Sean Combs has been known as many things in his day: Puff Daddy, Puffy, P. Diddy, and now just Diddy. He has also been known as the American dream, a visionary, Hip Hop's finest entrepreneur, the first superstar mogul; and to some, a killer of Hip Hop. Rarely will the name Diddy make someone think "artist." It isn't because his icon has eclipsed his artist, it's because he's always had other people make his music for him. Blessed with more cash than talent, Diddy buys his albums more than he makes them. It is no secret, he even once wrote (or had written for him of course), "don't worry if I write rhymes, I write checks." That's cool, I respect Puff for his business acumen, not for his flows.
Fortunately for Mr. Combs, it isn't that hard to purchase yourself a dope album if you've got a grip of cash, which of course he's got in spades. Buy beats from the best producers and pay the best emcees to pen your verses for you, simple right? And shit, even if he can't do it himself, Diddy has proven over and over again he knows how to construct a hit. So he's got Timbaland, The Neptunes, Kanye West, Just Blaze, Havoc, Will.i.am, D. Dot and Rich Harrison producing and Pharoahe Monch, TI, The Game, and Rick Ross writing. How can you fuck that up?
Well, you can when you're just really wack. Dr. Dre can't write a rhyme to save his life, just like Diddy, but Dre can still deliver them with rock solid technique. He sounds good when he spits other people's rhymes, be it Jay-Z's ("Still DRE") or Eminem's ("Forgot About Dre," "The Watcher"). Diddy, on the other hand, butchers them. The first track I heard from the album had me thinking he had made some major improvements. "The Future," a ridiculously blatant Pharoahe Monch-penned track, is really dope. Havoc's beat is crazy and Puff does a very respectable Pharoahe Monch impression. He enunciates really well (and just like Monch), and doesn't kill the conviction of the words with his mush mouth delivery like usual. "Hold Up," another great track, again features a new-and-improved, Pharoahe Monch-coached Diddy. Sadly, it pretty much ends there. When paired up with the uber-talented trio of Nas, Cee Lo and Kanye for "Everything I Love," Diddy sounds absolutely bush league spitting. He again does a bit better when he gets his T.I. on for the Big Boi-assisted "Wanna Move," but when he does him on horrible tracks like "Thought You Said" or club trash like "Come To Me," it's nothing short of embarrassing. Listen to the interlude "I Am" and tell it doesn't sound like it's a man rapping for the first time, which ruins an otherwise good beat. It doesn't matter who is writing your rhymes if you can't deliver them, and that really holds this album down.
There are fair shares of sappy R&B tracks that do nothing to help Press Play, and sadly the best of the bunch is nearly dragged six feet under by "the rapper." "Tell Me" has the usual Just Blaze banger and Christina Aguilera lacing the hook (putting any other singer on the album to shame), but Diddy is again excruciating to listen to rap. His shortcomings aside, there are other issues; the aforementioned overabundance of shitty R&B collabs, pointless interlude-type joints like "Claim My Place" and "Crazy Thang," or great producers giving god-awful beats (Diddy Rock. Worst. Timbaland. Beat. Ever.). Not to mention this shit is 80 minutes long!
Some people are probably gonna be quick to say "how you gonna complain about the rapping on a Diddy album? What did you expect from him? He ain't Jay-Z." No, I'm not expecting Jay-Z, but I'm expecting a rapper who is at least listenable and doesn't ruin everything he touches. I don't care who it is, he doesn't just get a free pass for wack ass rapping - after all, the man is making a damn album. If it's such common knowledge that he is such a bad rapper that he shouldn't be judged on it then he shouldn't even be making an album. Sean Combs does a lot of things, and most of those things he does very well. Making solo albums, is not one of those things.