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Diddy Opens Up About The Secret Project He’s Working on with Jay-Z

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For nearly three decades, no one has lived larger than Sean Combs—Puffy the world builder, the maximalist style guru, the impeccable spotter of talent. John Jeremiah Sullivan spent some time inside the beautiful bubble created by a hip-hop icon.

Love was getting a haircut, they said, and could talk to me again. I was ushered upstairs. By then I had been inside the Combs compound in Beverly Hills since morning, and it seemed unremarkable that the house would include a home barbershop. He sat in the chair with his back to me. The barber was moving around his head like a big bee, sometimes with scissors, sometimes with little tiny brushes, sometimes with a looking glass. Love’s hair was already quite short and to my eyes perfectly trimmed, but there is perfect in our world and perfect in Love’s, and if the twain meet it will be by chance.

He is called Love now, or Brother Love. Not Diddy or Puffy or Sean or any of those. He will still answer to them, though. He is not a snob about names. But he would prefer now that people call him Love, because that is what matters. “Even people like me?” I asked, meaning God knows what. “Yeah,” he said. “I like re-inventing. That’s probably why I have so many name changes. It’s why I follow David Bowie and Madonna.”

Dictating what others call you is an expression of power, and the control Love exerts over his world helps explain the longevity of his career. Think of how many celebrities start clothing lines. Now think of how many of those are operating five years after they appear, forget about the 20 that Sean John has been around. Love also gets paid every time they play a Bad Boy Entertainment song on the radio or in a commercial. He is making money by the minute. He is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Get this: He was the highest-paid American musician of 2017, and he did not release any original music last year.

Now he is returning to what made him famous in the first place: spotting talent. In the barbershop, Love was watching pre-edited footage from The Four, his new reality show on Fox, which is meant to be a competitor to The Voice. The footage was beautiful. Which was not what a person would necessarily expect if he or she were I and unwholesomely familiar with the genre of televised voice competitions—familiar, too, from early days, with Love’s first venture onto this field of combat, Making the Band 2. No need to get into that. Either you remember Chopper or you never knew him. But the show was how a lot of people, including me, first got an up-close feel (albeit simulated, exaggerated, packaged) of Love’s personality, his style of relating, which I would describe as friendly and sly and quiet—in a way that makes you wonder if he is cocky or shy; the quietness seems to contain both qualities—then sometimes suddenly firm and cold. Mainly, though, he seemed nice. When you are about to spend the day with a famous person, it’s one of the first things you wonder: Will he be nice?

On Love’s barbershop TV was a young man named Vincint Cannady, a 26-year-old self-described “black, gay, weird” singer from Philadelphia. He was doing a sort of torch-song version of Radiohead’s “Creep” and slaying it with a flaming sword. It was undeniable. There were about eight people in the room. Someone said, “He just took that song from Radiohead.” I knew what he meant. You felt like this was now the definitive version, or that it had been, for a moment. To have realized the song would bear this kind of operatic deconstruction had been a stroke of artistry. Now Love’s head turned a tick. “Did you hear that?” he said, referring to the remark about Radiohead, not to Cannady’s performance, though both were swept up in the question. “We gotta do something with that,” he said. “We can put that out special.” We could, or rather he could, and did, and two days later the clip went viral on Facebook, generating some ungodly number of views. The barber, who had been frozen with his hands withdrawn, drawn up like paws, the way barbers do when they’re waiting for you to stop talking, began to move and buzz again.

They placed me directly in front of Love, facing him and maybe 12 feet away, but seated lower—in quite a low chair—whereas his barbershop chair had been pumped up, elevated. It was papal, this whole exchange of postures between us. Love made very direct eye contact. I started asking my questions. Love was supposed to be at a TV studio soon to tape Ellen. He maybe even should have been there already. But he appeared completely calm. Like a person whose body was heavily sedated with a drug designed to have no effect on his mind or even exert a speed-like influence there. But I suppose we all sit very still in barbershop chairs.

I said that people at home had told me to ask for untold Biggie stories, but that I didn’t want to send him on a nostalgia trip. Instead I asked him to go back and get the old Puffy and bring him forward, to imagine that he was still the hungry, young self-made exec who broke Biggie in the first place. If he were to look out on the current scene with that hungrier man’s eyes, was there anyone who gave him the same excitement?

He thought about it for a solid half minute. “No,” he said.

It was a good answer. He had searched his brain for it. He was not going to give me a name just to give me a name.

“Kendrick Lamar,” he said finally. “But Kendrick’s already made.”

He’s someone you would put on a level with Biggie, talent-wise?

“Yes,” he said, again after a pause. “He gives you that feeling.” He rattled off a short list of other favorite living artists: “Drake, SZA, Jay-Z, Nas, Migos, Lil Baby, Future…” He trailed off.

Love’s seriousness of demeanor was probably the thing about him that took me the most aback. He was almost somber. Not slow to smile—he didn’t look depressed (and I know he still parties; his doctor had recently told him he “goes too hard”)—but there was a singularity of focus. He’s almost 50 now. It’s the age of: Give it all or retire. He seems totally uninterested in and possibly even unaware of the option of retirement.

“I don’t believe in passiveness. At some point there has to be some kind of fight. I feel like we’ve done a lot of marching. It’s time to start charging.”

I asked what kept him hungry.

“My culture,” he said. “I want to be an authentic, unapologetic warrior for black culture and the culture of the street and how it moves. My thing is most importantly to change the narrative of the black race. I can’t relate to anything that isn’t about that.”

He said he wants to develop an app that will allow users to look at a given city or neighborhood and see where the black-owned and black-friendly businesses are. He didn’t want to say too much about the app. It wasn’t finished. He didn’t have a name for it yet.

“This is not about taking away from any other community,” he said. “We’ll still go to Chinatown. We’ll still buy Gucci!” He laughed. “But the application will make it possible for us to have an economic community. It’s about blacks gaining economic power.” He and Jay-Z have been talking about this, he said, about moving the race forward actively, by means of: making a lot of money and putting it back into the community.

“I don’t believe in passiveness,” Love said. “At some point there has to be some kind of fight. I feel like we’ve done a lot of marching. It’s time to start charging.”

In his conversations with Jay-Z, they’ve been using the term “black excellence” for leaders who came forward to uplift the race by example. It was an updated incarnation of W. E. B. Du Bois’s “talented tenth,” based not on class or lightness of skin tone this time but instead on getting and being extremely wealthy. And philanthropic. “We’re into psychological warfare,” he said. “The difference is, we’re not trying to hurt nobody.”

Earlier that day, Love demanded that I join him for a morning training session. His sons, Justin and Christian, were with us, plus a handful of their friends. Plus some of Love’s old and loyal friends, who all but live with him. Plus a couple of people who work for him, maybe security. Then there were the trainers, two of them. The trainers were guys who, when they got done working with Love, would go off to train NFL and NBA players.

Love introduced me, and each man or youth shook my hand, introducing himself. We started by running with medicine balls up and down a sidewalk. The pool with a grotto was there. The green lawn with a basketball court. Our bodies were destined not for those things but instead to run while holding medicine balls over our shoulders.

The others complimented me when I’d managed to complete some task, or more often some fairly contained and somewhat arbitrarily bracketed-off section of one of the tasks. At one point we all lay next to one another on yoga mats. Love had placed me next to him, in the middle. We all sat in a line in the position of a half-completed sit-up and passed the medicine ball down the line, fire-bucket style. A bunch of different medicine balls. Some were not that heavy. Some were quite heavy. So, you’re on your back, trying to catch these balls and hand them off quickly before the next one comes. And at times, especially with the really heavy ones, it was hard for me to get it handed off to Love in time, and I wouldn’t quite have brought my hands back to the catching position when the next ball came, and several times the medicine balls came close to hitting me directly in my medicine balls or did hit me somewhat before I could grab them, and Love was noticing this. He would ask the others to slow down if he’d just seen me get medicined. That’s what I mean about nice. He was considerate. I looked over at him at one point and said, “I think my body is confused. It hasn’t experienced anything like this in a long time.” He smiled and said, “Maybe today is the day when you’ll turn it around.”

When that exercise was over, I checked out for a while. I drank some ice-cold water from a big glass jug. When it came time to do the last exercise, Love called out to me from about 30 feet away. He and the others were lined up to do something with weights. “John,” he yelled, “you started with us, you’re going to finish with us.” Everyone clapped as I jogged back in what I hoped was a game-looking way. And we all did the exercise. God has wiped the details of it from my memory.

I went back to the ice-water station and talked to Love’s sons, who had uncommonly good manners that didn’t seem fake, like they had accepted that it was important to treat strangers with respect. Each is primed to take control of one aspect of his empire. Justin told me he wanted to become the CEO of Bad Boy when Love stepped down: “I want to be the second coming of him. Just being around my dad and seeing what he looks for in talent, that’s very exciting.”

As for Christian? He said he had been writing songs for years, “trying to find my sound. My pops is always telling me, ‘You can do this, but you gotta do it yourself, no writers.’ ” He was excited because his new single with Chris Brown was about to drop. I don’t fuck with Chris Brown, neither with his music nor with his woman-battering, so I didn’t say anything much. I tried to focus on Christian’s contribution. And the song was pretty banging. I’m not sure it’ll be a hit, but certainly it was a promising start to a young rapper’s career. And who knows, maybe it will be a hit? But if it’s a hit, will it have become one because of the song or because Love has the power to say, “Make it a hit!”? I don’t know. Probably that will be one of Christian’s challenges, dealing with never being totally sure about that. Or maybe he doesn’t care, having inherited his father’s knack for complete calm, even when the Ellens of the world are calling. Doubtless he will have to crawl out from under some kind of shadow.

[via GQ]

Staff Writer

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