If there was ever any question about the strength of Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs’ drive and ambition, 1997 put it to rest. Already a millionaire music mogul making an unprecedented transition into the role of performer, the Bad Boy Records founder was halfway through recording his debut album (which was originally titled Hell Up in Harlem) when his friend, and his label’s flagship artist, the Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed in Los Angeles. (This in March, six months after Big’s archrival, Tupac Shakur, had met a similar fate in Las Vegas). Rather than holing up and mourning in private, though, Puff made a spectacle of his grief. Fueled by every bit of controversy and complaint that came his way, he donned a wardrobe full of shiny suits, poured Champagne and danced. He recorded a tribute song, “I’ll Be Missing You,” that debuted at No.1 on the pop charts three months after Big’s death and stayed there for seven weeks, going on to sell three million copies. He released his album, retitled No Way Out, in July. It would eventually sell five million copies. He launched a 35-city tour with a massive stage set and a rotating cast of 15 supporting acts. The tour grossed $14.7 million. Throwing himself onto a bigger stage than ever, blowing himself and his label to higher heights than anyone in hip-hop had reached before, Puff showed the world exactly what he meant when he said it don’t stop.
A decade later, the relentless 37-year-old remembers the time.
Looking back to 1997, is that the year you blew up in the music industry?
I would say it was the biggest year for me as a recording artist. I was kinda big already in the music industry, ’cause, as a producer and owning a record company, I had already did Mary J. Blige and Jodeci and Biggie and Ma$e. But this was the year, for me as a recording artist, that I got all the respectful accolades, as far as eight American Music Award nominations and the Grammy and the biggest-selling hip-hop tour in history. It was one of those huge crossover times for hip-hop, because all my videos were in heavy rotation, and opening up the MTV Awards as a hip-hop act. It was just a lot of hip-hop historical things. Even the No Way Out tour. If you remember back, they had shut hip-hop tours down, so it was the first tour since they went through that whole phase, and it really opened up hip-hop touring back. And when you look at all the acts I had on the tour—we had Usher, Jay, Busta, Foxy—everybody was on that tour. And to be honest, everybody wanted to be on that tour. Everybody came on and took less money and cut they time down and wanted to be a part of it. That tour was a changing point, as far as in hip-hop history, for touring.
Do you think No Way Out the album changed hip-hop?
I don’t honestly think that album was one of those albums that changed hip-hop. I think that it was one of the albums that gave birth to a new type of artist. It’s a classic album and one of the best albums in hip-hop, but I don’t know if it was one of those… Like, I think The Chronic changed the game. Ready to Die, Life After Death changed the game. All Eyez on Me. It’s a different type, but I think it raised the bar, as far as on consistency. It was like a movie that was an ensemble. Almost like Pulp Fiction. I wouldn’t say it changed the game, but I think this album opened doors for hip-hop.
XXL Staff Picks for 1997
Songs of the Year:
“Hypnotize,” Notorious B.I.G.
“All About The Benjamins,” Puff Daddy featuring Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim & the Lox
“No Time,” Lil’ Kim featuring Puff Daddy
“Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems,” Notorious B.I.G. featuring Ma$e & Puff Daddy
“Let Me Clear My Throat,” DJ Kool
“Smile,” Scarface featuring 2Pac
“I Miss My Homies,” Master P featuring Silkk the Shocker & Pimp C
“Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See,” Busta Rhymes
“Triumph,” Wu-Tang Clan
“Hail Mary,” 2Pac featuring the Outlawz
Albums of the Year:
Life After Death, Notorious B.I.G.
Wu-Tang Forever, Wu-Tang Clan
The Carnival, Wyclef Jean
Ghetto D, Master P
No Way Out, Puff Daddy & the Family