Puff Daddy stops by in promotion mode

Puffy: The rap artist hits Baltimore on a grueling publicity tour, but some fans who braved the rain to meet him feel ignored.

August 26, 1999|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Rap mogul Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs is sitting in an office at WERQ-FM, explaining why he's in the midst of a breakneck 35-city publicity tour.

"The marketplace is so competitive now," he says, as he slouches wearily behind a desk. "I think it's important to get out into the marketplace and let people touch you. A lot of times, when you have so much success, people feel like you're unapproachable or inaccessible.

"I never want people to feel like that."

If so, then maybe he should have spent a little more time out on downtown's Cathy Hughes Plaza yesterday, where a smattering of fans waited patiently in the drizzle for his arrival yesterday.

At the moment, Puff Daddy is one of the biggest names in pop music. As a rapper, he has sold millions of records and won Grammys both for his single, "I'll Be Missing You" and his last album, "No Way Out."

As a producer, he has demonstrated one of the decade's golden touches, generating million-selling hits for the Notorious B.I.G., Mase, Li'l Kim, 117, L.L. Cool J and others.

As a mogul, he has not only turned his record company, Bad Boy Entertainment, into a billion-dollar business, but he has also launched a magazine and a clothing line.

Puff Daddy is very much a big deal.

He's also due at 2 p.m., and the whole area in front of the radio station looks like a giant advertisement for his just-released second album, "Forever."

There are posters of the album cover hanging from lampposts, and Puff Daddy flags fluttering in the fountain.

Three women in short, tight, black dresses, who identified themselves as "Dream Team 2000," hand out glossy Puff Daddy fliers to passing cars.

Naturally, all that commotion creates curiosity. Hearing that people are waiting for the arrival of a rap star, Scott Clouser, a supervisor with H&R Construction, working at a site nearby, jokingly asks a couple of his workmates if this was one of those gangsta rappers.

"I ain't going to have to worry about gunfire, am I?" he says, as his buddies laugh.

Waiting for Puffy

Across the plaza, 8-year old Brittany Brown squirms impatiently, wondering how long she'll have to stand there. Her big sister Kim, 20, and friend Jennifer Malczewski, are using their lunchbreak to wait for Puff Daddy.

"I can't believe it's not crowded," says Malczewski, looking out at the sparse crowd.

"There were more people here for Maxwell," says Kim, referring to an R&B singer who had packed the plaza during a visit to the station earlier this summer. "But more women love Maxwell [than Puff Daddy]."

Brittany doesn't love Puff Daddy at all -- she prefers his now-retired cohort, Mase -- and wants to go have lunch. As the minutes tick by, Kim begins to think her little sister has the right idea, and eventually, the two depart.

Maida Edmond, 39, and her son Richard, 16, are more patient. Maida isn't exactly a Puff Daddy fan -- what she really wanted was an autograph for her daughter, Suzette -- but she gives a provisional thumbs-up for the young rap star's work.

"It's OK," she says. "He doesn't curse as much as [rappers] DMX or Master P. He's not as degrading."

Richard disagrees. "He can produce, but he can't rap," he says. "He needs some rap skills."

Despite his lack of enthusiasm, Richard joins his mother in the mini-crush curbside when the van carrying Puff Daddy and a crew of bodyguards finally pulls up in front of the radio station's St. Paul Street offices.

By this point, it's almost 3 p.m., and the crowd has shrunk even more.

No chance to talk

Still, the lack of people doesn't improve Maida's chances of getting an autograph. No sooner does Puff Daddy emerge from the van than he's surrounded by a beefy security crew and hustled into the building. He barely has time to get wet, much less press the flesh.

"A bit on the arrogant side," sniffs Maida after he whizzes by. "He needs to remember that without us, he's not Puff Daddy."

Oh, he remembers, all right. In a subsequent on-air interview with WERQ DJ Konan, Puff Daddy positively gushes about the turnout for his appearance in Charm City.

"B-More is showing me a lot of love," he says. "A lot of love." He is especially chummy with Konan. "If it wasn't for `dogs' like you I wouldn't be where I am now," he tells the DJ.

Avoiding the question

Konan does his best to draw the rapper out, asking the sort of People magazine questions the fans would want answered, but Puff Daddy is strictly business, so much so that he almost seems to be teasing the DJ.

When Konan asks about Puffy's rumored romance with singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, the rapper just laughs.

"I'm not really speaking on my personal life," he says, dodging the question. "I'm just speaking on my album."

Pressed on the question of girlfriends, Puff Daddy wiggles again. "My best friend is my new album," he says, laughing lightly into the microphone.

A long day

After the on-air interview, Puff Daddy looks exhausted as he lounges in his slick white jumpsuit (one of his own designs). It's hard to blame him -- he's been up since 4: 30 that morning and still has promotional appearances to make.

Nor will there be rest for the weary any time soon. Asked when he expects his day to finally end, he thinks for a moment. "Three-thirty," he says, then laughs.

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