Diddy and Apple. It was always inevitable the two giants would meet.
At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Apple acquired two films as it prepared for its first foray into releasing documentaries. The first of those docs, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, is set to debut in Los Angeles and New York on June 23 and exclusively on Apple Music on June 25. The documentary tells the story of Sean “Diddy” Combs and the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour that sold out arenas last year.
Combs, who has topped the Forbes list of highest-paid celebrity entertainers once again this year—edging out luminaries like JAY-Z and Beyoncé—has been a mogul-in-the-making since he became an intern at Uptown Records in 1990. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop chronicles Combs’ meteoric rise to the top, while also capturing some of his lowest lows, like the loss of best friend and rapper Notorious B.I.G. to a shooting in 1997 and the subsequent release of his debut album No Way Out just months later, essentially a tribute to B.I.G. at the time.
Since then, Combs has also become synonymous with the phrase “Vote or Die,” the 2004 campaign he spearheaded for the 2004 presidential election to get young people to vote. It’s odd then that, in the wake of Donald Trump’s controversial presidency, Combs has remained relatively silent about a man he once referred to as a friend.
In anticipation of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop’s release, I sat down with Combs in his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills to discuss the documentary, his music past, and why he’s not talking about Trump.
What was your intention in making a “getting the gang back together” documentary on the Bad Boy 20th Anniversary Tour instead of a concert film?
We thought we were gonna have something like [Madonna’s] Truth or Dare, you know, show everybody’s positivity; it wasn’t gonna be nothing dramatic. Then when we got there, the art and the life started to crash together with a lot of elephants in the room. We haven’t spoken about a lot of things and a lot of things are sort of brewing over the concert. So they start to come out—those emotions—and that gets you into the story, the real biopic oh shit they really getting into the story of their relationships and stuff like that. That’s different than a music documentary, because people [in those documentaries] are gonna paint themselves in the success of the past. We were dealing in the past, present, and the future. So that’s what I think made it be something special. It just organically happened.
Which is in contrast to films like the recent Tupac biopic All Eyez on Me, which some have accused of whitewashing the truth about his life.
There’s rarely good endings in hip-hop movies. There’s rarely motivating things we see in ourselves. There’s rarely times when we’re comfortable showing the truth. The raw truth. We wanna tell the success story. We wanna tell what we went through, how we survived, how we came out victorious.
I know Jayson Jackson [who produced] the Nina Simone doc, and I’m famous for calling around to everybody before a doc comes out. I’m always calling everybody like, just send me a link! So that Nina Simone doc I got early and I was just so happy because I didn’t know a lot about her and wanted to know what she was about. So when I was making the film I had her in my mind: [Just like Nina] there’s a lot people don’t know about me, wanna know who I really am. So from that Nina doc it gave me fearlessness. That was the theme in her movie that made me want to go and show the truth. The vulnerability.
So you see some of Nina in yourself?
I think we’re really on similar parallels. It’s really gone from “me” to “we.” I’ve had this success but at the same time that hasn’t satisfied me as far as what I wanna do. My voice can be used for something bigger. Even this movie, it’s for the greater good, it’s for the people. I’m talking some real strong black man shit in the movie—it’s by purpose, it’s by design, because we don’t see those stories. The way [Nina] kinda revealed the truth, I think it’s important to show a different side of us than just the trials and tribulations. You can show the successes because that’s gonna motivate us, too. That’s a way for us to fight war too, by being successful. By being able to lead and have it be about us. We.
Later in her life, Nina’s music became very political. In times like this, with Trump as president, where are you at politically?
Politically, the way my mind is thinking—I ain’t with no marching. If I come in the battlefield, I wanna be coming in the battlefield really ready. Also, honestly, that’s why you haven’t really seen me show up on certain things. I think that to be honest, we don’t really give a fuck about Trump, because [black people are] in the same fucked-up position. So that’s not what we’re on. The tomfoolery that’s going on in D.C., that’s just regular everyday business to black folks. That’s not surprising. We’re turning CNN and all that shit off because we’re trying to get ourselves together. That’s what I’m about. I’m like, “Turn that shit off, let them deal with all that shit. We gotta start dealing with us.” So my thing is, I gotta keep showing the dream. I gotta keep magnifying that and keep it focused on that self-love that we need to give our race.
What’s been your personal journey then, amidst all of this?
It’s things like opening up the charter school in Harlem. I’ve also been studying Stokely Carmichael and James Baldwin—you have to get yourself ready and make sure you’re empowering yourself. So when I’m ready to start speaking about political things, I’ll be ready. It needs to be represented the right way. I think some of us get out there and start talking about things, then don’t finish no job. No job’s been done. So for me, until I have a job I know I’m gonna finish, I’m just getting myself ready.
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop focuses heavily on Notorious B.I.G.’s death, which for me was such a shocking incident growing up in Milwaukee with no knowledge of what death meant. But for many people, with recent events like Philando Castile’s death, it’s on the news every day. How has that shift felt to you? Are things worse?
I didn’t really understand the new normal until the day before yesterday when [the cop who shot] Philando Castile was acquitted. I was like, Instagram’s not even jumping about this. This is such the new normal that it’s not even a major thing right now. The way his mother expressed herself, she put out a very clear warning to us as a people. I think it fell on a lot of deaf ears. I feel like it’s really at the point where it’s a tragedy that has to stop. I mean, this is the new normal: The cop got off, but like we have to go to work tomorrow. Because we know how this goes. We march, we do this, the press isn’t even talking about it because they’re talking about Trump.
Like, it’s not right to have to live in those conditions. It’s a major human-rights issue, how it affects somebody that’s not like us. Somebody that lives in the inner city and they have to see that? Because that is news to them. That’s another thing to make them have PTSD. And people don’t understand that constant issue. Here’s the president talking about no issues that you’ve been having, then you see yourself getting killed and you see people getting away [with it], and you see marching and you see it happening over and over. There comes a breaking point. The breaking point is not being covered by the mass media. I think America is getting to a dangerous point where they’re letting our hearts be pushed into. I hope and pray people wake up. There’s gonna come a day when you can’t keep killing our kids.
This year is also the 20th anniversary of No Way Out. You released it in 1997 after B.I.G.’s death and it was mired in so much grief. Is it still about grief to you now? Or is it a celebration? What are your plans?
I plan on getting me a good bottle of wine, some smoke, and I plan on sticking my feet in the water of the backyard of my mansion on Billionaire’s Row. Living the way I’m supposed to be living. The way other people of my background and culture should be living. I wanna celebrate that moment in a special way. Every act in my label? All of them gonna be working that day. I used to have to deal with a bunch of years like, “Where’s Carl Thomas?” [Now] he’s playing at such and such. “Where’s 112?” They’re at the such and such auditorium. “Where’s Faith Evans?” She’s over there. “Where’s Lil Kim?” You know what I’m saying? That’s the dream coming true.
Can I just say that Lil Kim was my entryway into rap and I really appreciate how much you talk in the documentary about giving black women a chance to be themselves on those mid-’90s records.
You know music for a black woman is real, real hard if she lets it be—if she tells her truth and starts singing and working these girls under the table. Female artists, especially black female artists, are in a time where they’re doing what needs to be done. You have Kehlani that’s doing that, Rihanna, SZA is smashing ‘em, and I think it’s on the rise. You know, Beyoncé shows black women talking about how they really feel. Kehlani is talking savage. So the truth is starting to come back out. We went through a time where it was just a Beyoncé and Rihanna world, but women have decided they’re gonna go blow that thing up and I think you’re seeing that more.
You should feature them all on Press Play 2. That album was such a great vocal showcase for a lot of women artists at the time.
I don’t know if I’ll celebrate every album. I know Press Play shook up the game and sort of paved the way for this new electronic R&B sound and Last Train to Paris. It hurts when Last Train to Paris wasn’t more successful; we all have that album we know was some of our best work. For me, there’s one album I’d come out to celebrate and that’s No Way Out. I don’t really celebrate a lot of my accomplishments. But I felt like celebrating a chunk of longevity was necessary. I love all my other albums, but I don’t sleep in the trophy room. I gotta get Revolt TV high and I gotta release a new hit record. I got work to do.
You topped the Forbes list again this year. That’s got to feel great, being up there with so many people you came up with in the early '90s like JAY-Z.
We’re coming to get ours. We’re coming to get what we really deserve. We’re building a superteam, as they say in basketball. We’re all coming together to make sure we stay successful and we bring a lot of people up and really inspire a lot of people. It’s a team effort to give value to black culture; to pave the way for us to have families and legacies and not just have these sad stories all the time—these stories of poverty and lack of self-responsibility to change our destiny. Nobody’s sending rescue parties to us, they’re not dropping food or aid, so it’s time we got busy and figured this thing out. Wherever we can find our wealth from, we gotta find it. It’ll be on us to change things. Not just entertainers, but anybody getting wealth has to come back and try to make change in the community. Because ain’t nobody gonna do this but us.