Sean "Diddy" Combs: A Raisin in the Sun
A Dialogue with
Born in New York on
November 4, 1969, rap mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is the
CEO and founder of Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment
Group, one of the preeminent urban-oriented
conglomerates. The company encompasses a broad range of
businesses, including recording, music publishing,
artist management, television and film production,
apparel and restaurants.
The 38 year-old,
multiple Grammy Award winner is also widely recognized
as a music producer, performer and solo artist. On the
big screen, he’s previously appeared opposite Halle
Berry as her husband in her Oscar-winning performance in
Monster’s Ball. Now, Diddy breaks new ground by
both producing a TV adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s
A Raisin in the Sun and reprising the lead role
of Walter Lee, which he brought to Broadway in the
play’s 2004 revival.
Here, Diddy touches
on many aspects of his career and addresses the rumor
that he’s changing his name for the sixth time, to Sean
John. Over the years, his memorable moniker has been
altered from Puffy to Puff Daddy to Puff to P. Diddy to
* * *
Diddy, how are you?
how are you?
KW: Have you
changed your name again to Sean John?
SC: No, I
didn't change my name. That's just a rumor.
then, what is your official name right now?
SC: My name
is Sean Combs.
What about A Raisin in the Sun made you want to bring
it to Broadway and now to TV?
don't read scripts like that these days, especially for
African Americans. I just felt so
thrilled and blessed, that I jumped at the chance to do
it. On Broadway, I was blessed with an acting coach who
knew the passion that I had to become an actor. And she
knew I was studying extremely hard. After doing a quick
role in Monster's Ball, she knew I wanted to take
another route besides the cliché roles which you would
expect of a rap artist that's transitioning into acting.
She said, “If you really, really want to get serious, I
have the perfect role for you.” Then, she told me about
possibly playing Walter Lee Younger, Jr. And I was like,
there's no way I can do that. I'd never even been on a
live stage. But she said, “You can't have any fears,”
and so I just really jumped at the chance to do it
without knowing how difficult and tough starring on
Broadway was. It was a dream role for any actor, but it
was one of the most challenging things I've ever done as
an artist, and it like truly changed my life.
KW: Did you
draw on any of your childhood experiences from Harlem
and Mount Vernon in creating Walter Lee?
Ironically, some people think that maybe I may not be
able to relate because I've had a little bit of success.
But I feel I was destined to play this role because my
father was killed when I was three years old and I grew
up in a house with three women, my mother, my
grandmother and my sister. I went through those years of
having to watch my mother and my grandmother work two
jobs and not being able to take care of my family and
seeing the look on my mother's face when I would ask for
things that she couldn't afford. And the stress we
went through when I was going to Howard University and
me just having a dream of being in the music industry
kind of related to Walter Lee's dream of having a liquor
store. Everybody looked at me like I was crazy back then
the same way Walter Lee is treated in this movie. And
so, some of the anxiety, the way you feel, the pursuit
of the dream and how you're constantly hitting obstacles
and it's getting deferred and how you just have to keep
that passion and motivation and can't stop is something
that I truly was able to tap into and relate to from my
don't we see more scripts like this for
a good question. I think that things are changing for
the better. You're seeing African-Americans get more
power as far as being executive producers, so I think a
lot of work that Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and a lot of the
black actors are doing right now are really opening up
doors for actors like me. Still, there hasn't been an
abundance of roles that really look into all of the
dimensions of a black man, but I do think that things
like that are changing. You don't see as many
gang-banging movies as you used to.
about the original play by Lorraine Hansberry touched
hadn't really read another script where almost every
single word from beginning to end means something. I
think that her understanding of each character's
motivation was genius. That's what makes this work still
relevant today and so timeless. When people ask, “Why do
this again?” I say because it's important that the story
lives on just like Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”
KW: How was
it working with Phylicia Rashad, Sanaa Lathan and Audra
SC: Oh, to
be able to work with three incredible actresses that are
so vulnerable and so real you can't but help tell the
truth when you're looking into their eyes. It comes very
easy with actors like that. You can't help but get
better. You can't help but nail the scene because
they're so believable from their years of experience.
did you speak to Sidney Poitier, who originated your
role on Broadway back in 1959, in preparation?
yes. When I got offered the role, I immediately called
Sidney Poitier, reached out to him, because I just
wanted to tell him myself. And he was very excited and
he's been very supportive. He just literally passed me
the baton, and we went out to lunch in L.A. He really
supported me and gave me confidence, and so did Ruby Dee
and Ozzie Davis. They took me under their wing, because
they felt it was important to share this story with a
Johnson was wondering, what’s the last book you read?
The last book I read? Let me see. The last book I read
was From Good to Great, a business book.
KW: By Jim
Collins. Oh, I reviewed that book. I loved it. The
Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
SC: Am I
happy? Yes, very happy.
Jimmy Bayan, realtor to the stars, wants to know where
you stay when you’re out in L.A.
Beverly Hills Hotel. But don't tell nobody.
the word. Your secret is safe with me. Speaking of
secrets, what is the secret of your success at juggling
so many different responsibilities?
SC: One of
the secrets of my success is my professionalism. I
think, for some reason, a lot of people, are surprised
by that. I guess I use it to my advantage because this
is just the way I am. I couldn’t have all of these
companies running successfully if I wasn't a
professional. I come from the world of hip-hop, known
for the bling bling and the money and the champagne and
all of those things that become very, very blown out of
proportion. But most of the time, I’m just in my office
working or in the studio. And when I do go out, a lot of
things get magnified.
KW: Do you
especially expect your character in Raisin to resonate
with black males?
definitely. I felt his pain because I was going through
that pain and I think everybody feels his pain who
wants to take care of their family. I think that's why
so many people relate to this and especially to be able
to tell this story from an African American man's
perspective so people could try to understand the pain
and the anxiety that a lot of African American males are
going through, being born into conditions where it's
like their life is predestined for failure. They're born
into all the statistics on what they're going to become
and how they're not going to become anything. That's
message does Raisin have for members of the Hip-Hop
SC: Oh, my.
I think the core message for this generation is love of
family and that, at the end of the day, when things are
rough, and the chips are down, your family is going to
be there. And to never give up hope, to keep on pursuing
your dreams because this generation has gone through
this story in more of a widespread way than I think it
was like when the play was originally done. Now, it's
not just African-Americans that are touched by this.
Whites and Latinos and other impoverished communities
are going through this same story. You have the line in
there about “Money is life.” That's something that this
generation kind of believes because this is the world
that we were brought up in. And I think this brings it
down to that reality, just like it's brought a lot of
hip hop stars, even myself, to the reality that there is
more than that, that family is life and love is life.
KW: Do you
like the fact that the film is coming on TV during Black
History Month and at a time when we have history in the
making with Obama running for President of the United
SC: You know, I
think that the timing couldn't have been any better,
especially given what happened, earlier this year with a
lot of the racism that we saw trying to stick its head
out. But America has said we're not going to have that
movie’s going to air on ABC the night after the Oscars.
Does that mean you’ll be a presenter at the Academy
SC: If ABC
sets that up.
KW: Who in
the cast of Raisin was the most fun on the set?
SC: Me. Oh,
man, one of the things that I was able to do was make
sure that when we weren't in front of the camera, we
still kept our family vibe. I did the same thing on
Broadway. It was a continuation, so it was a lot of
work, but we had a lot of fun .
KW: You wear
a lot of hats: actor, rapper, producer, etcetera. Which
is your favorite?
SC: I just
like being an entertainer. I just view myself as an
entertainer and I really try to look at myself as the
entertainers of old. They did many different things.
They had albums and they acted and they also had some
side businesses. I like entertaining people and pushing
the culture of hip-hop forward, so that we can do other
things that aren't maybe written for us to do that are
not very typical. And maybe that way we could raise our
you've broken so many new artists, I was wondering how
you know when to sign someone who's going to be the next
SC: I think
that you know that was one of my blessings, so that's
why after all these years, I'm still here. I just signed
a new artist, Janelle Monae, and it's just a feeling
that I get. I just get this certain feeling when I see
an artist, I can't really describe it. It's just like,
you know, if it touches me emotionally and it has
certain unique tones. I love vulnerability and rawness,
but if you go like on My Space and look up Janelle Monae,
you'll see my newest artist and she's really
KW: Is music
still fun for you?
know, I still do love music, but I am transitioning, you
know, as an artist from music to acting right now.
such a trendsetter. What do you have on the horizon in
terms of clothes – anything new?
now, this is one of the biggest weeks of this year for
me because I'm returning to the runway for the first
time in five years. I haven't been to sleep in like six
days and probably got four more days to go, and I'm just
finishing up all my clothes now.
KW: How do
you balance so many responsibilities? Isn't it
SC: This is
a stressful time, but it's a good stress. I'm blessed to
have these opportunities and so I think it has a
blessing. Anytime I get stressed or tired, I just think
about how blessed I am even to have these opportunities
and how so many men and women would love to be in my
shoes. I just try to take advantage of this so more
doors are open for other people.
KW: Have you
been able to keep up your exercise routine, too?
SC: No, I
haven't in the last couple of weeks, but I have to.
That's very important, I'm trying to get back into that.
for the time, Diddy. Best of luck with A Raisin in the
Sun and all your other ventures.
you very much. I truly appreciate you're taking out the
time to speak to me. I just really appreciate it, thank
posted 15 March 2008
* * *
God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man
A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on
Sapelo Island, Georgia
Cornelia Walker Bailey
been said that the Africans who were brought
to the United States as slaves were
completely stripped of their native culture.
But pioneering scholars such as
Melville Herskovits have disproved this
in academia, while the literature of
Zora Neale Hurston and
Ralph Ellison has also debunked this
persistent myth. Living proof of that fact
Sapelo Island, a South Sea island off
the coast of Savannah, Georgia, where West
African traditions persist despite
considerable odds. This vivid memoir by
Cornelia Walker Bailey, a lecturer and
tour guide on Sapelo Island, transports the
reader to this enchanted land of miracles
is a self-described "Geechee," a descendant
of Islamic African slaves taken from
modern-day Senegal, Sierra Leone, and
Liberia (she traces her family lineage on
the island back to 1803). In
God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man,
the author brings alive a land where black
people speak an African-based Creole
language, believe in "mojo" (the American
equivalent of Haitian voodoo), and who work
to keep their culture alive.
"You can think of
the Africans as being victims, and in a sense they
were," she writes. "But they were also great survivors.
If they survived the Middle Passage, and a lot of people
didn't, then they survived everything thrown at them.
They were determined people." Thanks in large part to
Bailey, this determination lives on. But her book, which
recalls life on
Sapelo Island from the 1940s and rings with the same
ebullient language found in
Toomer's Cane, also serves as a warning,
noting that outside business interests and the
disinterest of the youth threaten the very existence of
their ancient ways. "We need to be proud of our
ancestors from slavery days and of our old people who
went through modern hardships and to learn from them
that if you believe in something, strength comes from
that." With this book, she hopes to pass some of that
strength on.—Amazon.com Review
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update 1 March 2012