Is "Diddy" dallying? The always-in-our-faces hip-hop dandy Sean Combs seems to have receded a bit lately, starting with his political group Citizen Change.
The not-for-profit organization, with the catchy slogan "Vote or Die," was created in 2004 to register voters — presumably Democratic ones — for the presidential election. It has since seemingly vanished into thin air, not destined be the hip-hop version of the League of Women Voters.
The group's Web site is gone. So are their offices — for now. Their federal tax filing is sort of hidden in the open on Guidestar.org, which records the filings of not-for-profits. And Alexis McGill, who was brought over from Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network to run the effort, has a full-time job elsewhere in the private sector.
To complicate matters, Combs' other not-for-profit, Daddy's House, states on its own 2004 federal tax filing that it gave $245,532 to Citizen Change. Daddy's House, which runs summer camps for impoverished kids and is run by Sister Souljah (aka Lisa Williamson-Rodriguez), still posted a 2004 loss on paper at least of $344,097.
The new word about Citizen Change is that it's only meant to be occasional.
"The group wasn't intended to be active between elections," was the answer I got from a couple of people who had previous knowledge of them.
It took a slew of phone calls yesterday to find McGill, a 1993 Princeton grad with a master's degree from Yale. She did tell me it was true her decision to go into public work and get a graduate degree was partially inspired by a speech made by Condoleezza Rice.
"She defined expert for me," McGill said.
McGill said she's working for Combs now as a consultant, trying to do research and "rethink the model" for an organization like Citizen Change so that it's not dependent on celebrity participation.
She also confirmed for me that Citizen Change's biggest single donation -— coincidentally "around $250,000" — came from grocery store magnate Ron Burkle, the big Democratic supporter and Clinton friend embroiled in a controversy with the New York Post's "Page Six" gossip column.
She also said that the money donated to Citizen Change by Daddy's House was in fact an early donation to the former company, but that their accounting system hadn't been set up yet. The inference is that the money came from Burkle to get Citizen Change started and it was funneled through Daddy's House.
"We got a lot of odd questions from our IRS agent," McGill said.
"Ron is a good friend of Sean," she said.
That's an understatement. He's also the chief financial officer of his Sean John Clothing Company, now listed with Hoovers as a $150 million business.
"He helped underwrite our 'Vote or Die' plane tour" in addition to the initial donation, McGill added.
Citizen Change lists around $80,000 in travel expenses, which means that celebrities who pitched in depended on the group to pay their way instead of writing checks themselves.
For a not-for-profit that operated only a short time — from April to November 2004 — Citizen Change had some walloping expenses.
Mark Seliger charged them $100,000 for photography. They spent another $541,000 on advertising and $252,000 for billboards. Citizen Change's total expenses came to over $2 million even with Burkle's largesse, and came in at $23,000 in the red.
Even more interesting is that the group claims it lost $248,000 on the sale of merchandise, but they paid one of Combs' affiliate companies $900,000 for T-shirts to give away.
McGill, who's now with a firm called Brand Architects, will be "re-thinking" that business model a lot if she's going to get Citizen Change up and working properly for the 2008 election.
For one thing, Combs is not exactly the star he was five years ago, even if he's better dressed.
The clothing line has had its problems. While his men's line is very popular, Combs has had trouble marketing expensive threads to the ladies.
He recently canceled his line of upscale clothing for women, which was sold at Bergdorf's and Neiman Marcus, and licensed out his name to G III Apparel (Kenneth Cole, Cole Haan, Tommy Hilfiger, etc) to manufacture a cheaper line for stores like Macy's and Marshall Field's.
And then there's the record business, where Combs is not alone with difficulties.
In April 2005, Bad Boy Entertainment was brought into the new Edgar Bronfman-Lyor Cohen-run Warner Music Group after a short association with Universal Music Group.
Prior to that, Combs had been with BMG's Arista from 1996 until 2002. Combs joined Warner Music with the usual ballyhoo, claiming they had bought a 50 percent share of his company for $30 million. Later, sources told me the real number was closer to $10 million.
The bulk of Bad Boy Records' sales in the past are attributed to countless repackagings and updated recordings by deceased rapper Notorious B.I.G.
Combs' biggest personal hit was a reworking of Sting's "Every Breath You Take" called "I'll Be Missing You." Sting took 100 percent of the publishing royalties, however, leaving only the impression that Combs had grown rich from the record.
Since Bad Boy joined Cohen's Warner Music Group, however, its output has been nil other than one minor hit, B5. The much-touted Boyz in Da Hood sold a measly 238,000 copies, according to Nielsen/SoundScan. A New Edition reunion CD sold roughly and coincidentally the same amount.
Another act, Mase, left Bad Boy before he recorded anything and returned to Universal to work with Kanye West. Another artist who should have been shoo-in for Bad Boy, Combs' protégé Fonzworth Bentley, also signed with West for his debut CD.
Combs himself claims to be working on a new album, which I described in this column a couple of months ago, thanks to Warner's Kevin Liles. But there have been no announcements about it, and it remains a question mark after being postponed a couple of times. Someone I spoke to yesterday at Bad Boy Records told me it was due in September, but there's no official word.
Bad Boy's upcoming releases are not exactly household names: rapper Yung Joc (June 6) — he's not Korean by the way; singer Cheri Dennis (June 13) and a "Making of the Band" CD is allegedly set for August. Samples from the first two releases are available on their respective Web sites, but neither of them was particularly exciting.
You may think country fans lean more to the right than the left, but guess what? The Dixie Chicks' new single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," is the No. 1 country download on iTunes. It's even ahead of Rascal Flatts and Tim McGraw. Go figure, huh?
The song hasn't gotten a lot of radio play, however, since that's still controlled by ... well, whatever. So they're releasing a second single, "Everybody Knows," in anticipation of their new album, "Taking the Long Way."
I've heard the album, and it's terrific, but I have to say to call it "political" is a mistake. It's like "Mary Poppins" compared to Neil Young's new album.
The aforementioned Mr. Combs, according to my spies near the equator, lip-synched through a medley of his hits over the weekend at the Second Annual Trinidad/Tobago Jazz Fest after arriving late and getting an introduction from Doug E. Fresh.
Sting headlined the show and was "amazing, rocked hard," says my spy, and was joined on "Every Breath You Take" by Stevie Wonder on harmonica.
Other highlights of the annual fest included Patti LaBelle and Vanessa Williams.
Jann Carl might as well be adopted by Tom Cruise. The lovely "ET" personality has now followed him to Rome with a script where she continues to ask planned questions and get rote answers, after doing the same in L.A.
Cruise said yesterday he thinks celeb interviewers are "unhappy." You don't need an e-meter to see that Carl is about to crack.
Finally, a film made of the Tribeca Film Festival juries would probably be a prize-winner — calling Robert Altman! Imagine that Ed Burns, whose latest atrocity is causing screening rooms to empty mid-show, will vote with Terry George, the director of "Hotel Rwanda," for best narrative feature. I can only hope that Trudie Styler, Melvin Van Peebles and Kelly Lynch will help. Poor Ed should stick to acting, from what I hear.
The jury for best narrative feature made in New York is even more eclectic: Wyclef Jean, Candace Bushnell and former Conde Nast editorial director/cafeteria designer James Truman. Forget Altman, only Joe Franklin could moderate such unruly gangs.
And if publicists for the Tribeca films don't start calling up with some info, I have bad news for them: So far, only Falco Ink has managed to sort this column out on the complicated schedule. Is there anyone else out there?