This is the first long player we’ve had from SeanCombs for some time – five years in fact. Since TheSaga Continues he’s been fighting a tough musicalbattle, completing but not releasing a gospel albumand embarking on an unsuccessful venture into housemusic that initially rocked the Miami music conferencein 2003 but had little impact above ground. And theless said about his move into the world of fragrance,the better!
Returning to his bread and butter of self-promotinghip hop, he drops the ‘P’ from his name – everywhereexcept the UK that is – the surprising result of alegal battle with a little known house DJ.
A cursory glance at the tracklisting brings fearsof pro-celebrity hip hop, the divas, rappers and newkids on the block queuing up in droves for their guestslots. But when you do as Combs asks, and press play,the outcome is sharply refreshing.
Even lyrically, aside from the predictableposturing and ego-massaging, Diddy seems to havestepped up a notch. Early on his task is to remind uswho he is, why he got where he did and how good hecontinues to be. All head swelling sentiments ofcourse, but few rappers would get away with rhyming”spinach” and “diminish” quite so easily, nor wouldtoo many observe that their style spreads like birdflu. The verbal tricks are all carried off withpizzazz in the musical arrangements.
And then the guests take over, Diddy takes a backseat on his own album, and the 80-minute marathonheads into its defining stages. The edgy Tell Me takesChristina Aguilera back to sultry vocalizing.Newcomer Keri Hilson causes quite a stir on AfterLove, that rarest of things – an R&B track that pushesforward with no semblance of formula. Twistaand Big Boi take care of business on the rapside of things, their quickfire contributions lightingup the album’s core.
Combs’ production throughout is striking, always onits toes. Everything I Love rolls its rhythm back andforward, punctuated by big band phrasing. Through ThePain, featuring Mario Winans, takes an 80sstyle soul groove and clouds it with ambiguousharmonies, reflective and funky all at the same time.The way Diddy blends this into Brandy’s ThoughtYou Said is truly thrilling, branching unbelievablyinto breakbeat. Special Feeling meanwhile struts itsstuff at the disco, with Mika Lett and Diddyoffering vocal asides.
We weren’t expecting this. Certainly the singleCome To Me, the least exciting track here, offeredprecious little clue to the quality of this record, acracking album that holds its own for almost theentire duration. Diddy’s back with what may well behis best album yet, and he can believe his own hypeonce more.