For a while, the word around the music business was that Sean "Puff Daddy/P. Diddy" Combs would move his Bad Boy Entertainment over to Sony Music.
But a couple of weeks ago, Sony's Tommy Mottola -- after a good deal of wooing -- quietly got Universal Music's Steven Stoute to be head of his black music division. This has still not been announced, but several people I've talked to have recently been referred by Mottola to Stoute. Soon, he will be the man in charge.
This puts the enterprising Combs in a strange position. When his deal with Arista/BMG ended, he was counting on joining Sony. But with Stoute there, that doesn't seem to be a possibility. Two years ago, Combs beat the you-know-what out of Stoute in his own house with a bottle of Champagne. Stoute reportedly accepted about a half million dollars not to pursue the matter. But unless these guys have all been on a retreat together, it doesn't seem likely that they will work together.
Now I'm told that Combs's recent trip to Ibiza and other European ports of call was work related. A source tells me that Combs has enticed either Heineken or another distiller to buy into his vision and finance a new, big Bad Boy. The announcement is said to be imminent. However, calls to Bad Boy's offices yesterday were met by answering machines. "You have reached Bad Boy Entertainment. Please leave a message and someone will get back to you." Not exactly encouraging.
On top of that, I'm also told by sources that Combs came very close this year to signing a book deal with the publisher Little Brown. But the button-down quality house didn't take to Combs' appearance at a meeting where discussion of a $2 million advance was seriously underway. "He came in a sleeveless shirt," tut-tutted one observer. "That was it."
Instead, we can look forward to the paperback edition of Bad Boy: The Influence of Sean Puffy Combs on the Music Industry by Ronin Ro (Pocket Books) next month, which is said to pretty thoroughly detail Combs' life. The hardcover edition was overlooked last year, as it was published around Sept. 11.
Combs -- as described beautifully in a recent issue of the New Yorker -- has recently turned to the fashion business and had at least a façade of a success. His Sean John line has cleverly eaten into the profits of Tommy Hilfiger, and Combs is riding high as a garmento.
But in the music business at this point, his fates are spotty. Many of his Bad Boy acts decamped for Arista or were poached by other labels. Nevertheless, he has had a hit album and single all summer, and even I like his latest single with rapper Fabolous, a remix of the latter's "Trade it All" from the Barbershop soundtrack.
But what about new acts? P. Diddy is the P.T. Barnum of hip hop, but without Mase, Faith Evans, Dream and 112, he doesn't have his usual retinue of talent. With new money from hops and barley he may be able to develop a new generation of stars. The betting is on him right now until we hear otherwise.
As for Stoute, his move to Sony comes at a crucial time. Columbia Records has not had a black music department for some time. Mariah and Jacko are gone but they, like J-Lo, record for sister label Epic. A while back, Jermaine Dupri's dad Michael Mauldin ran the division, then he was succeeded by Tone and Poke, a pair of producers.
After trying unsuccessfully to foist the unremarkable Amerie onto the charts, Columbia has mostly been absent from the R&B charts for some time. On the pop side, they're living off of John Mayer and -- of all people -- James Taylor. Maybe Stoute can work some of the magic he had at Island Def Jam over at Columbia. But I guess he'll do without Puffy. Or duck.
Rosie O'Donnell has made it official. She's counter-suing magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr, which yesterday sued her for a total of $300 million.
She's not taking G + J's shenanigans lying down. In a press release sent out this afternoon, Lorna G. Schofield, one of Rosie's attorneys at powerhouse legal firm Debevoise & Plimpton, notes that O'Donnell has been working since Sept. 18, the day she announced the end of the magazine, to get the last two issues out in cooperation with G + J. But Schofield notes: "As soon as Rosie gave G + J all her articles for the December issue, they sued her."
But now I've seen the letter Rosie sent to G + J on Sept. 18, and it's conciliatory and compromising beyond the pale. In essence, Rosie offers to split amicably with the magazine despite the fact that she's lost editorial control and has been usurped by new, unapproved staff members.
"As we have discussed in the past, we encourage you to continue the magazine ... even though Rosie has made a significant financial investment in the magazine, she will not seek to recoup it if the parties part ways in a cooperative spirit."
Gruner + Jahr's response was to sue Rosie. So much for cooperative spirit.
In her letter, O'Donnell makes it clear that G + J lied to her consistently when she asked for certain staff members to be reinstated after being fired. But the worst thing she cites is a meeting at the Rosie offices on Aug. 15. The new editor, Susan Toepfer, refused to see Rosie and kept her waiting 90 minutes until the G + J lawyers showed up, ostensibly because Rosie was there with "other people."
It takes a lot of arrogance for a newly appointed editor to keep a magazine's namesake waiting for an hour and a half. But I'm not surprised. During her reign at People magazine (and before that at the New York Daily News) Toepfer earned a reputation for being difficult and diffident.
In 1995, I wrote about her in New York magazine's Intelligencer column. Toepfer is married to writer Lorenzo Carcaterra, the author of the book Sleepers. Toepfer had allowed Carcaterra to review mysteries for People in the years leading up to Sleepers' publication. She also reviewed books. And then, by coincidence, all the blurbs on the Sleepers jacket came from writers who'd received raves from both Toepfer and Carcaterra -- including Elmore Leonard, William Diehl, Jonathan Kellerman and John Katzenbach. Small world, huh? When I asked her about it she denied doing anything to help Sleepers or promote it.
Just so you know all the players in this ongoing soap opera.