Puff Daddy Explains "Essence" Absence, So-Called Def Jam "Rivalry"

Embattled hip-hop mogul Sean "Puffy" Combs responded Monday to local tabloid reports claiming he was forced to drop out of last Friday night's "Essence" magazine awards show. Puffy was originally scheduled to perform with singer Faith Evans, but he did not appear.

On Monday, Puffy told MTV News he had pulled himself out of the awards show because "I didn't want to detract from such a positive event celebrating black achievement," and he knew he would be "hit with questions" regarding last month's assault on record executive Steve Stoute.

Faith Evans went ahead and sang her current hit, "All Night Long" (which features a rap by Puffy), before heading over to New York's Beacon Theater, where she performed with Case, Total, and Dru Hill.

There was more controversy Monday for Puffy, who last year appeared on the cover of "New York" magazine. He turns up on the cover again this week next to friend and rival magnate Russell Simmons of Def Jam.

Inside the story contrasts

Bad Boy Records' $35 million, 1998 sales year to Def Jam's $200 million performance and quotes Simmons as saying that when Puffy got into the music business, he would "get into fist fights constantly."

Puffy called the "New York" article "silly" and told MTV News, "Russell Simmons has never been a rival, but a mentor."

Simmons fired off a letter to the magazine reading, in part, "If I had known that the only way for me to look tall was to stand on my friend's head, I would have never agreed to be the subject of your cover story."

"New York" Executive Editor John Homans says the magazine stands by its story.