Sean Combs talks Euro-infused album, reinvention and trading in solo act for Diddy Dirty Money
Late last month, when Diddy Dirty Money took the stage at the American Music Awards to perform the redemption anthem “Coming Home,” all the pieces of the intricate puzzle that rap impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs spent the last three years teasing finally made sense.
When the notoriously flashy multi-hyphenate mogul announced that his latest project would be an uberconcept album set to a cinematic backdrop of lost love amid Europe’s fashion-fueled cities, intrigue set in, especially when he promised that his oft front-and-center persona would take a backseat to a newly formed hip-hop collective featuring two female vocalists, Dirty Money.
“I’m ushering in a new movement called ‘train music’,” he previously said in a press release. “It’s a profound love story. It’s me with my shades off. It’s the truth.”
But after a number of reported release dates came and went, it started to appear uncertain whether Diddy Dirty Money’s “Last Train to Paris” would ever pull out of the station and into stores.
Thanks to a number of high-profile showings over the last few months, though, including performances at this year’s BET Awards, “Saturday Night Live” and the AMAs, the album finally hit stores Tuesday.
Combs said the number of delays allowed him time to fine-tune the album and get the public accustomed to his new look and sound.
“One of the things I didn’t want to do is take it for granted. There are so many things that I do" -- plug alert -- "whether it's Ciroc or the fragrances, Sean John or movies. I wanted to make sure I put the time into setting up the album and promoting it,” he said.
“I wanted to make sure I took the time to expose the girls to the world and kind of spoon-feed the people this concept of the girls. I don’t think people will really get Dirty Money, until over the next couple of weeks, with the album and with more videos. In order for that to be done right, I had to push it back and make sure it was set up right.”
With an avant-garde fusion of pulsating electro, funk and gritty hip-hop beats, paired with a sweeping tale of romance, the album plays like a cinematic piece, with Diddy as a sensitive playboy and his female counterparts Dawn Richard (formerly of Danity Kane) and songwriter Kalenna Harper offering the female perspective -- whether it's as lustful paramours or vengeful exes -- as he chases the girl of his dreams to Paris.
The album is the most personal work in his more than 13-year recording career.
“Throughout my career, I’ve talked about a lot of things that were relative to my life. Love has been something that I haven’t been able to conquer, and I wanted to talk about it,” said Combs, 41. “I’m somebody that needs love in my life. But it’s been something that I haven’t always been successful with. What I wanted to do with the album is it’s really about that feeling of love and the feeling that I’ve felt before.”
Conceptualizing Dirty Money wasn’t Combs merely looking for sidekicks. Inspired by English coed outfits Loose Ends and Soul II Soul, he saw the group as an opportunity to present a complete story, and reinvent himself.
“I would always use female vocals on my album[s], but I said I wanted to do something different, something refreshing where it wasn’t just all about me and I was able to launch some new artists,” he said. “That’s how I got with the concept of myself and the two ladies. They were the perfect fit for me, chemistry-wise.”
“The girls aren’t my background singers and they are not my support. When people hear the album and see the new videos they will get that,” he continued. “They are so talented, they have a unique tone, a unique swag. It’s rare to see people not go for the typical R&B sex symbol look with everybody naked. We wanted to go with our own look, our own vibe.”
The trio is joined by an exhaustive roster of guests on the album, including Grace Jones, Lil Wayne, a rapping Justin Timberlake, Usher and Chris Brown -- something Combs said was organic.
“I didn’t want to overdo anything for me, as far as my role in it. I wanted to keep it fresh. There were people we’d bump into and things would naturally start to happen,” he said.
Despite taking a risk, or a step backward -- depending on whom you ask -- by falling into a group, Combs strived to demonstrate how he’s evolved in the years since his last album, 2006’s “Press Play.”
“I think it’s important that I show people growth. To be honest, I’m trying to be smoother about it and not overhype it or oversell it," he said. "I want people to pay attention and let the music play for itself."
Though, in true Diddy fashion, he’s found a loophole in creating hype -- the man is, afterall, a natural born salesman. On Twitter, he promises to follow anyone willing to change their avatar to the album’s cover, and the trio jave doled out a batch of videos -- so far, there have been seven, with clips for “I Hate That You Love Me” and the Usher-assisted “Looking for Love” to debut soon.
Though his most striking promo came with a mixtape endorsed by Vogue, with interludes from the fashion world’s biggest boldfaced names -- including Anna Wintour, André Leon Talley, Tommy Hilfiger, Zac Posen and Isaac Mizrahi -- all giving their stamp of approval.
Combs said he is proud that the project has brought out sides of him that he hadn’t realized were there.
“Artistically, I’ve gotten more in touch with myself on a more vulnerable side. That’s become more serious to me now. The greatest artist in the game right now is Beyoncé. She’s my hero. The way she works hard and the way she is committed, I’ve been more inspired by her to tap more into myself as an artist,” he said.
“I learned in film that it’s all or nothing and that’s helped me a lot. Whether or not the world is ready, they are going to have to be because we’re going to come with it.”
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: (Top) Diddy Dirty Money, from left, Dawn Richard, Kalenna Harper and Sean "Diddy" Combs. Credit: Interscope records.
(Middle) Diddy Dirty Money perform onstage during the 2010 American Music Awards held at the Nokia Theatre on Nov. 21. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images.
(Bottom) Diddy and his muses get Dirty. Credit: Courtesy of Interscope records.