Reinvention. It’s often the key to a long, fruitful career. Dolly Parton is excellent at it, and Elton John is, too. So is Jay Z and many more. But perhaps the paragon of reinvention—at least when it comes to stage names and monikers—is Sean Combs, aka Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy, Love, and Puffy.
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So, once and for all, let’s dive into the many eras of the artist’s name and the related music at the time. Let’s get a deeper understanding of what this concept of reinvention is all about.
Born in Harlem, New York, on November 4, 1969, to a model and teacher mother and an Air Force father (who was later shot and killed when Sean was two years old), Sean Combs rose to fame locally in New York City as a dancer and concert promoter. Soon, though, he began to work and become close friends with the burgeoning legendary rapper The Notorious B.I.G. That’s when he also began to produce music and became the celebrity and business mogul he’s grown into over the years.
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In 1993, he founded Bad Boy Records and helped to bring the careers of Biggie, Mary J. Blige, Usher, and more to the forefront of popular culture. In 1997, he released his debut LP, No Way Out, which went on to become seven-times platinum. Several more albums followed.
To date, he’s garnered three Grammy Awards, created the Sean Jean clothing line, and even created the popular reality MTV show, Making the Band. In 2022, he was certified by Forbes as a billionaire.
Combs’ first stage moniker known by the world was Puff Daddy. Though some might think the name comes from his penchant for smoking cannabis or cigars, the loving term originated when he was a kid. He earned the nickname “Puff” early on as a kid because he says, he would “huff and puff” when he was angry.
Using the name Puff Daddy, the artist, and businessman recorded his first raps in 1997. His debut single, “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent some 28 weeks on the chart. That track marked the release of his debut 1997 studio LP.
In 2001, several years after The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered (which itself came some six months after rapper Tupac Shakur was murdered) amidst the east coast versus west coast rap wars, Puff Daddy changed his name to the abbreviated P. Diddy. That same year, he began acting in prominent roles, including in the film Made. He also starred with Halle Berry, Heath Ledger, and Billy Bob Thornton in the Oscar-winning film, Monster’s Ball.
The only studio LP released under the name P. Diddy is The Saga Continues…, which hit No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and was released on July 10, 2001, the last album to be part of the partnership between Bad Boy and Arista Records. Shortly after, P. Diddy took full control of Bad Boy.
[RELATED: P. Diddy Receives the Lifetime Achievement Award at 2022 BET Awards]
In the summer of 2005, Combs told the Today show that he was changing his name again, this time shortening it, even more, to Diddy. But sometimes too many changes can be a bad thing. With Puff Daddy still in the minds of many and then still others who felt finally in touch with P. Diddy, the change to just Diddy irked some followers.
Adding further issues, the London-based artist DJ Richard Dearlove had been using the name Diddy since 1992 and he sought an injunction in the High Court of Justice in London. The DJ and Combs landed on a settlement for £10,000 in damages and more than £100,000 in costs. Amazingly, Combs can’t even use the name Diddy in the United Kingdom. There he still goes by P. Diddy.
After setting off a pattern of frequent name changes, Combs’ representatives in 2008 denied yet another name alteration.
Some years later, in 2014, he released his mixtape, MMM (Money Making Mitch), and for that work, he was credited as Puff Daddy again.
[RELATED: Diddy Calls The Notorious B.I.G. the “Greatest Rapper of All Time” on 26th Anniversary of His Death]
Finally (at least for now), Combs has settled on perhaps one last moniker. In 2017, he announced that he would be going by the stagnate Love, saying, “My new name is Love, aka Brother Love.”
Yet, several days later, he said he was simply joking about that. But days after that, Combs announced on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that he was indeed going to go by Love. That name became official in 2022. Until perhaps another career reinvention…
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio