Puff Daddy's career is defined by bombast; his story and longevity are the stuff of music myth now—but he was the first to mythologize it, and he certainly didn't wait two decades. So it's a little surprising that we're only just now getting Can't Stop, Won't Stop, a glossy, expensive-looking documentary on the Bad Boy dynasty spearheaded by the man himself. Know what else is surprising about Can't Stop? Puffy isn't very bombastic in it. With a timeline framed around the inception, planning and execution of the Bad Boy family's grand reunion show last year at the Barclays Center on B.I.G.'s birthday, the film finds Diddy reflective, at times vulnerable, and even, gasp, humble. And when he does turn up (he wants the Phantom, not the Chrysler stand-in dammit!) it's in the almost-masochistic pursuit of perfection.
The doc doesn't go nearly as deep as it could have—as much access as we're given, it's hard to say you come away from this learning more about Sean Combs, the human. But Puff, the superhero, is magnetic enough to buoy the experience, and watching him galvanize Bad Boy's heavy hitters back into formation like the X-Men is fun for even the most casual fan of the era. Plus, with so many biopics and docs of late struggling to do right by an entire legacy with an 80-minute runtime, it's a relief to watch a film that succeeds in telling a concise, clearly framed narrative.
Complex hopped on the phone with Puff to discuss the takeaways and key moments in Can't Stop, how he envisions it to be the first film in at least a trilogy (the Bad Boy Cinematic Universe, anyone?), and where this intense focus on the film has left his musical goals. We're coming up on the 20th anniversary of No Way Out, after all—is he really going to shelve the sequel he touted would be his last album? Puff said the film might be his last project, artistically. Five minutes later he said don't expect he and Jay Z to ever relent their position as the culture's leaders. Can't stop, won't stop, indeed.
Can't Stop, Won't Stop hits Apple Music on June 25.
One of the most notable things about the film is your demeanor—you seem to be trying to conduct yourself in a humbler way in terms of interacting with everyone around you.
Yeah, it was definitely an evolution as far as in my leadership—an evolution of me as a man, you know? You have that amount of power and you’re not really understanding the way you’re giving direction or speaking to people. You come off as an asshole. And so, they say you die an asshole or you wake up one day and say, "I don’t want them to say I’m an asshole at my funeral." And you start to make those changes and you deal with yourself and then when you have those chances again to get with certain people you treat them with that certain respect and respect for yourself. Every time it gets away from you, when you have a certain amount of success and you’re spiraling out of control—you live and you learn and you grow and it’s alright for people to see a person grow up. In the movie, they actually see a person who they followed for 20-something years, growing up. It’s real though.
One of the scenes that really struck me was when you get up with Mase and tell him he's his own man and probably has things to teach you at this point.
I'm definitely at a point where I’m listening more in life. The movie captured a turning point in my life—the cameras started rolling right on time. I started filming this when I was 19 and to have that footage with this [reunion concert] footage is...you know I have to stop thinking I can teach all the time and I need to stop and learn and listen. And that’s what that scene was really about, the change of the guards, the role reversal.
You’ve been filming this since you were 19? Have you always been filming yourself with the idea of putting together a doc at some point?
Yeah, this is part one of a trilogy. It was always an idea in my head that albums and certain lives are gonna actually be filmed live and then made into films. [I knew] that was how history would be told, and from recognizing that at a young age I always planned to [implement that]. Not to be self-serving but just to tell the truth, whether [the story is] good or bad, that's how it really [happened].
they say you die an a**hole or you wake up one day and say, 'I don’t want them to say I’m an a**hole at my funeral.'
Talk a little bit about your relationship with Laurie Ann, because she steals the film.
Even Jordan and Ali had a coach, you know? I definitely need a coach. I could be having a bad day, I could be worrying about business when I’m performing or not be tuned in—you need somebody to slap you up and tell you like, Come on now we’re losing this game, you’re losing the fight, you gotta knock that chump out. And she’s the one who tells me to go knock that chump out.
Biopics are a big topic of conversation right now what with All Eyez On Me and such. A colleague of mine and I were talking recently about how too many of them try to cram an entire lifetime into two hours and fail, whereas it'd be more interesting to tell a story that's more of a fragment, a particular slice from a life. That's kind of what you did here...a lot of backstory and context is provided but for the most part it's really just about the reunion.
That’s what it was made to be: a great piece of music content doc. It wasn’t supposed to be so much on it, but real life crashed in with us making a concert doc, so then we had to deal with our whole lives, but in a way in which it related to what was going on here. So it was a whole different perspective, it was a whole different way to shoot it. The worlds came crashing together.
But the ultimate plan is to release two more?
Yeah, the ultimate plan is definitely to release two more. If you see me in there talking about a trilogy, that’s what I’m manifesting.
You refer to it as a concert doc, but what went into the decision to not actually show much of the concert?
The story really evolved to a point where it wasn’t even just a story about our lives, it was a story about being fearless, about what it takes to get to a point of success. That wasn’t the intention going into it, either, but you know, that’s where I’m at. I'm trying to make sure that the things that I do, the things that I show through my art or whatever is gonna have that impact. It’s gonna reaffirm the dream. The truth, at the end of the day, is what kind of makes [the film] something special. Everybody just told the naked truth.
What’s the hardest moment for you to watch in the film?
[A pause.] Yeah...I start to cry at the end, because it’s my life, it’s something I’m proud of, something I know I worked hard to get to, and I was knocked down so many times but I knew I had to get to that point. The end, really, really, really, gets me. The Biggie part chokes me up, but then the beauty of the Nina Simone part, it gets me because that’s my truth and it’s just, it’s so beautiful. At the end I’m like, Wow, God is good. You know you’re gonna [go through] problems, but it just inspired me to live life even more.
Were you nervous about including some of the more vulnerable scenes in the movie? It opens with you at the doctor and he makes that analogy about a vet returning for a playoff game and tells you you're out of shape. There's the scene where you're really down about the first show...these are different sides of you than we're accustomed to.
That’s the thing that I wanted to give people in the movie, I wanted to give them Sean. That’s not Puff Daddy, that’s just Sean. I felt comfortable, I felt like if we gon do it—and I had some experience with this from reality TV—but as far as making music or telling a story you have to be as vulnerable as possible. If you’re gonna do it, then do it the right way. I was like, Man, fuck it, this is where it’s at. I’m out of shape, I haven’t been able to work out in two years, I ain’t even tell nobody, I tried to hide that shit—I can't hide that shit. My stomach is all crazy, I haven’t had a haircut, yeah, I do have some greys on my beard. But I was just like, Fuck it. Just tell the truth and be you.
What do you hope people take away from the film?
I hope people are inspired by it. There’s a whole lot of biopics and stuff out there, this is just in a different direction, just a different type of movie. I just hope the people can leave the theater [having taken] something [from it]. That’s always the best feeling.
What ideas are you thinking of for the next two installments?
[Laughs.] I don’t have it mapped out like that, you know what I’m saying. I just know that there’s going to be [more]. Melvin’s Son, Sean, that’s the next installment. [Laughs.]
Have you ever thought about documenting your life with a scripted movie?
I don’t know really what the future holds. I would say the platform...it’s going to get to a point where, like, you're gonna have to make a movie for every album. It’s gonna evolve so if you’re gonna be in this, there's just different ways visually people can express their thoughts and feelings, and have music be a part of it. I don’t know what the future holds as far as telling my different stories and my different personal experiences but I definitely think that I will tell a couple, I think they’ll be interesting cause of, you know, my life and what I’ve gone through.
So, I was at night one of the reunion show, and I had a great time. So it was crazy for me to see you be super disappointed about how it went down.
Yeah. I wasn’t all the way connected to the spirit, you know what I’m saying? If I don’t give all of myself then I’m like in my head or whatever it is. I’m such a perfectionist, nobody else would know. You’re entitled to be in your head, we’re humans. I like to be so connected that I’m in such a zone that I know I'm giving my all. I gave my best though but it was just, it was, it really wasn't good for me. It’s just like, sometimes I can be too hard on myself though, too.
Is that one of the things you took away from the experience both when you think back to that night and watch the doc?
Yes. Because like my worst show ain’t even somebody’s—damn that’s kind of a crazy statement—but yea, my worst show ain’t someone’s best show.
The sequencing of the show was perfect—you packed a lot of history into a three-hour night. Everything was laid out: the different Bad Boy eras, the notable features, all your most important relationships with other artists. Other reunion shows have...struggled, to do the same. How hard was it to pull that off?
Awww, man...it was a lot of work. I had to figure out how to tell a story. I almost approached it with a Broadway sensibility, how the emotions are introduced, take you through this time travel of experiences. So I was very conscious on what I played next, how I played it, how the lights was, how we came in—all through understanding the feeling that it would make the audience have. There was a lot of work to really stay committed to that and not the ego.
You dropped a fire new verse during the show that referenced a lot of your history, and thinking back on that makes me wonder: What’s going on with No Way Out 2?
To be honest—because sometimes life hits you with a curveball—it kind of worked out where [the film] was able to also be like an album for me in the sense of, on an album you really wanna [present yourself in this moment], be at this point, tell your truth and your story. I have a lot of records but at the same time, I gotta really feel it; I have to have something to talk about it. I poured a lot of emotion into this movie. This movie is like my new album so...this may be the last thing that I really do artistically. I have some records coming out to support the movie, but, this is what I would've talked about on an album.
we’re letting our people see a good story. This story is gonna end happily ever after.
We’re coming up on 20 years for No Way Out—when was the last time you listened to that record?
Hmm, when I was probably putting the tour together and then on tour a little bit. It’s a dope record.
Are you such a perfectionist that when you listen to it now you critique it?
Nah, I wouldn’t have did anything differently—that’s my best work. [The anniversary] is definitely something that I’m gonna be celebrating. I forgot all about it, I just got reminded in the last couple weeks. It’s a big thing. You can let things in life pass you or you can honor moments like that in life and enjoy them. I’m gonna enjoy it. I’m gonna get me a nice glass of wine, some smoke, hit my backyard, put my feet in the pool and turn that motherfucker up loud as hell. Right on that street in motherfucking Holmby Hills, on billionaires row. And I’m gonna love every motherfucking minute of it. [Laughs.]
I feel you on the film fulfilling what you would've done on an album, but I know you got some heat in the vault...
I got the heat, I just gotta get focused and get the courage to do it. Because the level I'd have to go at it is so raw. Your spirit and everything gotta be right. When you really try to make something great and raw you really just gotta be in tune to that. I'd have to be able to like zone all the way out if I did something like that.
You only give your full commitment. Nothing else.
One of my favorite projects you talked about that hasn't come to fruition was the Bugatti Boyz with Rick Ross. The collaborations that you two have together though are so fucking great.
I would still do that. We’ve been talking about it. He's been sending me stuff, as a matter of fact. You don’t know what could happen. We have some stuff that we’ve been working on. Well, mostly he's been working on, to be honest, I've been doing this.
One of the highlights of the year was you and Jay Z bossed up together at the Roc Nation brunch. You're both veterans and still active and excelling at a higher point than most. You're like dual examples of hip-hop's zenith.
What we’re doing is, we’re letting our people see a good story. This story is gonna end happily ever after. We are going to accept who we are, we’re going to enjoy and celebrate each other. And that’s why, I guess, that moment was so dope to people—because you’re seeing the two top cats in the game and they really fuck with each other. You normally don’t see that. We got genuine love for each other, and we out there doing it fly with each other. It’s a whole different feeling in the game because of that. Hopefully we make that infectious, where cats are really starting to fuck with each other and really celebrate each other. It’s good to celebrate like your boy. Like, Travis having a dope year, it’s dope to celebrate us because this is our culture and we turned this thing into a multi-billion dollar industry. We’ve had deep hands in that. We just gon keep on getting stronger and stronger and stay the leaders in our culture. We’re not gonna give it up, you know.
Did you slide in some beats for the new album, on some American Gangster shit?
Nah, nah no beats. [Laughs.] Not for this one. I think—nah, I can’t tell this—well, one producer did the whole thing, so. Wait, one producer didn't do the whole thing. I forgot....[Laughs.] He just didn’t call me this time. If he needed me he would’ve called me, I'm quite sure. I can’t wait to hear it.