NY1's Budd Mishkin continues his new series, "One On 1" — a weekly look at the New Yorkers who make the city great — with a profile of one of the most successful recording artists, producers and entrepreneurs in the hip-hop world, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.
So what's in a name?
For a certain hip-hop entertainment impresario, a lot.
"My friends basically named me, my true friends, and it was P. Diddy," says hip-hop mogul Sean Combs. "Now they just call me Diddy. But we're not doing an official name change, so don't get nervous."
We know him now as P. Diddy. We've known him as Puff Daddy, or simply Puffy. But when he runs in the upcoming New York City Marathon?
"My name registered for the marathon is Sean Combs," he says. "I just wanted to use the name my mother gave me — I'm going to need all my good luck from my mother."
We've seen P. Diddy in so many situations over the past decade. But never in running shorts - until now. His goal? To raise $$1 million for children's' charities. He has a name for that too: "Diddy runs the city."
"I feel passionate about that cause," he says. "Kids are real. A lot of things in my world - the world of entertainment - are fake. But kids are real. They're always going to tell you how it is."
The money will benefit children in the public school system, children with the AIDS virus, and P. Diddy's own "Daddy House" social programs, which send kids to summer camp outside the city.
That charity grew out of Combs' own experience as a child.
"I was eight years old, and my Fresh Air Fund camp went to Pennsylvania, to Amish Country, and I stayed with an Amish family," he recalls. "It was a culture shock — I got time to walk around and think and relax. I got to see different people and different things and be open-minded about different things, and that helped make me what I am today."
What he is today is an entrepreneur who has helped turn rap and hip-hop into an international phenomenon. Because of his prominence, Combs has become a spokesman for the industry.
"Hip-hop is more than just music - it's a lifestyle, it's a way of life, a movement," he says. "The point of view is the struggle, the triumph, the road, the ups and downs, the stories, the good times, the bad times, the sex, the love, the dance of it all, the whole drama, the tragedy - everything that comes into life you're going to get in hip-hop and black music, whether you like it or not."
But why him? So many other rappers have come and gone - what is it about Sean Combs that has made him one of entertainment's most successful entrepreneurs?
"A lot of times I reflect on why I had so much success and the consistency over a long period of time," he says. "My relationship with God helps me through my obstacles, and my philosophy is to get out of it what you put into it. As soon as you let up and get too good to pick up garbage or answer your own phone or get your hands dirty yourself, that's when you fall off."
In Combs' Times Square office, a photo spanning several generations shows the founder of Bad Boy Entertainment with Berry Gordy, the founder of the first black-owned music megacompany, Motown Records.
"I definitely took a page out of Motown's book when I was starting my company," he says, "as far as having a young cultural lifestyle movement through my music, and selling black music in a positive way, in an urgent way, and making sure that it was commercial enough so that people could understand our point of view but not take away from the artisticness and the realness of it."
But what about people who simply don't get rap? What are they missing?
"There are messages (in rap music), cries for help," he says. "But there's also a lighter side to it - music, young music, fun. Like a Beatles fan can imagine being younger and listening to the Beatles or the Stones, when you just wanted to enjoy the music and it wasn't that deep to you. Lots of times people enjoy the rhythm of it, the melody of it, the good time, that's important too. There's a message that rings personally for this generation, whether they're black or white. It transcends color barriers and age barriers; you have to be open-minded. Just look at it like it was your parents back in the days and they weren't being open-minded. Just give it a chance — it's a fun and powerful art form."
The story of Sean "Puffy" Combs started in New York, and each new chapter of his life is first scrutinized here.
"New York has watched me grow up," he says. "I'm a New Yorker. Everybody knows everything about me, my ups and downs, trials and tribulations - I'm like a child in New York that's grown up."
Combs grew up in Harlem with his mother. He never got to know his father, who was shot and killed when Combs was only three years old.
"When I lived in Harlem, it was very tense," he recalls. "You had to have your guards on, it was like a war zone. I'm not trying to sugarcoat it — it was definitely a different mentality."
At age 12, he and his mother moved to Mount Vernon, where it's said he earned the name "Puffy" for the way he stuck out his chest on the football field. He remembers a Martin Luther King speech that inspired him to excel, no matter what the profession.
"I always wanted to be a garbageman," he remembers, "so I was always saying that when I was a garbageman, my garbage was going to be the most garbage. It may sound crazy, but it's worked out a little better than that."
Combs started as an intern for record companies, eventually working his way up to producer and then recording artist. His career has seen a series of celebrations and setbacks.
A charity celebrity basketball game he organized at City College in 1991 turned tragic when conditions became overcrowded and nine people died in the stampede. Combs was said to be devastated.
He bounced back to produce some of the most successful artists of the 1990s. Times were good and business was booming, but the violence that plagued the rap world hit close to home. His close friend Biggie Smalls was gunned down in 1997, and Combs took to the recording studio to express his grief.
"Biggie is always with me," he says today. "He's my inspiration, my motivation. He's always with me."
While the music continued to thrive, the troubles beyond the music persisted, culminating in a gun and bribery charge stemming from a December 1999 shooting in a Manhattan club where Combs had gone with then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez.
"I never felt like I wouldn't make it out of that situation, 'cause i knew the truth and what happened," he says.
Despite its popularity, rap has faced its share of criticism. Among the specific charges: the prevalence of anti-women lyrics.
"There has to be more responsibility taken by hip-hop artists, but in all fairness, we needed time to grow up and mature," he says. "A lot of artists who have reached that level of maturity realize the power that's in their words."
And after all of the trials and tribulations, these are good times for P. Diddy.
"I'm blessed to have so many positives," he says. "Seeing my son play football (with) the Mount Vernon Razorbacks - we're undefeated and it's been a great year."
Part of Combs' success lies in never standing still, always seeking the next big thing. And right now, that's the marathon and raising money for children's charities.
"I kind of feel sometimes like my life is like a marathon," he says. "There's been a lot of ups and downs, good times and bad times - but it's really about how you finish."
So we'll finish with an opportunity not to be passed up: asking P. Diddy for some name advice. What alternative name would he recommend for a guy named Budd Mishkin?
"Okay," he says, thinking about it for a moment. "I'm going to call you B.M."
It's not as cool as P. Diddy, but I'll take it.