It goes without saying that New York is the mecca of Hip-Hop. From that “Back to School” party in the Bronx in 1973 to today, the genre is synonymous with the Empire State.
When it comes to record labels dedicated to Hip-Hop, there are more than a few on the East Coast: Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella, Griselda, and Murder Inc., to name a few. However, there is an argument that no other label did it quite like the subject of today’s analysis: Bad Boy Records.
Headed by music mega-mogul Sean Combs (a.k.a. Puff Daddy, Puffy, Diddy, Brother Love and more), the label literally shifted the culture right from the jump. It’s the label that flawlessly combined the grittiness of rap with the flashiness of R&B and Soul. It is the label that brought us acts like Junior M.A.F.I.A., Ma$e, Faith Evans, Lil Kim, and perhaps one of Hip-Hop’s most iconic storytellers, The Notorious B.I.G.
Throughout the 90s and into the new millennium, Bad Boy has seen great triumphs and unfathomable tragedies. Despite the ups and downs, the label rose from the ashes and continues to thrive. As Combs declared himself, they “ain’t going nowhere.”
This is the house that Bad Boy built.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Prior to this article’s publication, it was reported that Bad Boy founder Sean Combs has been sued for physical/sexual abuse by former girlfriend and artist, Cassie. Please note that this article is only a reflection of the label’s history, and we do not want to gloss over the recent accusations. For more information on the lawsuit, check out this article:
Bad, Bad Boy: Cassie Files Lawsuit On Diddy For Years Of Alleged Sexual And Physical Abuse
Sean Combs founded Bad Boy in 1993, not too long after he was fired from his A&R position at Uptown Records. The following year, the label would see its first major release, Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear.” The track peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, go platinum, and would receive a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance.
2. September 1994
Following the release of Mack’s debut album, Project: Funk Da World (which went gold), Bad Boy followed it up with The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut, Ready To Die. With singles like “Juicy,” “Big Poppa/Warning” and “One More Chance,” the semi-autobiographical album peaked at #15 on the Billboard 200. The only album released during his lifetime, Ready To Die solidified Biggie’s place as one of Rap’s great storytellers.
Following the massive success of Ready To Die, the label continued their success with platinum selling releases from R&B acts like Faith Evans and Total. Bad Boy was also assembling their own squad of in-house producers and songwriters known as The Hitmen. The crew, whose membership included D Dot, Stevie J, and the late Chucky Thompson, would become instrumental in creating the label’s biggest hits during their heyday.
Throughout Bad Boy’s rise on the charts, tensions were brewing between the label and its West Coast counterpart, Death Row Records. Intensifying the rivalry was the signing of Biggie’s former friend, 2Pac, in October of 1995.
Previously, Pac accused Biggie, Puffy and Uptown Records’ Andre Harrell of having prior knowledge of a robbery at NY’s Quad Studios that led to him being shot five times in November 1994.
5. March 1997
On March 9, 1997, the East/West rap war reached a tragic climax when The Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down in Los Angeles following a Soul Train Awards afterparty. The still-unsolved murder was believed to be in retaliation to the death of 2pac six months earlier.
Biggie’s sophomore album, Life After Death, was released 16 days later. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 and would go on to be certified diamond.
6. July 1997
No Way Out, the debut album by Puff Daddy & The Family, was released in July 1997. It still stands as Puffy’s best-selling album, with over 7 million units in the US. It also earned him a Grammy for Best Rap Album.
7. Late 1990s – Early 2000s
At the turn of the century, Bad Boy started to fall off. Many of its notable acts would leave the label, sales started to dwindle, and Diddy, as an artist, found it difficult to match the success of his debut album.
Bad Boy did find some success with Brooklyn rapper Shyne. His self-titled debut, released in 2000, peaked at #5 on the Billboard 200. However, by that time, he was in prison for his involvement in a nightclub shooting the previous year, following an argument between Diddy and another individual.
In 2002, Bad Boy parted ways with longtime distributor Arista Records, allowing Diddy to have full ownership of the label’s catalogue and roster. The year would also mark his venture into reality TV when he took over ABC’s Making The Band franchise and moved it to MTV.
The second iteration of the series featured the creation of hip-hop/R&B group Da Band. Their debut (and only) album would reach gold status, thanks to their MTV exposure. They would be followed by R&B/pop girl group Danity Kane and male R&B group Day26 in future iterations of the series.
2003 saw the creation of Bad Boy South, a spin-off of its parent label focused on Southern rap. This would lead to the success of legendary duo 8Ball & MJG’s Living Legends album. Other artists signed to Bad Boy South included Boyz N Da Hood, Yung Joc, and Gorilla Zoe.
10. Late 2000s
By the end of the 2000s, Bad Boy seemed to be getting back into the swing of things with a new deal with Universal’s Interscope Records, well-received releases from Yung Joc and Cassie, and the critically acclaimed album from Diddy-Dirty Money (consisting of Diddy, former Danity Kane singer Dawn Richard and singer/songwriter Kalenna Harper).
Last Train to Paris peaked at #7 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 100,000 copies in its first week.
11. Present Day
Bad Boy, as a label, is still hanging in the music industry. Although it has not regained the popularity that it once had in the 90s, there are still gems within today’s roster, which includes Janelle Monáe, Machine Gun Kelly, and Diddy’s son, King Combs.
Diddy is also hanging in there as an artist. His latest release, The Love Album: Off The Grid, was released to commercial acclaim earlier this year. However, continued accusations of artist mistreatment, financial snafus, and most recently, physical & sexual abuse, has casted a dark shadow over the latest chapter of his legacy.
That aside, we cannot forget the contributions that Bad Boy as a label gave to the culture, for better or for worse.