'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Sean Combs ('Two Distant Strangers')

Sean Combs
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Sean Combs

"It's the same thing, over and over: another body, the marching, stop the marching, another body," says an exasperated Sean "Diddy" Combs, the hip-hop legend and entrepreneur, as we record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast and discuss the repeated instances of police brutality claiming the lives of young Black people in America.

In the aftermath of the May 2020 killing of George Floyd and the ensuing #BlackLivesMatter marches, Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe decided to make Two Distant Strangers, a live-action short film about a young Black man (played by rapper Joey Bada$$) who finds himself in a Groundhog Day-like time warp in which he is repeatedly killed without cause by an NYPD officer, no matter how he conducts himself. After completing the film in just a few months, the filmmakers showed it to a number of prominent Black people, including Kevin Durant and Combs, who quickly signed on as executive producers to help raise the film's profile.

"I was like, 'Wow, this really explains it,'" Combs says, "because whatever ways we were using before, I just don't think they were really getting it — not just white people, but Black people, all colors. But when I saw this movie, I was like, 'Hopefully this is the last time we have to explain how it feels to live as a person of color in America.' This is a regular young Black man, an artist, and he just wants to get home to his dog. That was the beauty of the film: it didn't try to explain it in a way of like, 'Oh, the guy is selling drugs,' or is somebody that put themselves in danger. We're talking about the person that is one of the — if you want to say 'the good Black people,' which is a crazy way to think, okay — they're even stressed out. I'm stressed out. Like, if a cop comes behind my thing, I'm like, 'Woah, this could really go any which way, no matter how nice I'm about to be.' So nobody is exempt from this."

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LISTEN: You can hear the Combs interview below starting at 24:36, following a conversation with Two Distant Strangers' Emmy-winning co-director Travon Free.

Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Keira Knightley, David Letterman, Sophia Loren, Hugh Jackman, Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Hart, Carey Mulligan, Seth MacFarlane, Amy Adams, Ben Affleck, Julia Roberts, Jake Gyllenhaal, Glenn Close, Will Ferrell, Cate Blanchett, Sacha Baron Cohen, Greta Gerwig, Conan O'Brien and Kerry Washington.
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Combs, 51, was born and raised in Harlem, and is, of course, one of the most significant figures in the history of the music industry. He has never studied music or learned to play an instrument, but he has proven to be a remarkable scout of talent, a marketing genius and producer who knows how to shape a song and a career as well as anyone.

His first job in the business was as an unpaid intern at the late Andre Harrell's Uptown Records when he was 18. By 23, he was already a mogul with his own label, Bad Boy Records, which lives on to this day and has introduced the world to artists like Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Craig Mack, the Notorious B.I.G., Mase, Faith Evans, Lil Kim, the LOX, Cassie, Janelle Monae, Machine Gun Kelly and yes, himself.

He produced three of Rolling Stone's 500 greatest albums of all time — Biggie's Ready to Die (1994) and Life After Death (1997) and Blige's My Life (1994) — and he himself has been featured on 15 singles that cracked the top 15 of the Billboard Hot 100, five of which hit number one: "I'll Be Missing You" (a tribute song to Biggie, his best friend, following Biggie's 1997 murder, which remains unsolved), "Mo Money Mo Problems," "Shake Ya Tailfeather," "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and "Bump, Bump, Bump"

As the New York Times once put it, he is the man who sold hip-hop to mainstream America.

Over the course of our conversation, the man of many names — he has gone, at one time or another, as "Puff," "Puffy," "Puff Daddy," "P. Diddy" and "Diddy," but says he currently prefers "Love" — discusses the roots of his unparalleled drive and hustle; why getting fired at a young age was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to him; how Bad Boy Records came to represent East Coast hip-hop and became embroiled in a feud with the West Coast’s Death Row Records which ultimately claimed the lives of Death Row's Tupac Shakur and Bad Boy's Biggie (and how, over the years since, his relationships with West Coast artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg have evolved); and why he made the unusual transition from producing to rapping, to great success, and then began expanding his brand, to even greater success, into things like fashion, with the menswear company Sean John; spirits, with the luxury vodka Ciroc; movies, as an executive producer of the 2011 documentary feature Undefeated, which went on to win the best documentary feature Oscar; and much more.