Sean Combs was born in Harlem in 1970. His father, a notorious street hustler, was shot dead in Central Park when Sean was only three. For the next 10 years, the family stayed in Harlem, where Sean was witness to hip-hop’s phenomenal growth and popularity.
When he was 12, Combs' mother moved the family to the suburbs of Mount Vernon, where Sean attended an all-male private school called Mount St. Michael’s Academy. Rumor has it that this was where he earned his nickname, by "puffing" out his chest to make himself look stronger as a football player.
After graduating in 1988, Puffy entered Howard University, where he began promoting parties. After two years, he dropped out and became an intern at Uptown Records in New York — and owner Andre Harrell’s protégé. Within a year, Puffy went from intern to vice president of promotion.
Late in the same year, a charity celebrity basketball game Puffy organized at New York’s City College became violent. Nine people died and authorities blamed Puffy’s poor organization and failure to provide a security force.
Puffy went on to produce multi-platinum albums for Jodeci and soul sensation Mary J. Blige. His success prompted him to launch Bad Boy Entertainment. His first signing artist was Christopher Wallace — the Notorious B.I.G. Soon after, Harrell fired his protégé from Uptown Records, and Puffy’s first child Justin was born.
Puffy’s success was overwhelming. He produced several hits with the Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack. He also got involved in making his artists’ videos and remixing their songs.
At around the same time, Suge Knight — the head of Death Row Records, which included Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Doggy Dogg — was gaining similar notoriety. Combs and Knight were friends for a short time, but rivalry quickly surpassed the friendship. When Tupac Shakur was injured in Times Square, he blamed the attack on Puffy. At producer Jermaine Dupri’s birthday, a close friend of Knight’s was gunned down and Knight openly blamed Puffy’s entourage. On top of this were rumors that Tupac was sleeping with the Notorious B.I.G.’s wife, Faith Evans and that Suge Knight was involved with Puffy’s wife at the time, Misa Hylton.
In 1996, B.I.G. and Tupac had an armed standoff at the Soul Train Awards. Later that year, Tupac was gunned down in Las Vegas. In March of 1997, Notorious B.I.G. was shot and killed at that year’s Soul Train Awards.
Ironically, Puffy Combs' popularity grew after the B.I.G.’s death. He had several hits, including a tribute single to his friend, "I’ll Be Missing You."
In the middle of 1999, Puffy was arrested and charged with beating a record executive in an alleged tiff over a music video. He apologized. Since then, the public’s interest in Puffy has been dwindling. Decried by the hip-hop underground for "selling out" and cited for "overexposure," his newest album Forever has bombed. While 1997's No Way Out sold 7 million copies, the current Forever barely broke the 1 million mark.