“Whoa” was a bulldozer of a track—a concussive and relentless four minutes that felt like you’d just been injected with a dose of Harlem, and not Ma$e’s Harlem, but Big L’s. To be in the club, on the floor, in 2000, when a DJ dropped that track felt life-threatening in all the best ways. But Black Rob’s best song was “I Love You Baby”—a graphic and cinematic saga about a woman who set him up to get robbed. Although not as detailed as “Bitches From Eastwick”—the other Bad Boy-related rap song about getting double-crossed by a woman (this was a popular late-90s subgenre)—what Black Rob lacked in lyrical dexterity he made up in voice. He had a way of making you feel like what he was rapping about was happening in real time. He’s not reflecting, he’s reacting.
And then, after two verses, Diddy spits a verse. And, well, imagine Steph Curry’s having one of those nights where he’s hit nine threes in the first three quarters. And now imagine if Steve Kerr jumped off the bench like “I got it from here” and decided to play the entire fourth while making Steph sit. That’s how jarring it felt to hear Diddy’s voice. He’s an uninvited guest who crashes your game night, but you can’t kick him out because he owns the building you live in.
This is just what Diddy did, for a stretch of time that felt like forever. For each time his presence was welcome (his verse on “Mo’ Money, Mo Problems” worked) there were 10 times when you’d unexpectedly hear him and ask yourself “Who let the landlord in the studio?”
I can’t help but think about this, today, because I’m thinking about Black Rob. And Black people. And how death, for us, has a singular ubiquity. And how vital it is, for us, since death is everywhere, to have soft places to land sometimes. To have community. To be cared for. To have a space. To be able to sit and sleep and trust sometimes. And I’m thinking about how unforgivable it is for someone to provide the facade of safety and family and trust to someone who’s never had it.
I’ll leave the minutiae of Bad Boy contractual obligations to people who better understand the language of the music business. I also don’t wish to reduce Black Rob’s life to a footnote in a chapter on Diddy’s aintshitness. But something smells here. Something been stank when there’s so much queasiness and devastation about and around one person; a cloud surrounding him that seems to rain on everything but him. It’s like he’s a vampire, extracting blood and cash and clout from the people around him until they’re depleted or he’s fulfilled.
Of course, as Naima Cochrane articulates in this thread, you can’t blame him for Black Rob’s death. But when there’s smoke—and there’s two decades of it now; billowing, spreading, and asphyxiating—there’s Diddy, anxious to ruin another track, and cash another check.