Friday, April 18, 2014

Is Diddy The New Milli Vanilli?

One thing the world knows about Puff; He gets money. I’m not talking about the kind of money that would help you or me pay our cell phone bills or meet rent payments. I’m talking about long, sticky dollars. Diddy gets the kind of money that opens global channels to “hood” brothers. We’re talking about an official IRS portfolio member. That’s long cheddar. 

For years Diddy aka P Diddy aka Puff Daddy aka Sean Combs (whatever he chooses to call himself this week) has been the leader on Forbes Hip Hop Cash Kings. His business partnerships with various brands have made him a consistent leader in stacking chips. Do you want a drink at the club? Chances are you’ve just contributed to Diddy’s bank account. Oh you like that hip hop fashion, do you? At some point you probably paid Diddy. And now with his long arms of wealth extending into television, guess what? Cough up some more of your paycheck for this cat. And we haven’t even talked about the money he’s made from his Bad Boy record label in the 90’s. Diddy stays getting money. 

Recently in an interview 50 Cent brought up an interesting point about Diddy. In the interview 50 Cent says, 

The guy says don’t worry about if I write rhymes, I write checks and then sings to you. But this is why we got rid of Milli Vanilli.”
On the surface it seems like more sour grapes coming from 50 Cent. He has a well-documented history of going at anybody he perceives as not being down with his program. But hating aside, does he have a point about Diddy? Why is Diddy given a pass when Milli Vanilli had their careers destroyed for impersonating? Let’s analyze the situation.

Everyone knows the story of Milli Vanilli. They were a lip synching and dancing concoction from Frank Farian out of Germany that sought to take advantage of the music industry by impersonating singers. They humiliated themselves, The Grammy’s, and angered numerous fans when the truth was discovered. Total Fugazis.  

So how is Diddy even compared to such a group?

In order to understand this comparison and where it comes from you need to analyze both hip hop and Diddy and how the two interact. How original is hip hop and how does Diddy fit into its historic construction?

One of the core elements of hip hop is sampling. Hip Hop artists search for old records and transform sections or pieces of those sounds by adding percussion, keyboards, and effects to make the original recording their own. What is the element of originality in that? The element of originality is finding a sound or record so rarely used and forgotten that when manipulated it sounds fresh and new. BUT! Since the original piece was created by another musician it isn’t new and it is borrowed upon. So yes, hip hop largely steals original work, albeit they do it by chopping and manipulating the original recording. 

But emceeing is different.  Hip Hop MCs take pride in crafting their lyrics themselves and basing those works on their reality. In order to be considered a real MC you have to write your own stuff. And therein is the problem. If you are a “Real MC”, how can you use the words of others?

When hip hop went main stream certain negative aspects of business entered the art along with that wider audience. It was no longer about who had the best lyrical content or originality. It became more about who could sell the most records. And although many complained that hip hop wasn’t being equally respected in America, no one saw this negative aspect coming. It became more about making profit and less about originality. Hip Hop largely got treated like the other genres.

Enter Diddy.

One must first begin by defining what Diddy is and what he isn’t. Diddy is not an MC. He’s never been known for his poetic verses or his lyrical prowess. He hasn’t personally made one classic hip hop album and has never been remotely connected to any magazine’s Top 100 Hip Hop Lyricists of All Time list. You won’t find him sending out a diss record against anyone of decent skills because Diddy doesn’t possess even basic lyrical ability. He’s not a lyricist. 

 Diddy is a record executive. His sole purpose upon entering the hip hop game has been to make profit. Period. He analyzes trends in hip hop culture and manipulates those changes to his financial gain. That is what record executives do. At any particular moment he can tell you what’s hot in the street and how to get maximum value out of it. He is a salesman. 

So is it fair to compare Diddy to Milli Vanilli? 

Well…. Yes and no.

First, the “yes”:  Diddy is exploiting the culture of hip hop as a business man. One could argue that he doesn’t care about “keeping it real” as much as he does about “keeping it profitable”. Assigning another person to write lyrics on his behalf is not quite the same thing as what Milli Vanilli did, but it is pretty close. Those are another artist’s thoughts he’s using for his financial gain. And in the vein of REAL HIP HOP that is a Milli Vanilli sin. Diddy is exactly what’s wrong with hip hop. He’s more interested in selling the product and reaping the financial rewards than history or making sure the world knows what the art form is supposed to be. No wonder you have a guy that can brag about being a drug dealer while actually working as a prison guard. Who cares as long as his records sell? In the tradition of hip hop Diddy may as well start wearing braids and jumping up and down on stage to “Girl You Know It’s True”. He’s a sell-out to its core principles. 

And “No”:  Diddy performs what is written. The words that you hear in his songs belong to his voice. Milli Vanilli never used their voices until after their fake act was discovered. So technically, Diddy isn’t like them. What he is doing is no different than the way Beyonce has a whole team of people write her lyrics. In fact, the majority of all music on the Billboard charts is written by other people! Since hip hop is now accepted there, why should it be different? 

But there is another thing that separates Diddy from Milli Vanilli. Without Diddy the world wouldn’t have known The Notorious BIG in the way that they did. Diddy has given over and over to the art form he so easily takes away from. In fact, with his new television venture he has the possibility to give a platform to up and coming artists in a way that MTV or BET never could. He continues to give opportunities to numerous African Americans and has become a success story to those seeking a better way in life. That cannot be understated. 

So overall, 50 Cent’s statement was 50/50 on accuracy. If you’re looking at Diddy from a hip hop purist perspective, sure 50 Cent is dead on. But in terms of being honest about the big picture, it oversimplifies the situation and doesn’t account for the contributions of Diddy. 

50 Cent made his statement from a place of hate. One, he doesn’t like the fact that Diddy did a new song with one of his rivals (Rick Ross). And two, the new Forbes Magazine Hip Hop Net Worth article was recently released in which Diddy ranked at #1 and 50 Cent ranked at #5. If 50 Cent were being genuine in his statement he would also have to admit that most of the music that he’s released since entering the hip hop game has more than a couple of “Milli Vanilli Moments” too. After all, his backstory is what really propelled him in the game. Not his lyrical skills.