Whether or not you agree with Diddy’s argument that R&B is dead, there’s no debating the music mogul’s impact on the genre.
Although he has reiterated that his take on R&B was not intended to be disrespectful towards any artist’s contributions to the genre, Diddy’s argument arrives at an interesting moment. Since the turn of the new decade, R&B has arguably been undergoing a renaissance of its own, with artists such as Summer Walker, Ari Lennox, Lucky Daye, Brent Faiyaz, and Giveon revitalizing the genre with critically acclaimed albums and unforgettable tunes over the past few years. This year alone has already seen the release of several well-recieved R&B projects from new and veteran acts, including SYD’s Broken Hearts Club, Lucky Daye’s Candydrip, Kehlani’s Blue Water Road, Ravyn Lenae’s Hypnos, Brent Faiyaz’s WASTELAND, Arin Ray’s Hello Poison, Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales, Mo’ Tales: The Deluxe,Robert Glasper’s Black Radio III, and Mary J. Blige’s Good Morning Gorgeous. Claiming that R&B is “dead” with all of the aforementioned artists — among countless others — contributing to the progression of R&B just isn’t fair at this point in time.
Interestingly enough, Diddy has actually been considerably active on the R&B scene this year as well. He founded Love Records in conjunction with Motown Records this spring and dropped off his “Gotta Move On” single with Bryson Tiller in June, and now, he is getting ready to drop an R&B album to officially kickstart his label. Despite all of this, the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy has stood by his argument and gone as far as to also question what people deem to be “real” R&B, citing topical trends and an artist’s un-aided ability to sing. Following an admission that this debate, above all else, was meant to bring attention to R&B, Diddy explained that the genre merely “needs more love, vulnerability, [and] support.”
With everyone from Chris Brown to Usher vehemently opposing Diddy’s proclamation of R&B’s demise, it’s clear that this debate is far from settled, and that may be because it isn’t as clear-cut as it originally appeared to be. However, rather than theorizing what exactly the Love Records founder explicitly meant by asking “Who killed R&B?” — whether that be meaningful industry backing, the upholding of stylistic traditions, or the discovery of real talent — it is important, and perhaps more feasible, to consider Diddy’s storied role in R&B as a means of contextualizing his comments. As Joe Budden said in Episode 559 of The Joe Budden Podcast, “All of y’all know Puff to be ‘Mr. R&B.’ It ain’t like he’s just poppin’ out of the blue and saying, ‘Yo! R&B is wack and this is why.’”
While Joe Budden’s comments likely resonate with many older Hip-Hop and R&B fans who were able to witness Diddy’s rise in real-time, the latest BET Lifetime Achievement Award recipient’s impact on R&B may actually be lost on later generations, so here is a quick refresher on what Diddy has done for the genre that he recently declared dead.
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Long before Diddy was an established entertainment industry mogul, he was an ambitious intern at Uptown Records in New York City. Eventually, his talents as a producer helped him land a role as the label’s talent director. While holding that position, Puff helped develop timeless R&B acts such as Jodeci and Mary J. Blige. He was especially integral to the beginning of the latter’s career, as he was an executive producer and a driving force behind her first two albums, What’s the 411? and My Life. While his tenure at Uptown Records was a bit brief, it solidified Diddy’s ties to the R&B and Hip-Hop communities, and after being fired in 1993, he embarked on the road that led him to found Bad Boy Entertainment.
In the fledgling days of Bad Boy, however, Diddy was still helping develop new R&B acts for his partner label, Arista Records. His work led to the major label debut of Usher, whose eponymous first studio album was executive produced by Diddy and L.A. Reid. During that time frame, Diddy also served as a producer on four tracks from TLC’s classic sophomore studio album, CrazySexyCool. Yet despite the magnitude of both of those achievements, Diddy’s legacy as an R&B aficionado was really cemented once Bad Boy Entertainment was in full swing.
Following the success of The Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack’s debut albums — Ready To Die and Project: Funk da World, respectively — in 1994, Diddy took a major two-year detour into the world of R&B, pumping out projects such as Faith Evans‘ debut studio album Faith, female R&B duo Total’s self-titled debut, and 112’s similarly self-titled debut. In 1997, the tragic death of Biggie led to one of the most timeless Hip-Hop and R&B mashups, the Faith Evans- and 112-assisted “Missing You,” and throughout the rest of the nineties, Diddy spearheaded the releases of Faith Evans, 112, and Total’s sophomore records — Keep the Faith, Kima, Keisha, and Pam, and Room 112, respectively.
Even as Diddy restructured his Bad Boy roster in the wake of Biggie’s passing, he continued to give platforms to R&B acts throughout the 2000s. In addition to releasing Faith Evans‘ final album on the label (Faithfully) as well as two more 112 records (Part III and Hot & Wet), Diddy welcomed Carl Thomas, Mario Winans, New Edition, B5, Cassie, Day 26, and Cheri Dennis into the Bad Boy fold. While the commercial success of his 2000s R&B acts varied significantly, Puff also worked with some of the leading voices in R&B during that decade, from Beyoncé (“Keep Giving Your Love To Me”) to Mary J. Blige (Love & Life).
In terms of R&B, the 2010s were by far Diddy‘s least active decade yet, but during the last decade, he did drop off Last Train to Paris with Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper as Diddy-Dirty Money and release Janelle Monae’s first three solo albums (The ArchAndroid, 2013’s The Electric Lady, and 2018’s Dirty Computer).
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As Diddy prepares to enter this new era of Love Records, it will be interesting to see what impact he leaves on R&B throughout the 2020s, especially considering that an entirely different generation of artists already seemingly has the genre on lock. Will he break new R&B acts? Will his forthcoming album mark the “resurrection” of R&B? Or will future generations look back at this decade, remember this debate about the “death” of R&B, and ask themselves, “What Has Diddy Done For R&B?”