Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
‘Press Play’: The Story Behind Diddy’s Button-Pushing Fourth Album
Warner Music
In Depth

‘Press Play’: The Story Behind Diddy’s Button-Pushing Fourth Album

Dazzlingly ambitious and musically astute, Diddy’s fourth album, Press Play, totally reinvigorated his presence among hip-hop’s elite.

Back

By mid-2006, Sean “Diddy” Combs found himself at the peak of his powers, despite having taken a few years out from the music business. Not only was he a globally recognised rapper, but he had also become a successful entrepreneur, expanding his empire with such ventures as his own brand of cologne, Unforgivable. Netting himself a reported $364 million to date, Diddy had proven himself not only as a hip-hop superstar but also as an astute business mogul. However, as he prepared to release his much-anticipated fourth album, Press Play, it would take more than cologne to mask the fact that change was in the air.

Listen to ‘Press Play’ here.

The hip-hop landscape had undergone a dramatic transformation since the release of Diddy’s previous album, 2001’s The Saga Continues…, co-credited to The Family. The unstoppable rise of artists such as Jay-Z (The Blueprint, The Black Album), along with the emergence of new talents such as Kanye West (The College Dropout, Late Registration), had shaken the industry to its core and reshaped the genre beyond measure.

With Press Play, Diddy faced the task of not only appealing to the mainstream hip-hop and R&B fans who were still captivated by the tried-and-true Bad Boy Records formula, but also to the Kanye-led resurgence of alt-flavoured “backpack rap”. Months in the making, Press Play gave Diddy a unique opportunity to reaffirm his position as a hip-hop heavyweight and demonstrate his continued relevance in an ever-evolving industry.

The backstory: “I wasn’t afraid to be sensual and romantic”

Taking shape as a loose concept album that delved into his love life, Press Play would see Diddy wear his heart on his sleeve. At the heart of this exploration was his on-again, off-again relationship with Kimberly Porter, whom he met in the 90s and shared four children with. Following a break-up in 1999, the couple eventually found their way back to each other in 2003, reigniting a profound sense of love and respect in Diddy. “Kim has been the main muse for the whole thing,” the rapper said in a revealing New York Times interview. “I could make five or ten records to her, but she just wants me to be a good boy all the time to her. I’m trying my best. I love her.”

Inspired by his renewed connection with Porter, Press Play became a deeply personal project for Diddy that delved into the intricacies of their love story: it was his grand statement on the enduring power of their bond. Approaching the album with cinematic ambition, Diddy’s narrative-led focus led him to envision Press Play as “a movie on wax”. His intention was to create songs that told a boy-meets-girl story, taking listeners on a journey from a chance encounter in a nightclub to a passionate yet tumultuous love affair.

In this close examination of his real-life love story, Diddy fearlessly examined into his own vulnerability and self-doubt, crafting lyrics that laid bare his innermost emotions. “I wasn’t afraid to be sensual and romantic,” Diddy admitted to The New York Times. “But I wanted to still hit you hard and make your body move. I just think that being honest is the most gangsta thing you could ever do.”

With this mindset, Diddy strove to strike a balance between floor-rattling pop-rap beats and heartfelt sentiment. In fact, each song on Press Play could serve as a diary entry, mirroring Diddy’s personal journey into adulthood. Tracing his development from a young and impulsive romantic to a wizened family man, the album explored more mature and grown-up themes that hip-hop artists had usually shied away from. “Press Play was a real love project,” the then president of Atlantic Records, Julie Greenwald, attested. “Diddy spent a year and a half working on it. I’ve never worked with someone with such a meticulous attention to detail.” Weaving a tale of love, growth and artistic evolution, the album was set to be Diddy’s most ambitious release yet.

The recording: “The vibe of this album is about giving”

Recorded from 2005 to 2006 at more than a dozen studios across the US, Press Play’s geographical sprawl played a pivotal role in shaping its diverse sound. From the bustling streets of New York City to the soulful scenes of New Jersey, the rhythmic energy of Illinois to the Southern style of Atlanta, and the sun-soaked shores of Miami Beach to the surf-ready sanctuary of California, the songs tapped into the bounteous musical landscapes of each location, infusing the album with a dynamic range of influences. This cross-country sonic journey added depth and richness to the record, capturing the essence of different regions and genres along the way.

Exemplifying his commitment to supporting female talent, Diddy added further dimensions to Press Play by inviting Christina Aguilera, Mary J Blige, Brandy, Ciara, Keri Hilson, and Keyshia Cole into the recording studio. These talented singers, each possessing their own unique styles, brought their vocal prowess to the mic, appealing to fans of both commercial pop and R&B in equal measure. Most notably, Blige’s soulful presence on the track Making It Hard brought new heights of emotional intensity to lyrics about a prickly love interest (“You makin’ it so damn hard/For me to love you”).

Though Bad Boy Records’ in-house production team, The Hitmen, did much of the heavy lifting on Press Play, Diddy also chose to enlist super-producers to put the icing on the cake, such as Just Blaze (Tell Me), Timbaland and Danja (After Love), and The Neptunes (Partners For Life). Even Black Eyed Peas’ main man, will.i.am, gets a slice of the action on Special Feeling, a sparkling track which memorably samples Prince’s Purple Rain album cut Baby I’m A Star. Elsewhere, Everything I Love finds man of the moment Kanye West on production duties, with rap icons such as Nas and Cee-Lo Green each contributing memorable verses.

Set to bleeping synths, Press Play’s lead single, Come To Me, saw Diddy brilliantly mix pop-rap swagger with contemporary R&B allure, with Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger bringing her sultry attitude to the party (“I’m here, when will you make your move?/I see you eyein’ me, I want cha, why don’t cha?”). Giving Diddy’s fans their first taste of his new direction, the song made an immediate impact following its release in September 2006, peaking at No.4 in the UK and No.9 in the US. “It definitely has a hip-hop, rock-star appeal,” Diddy said of the song in an MTV interview. “I admire all of the rock stars – especially a lot of the British rock stars – for their attitude.”

Embracing a musical fusion that combined old-school hip-hop’s love of sampling with influences from 70s soul and funk, plus nods to 80s electro-pop, Diddy coated the whole with a modern pop-rap sheen, creating an eclectic mix of vibrant boom-bap beats and club-shaking dance-pop. With show-stopping vocal performances from the likes of Mary J Blige and Brandy seamlessly blending with nu-soul grooves, it was clear to Diddy that Press Play would be both musically rich and commercially appealing.

“The album contains much more musicality than my others,” Diddy told Oprah Winfrey. “The vibe of this album is about giving. I think if you believe in giving, then you know it will come back to you.” Through all of his recording efforts, Press Play also embodied Diddy’s commitment to creative collaboration. By foregrounding his ability to curate diverse talent and experiment with different production styles, Diddy was ready to deliver an album that possessed both musicality and mainstream appeal.

The release: “My motive was to put out the best music I could, not necessarily to sell millions of records”

Released on 17 October 2006, Diddy’s fourth album, Press Play, debuted at No.1 in the US and sold over 173,000 copies in its first week. From sampling the piano-led hook of Tears For Fears’ Head Over Heels for the album’s opening intro, Testimonial, to creating Blaxploitation vibes by building We Gon’ Make It on a lift from jazz bassist Johnny Pate’s Shaft In Africa (Addis), the album mixed the old and the new to offer fans a lavish listening experience across 19 shimmering tracks.

For Press Play’s second single, Diddy released Tell Me, an electro-pop-tinged collaboration with the controversial Genie In A Bottle hitmaker Christina Aguilera. “I wanted to do a hip-hop/soul song with Christina,” Diddy later told MTV, during the making of the song’s promo video. “I wanted to do something that’s a little bit more ‘street’, a little bit more ghetto, with her beautiful vocals on top of it.” Produced by Just Blaze, the song peaked at No.8 in the UK, boosted by the same Great Gatsby-style glamour Aguilera brought to her fifth album, Back To Basics.

During a wide-ranging interview with Oprah Winfrey, Diddy spoke candidly about his intentions behind the album. “My motive was to put out the best music I could, not necessarily to sell millions of records,” he explained, adding, “I’ve been number one a lot, and that’s great.” Despite Diddy’s modest expectations, Press Play was an undoubted success, not only re-establishing its creator’s influence on the hip-hop scene but also reminding music fans how talented and versatile he was as an artist.

The legacy: Asserting Diddy’s relevance after more than ten years in the game

One of the most successful tracks released from Press Play was its third single, Last Night, featuring Keyshia Cole. Peaking at No.10 in the US and No.14 in the UK, the song boasts an 80s-style beat courtesy of a slowed-down sample of Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy B-side Erotic City. Co-produced by Mario Winans, the loping beat of Last Night is matched with Cole’s R&B-laced exhortations of longing (“Come and set me free, forever yours, I’ll be/Baby, won’t you come and take this pain away?”). With over 120 million Spotify streams to date, it remains one of the best Diddy songs of all time.

Having sold more than 700,000 copies since its release, Press Play continues to resonate with rap fans to this day, showcasing as it does Diddy’s ability to seamlessly blend elements of hip-hop, R&B and pop while maintaining his own unique voice. Serving as a powerful reminder that Diddy’s ambitions extended far beyond his entrepreneurial endeavours, Press Play did wonders in asserting his cultural relevance after more than ten years in the rap game. By reinvigorating his presence in the hip-hop community and reaffirming his position as a true musical innovator, Press Play remains a shining example of why Diddy is a rap icon with enduring appeal.

Find out where Diddy ranks among the best Bad Boy Records artists.

More Like This

Scar Tissue: How Red Hot Chili Peppers Healed Their Wounds On A Classic Song
In Depth

Scar Tissue: How Red Hot Chili Peppers Healed Their Wounds On A Classic Song

Embracing sobriety and the return of guitarist John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Peppers worked up one of their greatest songs, Scar Tissue.

‘Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses)’: Behind Slipknot’s Mind-Altering Third Album
In Depth

‘Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses)’: Behind Slipknot’s Mind-Altering Third Album

Bouncing back after the harrowing ‘Iowa’, nu-metal icons Slipknot made their mainstream breakthrough with ‘Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses)’.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up