Even with the “We Won’t Stop” slogan well-worn into our brains for its third consecutive decade, it is still quite the phenom to see Sean “Diddy” Combs make headway with his constantly dwindling rap resources. Long gone are the days when his “familia” scoured the charts to strengthen his musical empire with the past few years—unsurprisingly—forcing the multi-million dollar man’s recording duties to go into repose. 2006 was the year of Diddy’s last studio output in Press Play, which, basically was an open casting call to the who’s who of the industry to supply the Bad Boy with firepower that couldn’t be found in-house.
Fortunately, the musical iso-period saw more endorsements land into the aggressively ambitious mogul’s lap yet his lowkey presence on the charts was apparently put to good use as he’s added some malleable pieces to the fray that look to improve his musical contributions. Coordinating the services of Dawn Richard (formally of Danity Kane) and Kalenna Harper, Diddy arguably assembles the best possible scenario for himself, constructing his own quasi-urban B-52’s model. Together as Dirty Money, they embark on the Last Train To Paris; an avant-garde gala of posh records that combine the classiness of a black tie affair with all the sweat and brashness of the club scene.
Considering the showmanship you have come to associate with a Diddy album, Last Train To Paris is still very contingent to Hip-Hop’s principles with amalgamous ties to R&B intensified with a trendy pop garnish. The theme is relatively simple: L-O-V-E is an universal entity and when armed with the powers of contralto songbirds on both of his sides, hearts get broken and pacified with pulsating lullabies. When the bass drum and fervent piano playing intertwine on “I Hate That You Love Me,” bodies will be sure to hit the dance floor in droves. A more electronic and energized foundation helps “Yeah Yeah You Would” accomplish much of the same as 808s and streamlined audio feedback spiral through the song’s pulse. Compliments to the chefs in the kitchen are also in order as Diddy commands an industrious personnel of producers and melody engineers as they handily vary the Train’s appeal from bounce groove (Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis on “Someone To Love“) to next-gen slow jam (Sean Garrett & Mario “YellowMan” Winans’ “Loving You No More“) and pure adrenaline (former Timbaland understudy Danja’s “Hello Good Morning“).
For the most part, the Euro express is a premium ride. However, the Last Train’s… biggest handicap is possibly the conductor himself. While it should go unquestioned that his hand in the composition and arrangement of the symphony should be credited as the architect, more times than often, vocally, Diddy acts as a distraction. For example, the rhythmic “Ass On The Floor”—scored by Swizz Beatz—is a progressive dance record, ripe with uptempo drum patterns and Diddy’s Angels building energy off of one another’s harmony from the bridge to the chorus only to be shaken—not stirred—by Combs’ jerky contribution. It’s a reoccurring offense; his voice is gruffer than that of the start of his career and his delivery is clunkier than usual. A commemorative and triumphant record in “Coming Home” is virtually tainted with angular recitations: “another night the inevitable prolongs/another day another dawn/just tell Keisha and Teresa I’ll be better in the morn…” and couldn’t be more mechanical if the package came with two AA batteries.
Although it likely wasn’t intended, the invited A-list “passengers” render Diddy useless all the same. Chris Brown delivers an incredibly strong performance mixed in the blithe chords of “Yesterday” where elsewhere, Lil Wayne, Justin Timberlake, and Bilal are the caliber of artists who could knock out an album’s worth of “Shades”-esque tracks without Diddy belting one note. It has been outcasted and publicly forbidden in all things Hip-Hop, but Auto-Tune would have probably suited Diddy just as well as one of the custom cuts in his walk-in closet, as attested of his pivotal placement on the blissful “Angels,” harmonizing in the background.
Good music is bound to balance the scale though, and through Last Train’s… melodious salvation, Diddy’s oral sins are forgiven. Should Dirty Money manage to weather Diddy’s insatiable appetite for new blood, the pillage to Paris could mark the start of a worldwide explosion for Bad Boy Records, once again.