“Don’t be afraid to get old, man.” That’s how Puff Daddy—as he will forever be known above all other monikers—begins “Big Homie,” the severely underrated 2014 banger from last February that saw Sean Combs effortlessly flaunting his veteran status on a trap beat you’d typically expect from Rick Ross (who’s featured, along with French Montana for intermittent “hannh” ad-lib purposes). The video has Puffy in several different regions, in their local spots (“I can go to any hood, bet they know me,” Puff raps) flanked with a mix of A-list rappers ranging from fellow vets (Snoop Dogg) to relative newbies like A$AP Mob. And that’s why it comes as no surprise that the full MMM project for which “Big Homie” served as the harbinger of is more of the same. Not the same sound, but the same feeling and aesthetic. Sean Combs is old (by hip-hop metrics), and instead of being embarrassed about it, Puff Daddy is re-energized. It’s no wonder he dropped it on his 46th birthday.
MMM, as inspired by Mekhi Phifer’s Harlem treasure Money Making Mitch in the hood classic Paid in Full, is somehow many things at once: a “New York” album that also works in current sonic trends and alongside throwbacks to the No Way Out mind state Puff is currently in; you can dab to “Workin” and the title track, then hit a classic Diddy bop to “You Could Be My Lover” and the especially jiggy “Auction.” Future appears. So does Lil’ Kim. Somehow, nothing feels incongruous or forced. As with any and every Puffy project, the album is full of grandiose self-proclamations of greatness that are somehow inspirational, but the best thing is there’s no assertiveness. Puff isn’t out to prove anything, nor is he trying to re-establish himself in rap’s current landscape.
If anything, he’s only out to prove something to himself. When asked by The Breakfast Club why he chose to make his forthcoming final album a sequel to his classic No Way Out, thus inviting a harsher level of scrutiny and criticism, he countered that it was a self-challenge. If he’s trying to assure he goes out on a high note, what better way than to aim directly for his best body of work? Judging from the various clips and Instagrams, Diddy assembled a Kanye-esque collaborator camp of sorts to help him achieve this goal. He’s the only person who can lead sessions with intense demands of perfection that seem fun as fuck too. The clips are self-indulgent and hyerbolic, but the work ethic shows: Everyone from the random Gizzle to Wiz Khalifa (to this writer’s surprise and awe) turns in a great contribution.
As for Puff himself, I don’t know who’s ghostwriting for him these days, but good God they’re helping him skate across these beats that range from lush to luxe trap (a producer list had not been released at press time) with verve: “Go ahead and Diddy bop/Flyin’ thru the city blocks/Sittin’ in a pretty drop, actin’ like an idiot.” Despite business ventures that lend real credence to boasts like “If I make $40 million, bitch, my year was slow,” Puff sequestered old friends, stalwarts, and new talent and acted as if, as he says on “Workin,” he and “The Family” are a new independent group. It’s a dedication that his fellow Forbes list veterans could stand to take a few cues from. This album is immediately better than Compton. And Watch the Throne seems to be the last time Jay Z truly locked himself in a studio until greatness came out.
“Money Making Mitch is this fairytale, you know, about this fly nigga from Harlem that came up, and he did his thing, man. He was shinin’ on em, stylin’ on em, showin’ em how to do it, showin’ em how to get it.” That’s how Puffy launches the loose, meta-concept album—he may as well have been talking about his own story. This is the fairytale of Puff Daddy the hitmaker turned businessman and culture tastemaker, and he’s writing the epilogue to his happily ever after. So far, so good.