Diddy - Press The Playa

P. Diddy has just released his first album in five years, Press Play. Sasha Perera from X-Press Online caught up with him recently in London.

In recent years P. Diddy has been more renowned for his entrepreneurial skills, his super-bling lifestyle, and his infamous ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous' parties, where the elite moneymakers rub shoulders (and groins) with sexy supermodels and thuggish, ghetto-fabulous rappers.

Add to that his increasing acting-portfolio, his charity work and his US TV series Making The Band, and it's not surprising that some might have forgotten that he's also a successful rapper/artist who also makes music. Five years since the release of his last album, P. Diddy (known in the US as Diddy, and P. Diddy internationally, due to legal reasons) is back with a new album which he insists is his best work to date.

It is, in fact, actually his best album to date; whilst he's been criticised over the years for ‘selling-out' as a rapper and taking the easy options with familiar samples and cheesy-lyrics, Press Play finds a focus with a selection of party-tracks aimed squarely at getting asses shakin'. In that sense the album is admirable in that it doesn't pretend to be more than it is – it's music to groove to for now. It may not be a classic in years to come, but it does do the trick right about now, and there's nothing wrong with that. First single, Come To Me, (featuring Nicole Sherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls) is a sexy urban romp that becomes irresistibly addictive after a few listens – press ‘play', then ‘repeat'.

Slightly smaller in stature than he appears in magazines, sitting-forward on a sofa in his London hotel – just back from Ibiza, and on the way to New York in a few hours – Diddy is surprisingly attentive to our conversation. The life of excess and time away from the music spotlight seems to have resulted in a more humble P. Diddy than he was a few years back. It is clearly apparent throughout our chat that P. Diddy realises that for his music to be taken seriously he needs to remind others that music is at the core of his celebrity; for this album he wants to return to basics and serve up music minus the celebrity-hype.

Putting together Press Play has been a long process for P. Diddy. After relatively average sales for 2001's The Saga Continues album, Diddy decided to focus on growing his other businesses (i.e. clothing line Sean John, record label Bad Boy records etc), taking a break, and even working on a dance album called Divided Souls with some of dance music's hottest producers, which has since been put on the back-burner.

With this in mind, and taking a listen to Press Play, one has to wonder if any of these collaborations made their way, or inspired tracks, for this new urban album, which surprisingly explores a range of funky sounds.

“You hear a lot of the different instrumentation on this new record – I just brought everything with me,” P. Diddy says enthusiastically. “I didn't try to classify things. I just left Ibiza in fact, and I love the sounds that I hear there. I don't really classify sounds though, like, ‘this is hip hop', ‘this is country', or whatever. I mean I love the score of Moulin Rouge and A Beautiful Mind – I love all those movie scores. There are a lot of sounds from dance music that are incorporated in this album, whether it's on Special Feeling, or Diddy Rock, or even the single, Come To Me, where you'll hear different sounds.”

Press Play reminds listeners that P. Diddy is in fact a music-lover who began his career as a very astute businessman with a great ‘ear'. Aside from the strong hip hop and R&B sounding cuts on the album, there are also touches of early-'80s Prince, dance music, and even drum‘n'bass. P. Diddy wants listeners to put aside their preconceptions, and just press play.

“A lot of time when you get somebody's iPod, you're shocked because you're like, ‘this person listens to Coldplay, Tupac and Garth Brooks?,” he laughs. “People like all types of music and all types of things. You look at what's going on in the UK in the underground hip hop, grime, garage, and drum‘n'bass scenes. I mean my iPod is full of things from dance music to movie scores to James Brown… there are so many things that are in my head. I wanted to be able to express all that without being all over the place, and still make it hip hop – that's what I tried to do.

“I think this album is going to shock people, but hopefully people will be surprised in a good way. It's a good feeling to be able to surprise people, and for that to be the motivation and not try to impress people because I was trying to do a drum‘n'bass track just to get extra points.”

Work on the new album began with P. Diddy collaborating with some of urban music's hottest producers such as Kanye West, Timbaland and Cool & Dre. These producers were challenged by Diddy to break new ground and give him tracks that were different from their trademark sound and style; in fact Cool & Dre (best known for their work with The Game, 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige) have talked publicly about how competitive it was between all the big-name producers to actually get a track on the new P. Diddy album. P. Diddy says that he was just as hard on others as he was on himself.

“I was looking for something distinct; I was trying to push it on this album so it's different when you're trying to push it because I'm throwing away 99 per cent of the tracks I'm making, and I'm being as hard on myself as I'm being on other producers. I think they all understood that I was trying to make music that wasn't being played on radio at that time.”

Jam-packed to the rafters with musical superstars – much like a P. Diddy party itself – Press Play features some high-grade collaborations. Kicking off the party is Come To Me which features a singled-out Pussycat Doll who helps to make an effectively strong impression and statement with the album's first single.

“Nicole to me is such an up-and-coming superstar. On this album there's this underlying story about this guy who thinks he's one of the baddest cats to ever walk the face of the earth, then he gets seduced by this girl and they fall in love, then comes the pain. Then he realises he wasn't as bad as he thought he was. So on this album, instead of doing records with male rappers, I did records with female artists almost like a movie, to help play the scenes. So I have Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Ciara, Keyshia Cole and Nicole.

“I wanted her (Nicole) to play somebody that would seduce me, and I thought she could play the role very well – I wanted her to make a trap for me. I would go out to clubs and study at night and there wasn't any track that motivates intimacy, or motivates your body to move in a sexual groove kinda way; all the tracks require you to learn a new dance-step or whatever, and so I just wanted to bring back the groove to dance to. That's what the song's about – seduction on the dancefloor, and that extends itself throughout the album.”

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