From laboring as an unpaid intern to ascending as the CEO of his own record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, Sean Combs has taken on almost as many aliases as he has professions. As a successful producer, entertainer, designer, CEO, and father, the “Jack-of-all-trades” has been a “Puffy-of-all-names,” changing handles like so many designer shirts.
In January 2008, rumors circulated throughout the media that Sean “Diddy” Combs had changed his name to “Sean John." His rep fired back that Combs hadn’t changed his name to Sean John, he was simply in “Sean John mode” in preparation for the upcoming Sean John fashion show the following month. However, as soon as the gossip recessed, rumors of another name change went a-fly when Combs' remix of O’Neal McKnight’s single “Check Your Coat” contained the following lyrics:
“They call me Puff Daddy… he’s back…Yeah you heard me right – I said Puff Daddy.” Diddy also posted on his My Space page, “This is your boy Puff Daddy!!! Yes Puff Daddy." Diddy’s rep responded, “This is not true. There is no name change.”
Well, color us skeptical: Combs has a history of pseudonym-shifting, so what's one more moniker to the ever-growing roster? Here’s a look back at Puffy's career and what we were calling him at the time.
1991- Call Me Puff Daddy- Combs promoted a concert headlined by Heavy D. The concert was oversold and the gymnasium was packed. Eventually screaming fans waiting outside broke through doors and windows causing a stampede in the gym where nine people died. A Court of Claims judge later found Combs and Heavy D. responsible for 50% of the damage.
1993- Sean “Puffy” Combs- After playing a prominent role in advancing the careers of artists Jodeci and Mary J. Blige, Combs was fired by Uptown Records’ then-CEO, Andre Harrell. Some speculated that Harrell was intimidated by Puffy’s vaulted ambition, though the real reason was never disclosed. Clive Davis of Arista Records had heard of Puffy’s work and financed Combs his own record label: thus, Bad Boy Entertainment was born. A handful of artists, including The Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack, were dropped from Uptown Records upon Puffy’s dismissal, and they followed the young producer to his new company.
1996- Puff Daddy Expands His Bad Boy Family- By 1996 Combs was producing records for mainstream artists like Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Lil’ Kim, TLC, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Aretha Franklin and others. He also signed more acts including Dream, Carl Thomas, Faith Evans, Father MC, 112, and Total.
1997- No Way Out- The debut album entitled “No Way Out” by Puff Daddy and the Bad Boy Family topped the album charts with 561,000 units sold within the first week of its release. It debuted at number one and later won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.
1999- Puff Daddy to P. Diddy- Puff Daddy’s first solo album “Forever” was released in August of 1999. It was considered his first public failure as it peaked at #2 in the U.S. and did not generate nearly as much acclaim as “No Way Out.” Later that year gunfire broke out while Combs and his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, were at a Manhattan nightclub. After a police investigation, not only were Puff Daddy and fellow rapper Shyne arrested for weapons violations, but Combs was also indicted after his driver claimed that he tried to bribe him into taking a gun that night after the shooting. As the highly publicized trial began, Combs hired celebrity attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. to represent him throughout the case. Shyne was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Combs was eventually acquitted of all charges, but his relationship with Jennifer Lopez ended soon thereafter. Just as the dust began to settle “Puff Daddy” changed his name to “P. Diddy.”
2001- Making a Comeback- A new name seemed to bring a clean slate and boosted record sales for Combs in 2001. His album “The Saga Continues” was released in 2001 and eventually went platinum.
2002- P. Diddy Has His Own Reality Show (Who Doesn’t?) - Combs made his own reality show on MTV called “Making the Band 2,” where six finalists were given the opportunity to come up with their group’s name, CD, and music video. After a critical flop, Combs discontinued the band and its work.
2003- The Designer Accused- The National Labor Committee accused Combs of using sweatshop labor to produce his clothing line in 2003. The laborers were mostly teenage girls who endured body searches, 14-hour shifts, and no bathroom breaks on a salary of 15 cents per hour. The workers were not allowed to speak to each other and were forced to buy lunch from the factory which sometimes left them in debt at the end of the day. Executive VP of Sean John, Jeff Tweedy, responded on behalf of the company during a press conference and said, “We are shocked at this information, particularly because we had no knowledge of any wrongdoing and because we conduct extensive compliance checks with all facilities supplying our company to ensure they are clean and safe.” He continued, “We are launching an investigation into this matter, and if there is any proof of wrongdoing, we will terminate our relationship with this factory immediately." The NLC found that nearly 80% of clothing produced at the factory was Sean John.
2005- P. Diddy Downsizes His Name and Brand- In early 2005 Combs sold his record company to Warner Music Company, which was then headed by Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles (both formerly of Def Jam). Although there were tensions between Combs and the former CEO’s, they agreed to allow him some creative control over the company. He has remained the CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment since. Later that year P. Diddy dropped the “P” and became known as Diddy. However, he is still called P. Diddy in New Zealand and the United Kingdom after a legal battle over the nickname with music artist Richard “Diddy” Dearlove.
2006- “Press Play”- Diddy’s second solo album “Press Play” fared better than his first by debuting at number one in the U.S. Two of the singles, “Come to Me” and “Last Night” not only made the Billboard Hot 100, but the lyrics got stuck in everyone’s heads for months.
Sean Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy, Diddy—he answers to all of his past pen names—is the only celebrity who has successfully earned and kept the media’s respect throughout name changes, legal scandals and trials, and gossipry. At this point, it doesn't matter what we call him: he still continues to impress.