October 17, 2021

Diddy - Press Play (October 17, 2006)

The fourth solo album from Sean “Puffy” Combs, Press Play, marked a number of firsts in the lengthy career of the entrepreneur/”producer”/”rapper”/mogul. For starters, it was his first project officially released under the newer “Diddy” moniker, as opposed to “P. Diddy”, “Puffy”, “Puff the Magic Daddy”, or “MC Shaughnessy” (although his UK fans had to put up with this being a P. Diddy release, thanks to a copyright infringement settlement with a London-based artist that had already staked his claim on that stage name). Like his sophomore album Forever, Press Play is not credited to the Family or the Bad Boy Family, implying that this is, in fact, a true solo effort, underscored by the fact that almost none of the members of Bad Boy’s label roster even bother appearing, a stark contrast to everything else Puffy had released up to this point. It was also the first Bad Boy Records release under their new distribution deal with Atlantic Records, a fact most of you two won’t give much of a shit about, which is likely the same way you feel about a review of Press Play in general, but I implore you, click through and keep reading, you will enjoy this one, if only so you’ll never have to actually listen to it.

Press Play is notable for two additional reasons – it’s Puffy’s first album not primarily produced by his Hitmen production team (although a few of them pop up at times, they were already on the payroll, Sean isn’t stupid), and it’s his first project that wasn’t really aimed at the hip hop/R&B audience. Both of those genres are certainly represented, obviously – Puff raps during every performance he gives here, as his attempts at singing would happen later in his career – but Press Play is a pop album with rap undertones, which is easily seen during a cursory glance at the guest list. Names such as Christina Aguilera and Nicole Scherzinger don’t tend to come up often in hip hop discussions. Combs also commissioned musical backing that was more in line with the dance-pop offerings played on the radio at the time, which makes it even more obvious what kind of audience he was chasing here.

To be fair, Press Play still wears its hip hop credentials proudly on its sleeve, because there isn’t any way a label such as Bad Boy, one whose storied history relies on our chosen genre, could ever ignore it outright. As mentioned above, Puffy raps during every performance he provides here, and those raps are written by some pretty huge names in the rap world. Puffy also secured beats from A-list producers such as Just Blaze, Kanye West, Timbaland, Danja, The Neptunes, and Havoc, any one of whom would be a pretty big get for your average rap artist. And there are plenty of R&B verses and hooks to go around here, although Diddy’s focus, again, was elsewhere.

Press Play’s loose narrative following the lifespan of a relationship, one which only really seems to kick in during the final third of the album, allows our host to narrow the subject matter down to something that could be considered “relatable” to a broader audience, although he certainly lends a healthy dose of shit-talk and materialism to his verses. Press Play sold over one million units in the United States alone, so his gamble ultimately paid off, which is how we ended up with that Diddy Dirty Money project four years later. Which is to say, everyone who ever purchased this one is at fault and should be ashamed of themselves.

And I say that even though there is at least one song on here I think everyone reading this will enjoy. No, seriously.

It’s one of those nebulous spoken word-ish rapping an album intro over an interpolation of a loop from the (classic) Tears for Fears song “Head Over Heels”-type things that the kids seem to enjoy. Just kidding. Not about that description, but about the kids – no young person is ever going to willingly seek out Press Play, regardless of the A-list names that fill out its guest roster. On this, seemingly one of but a handful of songs that our host has written himself (although I strongly doubt that shit), Puffy delivers a one-verse rant-slash-wonder that is supposed to introduce the album, but is predictably all over the place, veering from the inherent dangers of the drug game to Puffy’s fortitude (“I survived the first Bush”) to, unsurprisingly, a reference to the late Notorious B.I.G. Our host sounds neither genuine nor skilled during this intro. What am I getting myself in to here?

A name you absolutely did not predict would ever appear in the liner notes of Press Play is that of producer K-Def, whose work on “We Gon’ Make It” is baffling to me, not only because I just wrote about his group, Real Live, over behind the paywall, but because his utilization of the Johnny Pate "Shaft in Africa (Addis)" sample sounds exactly like what Just Blaze did with “Show Me What You Got”, the comeback single from a then-“retired” Jay-Z which was released less than two weeks before this entire fucking album. I’m not claiming that any ideas were stolen here, of course, but the coincidence is rather weird. Regardless, K-Def doesn’t manage to do a hell of a lot with the opportunity, but I hold no grudge with someone given a chance to score a Puffy paycheck. Ditto for rappers Aasim and The Game, both of whom are credited with writing Puffy’s three verses, because I’d hope by now you’d realize that there was no way Puffy would ever dream of reversing the fate of the late Tupac Shakur on one of his songs on purpose. (The multiple references to Biggie Smalls, however, are entirely expected.) His performance, or rather his recital of ghostwritten words, isn’t that bad, but it definitely isn’t that good, either, and crooner Jack Knight’s hook is altogether unnecessary lupid wastefulness for what is essentially a rap album intro taking place after a different rap album intro. Sigh.

Sean C and LV, neither a stranger to the Hitmen production umbrella, fail to contribute much to “I Am (Interlude)”, providing what is virtually the same instrumental Kanye West gave Consequence for “Grammy Family” (which utilizes the same sample source), its triumphant sound allowing Puffy ample opportunity for a one-verse wonder where he talks a lot of shit without feeling the need to ever back any of it up. “New York feel it in they gut / ‘Cause if Jay coming back, then the world need Puff,” our host offers, acknowledging the existence of Hov’s comeback album Kingdom Come and, as such, lending credence to my baseless theory that Diddy may have actually tasked K-Def with ripping off Just Blaze for the previous track after all. Yet and still, this was fucking dumb, and both Sean C and LV have created better, more creative beats elsewhere, so what the fuck happened here, my guys?

The most hilarious song in Puff Daddy’s entire rapping catalog has to be “The Future” by quite a significant margin. To be completely honest, I actually have a soft spot for this song, but not because I believe it to be objectively “good”. Nah, never that. Instead, I enjoy it because “The Future” is our host’s song-length impersonation of the rapper Pharoahe Monch, who wrote the track and presumably provided a reference track, one where Puffy clearly ignored the instructions given for him to make the song his own, as he apes Monch’s vocal tics, inflections, and delivery for the entire run time, and it. Is. Glorious. Lyrically, the song doesn’t make much sense (something something Puff Daddy is the future or some shit), but the boasts and bullshitting take on new life when performed by somebody pretending to be a different person completely. Producer Havoc lends an instrumental to the cause, a simplistic number that chugs along nicely while dispelling the rumor of bad blood between the two triggered by someone at Bad Boy allegedly stealing the beat for Puff and Black Rob’s “I Love You Baby” from Hav’s beat disc, and it sounds enjoyable if not especially heavy on the darkness Mobb Deep typically trafficked in. If you’ve never listened to “The Future” before, you deserve to treat yourself today, because instead of being angry at a rapper jacking another’s flow, you won’t be able to stop laughing, which is a good thing indeed.

Pharoahe Monch wrote Puffy’s words for this Havoc production as well – perhaps there might be an aborted Havoc x Monch collaborative project sitting on somebody’s hard drive that we’ll never be lucky enough to hear. (Prove me wrong, motherfuckers!) Then again, Hav is only credited as a co-producer on the kind-of bonkers “Hold Up”, with SC given the majority stake in the beat, one in which a vocal sample is mixed into the music to pretty great effect. Puffy still sounds like Monch, although the performance isn’t as funny as it was during the previous track, but the way he tries to avoid colliding directly with the instrumental, with its built-in chants and shockingly hype chorus, is still engaging. This could be the most non-traditional Sean “Puffy” Combs solo song out currently, or at least might have been prior to our host’s work in the EDM field later in his career (that reads like something I'm making up as a joke, but it's true). Sure, the lyrics are rather silly, as though Monch were actively trying to write the goofiest shit possible and was pleasantly surprised to hear Puff recite the lines without giving any notes (“Chicks’ll make a n---a dick hard like a Guinness” – huh?), but not distractingly so. Not as much as the music, anyway, which, admittedly, takes a bit to get used to. “Hold Up”, er, holds up very well in 2021, a sentence I had hoped I’d never write because it looks silly written down, but it really does.

“Come To Me”, the first single released from Press Play, confirmed what we had all expected at the time, or at least those of us who still bothered to clock Puffy back in 2006: that Sean Combs was making a play for legit pop stardom. Not R&B, not hip hop, but pop music, a flex he later doubled down on for that Diddy Dirty Money project, because for that future endeavor he paid Skylar Grey to write at least one of his records, which makes his pop leanings all the more obvious. “Come To Me” was his first step in that particular direction, as our host recruited Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls to join him on his quest to hook up with a rando, the events of which take place over a Jai and Younglord instrumental that plays like something Lady Gaga might have rejected back in her The Fame days (although it does pre-date Gaga's breakthrough, and it seems like that should count for something). The music itself is fine, but I’ve heard “Come To Me” in its intended setting (at a club, while buzzed), and when compared to how it plays through my earbuds as I write these words, it just simply doesn’t work outside of that environment. Neither do either of the actual performances, as Puffy brags about himself, his wealth, and other women he’s pulled (a strange flex when you’re hitting on someone else) while Scherzinger sings about how she’s already “burning” for Diddy’s love, which sounds like something that she should consult with her physician about, which means she would likely have medication prescribed for her, which means she couldn’t drink at the club anyway, so why even go? This… was not good.

Same general concept as “Come To Me” down to its execution – hell, I’d go so far as to say they were the exact same fucking song, except Puffy installed some upgrades in three general areas that place “Tell Me” up on a higher echelon: the songwriting, provided in part by Royce da 5’9”, who gave our host stuff to say that works much more naturally for some reason (Royce has gone on record in saying that Combs plays a larger role in the brainstorming process than many believe, as he knows what he wants the songs to be about, if not exactly what to write); the collaborator, as swapping out a Pussycat Doll with Christina Aguilera is an improvement in nearly every fucking possible measure; and in production, as “Tell Me” is helmed by Just Blaze, who does a very good job crafting a club-ready electro-bop that features zero hip hop in its DNA. You have to look past our host referring to himself as “the dance floor king” during the intro, which is pretty dumb, as is his constant instruction for the listener to “do that shit, do that shit, do it” (although at least the latter of those is catchy), and yet this is far superior to “Come To Me” (and, in my neck of the woods at least, still fairly popular, as it still receives radio airplay for some puzzling reason). This is pop radio-friendly nonsense at its core, but Aguilera can actually sing (not that she gets much of a chance to do so here), and Just Blaze’s instrumental is exactly what you’d want out of this genre of music. Is “Tell Me” a good song? Not really, but it’s much more fun to listen to than the previous track.

Puff Daddy tries to steer the ship back toward the island of hip hop and R&B, Danja’s more-Timbaland-than-Timbaland instrumental for “Wanna Move” acting as his transition, and it is pretty awful. The music is instantly forgettable, as is our host’s own performance (buried within the beat) and guest crooner Ciara’s hook (bland as fuck). The only participant that emerges from the wreckage with a decent-enough verse is Big Boi (who also provided additional production), and our host agrees with me, as parts of Big Boi’s verse are repeated here as a makeshift bridge of sorts. “Wanna Move” is a waste of your time, folks. Run, and don’t look back, just go. (Remember when Puff Daddy directed the video for OutKast’s “Player’s Ball”? Boy, the 1990’s were weird, right?)

Speaking of Timbaland, the man himself pops up on “Diddy Rock”, a song about fucking and wanting to fuck that never once features the titular phrase uttered, but he doesn’t produce a lick of it – that role is reserved for his ghost producer mentee Danja. Instead, he performs during the hook, a pervy cringefest which contains lines such as, “Let me see the backside of your moon,” and ”There’s no need to take your phone,” the latter of which is creepy AF. The beat itself is just as successful as on “Wanna Move”, which is to say it is not, and both Diddy and Shawnna deliver disappointing verses (just because I wasn’t expecting much doesn’t mean I can’t be let down, you two) with very little conviction. Twista walks away with no blood on his hands, as he tends to be one of the few rappers in the game that could ever sound good over a beat such as this. Puff’s verse was apparently penned by frequent-enough Shawnna collaborator Ludacris, himself a guy who could have also made hay with this instrumental, and it makes perfect sense that he would have done this, given the cadence our host appropriates and the fact that I strongly doubt Combs could have come up with that Chi-Ali reference himself. Why Luda didn’t just contribute properly to “Diddy Rock” is a mystery, but he likely couldn’t have made this horseshit smell any sweeter.

A bizarre “interlude” that runs for over three minutes and features both singing and rapping, “Claim My Place (Interlude)” begins as an argument Puffy is having with his significant other, which is a running theme through at least the final third of Press Play, but on here he turns on a dime to make the entire fight about himself and his desire to reclaim the throne in this thing we call hip hop, and yeah, this is pretty much how I imagine any argument with Puffy ending, with the man deflecting, gaslighting, and changing the subject just to make you feel like hot garbage. Let’s move on.

The best song on Press Play, or at least the best actual rap song on Press Play for hip hop heads still willing to check out a Puff Daddy album, is “Everything I Love”, a Kanye West-produced ditty (no pun intended) featuring the finest Puffy rap performance of the evening, mostly because his voice feels more natural when spitting in a Nas cadence than it does Pharoahe Monch’s. (Apart from Nas, Aasim also receives co-writing credit here, but it’s unclear which parts are his.) Puff’s shit-talk hits different over Ye’s bombastic drum-and-horn combination – the dude sounds like an actual rapper, even if his claim to be a “New Yorker, slick talker, walk like a brick-flipper” is dubious at best. His two verses are pretty solid, as is Nasir’s closer, although obviously Esco blows his host out the frame using the exact same flow. Cee-Lo Green, the questionable talent who believes that a woman merely being awake implies consent, a trait that I refuse to let go of as it has prevented me from continuing my Goodie Mob write-ups for this project, doesn’t do much during the hook, but he sounds pretty good with the time he’s been given. A nice hidden gem you two might have forgotten about.

LMAO the fuck was this shit?


Timbaland returns to Press Play for “After Love”, teaming up with co-conspirator Danja for an exploration of both sides in a flailing relationship, one featuring his artist, the anti-vaxxer Keri Hilson (I know that description shouldn’t matter when it comes to the song itself, but honestly? It kinda does), and a Sean Combs sounding completely out of his depth content- and performance-wise. Hilson comes across better than Puffy, at least, but her dissatisfied (to put it mildly) point of view is undermined by the instrumental, which I actually really fucking liked. I wish Timbo and Danja had left it as an instrumental piece, as it sounds like the perfect accompaniment for an intense, spontaneous, darkly-lit sex scene in a movie or premium cable offering where the (married) lead finally succumbs to the devilish charms of their obsessive coworker. As a proper song, this kind of sucks, though. Puff Daddy just isn’t anywhere near the planet of performer that could pull this off.

Between “After Love” and the Mario Winans instrumental featured on “Through The Pain (She Told Me)”, my favorite unfounded theory is that Puffy swiped a bunch of elements from the score of a still-unreleased romantic thriller to use as his beats, since this sounds exactly like what would play underneath a montage of the lead trying to work their way back into regular life post-breakup, before inevitably falling back in love/lust with their ex just before the end credits roll. The song itself, really more of a Winans effort featuring Diddy but that’s just not how the song credits work on Press Play, follows the loose thread of a failed relationship introduced back during “Crazy Thing (Interlude)”, but is mostly immaterial as, once again, Diddy isn’t up to the task. Winans might have been able to pull this off solo, but I suppose we’ll never know, will we? At least the music was pretty interesting.

“Thought You Said”, with its fake-ass drum-n-no-bass Mario Winans beat, quickly snapped me back into a reality where Press Play mostly sucked, as this Brandy-featured number is atrocious, from the musical backing to the speed-singing from the guest (who sounds artificially rushed here) and the shitty rapping from Puffy, who apparently refused to pay for good ghostwriters here. It does stick with the failed relationship theme, because obviously that was fresh on our host’s mind at the time, but he uses “Thought You Said” to blame her for his transgressions, which is definitely always a way to win those arguments with your SO, just ask divorce lawyers.

This third single from Press Play still receives radio airplay as well, and I kind of understand why: it sounds very catchy, like a relic from the 1980’s, and guest Keyshia Cole’s vocals are leagues better than whatever the fuck Brandy was doing earlier. It still isn’t a very good song, however: Puff Daddy attempts to further the narrative of this back third of the project by expressing the yearning each participant in the terminated relationship feel toward one another, and while Cole can pull it off, Diddy isn’t convincing anybody that they require oxygen to live, let alone whatever he’s trying to do here. The Mario Winans beat isn’t bad at all, but “Last Night” could have conceivably worked as a Keyshia Cole solo effort, especially given how Puffy cracks up at his own line reading at the very end of the song, breaking character and shattering any illusion that any of this was coming from a place of truth. Inexplicably, “Last Night” was the recipient of not one, but two different all-star remixes, the one of which featured Lil Kim and Busta Rhymes while the other, classified as a “Dirty South” mix, roped in Big Boi, Yung Joc, Rich Boy, and, for some goddamned reason, The Game, and while I’ve never heard either one, I feel like I can tell they aren’t going to be great as long as Diddy’s vocals are still present. Alas.

Uh oh, it seems like Puff Daddy’s selfish ways and general demeanor are once again getting in the way of his relationships, as Mary J. Blige helpfully points out on “Making It Hard”, a Rich Harrison-produced track that isn’t about erections, surprisingly, given its placement right after the longing horniness of “Last Night”, but about how Puff keeps getting in his own way and is kind of a dick about it, “Making It Hard” for her to love him. Harrison’s instrumental hits the same soul-funk sweet spit as his prior work with Amerie and Beyonce, although it does sound a fraction off, the samples not bending to his will quite as easily, but it still sounded fine, as did Blige’s vocal performance, which doesn’t sound like the work of someone who felt an obligation to contribute to Press Play because Puff Daddy was instrumental to her early career success at all. But “Making It Hard” is missing that ‘wow’ factor to make the listener give a shit about this couple, and our host’s rhymes can’t overcome that deficit.

Because Puff Daddy cannot bear to not have a happy ending, Press Play closes out its broadcast day with “Partners For Life”, a sequel to “Bad Boy For Life” that doesn’t share subject matter, tempo, or a narrative throughline with its predecessor, almost as though they aren’t related at all and I’m just making a joke or something. Pharrell Williams, credited as The Neptunes because obviously, provides some soul-less synth that is in no way representative of what he and Chad Hugo excelled at back in the day, along with part of a hook he shares with guest star Jamie Foxx for some reason, as Foxx’s participation feels forced simply because of his A-list status and not because he’s especially necessary here. (I mean, Skateboard P could have sung this himself. Come on.) Puffy’s final track of the evening, written by the late Black Rob, features our host pledging his undying affection for the partner featured throughout this narrative, I assume – it’s difficult to keep track or to give a flying fuck ab9out any of this when the performances are so goddamned boring. Press Play should have ended with “Everything I Love”, and that’s if it ever had to exist in the first place.

There are special edition versions of Press Play that feature additional tracks, but I’m not fucking with any of that.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Press Play isn’t a good album, the outcome you certainly expected when you discovered that I was writing about it today. Puff Daddy may be a good businessman, but a lot of his performances on Press Play are downright laughable, including his work on “The Future”, which, again, is hilarious. He simply wasn’t a talented-enough artist (at the time, or ever) to sell the relationship woes that take up the back third of the project: the listener simply won’t give a shit about his plight. The downside of that general level of apathy from the audience is that a lot of the guest spots will also fall by the wayside regardless of quality – Jamie Foxx I can take or leave as a singer, honestly, but when was the last time you found yourself outright dismissing work from Mary J. Blige simply because she appeared on a Puff Daddy song?

The pop experimentation works on certain levels throughout Press Play: Puffy obviously knew what pop radio sounded like at the time and sought out musical backing that mirrored his understanding of the genre. Most pop songs are about love or love lost anyway, so subject matter-wise Press Play is at least in the same ballpark. But there are actually two different themes running concurrently throughout Press Play, and they aren’t compatible: the relationship shit, and Puff Daddy’s obsession with claiming the hip hop throne. The man was already a success story, and this is hip hop, so bragging about one’s accomplishments is just a regular Tuesday here, but the two trains of thought don’t help the project sound thematically coherent. It’s when he drops the current of rap dominance (lmao) that Press Play finally settles into a groove, although by that point you’ll likely have already given up on the project entirely.

Look, I said there’s one song on Press Play that I truly believe that everyone reading this will enjoy, and that’s “Everything I Love”. Just go listen to that and move on – absolutely none of this shit is required reading, even if you’re a Puffy fan. I am kind of shocked that he didn’t find a way to incorporate a repurposed verse from The Notorious B.I.G. on Press Play, but that also plays into his need for this to be seen as a legitimate solo effort, so honestly, I get it, even if I don’t really care all that much.

BUY OR BURN? The fuck do you think?

BEST TRACKS: “Everything I Love”; “Everything I Love” a second time; the instrumentals for “Through The Pain (She Told Me)” and “After Love” because I absolutely wasn’t joking about what I wrote earlier; “The Future”; and then bring it all back to “Everything I Love”


There's more to be found regarding the Puff Daddy story. I mean, if you want.


1 comment:

  1. I'd never even heard about "the Future" before. I played it. I lost my shit. Absolutely incredible. Puff, you don't have the voice to pull off Monch's tics!