Sean Combs Playboy Interview – January 2010
Sean Combs circles a coffee table in black boxers and a white wifebeater. He has stripped to his underwear inside what is likely the biggest walk-in closet in New York City. Surrounded by racks of clothes, footwear, eyewear and jewelry, the Harlem businessman turned rapper turned clothing designer turned actor turned television producer turned restaurateur turned vodka and fragrance endorser has transformed a Times Square two-bedroom apartment into a changing room. Combs’s favorite kind of statement is overstatement.
Outside of finding a proper outfit, the performer known as Diddy has no worries. From playing Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway to releasing his sixth solo album, the techno music experiment Last Train to Paris, he likes to aim for the improbable. He’s meticulous but undaunted by failure.
Diddy believes only in extremes. He treats each day as if it were a party in Ibiza because he doesn’t know when God will take his life. Although he has been around murder since the age of three—in 1972 his father was killed while parked on Central Park West, and in 1997 Combs’s best friend, rap star Notorious B.I.G., was fatally shot after leaving an L.A. party thrown by Vibe magazine—he doesn’t fear death. “One time I was on a plane that I felt was going to crash,” Combs says, “and a calm came over me.”
Born in 1969, Sean John Combs grew up in Harlem’s Esplanade Gardens. The neighborhood was middle class, but the kid had a bigger vision. His family moved to Mount Vernon, New York after his mother, Janice, employed by United Cerebral Palsy, was forced to relocate for work. But the suburbs couldn’t erase the Harlem energy in his DNA. He flipped paper routes for profit as a child and made money throwing parties while enrolled at Howard University. After he was hired as a record-company intern, he quickly proved his ear for hit songs—and other products. In 1994 he started Bad Boy Records, his own label, and five years later he launched Sean John, his own clothing line. He wasn’t even 30.
Combs has five children with three different ex-girlfriends, including Kimberly Porter, but he’s better known for the romance with Jennifer Lopez that lit up tabloids for two and a half years. He has been in the headlines for acts both impetuous and admirable: a felony arrest for gun possession at a Manhattan nightclub, the 1999 assault of a fellow music executive, the $1 million he raised for inner-city education while running a marathon in 2003. That year Fortune named him America’s number-one entrepreneur under 40. In 2009 Forbes estimated his annual income at $30 million.
Playboy sent Vibe editor in chief Jermaine Hall, who has been on land, sea and air with Combs to ask the questions Combs usually dodges. “Puffy tricks you into believing he’s giving you the holy-grail scoop,” says Hall, who has interviewed him twice before. “It’s his charm, his hustle. But when he called me asking if I was getting everything I needed, I knew he was in a different space. We met three times: ‘I want to make this interview special, make this epic,’ he told me. The man with the notorious ego was cheerful and engaging, but behind the mogul who throws decadent birthday parties at Cipriani and rides Jet Skis in bespoke suits, there was a dark character who picked two themes for our discussions: death and love. He’s more terrified of the latter because he hasn’t gotten it right.”
PLAYBOY: You recently turned 40. The younger rappers want the older artists to step aside. Does that make you feel less relevant?
COMBS: No. It will take any young artist a long time to reach my status. It will take them a long time to be looking at themselves on a billboard in Times Square as they eat lunch doing a PLAYBOY interview. It will take them a long time to get mobbed in Africa, Bolivia and Russia. It will take them a long time to drop an hour of hits. I have become the American rap-star dream.
PLAYBOY: Does the ageism offend you?
COMBS: I don’t get involved in hate in any capacity. I don’t feel anybody can fuck with me, end of discussion. I’m not even trying to be young. In hip-hop years, I’m about 55. [laughs] I look prettier, I’m healthier, I can run faster. Now that I’m 40 I’m going to have a big party and tell people I’m 55.
PLAYBOY: You sound like one of your idols, Muhammad Ali. Are you saying you’re the greatest?
COMBS: If I’m not inspiring you at this point, you’re a lost hope. I’m one of the baddest motherfuckers to ever do this shit, and I’m not saying that in an arrogant way. That’s a fact, in black and white. I dare you to write down all my achievements. It will be overwhelming. Break it down and then say who’s number one in hip-hop. Who else has conquered television? Who else has conquered fashion? I don’t want to hear you have a fashion line. Do you have a Council of Fashion Designers of America award? I need to know. Have you run a marathon? If you all still want to fuck with me after I ran the marathon, I don’t know what else to do.
PLAYBOY: You’re feeling kind of defensive, huh?
COMBS: It is important to defend yourself and make sure history’s written the right way.
PLAYBOY: Let’s get into some of the criticisms. You’ve been attacked for being one of the few rappers who don’t write their own rhymes. Is that a fair accusation?
COMBS: My instrument and my tone represented Harlem—my swagger, my lazy flow. Nobody came in and told me how to do that. I was spoiled because my first rhyme was written by Biggie. People don’t know that Biggie was the one who pushed me to be an artist. I was afraid to do it, but he said, “The crowd goes crazy when you come out. I’m gonna write you some rhymes.” We did “It’s All About the Benjamins” and “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.”
PLAYBOY: Other people continued to write rhymes for you, even after Biggie died.
COMBS: Nobody just sits down and writes lyrics for me. If it’s Jay-Z, he puts me to work. I give him information; I have to tell him which melodies I’m hearing. He’ll use me as a muse. My strength as a songwriter is having ideas and melodies, and I need somebody to put them together. If you have a relationship with some of the best writers in the game, you’d be a fool not to take advantage of that. I’m not trying to out-rap Jay-Z, you know what I’m saying? I don’t even see us in the same weight division. Him, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Drake—they’re in the heavyweight division; they’re in contention for the belt. Jay doesn’t dictate what I do or don’t do.
PLAYBOY: But you did write more on your new album.
COMBS: [Nods] I want to say that on this album I don’t settle for mediocrity. That has been a weak point with me. Lyrically this is one of the best albums out there, and I’m proud to say I co-wrote almost the whole thing.
PLAYBOY: People say you’ve lost your passion for music.
COMBS: I agree. It’s hard to stay passionate. It’s hard to go from working with artists such as Biggie, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci and the LOX to the new generation of artists. The rules of the game have changed.
PLAYBOY: How have the rules changed?
COMBS: Artistry is not encouraged. You’re expected to deliver a record that fits in a nice comfortable box for everybody. Wack shit gets played on the radio and becomes number one. If you look at the records made in the past five years, which ones are going to be played 10 years from now? I’m not hating; that’s real talk. People can say whatever they want about me, but six or seven of my records are played every night. “It’s All About the Benjamins” is the most-played hip-hop record of all time. What other record is played in every country at a party every night? There’s only one other record, and that’s the second-most-played hip-hop record, “I’ll Be Missing You.” How in the hell does P. Diddy—Puff Daddy—have the number one and number two most-played songs? Let’s talk about the factual information, and after that leave me alone and let me get on this last train to Paris and ride into the sunset. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: You sound frustrated about the state of hip-hop.
COMBS: This is not something I need to do financially. At the end of the day, I question what my future is in music. Do I still want to play the game under these rules?
PLAYBOY: How does your music fit into what’s going on now?
COMBS: It’s a risk. It doesn’t sound like anything that’s on the radio. I didn’t make it to fit in or blend in. It’s a culmination of my experiences, a story of my search for love. If I wanted to make three number one hits I could go into the studio and do that, but that doesn’t interest me.
PLAYBOY: Did hip-hop help elect President Obama?
COMBS: I think we are probably responsible for Obama being in office, yes. If nobody else is gonna say it, then I’m gonna say it. The confidence, the swagger we instilled in our communities made that possible.
PLAYBOY: You’ve met Obama, right?
COMBS: I met him twice. I ain’t gonna lie—if God said I could pick one person to be my father, I’d want to be Sean Combs Obama. That’s how dope he is. [laughs] I hope he reads this interview and adopts me. I wouldn’t even have to be in the will. I got my own money!
PLAYBOY: How do you handle criticism?
COMBS: I’m used to hate.
PLAYBOY: What criticism bothers you the most?
COMBS: Here’s one: People say if you sign with Puff, you won’t be successful. They try to break it down by asking where past artists from Bad Boy are. If you look at who was on Def Jam seven years ago, those aren’t the same people who are on Def Jam now. Same for Sony and Universal. It’s the life expectancy of somebody on a label, that’s what it is. Also, I’ve protected a lot of artists who’ve had drug problems or have been arrested. I’m a label, not a babysitter.
PLAYBOY: Were you friends with Michael Jackson?
COMBS: He came to a party I had in Beverly Hills at Ron Burkle’s house, after the MTV awards in 2008. I invited young Hollywood to network and let them know I was coming out there and doing my thing on the acting scene. In the middle of the party, security said, “Mr. Combs Michael Jackson is here to see you.” He wasn’t on the guest list, and he wanted to make sure it was all right to come in. I said, “Michael? Shit.” We sat in a booth, and he said, “Let me see your ring,” as if he was ready to buy it off me. He was acting as if he was from the hood. Then he whispered in my ear, “Where’s Beyoncé at? I’m trying to meet her.” So I introduced her to Mike. I thought he was coming in to meet me, but he was focused on Beyoncé. [laughs]
PLAYBOY: When Michael died, did you think about your own mortality?
COMBS: No. I’ve had so much death around me, I’m kind of numb to it.
PLAYBOY: How so?
COMBS: I was introduced to death at a very early age. My father was murdered, and one of my best friends, Notorious B.I.G., was gunned down in L.A. Then my other two best friends, who were living with me, were killed at the same time in a shoot-out in Atlanta over a girl. They had a double-casket funeral. It’s been painful. It’s sad to have all your friends taken away like that. When I see death, I accept it as God’s will.
PLAYBOY: You’ve done a lot of research on your father, Melvin. Did you find out why he was killed?
COMBS: My father was a real heavy in Harlem. He had the Italian connection from a guy he went to Catholic high school with. When my father was driving a limousine, he bumped into that guy, who was the son of someone very high up in the Mafia. The guy said, “You don’t need to be driving no limousine. I’m going to put you on.”
PLAYBOY: In what capacity did he put him on?
COMBS: Back then you were either getting the drugs from the Italians or the French connection. And my father became the connection to Harlem. You had to see my father. I’m not glorifying it. I’m not proud of it—I’m telling the story as it was told to me.
PLAYBOY: What went wrong?
COMBS: He also got hooked up with the French connection. So that pissed off the Italians a little bit, and also the cops, because the cops didn’t have a hold on the French connection. The French connection would get pure stuff from the Italians and cut it up. So they were able to make four, five times on it. That was the big problem on the streets. Then my father got arrested. They couldn’t take the risk.
PLAYBOY: They couldn’t take the risk he would talk to the police?
COMBS: Yeah. So when he got out, they put a hit on him. That’s the rumor. But there are also records that show the guy who put out the hit was killed five days later.
PLAYBOY: What was that guy’s name?
COMBS: I don’t want to say his name, to be honest.
PLAYBOY: You’ve spoken to notorious Harlem drug dealer Frank Lucas about your father. What insight did he have for you?
COMBS: He came to my office and said, “Your father was a stand-up guy. Everybody loved him.” My father wasn’t a gangster—thug—killer type of guy. He was the life of the party and a nice dresser, and all the girls loved him.
PLAYBOY: There are many similarities between you and Melvin.
COMBS: If my father was alive, I’d probably have followed in his footsteps, because I have a street-hustler mentality, and that’s what I would have looked up to.
PLAYBOY: What was the dynamic between your mom and your dad?
COMBS: My mother was my father’s queen. He had his other situations, as a lot of men do, but she was the one he had on a pedestal. She was the one he decided to marry.
PLAYBOY: Did your mom not want you to know about your dad?
COMBS: My mother lied to me and told me my father died in a car accident. You’ve got to understand, growing up in my neighborhood you didn’t want to be a basketball player or a rapper. You wanted to be a drug dealer—that was a great job to have. If you had a chance to be a doctor and make $300,000 a year or be a drug dealer and make $300,000 a year, most people would have picked drug dealer. [laughs] It’s a ridiculous, stupid, ignorant way to think, but that’s the way we were programmed.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever sell drugs?
COMBS: I sold drugs for 48 hours.
PLAYBOY: How did that happen?
COMBS: Some of my friends were selling drugs in the Maryland and D.C. area. I remember them having all this jewelry and new BMWs. I was eating ramen noodles, stealing from the 7-Eleven to get some food. I thought, I need to get some money like y’all have. So I go out on the block, the strip where they’re selling drugs, and my man says, “Okay, I’m going to give you this. You wait there. They’ll come up to you.” I’m out there five minutes when three cop cars pull up and officers jump out and start chasing me. I ran and got away.
PLAYBOY: That sounds like an episode of The Wire.
COMBS: Yeah, it was The Wire. We reconvene in the same place two hours later. This time it’s dark, and all of a sudden a van pulls up. Cops jump out and start chasing me again. There’s a helicopter overhead with a light following me through the woods. Me and my friends meet up at these little triplex projects, and nobody got caught.
PLAYBOY: Based on the time period, we’re assuming you were trying to sell crack.
COMBS: Yeah, it was crack.
PLAYBOY: Why didn’t you call it quits at that point?
COMBS: I wanted to go home, but I didn’t know how to punk out and tell them. The cops were outside, and we heard them coming up the stairs. They were responding to a couple having an argument below us, and I’m panicking and about to jump out the window. I turned into a scared white Harvard student. God was sending me signals. I told my friends, “Thanks, y’all, but no thanks. This game is not for me.” I walked out that door, and I ain’t been around nobody with no drugs. I don’t want to see no drugs.
PLAYBOY: Relatively speaking, that’s a tame rapper-sells-drugs experience.
COMBS: I have the corniest drug dealer story of all time. I’m probably the shortest—duration drug dealer in history. That’s why you never heard me talk about it in my rhymes.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever tell Biggie that story when he was dealing drugs?
COMBS: I told him. I said, “I lost my father to this game, and you’re too talented to have to go in that direction. We could make the kids in the hood say they want to be the next Puffy, the next Biggie, instead of them wanting to be the next drug dealer.”
PLAYBOY: You’ve never told your theory about who killed Biggie. Do you have one?
COMBS: People have speculated about it being a remnant of the East Coast-West Coast feud. Maybe people in L.A. saw us as disrespectful and took matters into their own hands. It would be wrong for me to speculate, so I’ve always waited for the truth to come out.
PLAYBOY: Have you heard people say you know something but don’t want to talk to the police?
COMBS: I’m not holding up a street code or anything. It’s not as if I know something and I’m out there handling it on my own. I just don’t know. It’s such a shocking thing. No matter what people say, it’s not the norm for musicians to get gunned down in mob-hit fashion. That right there was serious. That’s not a regular drive-by, that’s assassination.
PLAYBOY: You’re saying there was a thought-out plan?
COMBS: It was a professional hit. There were bullets in one door of our car and nowhere else.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever play the what-if game when it comes to that situation?
COMBS: Yeah, in retrospect I should have gone with my instinct. I didn’t want to go to a party. I felt as if things weren’t cool out there. Big was supposed to go to London, but he called me that morning and said he needed two days with me to celebrate finishing his album, because we never hung out in clubs.
PLAYBOY: It seemed as if you two partied all the time.
COMBS: We were interested in different things. He liked smoking weed and going to underground spots, and I liked chasing girls and drinking champagne. Our worlds connected in the studio. He said he wasn’t going to London, and he was coming to my house to get me to go to the Vibe party. In retrospect, I should have flipped out as I normally do and made sure he got on that plane to London.
PLAYBOY: Your sexual history is renowned, but a lot of things have probably been exaggerated. If you were writing a book.…
COMBS: Spit it out. I know you’re trying to figure out how to say this to another man. I feel as uncomfortable as you.
PLAYBOY: What’s your number one sex story?
COMBS: I’m gonna tell you about me. I got into porn at an early age. They used to have this show called Midnight Blue on public-access TV. When I was in junior high I used to strategize how I could turn that on after my mother fell asleep. There was this woman, Vanessa del Rio?
PLAYBOY: Yeah, that was her name.
COMBS: We used to have sex every Thursday night. I was masturbating so much I started feeling bad, because I was going to Catholic school and believed it was a sin. As soon as I would bust off, I would be on my knees asking for forgiveness.
PLAYBOY: Did you stop?
COMBS: By my junior year in high school there was no more whacking off. I was too afraid to upset God. On the flip side, it unleashed me on women. I had to have sex every day.
PLAYBOY: When did you start having sex?
COMBS: I tried to lose my virginity when I was seven years old. I was on top of a girl who was nine or 10, but it didn’t happen—so everybody doesn’t have to bug out. My mother and the babysitter whipped my ass, but it didn’t knock me off my mission.
PLAYBOY: When did you fulfill your mission?
COMBS: When I was 13, and I felt I was a porno star because I’d been watching porn for so long. In the Bronx you could get a hotel for an hour. I always had $20 or $30 to take a chick to a hotel. I’m proud to say I love sex. You might catch me in a porn store at any given moment—it ain’t nothing I’m ashamed of. If they start sending freaks to jail, I’m guilty as charged.
PLAYBOY: You’ve talked about having 30-hour sex sessions.
COMBS: I’m not exaggerating. When I heard about Sting doing it, I thought, Yo, is this possible? I studied up on the breathing techniques and the focus. Now I think to myself, I cannot believe I’ve been going this long! [laughs] Night is turning into day and I’m still goin’ at it.
PLAYBOY: You went to an all-boys Catholic school. Some kids can’t handle that.
COMBS: Going to Mount St. Michael made me love women more, because absence makes the heart grow fonder. As soon as that bell rang I wanted to be around some chicks. I was running to the bus stop. I needed to smell a woman, see a woman, walk past one.
PLAYBOY: Were you obedient to the school dress code?
COMBS: I loved wearing a uniform—that’s one of my secrets. I used to have to get dressed up and wear a suit and tie at an early age. Everybody else was always complaining about it. It got me to understand how a shirt should fit, how a suit jacket should fit.
PLAYBOY: Is it possible for a celebrity at your level to be monogamous?
COMBS: It’s hard. I’m going to say, for any woman trying to please me, that is a real tall order. She has to have poise. She has to be classy. But when we get in that bedroom she got to turn me out, Jack. She has to put a porno to shame and she’s got to be sexually open.
PLAYBOY: For instance?
COMBS: It ain’t gonna hurt for my woman to surprise me and bring a girl home. That’s not gonna hurt our relationship. [laughs] I’m not gonna say, “Well, honey, what’s going on?” I mean, I’m not saying I’m a swinger, but I’ve been told that swingers have some of the best, most long—lasting relationships.
PLAYBOY: There have been a lot of pictures of you partying in Ibiza and St. Tropez. What’s the appeal?
COMBS: It’s more enjoyable to party overseas. Americans go too hard with their partying. Overseas it’s done more as recreation, and there’s a balance to it.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t it recreational here?
COMBS: There’s not a bunch of crackheads walking around Paris. Or crystal meth addicts. We take drugs to another level.
PLAYBOY: So it’s more moderate overseas?
COMBS: Not at all. It’s more about the intimacy and partying with the world. In every pocket different languages are being spoken, and it’s dreamlike. The music is flowing, the wine is flowing, and everybody is talking in their own language.
PLAYBOY: How did you discover Ibiza?
COMBS: Because I’m known as the king of parties, they said, “Yo, you have to come be a part of this community,” and when I got there they treated me as if my arrival was in the scripture or something. “And on the hundredth day he will come and grace us.…” I was the first one to expose a lot of young African Americans to St. Barts, to yachts, to the Hamptons. I went to St.-Tropez to represent for all the cats from the hood. “Oh shit, we didn’t know black people had big boats.” Yeah, we do. Make room for us.
PLAYBOY: Can you enjoy that playground if you’re not pulling in seven figures?
COMBS: I tell people you don’t have to stay on a boat. You could be from the South Side of Chicago, save up your money and go to St. Tropez. And you should. It’s an experience. It’s not as if all of a sudden a plane ticket to St.Tropez is $20,000.
PLAYBOY: You had a high-profile romance with Jennifer Lopez. Why did you two break up?
COMBS: It was too much. That’s the best answer. And I didn’t close the door all the way with Kim. I think that’s something Jennifer felt.
PLAYBOY: You’re talking about Kim Porter, the mother of three of your children.
COMBS: I was with Kim close to nine years, and I didn’t have closure with it. But I met Jennifer and it was a perfect match. We definitely loved each other.
PLAYBOY: The breakup came in 2001, shortly before you were acquitted of firing a gun during a nightclub fight. Did that cause the breakup?
COMBS: There was a lot going on with the gun charge and the publicity around the trial. That changed the dynamic of the relationship and put a wedge between us.
PLAYBOY: Did her handlers think you were damaging her career?
COMBS: I’m sure there were people having her consider if it was worth it.
PLAYBOY: Are you two civil with each other?
COMBS: We’re still cool. I’ll always cherish her. There are people who come into your life that you’ll always love and respect. She’s definitely one of them. I feel as though we changed each other’s lives.
PLAYBOY: How did she change your life?
COMBS: Oh man, it was a different type of feeling. It was being in love with somebody who understands who you are because they are exactly like you. A lot of times in relationships, the other person can’t understand you because they’re not like you. We were alike in terms of being ambitious, where we were from and our passions.
PLAYBOY: You consider Frank Sinatra one of your heroes. Why?
COMBS: He’s my hero because of the way he lived, man—that cat lived to the fullest. I want to be sitting back one day and say I had an impact, that I helped change part of the world. I also want to have some good laughs and memories. Sinatra’s my hero for having a good time.
PLAYBOY: Does his relationship with Sammy Davis Jr. make you appreciate him even more?
COMBS: Hell yeah. You had the most popular guy in the world doing the most unpopular thing, you know? He treated Sammy and black people in general as friends.
PLAYBOY: What do you most have in common with Sinatra?
COMBS: The biggest parallel isn’t showmanship or partying. The way he loved Ava Gardner is the way I’ve loved a woman. And the way he was hurt by the John Kennedy betrayal is the way I was hurt.
PLAYBOY: Have you experienced betrayal?
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about it.
COMBS: Well, I…I mean, I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus.
PLAYBOY: Give us some of the story, then.
COMBS: I’ll explain it in a way that leaves it to the imagination of the reader. I’ve been in a situation that was a combination of Gardner and Kennedy for me. There was a point when the world perceived me as a bad guy and people had to distance themselves. It is convenient to stand next to the bad boy when things are hot and going well, but when things go down it isn’t as sexy. That hurts.
PLAYBOY: It sounds as if you’re referring to Jennifer Lopez. What’s your definition of loving hard?
COMBS: When you love hard, you would actually die for somebody. And it hurts to know the person you’d die for won’t even handle life’s pain for you. When you experience that, it makes you scared to love, but it’s the most beautiful love to have.
PLAYBOY: If you met Sinatra, what would you ask him?
COMBS: I always wondered if he was ever able to get over it. Did it always haunt him the way it haunts me? Will I be able to overcome that?
PLAYBOY: It sounds as if your guard is up.
COMBS: I’m saying that I’ve got only one more in me.
PLAYBOY: You have only one more relationship left in you?
COMBS: If I find somebody and it doesn’t work, I’ll be ruined forever. It’s scary because I have only one more lifeline.
PLAYBOY: Has a woman ever flat-out rejected you?
COMBS: Yeah, I’ve had a bunch of different woman tell me no. Whether I was willing to accept no for an answer, that’s another story.
PLAYBOY: There must be a story that comes with that.
COMBS: Yeah, there was a young lady who’s an actress. She’s famous. I liked her, so I was willing to do whatever I had to do. I told her, “I will sneak up the side of the building to see you.” I was persistent.
PLAYBOY: Did you get to hang out?
COMBS: We started spending time together, but we were prisoners of our celebrity. She took me to dinner after we got to know each other and hit me with a line that was straight out of the movies. She said, “You know this will never work, right?” [laughs] I knew she was right.
PLAYBOY: Who was it?
COMBS: The only person I’m gonna tell is God. If he says I can’t get into heaven I may whisper it in his ear. She was so cool the way she let me down softly, and she offered me a ride back to my hotel.
PLAYBOY: Sienna Miller’s name will get linked to that story. You know that, right?
COMBS: I can clear that up right now. It wasn’t her. This was going to shake up the world. It would have been a Puff and J. Lo situation, part two.
PLAYBOY: Was she black or white?
COMBS: I’m not getting into that. Privacy is a sexy thing to have. It’s important to be trusted and to be able to have secrets and moments that are your own.
PLAYBOY: A lot of your life happens in public. From watching you throw tantrums on Making the Band and I Want to Work for Diddy, do people know who you are?
COMBS: That is reality but also some acting, to make sure it’s good TV. I may have pushed too hard and hurt my brand—people perceive I’m difficult to work with. This industry is life or death to me, you know? So I set a tone that lets people know how seriously I take things. I’ve been a tyrant, I’ve been crazy and I’ve been eccentric, but I have never been mean-spirited.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about the fight you had in 1999 with Steve Stoute, a music executive you hit with a champagne bottle in his office, leading to your arrest for aggravated assault. Was it worth it?
COMBS: That’s in the past. We want to get some things uncovered that haven’t ever been uncovered. I’ve already uncovered exactly what that was.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about therapy?
COMBS: I’ve gone to therapy for relationships I’ve been in, for tragedies I’ve been through. I think therapy is good. I’ve been called bipolar—I’m not; I just have very drastic mood swings. I went to therapy when Big died, but a lot of my therapy has been with love and relationships. I’ve had therapy about my relationship with Kim, about my relationship with Jennifer. Therapy helped me through those situations.
PLAYBOY: You promoted a City College of New York event in 1991 that resulted in nine deaths. A court ruled that you and rapper Heavy D were responsible for 50 percent of the incident. Does that still haunt you?
COMBS: It is beyond something that haunts me. It scars me inside.
PLAYBOY: Were you in contact with the families?
COMBS: I contacted all the families. I went to the memorials. My grandmother said, “You gonna have to grow up and be a man on this one.” She made me handle it like a man, and that’s what I did.
PLAYBOY: Does it ever feel weird that you grew up in a fatherless home and now you’re in business with Ron Burkle, a billionaire friend to Bill Clinton?
COMBS: He’s the godfather to my twins. It’s a blessing to have people who want to invest with me, but I’m a pretty sure bet. I feel I’ve proven myself. I’ve always had a great return on my investment. I almost feel it’s the other way around: If I give people a chance to invest in me, I’m giving them an opportunity. That’s not being arrogant or cocky. As hip-hop businessmen we’ve been able to generate so much income, we deserve to be treated in the same light as companies on Wall Street and get value from our earnings.
PLAYBOY: Why is the music industry falling apart?
COMBS: It’s greed. In the music business it is every man for himself. This wouldn’t happen in the Screen Actors Guild or the Writers Guild. We’re the only multibillion-dollar industry that has no union. Now it’s so far gone that an artist who’s thinking about making money from a record is a caveman.
PLAYBOY: Why couldn’t the heads of the major labels sit down and work out a solution?
COMBS: The music industry was getting so much money. [laughs] They were on too many jets, playing in too many arenas to have time to sit down and do a meeting. It was only about the now.
PLAYBOY: Is this bad karma coming back to bite the record industry in the ass?
COMBS: All the stealing, all the false accounting, shit was like Babylon. It makes me sick how people straight-up robbed other people. You can call me a murderer, a womanizer, but I ain’t no motherfucking thief.
PLAYBOY: The person who benefited most from this is Steve Jobs with iTunes.
COMBS: Steve Jobs came in and went crazy with it. He took the industry and made it another billiondollar industry that we still don’t control. Jobs is one of the baddest motherfuckers on the face of the earth. I’m not mad at him. He’s one of my heroes, as far as business is concerned.
PLAYBOY: Judd Apatow cast you in the spin-off to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Your being cast in an Apatow movie is unexpected.
COMBS: He saw Made, the movie I was in with Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. That movie is a cult classic to comedic actors because they know Vaughn is big into improvisation. He’ll rip up the script on the first day. That’s the whole Apatow, Nick Stoller, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill style: a lot of improv. Made opened the door, and then I blew the audition out of the water.
PLAYBOY: We’ve seen a lot of rappers who can’t act and have failed at movie careers. What made you think that on top of everything you’ve done you could handle improv?
COMBS: One of my secrets is I’m a funny motherfucker. That’s one of the things people like about me and one of the things nobody knows about me. To play at that level of the game you’ve got to be funny. If you’re not naturally funny there’s no way. That’s like throwing the ball around with Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
PLAYBOY: So now that you’re a player in Hollywood, what type of movies inspire you?
COMBS: One of my favorites is Marty, with Ernest Borgnine. It’s a love story—he wants love so bad. He finds his girl at the right time, and she’s a regular, damn-near ugly duckling. It’s a rap cliché, but Scarface is my favorite movie. Not for the violence, the cocaine or the cars, but because there’s passion and wanting to be somebody. He wanted to make it so bad. He went too far, of course, but I can relate to coming from nothing and having big dreams.
PLAYBOY: You’re the first person we’ve met who has both Scarface and Marty on his Netflix queue. Your life is kind of a mix of those two movies, isn’t it? They’re both about quests.
COMBS: So much has happened to me. That’s why I dared you to write it all down, to go through every dramatic point in my life. It’s scary: my father, the City College situation, Biggie’s death, the death of my two best friends, running a marathon, winning a Grammy, selling out Madison Square Garden. It’s a lot to digest. It’s five lives in one.