Diddy and his Bad Boy camp taught hip-hop how to spend loot. Not some gambino-type Infiniti shit, I am talking Maybach shit. Nevertheless, somewhere between B.I.G.'s passing, Mase's retirement and subsequent failed return, and Shyne's imprisonment, Bad Boy became irrelevant. Diddy was drinking Cristal back when Pharrell was still spending his "Humpty Dance" royalties. But that doesn't hold much weight now when Skateboard P now cops Enzos from his cell phone. Diddy's latest offering is being released in a hip-hop climate where spending exorbitant amounts of money is not enough to garner much more than a passing glimpse from Clipse hangers-ons.

To one up the game on his album, Press Play, Diddy needs to go bigger as only he can. To do this, he's employed a stable of hip-hop's A-list to assist on collaborations, production and writing. Much has been said about Diddy's ghostwriting, but let's be serious: Diddy doesn't write rhymes, he writes checks. Game peep game.

It's hard to complain about the writing when Press Play features lyrics by the likes of Nas, T.I., Pharoahe Monche and Royce Da 5'9". Pharoahe in particular laces Diddy with heat: "Inject this dose of the future / tap them veins / grab hold let me shoot ya / mainline this new Diddy heroin." Diddy delivers the stunted bars in true Pharoahe form, condensing and stretching them across the slow basslines of the two Havoc (of Mobb Deep)-produced tracks.

Beyond these tracks, the album is expectedly pop-oriented. A dichotomy inevitably arises with respect to the dance tracks and the tracks "for the ladies." On the former, Diddy excels. He's got a golden ear for beats and is best boasting over tracks like "Diddy Rock" alongside Twista and Shawnna. On "Wanna Move," Big Boi lassos the funky beat in and tucks the track neatly into his back pocket, pounding back against the bass with a verse that oozes confidence and flavor. "Tell Me," with Christina Aguilera in full "Dirrty" mode, is another banger. The Just Blaze beat features percussive claps that very well could double as ass slaps, given the strip club appeal of the beat - I heard this joint in Wizzard's last Friday. True story.

Surprisingly, Will.I.Am delivers the most original track on the album. He apes Prince as best he can, and the beat feels more like dance-grime than anything in American hip-hop at the moment.

Originality aside, the album's best song is true hip-hop and an absolute triumph. "Everything I Love" effortlessly meshes the soulful stylings of Cee-Lo, the streetwise lyricism of Mr. Jones and an exuberant beat by Kanye West. Part "Touch the Sky," part "The Corner," Kanye brings a punching bass, set against regal trumpets and a towering gospel organ.

Though the tail-end of the album drowns in syrupy R&B, Diddy is entertaining. The dude is so over the top that he insisted on including a montage of himself finger-banging a random crotch and giving big-ups to God as Ms. Doe stands naked at the window in the liner notes. He tries too hard at times - as when he tries to tap into the coke rap genre with fabricated lines like "Half a ounce sniffer / high as I ever been (high as I ever been)" - but trying too hard has always been Diddy's MO (I mean, come on, those fucking shiny suits, man).

The album succeeds as it should, with great dance music. Diddy may whiff on the R&B, but by all means, shake your ass to this.


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