NEW YORK — It was the homecoming leg on his Coming Home Tour, so it was only fitting that Harlem-born Diddy threw a Ciroc-soaked “white party” on Friday as Diddy-Dirty Money hit New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. The trio worked the dance hits from their Last Train to Paris, but this was a show in three acts, with the mogul/MC reaching back to the dawn of Bad Boy to pay an expansive tribute to “Brooklyn’s Finest” MC, the Notorious B.I.G., and bringing concertgoers along on a visual/sonic journey that spanned his unstoppable career.
Diddy-Dirty Money divas Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper preceded Diddy to the stage in looks that seemed to channel Grace Jones: Dawn in a thigh-baring cutout dress and Kalenna in a glittery romper, both sharing the creamy palette with Diddy, who was dressed in a sporty, all-white ensemble. The ladies kicked things off with “Yeah, Yeah You Would” (which features Jones), before an energetic Diddy emerged for the dance-floor banger “Ass on the Floor,” with Swizz Beatz delivering the hook via a pre-taped clip that was mounted on enormous projectors — an artfully executed stand-in used throughout the night for other LTP features like Rick Ross and Lil Wayne.
“Ain’t no place like home!” Sean Combs told the excited crowd, touching on his Mt. Vernon, New York, upbringing and breaking down why no other city can match New York’s swag.
An emotional undercurrent coursed through the entire show, and the series of delays that plagued Last Train to Paris, 41-year-old Combs’ risk-taking concept album, seemed to be a particularly poignant theme on Friday night. Mr. “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” danced with abandon, his son Justin briefly joining him onstage with some sharp moves of his own. But Justin was only the first of a string of cameos, many from artists who’d once batted on Bad Boy’s chart-busting lineup.
After performing “Loving You No More,” “Yesterday” and a moody Sade medley from Dawn and K that seemed to slow things down too much for the club-like atmosphere they’d created, a B.I.G. video montage set the tone for the show’s second act. Memorable images of the young Bedford Stuyvesant MC and budding mogul Puff Daddy flashed across the screen, following a linear “This Is Your Life”- style narrative.
Dawn and Kalenna ceded the stage to Diddy entirely as he launched into Bad Boy Records’ shiny-suit era smashes, from “All About the Benjamins” to “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” The New York audience lost it for the familiar classics, but went ’ham for the familiar faces. Formerly incarcerated Black Rob, in requisite black hoodie, turned up for “Whoa”; newly raven-haired Faith Evans sang a silky version of her “Love Like This”; and Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s Lil’ Cease made a cameo.
“I was looking for inspiration before Last Train to Paris, and I was walking in Central Park one day and I heard this song,” Diddy recalled, introducing A Tribe Called Quest MC and longtime Diddy pal Q-Tip. The duo treated fans to a spirited dance-off as they ticked off Tribe standards like “Check the Rhime” and Tip’s “Vivrant Thing.”
But the presence of the late Christopher Wallace hovered over the proceedings. Diddy, now rocking a vintage Versace shirt, profusely thanked his fallen brother as more B.I.G. videos played on an overhead screen to cheers and shouts. The standing-room crowd, waving hands and phones in the air, was fired up for the nostalgic trip. Things drew to an end with the other two thirds of DDM taking their places onstage again for the triumphant, introspective “Coming Home,” followed by closer “Hello, Good Morning.”
Opening act Lloyd had a few special guests of his own, bringing out his onetime Murder Inc. labelmates Ashanti and Ja Rule, who’s several weeks away from a two-year jail sentence on gun charges. The gruff-voiced Ja showed little signs of rust on his Ashanti-featuring “Always on Time,” the infectious chart-topping single that ruled the summer a decade ago. Lloyd’s Young Money brethren and fellow opener Tyga hopped back onstage to drop his “BedRock” verse. And a go-go breakdown of “Lay Your Head” accompanied Wale’s appearance with the crooner.