Diddy sports a new name but the same old hip-hop hype

I once heard this joke in which Diddy walks into a bar, sits down, and orders a drink. “Aren’t you P. Diddy?” the bartender asks. “No,” Diddy says, “It’s just Diddy now. And this bar, I own it. And those shoes you’re wearing, I designed them. And this music on the radio, it’s from my new album (although I personally didn’t write it). You should really buy it, it’s amazing.” And the bartender punches him in the face.

After a four-year hiatus — which he spent dropping tentacles into all arenas of American pop culture — he’s lost the P and released a new album. “Press Play” establishes him as just Diddy — brand new name, same great flavor.

The album’s title should be your first warning. It’s as if Diddy knows deep down that it sucks, so he’s begging his audience to listen (“Press Play, Please?”). Or, more likely, he’s worried that his brain-dead clientele may not know how to work the iTunes controls.

Let’s take a ride on the Diddy train, through a world populated by Diddy’s personal army of hired hands. Here we see production from Cool & Dre, Timbaland, Kanye West, the Neptunes and lots of others. There’s also vocal support from Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, Twista, Nas, blah, blah, blah. It’s clear that Diddy needs all the support he can get. In fact, if he had stayed out of the project altogether, it probably would have made for a much stronger album.

The highlights are the places where Diddy is not, but these inevitably get buried in Diddiness. Twista’s genuinely resplendent verse on the track “Diddy Rock” is a diamond in the rough. But it’s impossible not to laugh when Timbaland sings, “I’m your burgers, you my fries.”

The album takes itself too seriously, which is a big problem. One track, “Crazy Thang,” is, quite literally, Diddy and some girl S. Rosete talking about their relationship. It’s comforting to know that we can count on Diddy to give sage advice like, “You see, love is a crazy thang.” Thanks, Diddy. I’ll keep that one in mind next time I ponder the nature of human passion.

The song really takes you for a spin in the cliché-mobile, but it can’t even touch “Claim My Place.” This song has it all: magical harp sounds, an angelic chorus, and Diddy imparting wisdom through solemn spoken word. “I really feel I can do anything. I really, truly believe in God that way,” Diddy tells us. Combine this with some nostalgic lines about his mother and father, and the resultant song is the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever heard in my life, which is saying a lot because I’ve also heard the rest of the album.

Listening to the CD is like witnessing the slow strangulation and death of hip-hop. There’s one track in particular, “I Am,” that sounds like Diddy took Jay-Z’s song “What More Can I Say,” sliced its balls off, sucked the blood out of it, and sprayed it down with Reddi Whip. It’s enough to make anyone feel like crying.

I was certainly in tears when I heard Kanye West’s stellar production on “Everything I Love” corrupted once again by Diddy’s rapping. He blurts out, “I’m the heart of the city, I’m a part of the sewers, I’m the honorable Diddy!” To Diddy’s credit, though, he tries something new on this album — singing. But wasn’t this inevitable, considering that he “feels he can do anything”? Dream on, Diddy. His singing is OK at best, but it’s mostly just embarrassing, so it’s good he confined it to only a couple of tracks.

Diddy thinks he is hard, but he is not hard. He’s a brand name, and that’s all I want him to be. I own four pairs of Sean Jean pants, seven sets of SJ Elite sneakers, my fragrance of choice is Unforgivable, and I eat at Justin’s every other night. I don’t care about the music! I’m living the Diddy life. Hip-hop? What’s that?

The man has ambition, but he lacks the sense to stop making music. Good thing I have the sense to stop listening.

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