By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
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Diddy doesnt need to make an album like Last Train to Paris. OK: Diddy doesnt need to do anything, but in particular, no one was looking to the guy for an electro-influenced, house-tinged, avant-r&b concept album about heartbreak. I wasnt trying to be vulnerable for the sake of shock, or for the sake of people admiring my vulnerability, he notes over the phone, one week before the albums release. Instead, his goal was to just tell the truth. On the intro track, backed by progressive house bleeps and bloops, Diddy introduces the records harsh conceit: Love is a motherfucker.
Grief and sorrow, of course, arent new territory for the maudlin, forever ballin producer/rapper/mogul. The Notorious B.I.G.s tragic death hangs over his every musical move, and hes fine with that. He gave his 1997 solo debut the rather existential title No Way Out, while Last Night, the biggest hit from 2006s Press Play, finds him exclaiming, The way I feel, I wanna curl up like a child. Nonetheless, Diddys all-the-world-is-a-stage approach to music- and myth-making reaches a fascinating breaking point here: Something like three years in the making, delayed numerous times, soaked in heart-on-sleeve lyrics, and assembled from 60 or so songs, the genesis of Last Train to Paris is full of odd stories involving our hero, ensconced in a darkened studio, barking batty ideas to his production team.
Consider a rap-up.com interview with producer Alex Da Kid, who contributed Coming Home, which had the producer of mega-hits like B.o.B.s Airplanes and Eminems Love the Way You Lie chuckling as he recounted Diddys oddball sonic demands. The best one: I want a beat that makes me feel like a white man in a basement in Atlanta. Which, goofy as it sounds, is simply Diddys patented way of providing inspiration. Most of the producers I worked with, Ive been friends with, he explains; the album came together by hanging out with them, taking them to parties, and showing them movies.
The influences are broad and unexpected: clubs in Ibiza, 80s hip-hoppers Schoolly D and T La Rock, dance music coming out of Rome, U.K. r&b trio Loose Ends, and the iconic Abel Ferrara film King of New York. I would show the scene where theyre having the party in the basement, and tell them, Put me in the basement . . . sonically, Diddy remembers, his voice slowing down to trigger hypnosis. The hollow-ness of the basement. How would that sound coming from upstairs? Were in Paris, but were from New York. What would be the soundtrack to that?
Once you hear Pariss mish-mash (Diddys word) of sounds, all that producer-genius experimentalism makes some sense. Yeah Yeah sends psychedelic guitars through house-music filters. Croaking electronics shoot in all directions on Strobe Lights. Hello (Good Morning) has an absolutely epic acid-squelch breakdown. Hate Me Now and Angels are detours into thumping minimalism. Every song is full of swift change-ups and jarring musical detours; Vogues André Leon Talley compared the production to the broken cadences of avant-garde jazz, and hes only half-wrong.
Diddy often interrupts these jagged dance tracks to emote. What am I supposed to do when the club lights come on? he asks on Coming Home, confessing, Its easy to be Puff/Its harder to be Sean. Even party-rap lines like Smoke my reefer, gettin high are followed up with You know, without you I will die. Elsewhere, he declares his desire to Smoke weed listenin to Sade, which is both awesomely relatable and a bit sad.
To keep all this reflective playa-emoting in check, Paris is co-headlined by Diddys r&b duo, Dirty Money. ExDanity Kane member Dawn Richard and songwriter Kalenna Harper play hype-women to the ultimate hype-man, but they also provide a confident female voice, calling out Diddy as so damned selfish on Yeah Yeah and playing the sexual aggressor on Your Love. Moreover, this isnt exactly the guys mature record. One of the best songs is called Ass on the Floor (featuring swooping Moroder synths and a Major Lazer sample), while on Shades, Diddy declares his intention to make love to you on marmalade. Its lots of fun, and though confessional in parts, its overall far from the self-serious, petulant complaint-raps of say, Drake or Kanye. Paris looks back to dance music as soulful catharsis and emotionalism, not the cold thump thats taken over as of late.
Everybody has their time of having that hot hand and hot sound, Diddy concludes. And when radios programmed the way it is, its kinda hard to go against that. But that was one of the things I wanted to do. He sounds like a wizened veteran. Everything on the radio is so catered to the A.D.D. mentality of the ear as well as the heart, you know what Im saying?