In his almost two decades in the spotlight, Sean Combs has been many things — rapper, music producer, actor, clothing designer, magazine publisher, reality-television star and business executive. He has also gone by many names, first emerging onto the rap scene as Puff Daddy, later changing his moniker to P.Diddy and more recently simply to Diddy.
The various monikers were nicknames given to Combs while he was growing up in Harlem, where he was the first of two children born to Melvin and Janice Combs. He was raised primarily by his mother, an aspiring model, as his father was killed when he was 3. Until the age of 14, Combs believed his father had been killed in a car accident, but through research at a public library, he found out his dad had been a street hustler who was fatally shot in Central Park.
In 1988, Combs enrolled at Howard University in Washington D.C., where he often promoted rap concerts. Two years later, he scored an internship at New York’s Uptown Records, where he was noticed by label head and former rapper Andre Harrell. Harrell gave the 20-year-old a shot as the director of artists and repertoire for the label, and he soon became vice president and produced releases for Mary J. Blige and Jodeci.
In 1991, Combs founded Bad Boy Records within the company. The first artist he signed was rapper Biggie Smalls, also known as Notorious B.I.G. When he was fired from Uptown in 1993, he moved Bad Boy Records to Arista Records in a $15-million deal.
B.I.G.’s success created a rivalry between the East Coast label and Suge Knight’s Death Row Records artists, which included West Coast rappers Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. When Shakur was shot in 1994, he blamed the incident on Combs and B.I.G. Two years later, Shakur was killed. In March of 1997, B.I.G. was fatally shot.
In 1997, Combs released “I’ll Be Missing You,” a single about the death of Notorious B.I.G. The song became No. 1in the Billboard Top 100, later replaced by “Mo Money, Mo Problems,” which featured Combs with Mase and B.I.G.
Combs starred on Broadway in a 2004 production of “A Raisin in the Sun” and in films including 2001’s “Monster’s Ball,” opposite Halle Berry. Most recently, he played a maniacal music executive alongside Russell Brand and Jonah Hill in 2010's “Get Him to the Greek.”