Throwback Thursday: Revisiting Bad Boy’s Reign on Top
"Can't stop, won't stop" was always more than just a saying, it was a phrase Sean Combs lived by
I’ve recently been on a 112 binge, listening to their “Only You” and “Anywhere” singles repeatedly for the duration of my twenty-eight-minute Lyft ride to work, twice. An unusual way to start my work day, I know, but those catchy songs basically serve as an ode to my girlfriend who I can’t get enough of ever since we moved in together. Catchy, happy-go-lucky tunes were once the staple of hip-hop and R&B thanks to the record label that signed 112, Bad Boy Entertainment. The year 1997, for instance, could be noted as the most primitive example of this trend.
The Notorious B.I.G. is arguably the greatest rapper in the genre’s history and for good reason. Each of his studio albums are multi-platinum, the majority of his singles charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and his technical ability is nearly unmatched; the criteria for goat status. Biggie’s Ready to Die was his debut studio album and many argue that it is superior to his 1997-released Life After Death, but the latter found a commercial success that most artists can only pray for. Life After Death is one of the few rap albums that went on to go diamond (sold at least ten million copies). “Hypnotize,” the lead single off of Biggie’s posthumously-released album, debuted at number two, right behind Bad Boy’s founder, Puff Daddy’s single, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.”
Honestly, Sean Combs had no right becoming one of the most successful rap artists ever, let alone becoming a rapper at all. Ever the entrepreneur, though, Puffy realized there was also money to be made if he stepped from “behind the scenes” (although Puffy was seen just as much as his artists). Puffy’s No Way Out album was an instant success, selling over 500,000 copies the week of its release. No Way Out spawned five extremely successful singles which all charted at either number one or two on the Billboard Hot 100 save for “Victory,” which peaked at nineteen. Two of those five singles served as introductions to Mase, one of the most underrated and influential rappers of all-time.
Poised to become rap’s next pop star, Mase was taken under Puff’s wing. Puffy’s newest protégé was first seen alongside fellow Bad Boy members in 112’s “Only You” video only a week after he was signed to the label. Courtesy of that cameo verse, Mase would be thrust into super-stardom right afterwards. Prior to releasing his first single as a lead artist, the artist formerly known as Murda Mase was featured on six singles, four of which were Bad Boy releases. Mase was undoubtedly the star of “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” “Been Around the World” as well as “Mo Money Mo Problems.” This newfound spotlight did nothing, but help the Harlemite rise as listeners were gearing up for his eventual debut solo album, Harlem World.
Harlem World, one of my favorite albums ever, is sixty-six minutes of cleverly-crafted, smooth-talking rhymes and six interludes that shouldn’t be as entertaining as they are. The album’s lead single, “Feel So Good,” is the epitome of what Bad Boy stood for during that period. Everything from the song’s lyrics to the (too) bright, sometimes difficult on the eyes video captured the “having fun, getting money right here and now” essence that Puffy wanted to emphasize so heavily in his label’s music. “Feel So Good” is what listeners are most familiar with, but the album’s second single, “What You Want,” is what I actually prefer to hear. “What You Want” features the fellow Bad Boy-signed, hit-making trio, Total. Their collective lyrics on the hook give’s the song an authentic-feeling female voice that perfectly complements Mase’s silky-simpin’ verses.
Mase and Big may have been Puffy’s chosen ones, but Bad Boy had plenty of help in the late nineties as well. Bad Boy’s first lady, Faith Evans, contributed two platinum albums as well as vocals to Puffy’s Biggie tribute, “I’ll Be Missing You” and a number of other singles. The Yonkers-based trio, The Lox, who although were always an odd fit, found success with their debut album, Money, Power & Respect and iconic single which shares the same name. 112, one of the most criminally underrated musical groups ever, quietly served as Bad Boys’ catalysts, though. Two incredible albums that were certified double platinum, five singles that charted on Billboard Hot 100 and four distinct voices that could fit seamlessly on any hook, 112 was the versatile R&B act that Bad Boy needed.
Twelve certified platinum albums, two gold and one diamond in a span of five years after the label’s inception, Bad Boy seemingly couldn’t miss. I always classify 1998 as the greatest year in hip-hop and it certainly could be argued that Sean Combs is the cause of the surge thanks to his label’s dominant year in 1997. Some people feel Puffy commercialized hip-hop to an extent it shouldn’t have gone, but he never labelled himself as a rapper; he’s a hustler who saw an opportunity and capitalized off of it.