Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs is the walking definition of overcoming adversity and flourishing from your wins. The 46-year-old hip-hop mogul reflected on his journey for a moment Friday night as thousands at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center watched, sharing his story of getting fired as an A&R at Uptown Records by Andre Harrell and founding Bad Boy Records, the juggernaut East Coast-based label with over 20 years of artists and hits under its belt.
Anyone else would crumble after losing their job, but Puff’s ear for talent was uncanny. He was instrumental in developing Mary J. Blige, and nearly two decades later she was still appreciative. When Blige came out to perform timeless hits “Real Love,” “Be Happy,” and “You Don’t Have to Worry,” she thanked him for taking a tomboy living in the projects and transforming her into the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, whose signature baggy look became a staple of the ’90s.
“There will be no Bad Boy without Mary J. Blige,” Puffy said, which set the tone for a deafening singalong of “I’m Goin’ Down.”
There were plenty of thank-you tributes just like this from all his guests throughout the first sold-out show on the “Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour,” held in honor of The Notorious B.I.G.’s 44th birthday. (The group will return for a second concert tonight.) Puff accomplished the near-impossible task of condensing a significant chunk of hip-hop and R&B history into four hours, giving fans flashes of nostalgia as the likes of Total, 112, Carl Thomas, Faith Evans, The LOX, Lil’ Kim, and Ma$e performed their classics from the Bad Boy catalogue to a sold-out crowd. Puff, ever the perfectionist, was nearly two hours late, but that didn’t bother the audience as they suddenly got out of their seats when a countdown appeared on-screen, signaling that greatness was on its way.
Behind video montages of key markers in Bad Boy’s past, the label’s alumni emerged wearing all black and Puff rose from beneath the custom-made Bad Boy stage to kick things off with “Victory” featuring the night’s first guest Busta Rhymes. Within minutes, fans were taken back to the Shiny Suit Era. Puff and his longtime partner Ma$e ran through “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” and “Been Around the World.” It didn’t stop there: 112 serenaded the crowd with their string of hits, “It’s Over Now,” “Dance With Me,” and “Peaches & Cream.” Then it was Kima, Keisha, and Pam’s turn, sounding pitch-perfect when they delivered “Trippin'” and “Kissin’ You.” Total performing in 2016 may sound insane on paper, but these were the type of reactions that hip-hop’s most influential entertainer wanted you to have.
Each act had about 15 minutes or so to command the arena, so they made sure to make it count. Over the course of Bad Boy’s illustrious legacy, fans have latched on to their favorites as the years have gone by, waiting for concerts like this to see if they still got it. Despite spotty sound issues, Bad Boy’s marquee artists—The LOX, Carl Thomas, and the incomparable Faith Evans—all received cheers from their faithful fans, even growing louder as those undeniable tracks like Faith’s “I Love You” echoed throughout the arena.
After French Montana and Rick Ross zipped us back to modern times with anthems “Stay Schemin'” and “Pop That,” Puff paid special tribute to Biggie with an emotional performance of “Angels.” A white spotlight shined on him, and the Bad Boy platform rose just high enough for Puff to speak directly to his friend from up above.
Jay Z, who missed out on Blue Ivy’s recital for this, did his verse on the dedication track, and in a rare occasion looked like the little brother to big brother Puffy. “You’ve been there with me from my ups and downs. Whenever I get in trouble, this is the one I call. This my strategist right here. This my brother. This B.I.G.’s brother. This Brooklyn’s own Brooklyn!” he shouted, before politely asking to perform his favorite song, “Public Service Announcement,” which Hov happily obliged.
If Jigga wasn’t enough, Nas came out for “Hate Me Now” with Puff—both wearing big fur coats that required two guys each to hold the ends. God level.
The surprises went into overdrive after that. Busta returned to perform “Pass the Ciroc” (no Courvoisier). Lil’ Kim—dressed in all white—rapped her verse on “Quiet Storm (Remix),” continuing to prove she’s the OG Queen Bee with a word-for-word exchange of “Queen Bitch” with the crowd. Mario Winans hit us with “I Don’t Wanna Know,” Cassie crushed her smash single “Me & U,” and Ty Dolla $ign joined Diddy for “You Could Be My Lover.” Usher also surprised with “U Don’t Have to Call” and “I Need a Girl, Pt. 1 and 2.”
Just when Puff had the crowd reeling, he wanted to make sure we were really having fun. He saved the best set of songs for last, dedicating a portion of the show to Biggie where he projected videos from songs such as “Warning” and “Juicy.” This was the apex because the entire Bad Boy family also returned for remixes and guest spots. Lil Cease did his thing on “Player’s Anthem,” as well as Kim and The LOX for the remix of “It’s All About the Benjamins.” Black Rob performed his street banger “Whoa!” Ma$e joined Puff and tore down “Mo Money Mo Problems.”
The closer for the evening was “I’ll Be Missing You,” a touching performance with Faith belting her chorus alongside a gospel choir that all happened right as Biggie’s would-be 44th birthday rang in. Confetti and balloons fell from the sky. “Happy birthday, playboy,” Puff said. But it wasn’t over: he and the Family brought out a cake for everyone to sing happy birthday to one of the greatest MCs of our time. Life after death is still sweet for the Notorious.