his most recent era began in 2006 when he released Press Play, a strange amalgamation of sultry R&B with features from The Pussycat Dolls and Christina Aguilera, New jack swing cuts, and vacuous rap bars. That album did little to further any public sentiment re: Diddy as a still-captivating artist. In 2010 he created Diddy — Dirty Money, assembling a group from the ground up much like K-pop groups and British boy bands were doing across the globe during that same time, leading to the cult classic Last Train To Paris. His 2015 mixtape, MMM (Money Making Mitch), was supposed to serve as an appetizer for No Way Out 2, a follow-up to his 1997 solo debut that never arrived. His new album, The Love Album: Off the Grid also comes after a false promise (it was supposed to come out last year), but this time at least he delivered. Off The Grid features a number of surprisingly entertaining moments, considering Diddy is 53-years-old and making a concept album of unrepentantly horny sex jams.
At 23 songs that span almost an hour and a half, The Love Album is certainly too long and filled with far too many half-baked ideas, but there are moments in which Diddy reminds us why he was at one point one of rap’s most important pioneers.
The album is as much about Diddy showing off the artists he can get on board as the music itself, which…isn’t the best place to operate if you’re trying to make good music. But the album helps remind us what Diddy’s legacy should be; he’s a great assembler of talent, an expert at trusting his gut, plucking a new star from the mass of noise as soon as he sees one. Of course, it’s harder to find the next Biggie than to recruit Justin Bieber for your album when you‘re already one of the biggest stars on the planet, but The Love Album is at its best when Diddy creatively assembles unexpected collaborations, chooses inspired beats, and lets his co-stars lead the show.
“Brought My Love” is a G-Funk R&B hybrid, expertly crafted but with enough freewheeling spirit to give the song a palpable energy. Diddy leans on the track’s featured guests The-Dream and Herb Alpert to give the cut its landscape. The-Dream slides on the hook and handles a number of soaring backing melodies, while Alpert brings his horn work to the outro, a feature that would sound tacked-on if the trumpeter’s melody wasn’t so memorable. Diddy’s at his most engaged, even when he’s lecturing young people about what a dance break is, maligning the youth for being on their phones too much and not being able to connect. Either Diddy is purposefully ignoring the fact that 90% of people under 40 will be listening to his record on their phones, or he is more out of touch than he seems.
On cuts like the Swae Lee-assisted “Tough Love,” it’s clear that Diddy is at his best when he’s a Kanye-like assembler of talent, pairing stars with beats depending on their palette, style, and expertise. Swae is given room to show off his singing voice, and though some of the lyrics might make you want to crawl under a rock (“I just gotta fuck into my senses/ If you’re not my height, you’re not that hot”), his ability to carry the song and create a Weeknd-like post-R&B lust fest is one of the stronger moments on the album.
The Bieber-assisted “Moments” is another highlight, a reminder that beyond all the noise and extra-curriculars, Justin Bieber still has a pretty pleasing voice. The live drums and vocal snippets give the song a DIY feel, and it feels like the first time in forever Bieber isn’t buckling under 10 layers of self-awareness. It’s these moments that make The Love Album a valuable listen. Extremely famous people can let their guard down around Diddy, because he owns a fucking island (he calls it love island) and is a peer to these performers that are so often single-person economies. For them, the stakes are lower.
The other, more cynical read of this album is that it’s an opportunity for Diddy to flip the script that has plagued him for a number of years. Sean Combs the mogul held the Bad Boy Records catalog even while artists tried to buy their albums back, with Ma$e even saying, “Your past business practices knowingly has continued purposely starved your artist [sic].” Diddy recently had a change of heart, giving many artists their work back instead of selling the catalog. It was the right move, but arrived too late. Perhaps with The Love Album Diddy is trying to move the attention back onto his music. It occasionally works.
Often, Diddy sounds like he’s in the studio jamming with some of his favorite artists. He spends most of the project letting his collaborators flex their unique skill sets over his productions, and the artists he picks confirms that Diddy still has one of the best ears in the rap game. Diddy hasn’t been an elite rapper for a long while, but on The Love Album he’s well aware of his limitations. Those looking to hear his voice lead the show will have to look to past albums, as The Love Album continues Diddy’s run as one of rap’s strongest connectors.