In the summer of 2008, I received an impromptu call asking if I’d be willing to speak with one of mus most successful moguls, Sean “Diddy” Combs. Of course, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse and a nice milestone in knowing my work was being noticed by some of the heavy hitters in Hip-Hop culture. Although we didn’t have much time, Combs and I had an interesting conversation on the “health” of Hip-Hop, Wayne’s meteoric rise, and the mogul’s tireless entrepreneurial spirit. It was interviews like this early in my career that inspired me to push forward and make my own dreams a reality.
Ismael AbduSalaam: Thanks for making the time, I know you’re real busy.
Sean “Diddy” Combs: No problem, sir.
Ismael: I wanted to ask you some questions about the new VH1 show you got I Want to Work for Diddy…
Ismael: The first question I had…
Diddy: Yeah, yeah! Not to interrupt you but this right here is an overall plan of mine that I’ve had for the last year, which is to take over the airwaves. In the month of August (2008), I’m taking over the airwaves. I have three shows on the air and I’m renaming it Diddy TV. Monday night, you have I Want to Work for Diddy. Tuesday night you got Run’s House. Wednesday night you got Making the Band. The newest show out of all of them is I Want to Work for Diddy.
I was running over the last year to time everything so I had everything planned all at once, reruns and everything. So every time you turn on VH1 or MTV, you’ll see the Bad Boy logo or hear the music. You’ll see a lot of real estate on the air: a lot of branding, product placement, and things like that. It’s a new experiment I’m trying to combine the marketing with the creative content I produce and put together for TV.
Ismael: Very smart. What did you do to make sure every show stayed distinct even though you’re working on them all at the same time?
Diddy: It’s really being aware that I have three shows on at the same time. Being conscious to give people three different shows but also have a synergy. There’s a lot of African-American talent, number one. I’m very proud of that, [to] add some color to MTV, Viacom, and VH1. It’s really the positive messages for making them all distinct. My whole concept television-wise is about empowerment, by making it inspirational, to inspire people, and making it about empowerment.
So whether it’s Run’s House and the positive messages that are there with his kids. Whether it’s his kids starting a sneaker company or Rusty wanting to be a cook, or [launching] Team Blackout. It’s about us being able to empower ourselves and not asking for handouts. And that’s the family show.
Now on Making the Band, [it’s]just taking it up to another level [and] continuing with the drama that we’ve had. The drama’s natural, the drama’s real. And [also] really taking the show on the road. I thought that was something different for the brand. We’ve never seen the show go on tour and go to different cities. And that competitive thing you have on tour with the groups. Now, we’re releasing our 3rd album off that brand, which is Donnie Klang which we hope to have #1. That comes out September 2nd and would be our third #1 [album].
And then you have I Want to Work for Diddy which has a whole cinematic style to it. I went with a lot of steady cams and dolly shots. I shot it widescreen, letterbox. Some of my home video footage was used in there. So my look wasn’t like a fake Apprentice or another rendition of Making of the Band with people going to eat cheesecake. It was a show about following your dreams. Maybe not being from New York, you still want to work in the entertainment industry. People have that dream are all over America. We were truly able to accomplish that [vision].
Ismael: I know you’ve had a lot of assistants in your time. What’s the main reason assistants don’t last with you?
Diddy: That’s a misconception. I’ve needed more assistants than the average person. I have four assistants now since I’m running 10 companies and I needed more assistants. The positive thing is that I needed more not because my assistants didn’t last, [but] most of them went on to do bigger and better things, as you’ll see in the show. Most of them are like VPs, heads or presidents of companies, [and] most of them make six figures now. Most of their zip codes have changed to better zip codes. When someone is your assistant for three years and they’re doing a great job, you either have to promote them within the company, or they’re gonna get snatched up by another company. And that’s the purpose. If you’re a good boss, that’s really how you know that what you’re doing is good, if other people want your staff or to get hired in your organization.
Ismael: One of the big things you said about a month ago in one of your blogs was that Lil Wayne’s album was a classic, and that the game has changed. So looking at it today, Lil Wayne has the 2nd rated (Tha Carter III)Billboard album on the charts, and Nas has the #1 spot (Untitled). So you have the previous generation and the new right at the top of the charts. Do you think that shows Hip-Hop is in a healthy state?
Diddy: Yeah, I think Hip-Hop takes criticism well. But Hip-Hop doesn’t like to criticize. When we were getting criticism from each other, Hip-Hop rises to the occasion. We don’t like being known as a genre that you don’t really need a lot of talent for, because this is the most talented genre in music. I think a lot of people got offended in a positive way and went in deep with the creativity. Whether it’s Lil Wayne or Kanye…and to be honest those two really have a huge level of responsibility on the rebirth of Hip-Hop.
All due respect to the OGs, and I would consider myself in that category, but the truth of the matter is it wouldn’t have worked the way it’s working now if the new generation didn’t step up.
There are some living legends still in the game that were always before their time. So it took the new cats some time to even catch up and step up. And by doing it I think its put fire up underneath everybody’s ass in a positive way. I think that Nas is a living legend. With Wayne’s album it wasn’t a southern album, it was like a classic Hip-Hop album. It’s just paving the way for true Hip-Hop artists such as Nas or Jay-Z. I think even if Common dropped an album [right now]. Anything that’s true Hip-Hop but also has that balance of not being too far left, but being up to center in the sense of understanding how to make big records, will do well.
Ismael: Bad Boy has put out a lot of strong R&B albums this year (2008). Do you have anything planned for 2009 as far as Hip-Hop albums go?
Diddy: Yeah, yeah. In 2009 I’m finally gonna release Aasim the Dream from Queens. I got a real huge internet push on him. You’re gonna be hearing a lot of noise from him. That’s really gonna be one of my main focuses on Hip-Hop next year.
Ismael: I have one more question for you. A lot of people are aware when you first started out you were interning for Uptown and there were a lot of things you had to go through. But you were really ambitious, even if that meant riding the train daily from DC to New York. You did what you had to do. You’ve always said the greatest thing you can tell people coming into the game is just to be you, and to be genuine. So when you look at the people coming up business and artist-wise, do you see them adhering to that and coming in with a genuine spirit?
Diddy: Man people coming into the game at this point, aren’t even seeing a fraction of the money that people like myself, Jay, Dr. Dre, or Death Row or anybody got. So if they doing it, they really gotta be doing it for the love [laughs] and that genuine spirit. Because there ain’t a lot of those $60 million, $150 million dollar checks being written no more.
Ismael: Very, very true. Well that’s all I got. Is there anything else you wanted to add that we may have missed?
Diddy: Yeah I got a new show on MTV that I’m announcing in a couple of weeks, I can’t announce it now. I’m real proud of the Emmy nomination for the movie I did for NBC, A Raisin in the Sun. I take a lot of pride and excitement in the year I’m having in television. It’s just a dream of what I wanted and what I want Bad Boy to be, from music, to television, to fashion…To be honest I think my crew is really doing their thing right now. My hat goes off to my team. We’re selling out the liquor stores, we got #1 albums dropping, #1 fragrance, #1 television shows, #1 movies…We only just begun. We’re about to go real crazy in the 4th like Jordan on these motherfuckers.
Ismael: Perfect way to end. I just want you to know when I was younger and just getting into music was when you were really making your mark with Mary J, Jodeci and Biggie’s first album. So I wanted to thank you for your contributions [to music].
Diddy: Thank you very much.