It’s been 17 years since Sean “Puff Daddy/ Diddy/ Love” Combs made a solo album, and he’s more than made up for lost time with “The Love Album: Off the Grid.” In the conversation below, he describes the album as a “Super Bowl of R&B,” and the list of guests bears out that title: everyone from the Weeknd and Justin Bieber to Summer Walker and H.E.R. to Babyface and Mary J. Blige make featured appearances, but it sounds like a Puff album every step of the way.
Last week, he sat down with Variety to talk about the tragedies that helped to inspire the songs on the album — including “Kim Porter,” the album’s tribute to his longtime girlfriend and the mother of his children, who died in 2018 — and also the happiness he hopes it will inspire. He also spoke at length about his recent decision to return the publishing rights he owns to the artists and songwriters on his Bad Boy label — read that interview here.
The “Love” in the album’s title is clear enough, but what’s the meaning behind the “Off the Grid” subtitle?
It’s just a place that I feel is necessary for us to all go to really be able to connect to the present, to lock in. I think it’s important to take that — that no phone time, and to be able to just really connect with your significant other. When music is made with intention — to make you dance, to make love — the way it should be enjoyed is when you have that time. We wanted to give some real R&B for when you’re off the grid and turn your phone off. It’s a state of mind that I’ve had to protect, to protect myself and my energy, and it’s a part of my love language, going off the grid and connecting and being present. A lot of people may call it a date night. For me it’s going into the desert or some remote location, or even just being at home and saying we’re gonna put the phones away.
When we spoke about Andre Harrell a couple of weeks ago, you mentioned that he always lead with love and you hadn’t always necessarily done that before, and you sort of changed your name to Love a few years ago. Can you talk about that?
It’s just evolution, evolving how you communicate, how you lead. It’s an important pivot for me, or any person, to be able to get to that. I would say it’s a higher level of life.
What led you to that?
I mean, to be honest, when you when you lose everything… that’s all I had left. Really, I had [done] everything else, I had exhausted everything else, every other personality every other name. I guess God wanted my goal to end up as love, so that’s why I changed my name to Love. It wasn’t a gimmick or anything. It was just how I felt as a person, that’s what I strive for and the frequency I strive to be in and what I strive to give out.
You said “lose everything,” but it seems like you still have a lot.
Yeah, but when you lose the mother of your children [Kim Porter, who died in 2018] and your girlfriend [Cassie, who split up with him] all the same year, that’s a lot of loss for any human being. I’m human, you know? Sometimes, you may lose what you consider everything at one time and… you know, losing the three closest people to me [presumably including Andre Harrell], it just puts you in a faster evolution lane to where you’re supposed to get to. Going through that, all that was left for me was to go headfirst into love. There’s been errors — my career has been filled with errors, my life has been filled with errors. But I’m a timeless artist, a longevity artist. You had the Puff Daddy era, the Diddy era, and now it’s the Love era.
You put a lot out there on the record — more than more than you have before. Was that difficult?
No, I don’t think so. I think I’ve always been able to be vulnerable, whether it was “I’ll Be Missing You” or “I Need a Girl.” But I feel like this is the first album that’s just dealing with all matters of the heart, and in a way that’s not overly deep to digest — it’s not heavy. It’s about the way love feels in the first couple of weeks, you know. And I would say like, yeah, it definitely is my most vulnerable.
It feels like there are some self-referential throwback moments on the album, like the beat on “Homecoming” almost sounds like a Biggie track, and “What’s Love” reminds me of early Mary J. Blige. Were you doing that on purpose?
It’s really just my sound, you know? I think where producers and artists go wrong is when you try to cater your sound to what’s going on — it’s not modernizing your sound, it’s really compromising it, instead of going deeper into yourself. So what you’re hearing and feeling is reminiscent of my classic stuff, because that’s where I’ve arrived back to. It’s a blessing to have it come back to [claps], “Oh, shit! This is the way I felt when I made ‘[It’s All About the] Benjamins,’ the way I felt when I made [Blige’s] ‘You Remind Me’ or [Biggie’s] ‘Hypnotize,’ to be able to have that history. It’s like, wow, this is full circle moment, and those are the moments you look forward to — getting back to that freedom I had at the beginning, before the success and fame, of making the rawest record I can and not really giving a fuck and just doing me.
It’s a long album, you must have been working on for a long time?
Yeah. I worked on it for like two years. It started out as something that I wanted to be, like, a six-song mixtape for Valentine’s Day, but then it started coming out to good that I wanted it to be an album. Then I wanted it to be, like, history — a unifying Super Bowl of R&B, “We Are the World” vibration of love, and it started it evolved to what it is now. I wanted to work with all these artists and get them together on one project and have them to be able to kind of translate my feelings with their gifts and vocals and my production. It’s like, if I could be a singer, I everybody’s singing exactly how I would be, so all of the melodies maybe sound different than from their stuff.
There’s Herb Alpert and 21 Savage and Mary J Blige and Justin Bieber and Coco Jones and K-Ci — did you have a wish list?
Yep — and I got everybody.
Actually, there was one person that couldn’t make it (laughing). They’ll catch the next one. [He declines to say who it is.] It’s a one of a kind work of art. If you love R&B, this is the R&B movie you can’t miss!
Do you feel like it’s been missing and this album is sort of filling that gap?
I feel like every artist has a frequency and when that frequency isn’t there, yeah, the game is missing. When Jordan wasn’t there, the game was missing. I’m not trying to save R&B, I’m just coming out here.
You haven’t made a record for a few years. Are you always making and thinking about music? Because at this point, you don’t have to make records.
This is a blessing for me. I had stopped making music and, you know, we all have our journey. I gotta wait for my love and my joy, and this is my love and my joy. So I guess that’s what I do it for: I’ve got nothing else left to prove, all I have is to give. And you can take it if you want it.