It is hard to imagine a world with popular music that has not been touched by Sean Combs. The mogul’s prolific career spans over three decades and with the release of his sixth studio album entitled The Love Album: Off The Grid, Combs’ legacy continues.
Unbeknownst to most, there was a point when the multihyphenate thought his journey with music was over.
“I was having a conversation with Jay-Z one time when I stopped making music and was like, ‘Yo, I don’t feel like going in the studio no more. I was like, sh-t, it is just different,'” says Sean “Diddy” Combs as he speaks to an intimate group of journalists in Midtown Manhattan. He continues, recounting the conversation with Hov, “And he [Jay-Z] was like, man, that’s really sad, bro. And I was like, damn, that is sad.”
Combs, a captivating storyteller, continues, “Then it’s just like that, one day God came to me, and God’s a woman. So she was like, ‘It’s time [to make music, again]. It’s time, baby.'”
Indeed, it is time. Welcome to the love era.
For those who are unaware, the “love era” is a phrase often used by Sean Combs to describe the state of his being. “A lot of my things have been in eras.” The executive who has had multiple monikers elaborates, “This was a choice that came from God to step into [love] and don’t be afraid of it.”
During a press day for his much anticipated LP, the icon glides into the room. Combs smiles brightly, walking with his infamous ‘Diddy bop.’ With him, he carries an aura of light and joy. Combs dons a designer tracksuit and blackout sunglasses. His hair is carefully groomed, returning to the caesar haircut and 360 waves that he was once known for in the early aughts. Diddy greets every person in attendance (staff and journalists, alike), with a hug or a dap. His presence fills the room.
When it’s time to start the interview, Combs pushes a leather bar stool to the side, opting to sit on the floor. He also declines to use a microphone—clearly, the executive isn’t concerned with formalities. Diddy asks for a toothpick and his assistants quickly oblige. He is calm—peaceful, even, but is still about business.
“Y’all can ask the questions,” says Diddy kicking-off the intimate conversation. With my first question, I opted to ask about love.
Diddy says that his decision to lead with love—personally and professionally—was a bit of an evolutionary process, but one that he certainly leaned-in to. The executive looked to love after a period of great loss—notably, Diddy’s soulmate Kim Porter passed in 2018 and his mentor Andre Harrell passed in 2020. Combs hit rock bottom and acknowledges that this wasn’t the first time in life that he’d reached this terribly low point.
“I think you do get a choice in life where it’s like, which side are you going to pick? Are you going to pick the light or the dark?,” Combs told ESSENCE. Puffy went towards the light, deciding to “publicly stand” on love.
“I am an extremist, so once I found love, really that power of love, I went all the way.” Indeed, Diddy legally changed his name to Sean Love Combs in 2022 (even sharing an image of his driver’s license on Instagram). The love-enthusiast also named his youngest daughter Love Sean Combs. Professionally, he launched Love Records. The artist’s most recent exaltation of love, and its all-encompassing power, is The Love Album: Off The Grid.
The Love Album is Diddy’s long awaited return to music—on it Combs serves as an artist, executive producer and a curator. The LP features luminaries such as The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Mary J Blige, Jazmine Sullivan, H.E.R, Summer Walker, Babyface, John Legend and Teyana Taylor. The album, released under Love Records and Motown, is an homage to a R&B—a musical genre that Combs adores so deeply.
Make no mistake, R&B is Black music. Not only does the variety of music express the spirit and the ethos of African-American artists (as pioneers of the artform), but it also sustains the history of our people. R&B was previously referred to as “race music,” a term used to describe secular African American music. As Diddy is committed to Black people and the Black community, this connection to R&B feels intuitive. During our conversation Combs describes R&B as “soulful music.” He continues, “It is something that’s part of our African-American culture. So when that is in jeopardy of getting lost and wiped out of history…I have something to say.”
Combs’ message, in short: R&B will endure.
Though Diddy’s voice isn’t present on every track of The Love Album, his rhymes punctuate the LP. Through each song, listeners get a glimpse of the mogul’s relationship with love, in its many forms: self love. Romantic love. Divine love. Combs, the consummate artist, wants The Love Album “to touch souls,” and does so by first baring his own.
In “Another One of Me,” Diddy is joined by 21 Savage, French Montana and The Weeknd, in what is allegedly the last feature of The Weeknd’s career. Diddy ends the song with a monologue, of sorts, which feels like a prayer set to music. In it, Combs alludes to that ‘rock bottom’ low that he’d previously faced. The artist raps, “The nights that I cried alone, they taught me best/ Anybody shine like this, they mighty blessed/ Sometimes you’ve got to go through the dark to manifest.”
“Stay Pt. 1” featuring Kalan FrFr and K-Ci (the lead singer of the iconic R&B quartet, Jodeci) is a spin on Jodeci’s 1990s track, also entitled “Stay”—the remake doesn’t miss a note. In it, the artists muse on lost love, and plead for love’s return. “I need to hear some begging. I need to hear some sex talk. I need to hear some, can you forgive me?,'” Combs quips. “I’ve got [the word] ‘stay’ in three different songs. The word ‘stay’ is in there because I’m telling y’all about my life. A good portion of my life I’ve been begging for the girl to stay. And so it’s just my truth.”
“Moments” featuring Justin Bieber is another standout on The Love Album. The track is an ode to the incomparable Quincy Jones, and samples Michael Jackson’s 1979 album, Off The Wall. Upon listening to “Moments,” audiences will be drawn in with the live instrumentation, inspired by Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It.” The song is beautifully layered, and Diddy admits that it took two years to complete. “That was the hardest song, but it came to life,” Combs said.
If R&B is dead (as the mogul once asked “Who killed R&B”), then perhaps The Love Album will be the genre’s second coming. Running nearly 90-minutes long, The Love Album has plenty of ear candy for R&B heads. The tracks will certainly make your body roll. Perhaps the album will lead you to text that one ex (who was not toxic); or maybe it will prompt a weekend rendezvous with a special someone; or it might cause you to examine your own self-love. The CEO (who is also a Scorpio, make of it what you will) admits that he is a person who “loves being in love”–The Love Album evidences this truth.
Despite his 13-year hiatus, Diddy looks forward to making music (of various genres) ‘forever.’
“I got a second chance at life and I’m not finished,” Diddy continues, “And so we are constantly going to be in forward motion. Constantly. We’re changing the tone. And that’s what love does for you,” the freshly minted MTV Global Icon tells ESSENCE.
Diddy is walking in love—the artist believes in the power of positive energy and vibrational frequencies. But it is the force of love that will continue to lead him throughout life.
“It’s not a publicity stunt, it is love.” Combs continues, “It’s not just talking love, it’s being loved. It’s just not talking about change. It’s being change. And so it’s really as simple as that.”