"Don't be afraid to get old, man...you may learn some shit. You may know some shit. You may see some shit." —Diddy
Puff Daddy's mid-life crisis "Big Homie" is the best song inspired by a woman telling an artist he was too old to drop this year. (It opens, like all great Puff songs do, with Puff talking shit: "Bitch told me I was old, I had to tell her....") It's a thunderous cut in the Rick Ross vein, simmering organs and a chorus that's as much chant-along catchphrase as it is rapping. His verses, which have a suspiciously Ross-ian flair, also bleed in that direction. The video—which leaked briefly a few weeks back, then vanished from the 'net for the most part, until its official drop today—has Puff flaunting a fur coat in Harlem, stunting in front of an Atlanta Waffle House, and boasting in Little Haiti about his comfort levels (they're high) in any hood. It sounds roughly like 2010, but Diddy's never been much for timelines.
"Big Homie" is also an argument for Puffy's way of doing things, and the reason he is still releasing dope music, while your favorite veteran rapper is busy trying to figure out what rhymes with "Instagram." Say what you will about the man—and there's a lot to say—he makes things happen.
Produced by Ben Billions, Lu Diaz, and Lunch Money, "Big Homie" is the lead single from Diddy's forthcoming 2014 album Money Making Mitch (you've seen Paid In Full, right?). Back to the Harlem history well again. Lunch Money, a Miami rapper/producer, says that the beat and a reference hook were originally picked up by French Montana, who brought the record to Puff. "Puff wanted some shit reminiscent of his Puff Daddy days, very Harlem," said Lunch Money. Appropriately enough, considering the album's title.
"Big Homie" was initially one of those new, genuinely-unintended leaks. Labels are now working in the putting-the-genie-back-in-the-bottle industry. It works in the short term—try finding a trace of "Big Homie" on any of the major music sites, like this one, before today—but in the long term, it forces the artist to either shit or get off the pot. This happened recently with Young Thug's "Danny Glover," which hit just as "Stoner" was starting to gain momentum. "Danny Glover" appeared around Halloween 2013, then immediately disappeared, as whatever mysterious forces at work behind Young Thug played Whack-A-Mole. Ultimately, the song came out soon after anyway, eclipsing "Stoner."
As the center of the music industry breaks apart, Diddy sometimes seems like he's trying to put it all back together as the sand slips through his fingers.
All this is to say, welcome to being Diddy in 2014: dancing on the shifting sands of the Internet, like a bad dream where he's still stuck in that one scene from the "Been Around the World" music video. Actually, sand metaphors are very useful to describe exactly what he's dealing with. As the center of the music industry breaks apart, Diddy sometimes seems like he's trying to put it all back together as the sand slips through his fingers.
But dammit, he's going to scoop that sand anyway: Revolt was inspired, he told us, when he was trying to promote Last Train To Paris, his last album. "When I was promoting my last album, I had to go to Dancing With the Stars. American Idol. David Letterman. To get some exposure...There was no number-one place that you could go to." This coincided with a realization about music festivals, and how hugely popular artists were now banking without radio play.
So naturally, his response was audacious, in a way that only reinforced Puff's generous, genteel, self-made millionaire persona: he started his own TV channel and website devoted to covering music—to position himself over the center again. In principle, this doesn't seem far from the goals of his spiritual son Ross, whose Mastermind Diddy co-executive produced. Ross and Diddy see their audiences in blockbuster terms. They are fighting for a monoculture that no longer exists for hip-hop, and when hip-hop itself is becoming unhinged, its individual parts separating from the whole and floating freely, ignoring clubs, crumbling through autotune, and so on.
Recently, there's been a rough consensus that the system is broken. Outside of your top tier—Kendrick, Young Money, et al—it does seem like there is a widening gap between artists who churn out hits—your Cash Outs and Kid Inks—and artists who have developed invested fanbases—your Odd Futures and A$AP Rockys. The reality is even more complicated; Pusha T might completely outsell Danny Brown, but then Danny Brown will spend the summer pulling considerably more money on the festival tour circuit. Odd Future sell pretty aite for an underground act, but no telling how much more they make in merch than J. Cole.
In the late 1990s Puffy represented everything wrong with hip-hop to a certain subset of rap fans. There were plenty of reasons folks hated on Puffy, some justified, some not, some in this weird nether-region of nebulous culpability. But buried in the Puffy hate was concern about how he was leaving certain groundbreaking hip-hop innovations behind—related largely to production—in favor of one-track-jacks of certain sure hits. How crass and easy—flipping certified Diana Ross disco smashes isn't creative. What happened to the scratches and the boom bap?
But the shit you think was essential proves to be less so when it takes off and reorients hip-hop's gravity. There was such audacity to "Can't Hold Us Down"—remaking hip-hop's original message rap into an audacious fuck-you that made no apologies and pulled no punches was disrespectful and successful all at once.
And nothing screams audacity like amateurism. Puffy raps on "Big Homie" in Ross' sloganeering style—short bursts telegraphed in clear, concise language. But he does it with the average man's voice, sounding not far off from your own performance of "BMF" in the weight room. For all his money, he can't buy a rapper's natural-born, imperative vocals. But contained within his deadened flow is a very American promise, that we don't need to be one of God's chosen rappers. We just need to make a lot of money and know how to spend it.
At the end of the day, what Puff Daddy still conveys is a hip-hop attitude, and whatever the Big Homie's flaws, it's consistent.