The Gospel According To Puff Daddy Is New Religious LP

Plans for album, featuring Sean 'Puffy' Combs' Grammy-winning minister on vocals, follow the rapper's assault charge.

Rapper and record executive Sean "Puffy" Combs, who was recently arrested for allegedly beating a record executive with, among other things, a champagne bottle, is working on an album of gospel music for the fall, according to his record company.

"The album is his way of giving back and saying thank you to God," said Juanita Stephens, head of publicity for Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment, adding that the rapper also plans to release his next solo LP, Forever, in August.

Thank You -- The Gospel Album, will feature an array of guests, including R&B singers Faith Evans and Brian McKnight and Grammy-winning gospel singer the Rev. Hezekiah Walker. It should be in stores by September or October, Stephens said.

The revelation comes about a month after Combs, who performs under the name Puff Daddy, was arrested in New York and charged with assaulting an Interscope Records executive with a telephone, a chair and a champagne bottle. The rapper was angry, according to media accounts, about a video by fellow rapper Nas in which both Nas and Combs were shown hanging from a cross.

Walker, who is Combs' minister, called the Interscope executive, Steve Stoute, several hours before the video aired on MTV on April 16 to express his concern about the Christian imagery in the clip for the song "Hate Me Now," according to an account published May 21 in the Los Angeles Times. Walker was quoted as saying he and Combs believed the call convinced Stoute, who is a consultant to Nas, to alter the video, but it aired unaltered.

Combs, 29, faces charges of felony assault.

Walker, whose Love Fellowship Tabernacle Crusade Choir won a Grammy in 1996 for Best Gospel Album By a Choir or Chorus, is among Combs' writing collaborators for the gospel album, according to Stephens. She did not name any other writers or producers but said more information on the project would be available next week.

Other singers contributing to the album include Kelly Price, Jerome and the R&B vocal group 112, Stephens said. Combs' gospel intentions come a month after 20-year-old rapper Ma$e (born Mason Betha) announced he would retire from music to "follow God." Ma$e, whose Double Up comes out June 15, has not publicly elaborated on his decision.

Despite his immense popularity, Combs' recent arrest might cost the multimillion-selling artist/producer airplay on contemporary Christian radio stations, according to radio industry professionals.

"Our audience really expects that our artists are living what they say in the music," Alan Rogers, program director for WBSN-FM, a New Orleans Christian-music station. "[The assault] would raise the red flags."

For musical rather than moral reasons, Combs may also encounter difficulty gaining airplay on urban stations, where he has been most successful.

"Hip-hop is what we do; we don't try to do anything else," said Sean Taylor, music director for Hot 97 (WQHT-FM) in New York. Hot 97 is one of the preeminent hip-hop stations in the U.S.

Combs is keeping one foot on commercially safer ground -- he's preparing to release Forever, the follow-up to his hugely successful 1997 hip-hop album No Way Out, Aug. 24, according to Stephens.

No Way Out propelled Combs into the pop stratosphere. "I'll Be Missing You" (RealAudio excerpt) -- a tribute to murdered friend and protégé the Notorious B.I.G. that was built on a sample of the Police's "Every Breath You Take" -- was among the album's major hits.

Stephens offered few details on Forever. She said the first single will be "PE 2000."

Rapper/producer Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie (a.k.a. the Mad Rapper), who is working with Combs on Forever, also is facing assault charges. He is charged with attacking the editor of hip-hop magazine Blaze last year. Angelettie said in March that the somber, serious tones of No Way Out that the Notorious B.I.G.'s death inspired are missing this time around.

"This time, we got to be happier," he said. "Last time, we weren't able to say and do things because of the sensitivity of the situation."