The question: “What’s your favorite non-hip-hop pursuit?” Diddy’s answer, after a meaningful, somewhat bewildered pause: “happiness.”
We have gathered tonight at 92Y Tribeca for Noisemakers, Hot 97 DJ Peter Rosenberg’s series of live interviews with such hip-hop luminaries as Q-Tip, Raekwon, Pete Rock, and tonight, yes, the man our host prefers to just call Puff. The live band Dujeous is on hand to get us in the mood; the man himself emerges to the strains of “Bad Boy for Life” and settles in for a long, slightly awkward, but mostly remarkably charming chat, charting his arc from awestruck kid listening to “Rapper’s Delight” on the radio to budding party mogul at Howard University to (briefly!) car-washing Uptown Records intern to the force behind Jodeci, and Mary J. Blige, and Notorious B.I.G., and, of course, himself. “I’m a very competitive person,” he admits. “I’m a Scorpio. Shout-out to all the Scorpios in the house!”
Diddy has the casual ease of the absurdly famous, gently steering the interview back on course when his likably nerdy interviewer nerds out a bit too much on white labels or Washington D.C. or whether the album title We Invented the Remix was actually valid. Rosenberg has the DJ cue up the Smif-n-Wessun-aided remix of Mary J. Blige’s “I Love You,” and Diddy gamely bobs his head for 30 seconds or so before admitting, with just a hint of bashfulness, that no, he doesn’t think most of the music made in 2010 can fuck with it. Making records was easier back then, he explains. “Analog. There wasn’t no email. Computers was like fuckin’ huge!”
This is all well and good, but we want Biggie stories. “Always tell the truth, no matter how brutal it is,” Diddy remembers telling his young charge, but his most revealing stories tonight are about the moments he still worried B.I.G. was going too far: robbing pregnant ladies on “Gimme the Loot,” say. “He even said something about Mary,” Diddy begins, and for five seconds everyone wracks their brains trying to recall a Mary J. Blige diss before he clarifies: “No, no, I mean Mary, Jesus’ mother.”
The endgame involves a lot of what-could-you-possibly-have-left-to-accomplish flattery that attempts to measure the depth of Diddy’s ambition: He notes that he modeled himself after do-everything Motown mogul Berry Gordy but, y’know, Diana Ross should’ve had her own clothing line. (In fact, once Diddy wraps his head around the favorite-non-hip-hop-pursuit question, his answer is “fashion.”) (Oh, and apparently he’d started meditating, like, just that day.) We conclude by briefly discussing his newest artists/friends/partnerships, from Janelle Monáe to Rick Ross, whom Rosenberg oddly praises to the skies, to conspicuous, profoundly uncomfortable NYC-audience silence. Ever the diplomat, Diddy senses the tension and jumps in to note that he’d never compare B.I.G. to Ricky and never will. This triggers a round of applause; we are soothed by the notion that Right Now will never stack up to Back Then, now that the remix has long since been invented, and our computers are so fuckin’ tiny.