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Wielding a Midas touch that has left its fingerprints over classics from The Notorious B.I.G. (Ready to Die, Life After Death), Mary J. Blige (What’s the 411?, My Life), and several other cultural icons, Sean “Diddy” Combs is well-versed in the art of crafting a conceptual masterpiece. His own solo discography, which includes blockbuster releases like No Way Out, The Saga Continues…, and Forever find him weaving events from his personal and professional experiences into his artistry, giving listeners a glimpse into the psyche of the life and times of an industrious titan.
Be it his display of sheer decadence in the midst of his mourning on No Way Out or the never-die-attitude exuded throughout The Saga Continues…, Diddy’s time in the eye of the storm that is the public eye has always been defined by his flair for the dramatic. This trait would serve him well during the first half of the aughts with the mogul making the dive into the realm of reality TV with his MTV franchise “Making the Band;” landing cameos in the films Made, Monster’s Ball, and Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power; as well as a stint on Broadway as Walter Lee Younger in the 2004 revival of A Raisin in the Sun.
However, the latter half of the decade saw Diddy embark on a musical journey inspired by the various dance floors he’d been exposed to during his lifetime, beginning with his fourth solo release, Press Play, in 2006. Producing the Top 10 hits ”Come to Me” and “Last Night,” the project began Puff’s foray into the world of dance-pop, a trend that continued with the mogul’s fifth studio album, Last Train To Paris, which a segment of critics and listeners consider his greatest creative achievement as a recording artist.
Coming off the success of Press Play, which reached gold certification, and seeing Kanye West unleash his own conceptual curveball in 2008 with his widely acclaimed 808s & Heartbreak album, Diddy’s inspiration was at its peak levels heading into 2009. In February of that year, Diddy made headlines after dropping the bomb that not only would be him releasing a new album, but he revealed its title, Last Train To Paris, as well as plans to shoot a short film to accompany the LP. Describing the effort as a “profound love story” revolving around themes of “love, pain, sex, God, celebration,” Diddy also shared that the album would not cast him as the central figure alone, but would be a collaborative project, with two women alongside him. However, he would not divulge the identities of his co-stars at the time of the announcement instead enlisting The-Dream, Tricky Stewart, the Neptunes, Marion Winans, T-Pain, Rodney Jerkins and the Souldiggaz as producers he planned on working with for the LP, which he claimed would usher in a new movement called “train music.”
Eyeing a tentative Sep. 22 release date for the album, with production of the movie slated to begin in May, Diddy began assembling the moving parts for Last Train To Paris, starting with his female counterparts, both of whom already happened to be under the Bad Boy fold. Of all of the groups that were formed during the various incarnations of “Making the Band,” the most successful by far was Danity Kane, an all-female quintet comprised of singers Aubrey O’Day, Dawn Richard, Shannon Bex, Wanita “D. Woods” Woodgett, and Aundrea Fimbres. After selling millions of records and becoming the first female group in Billboard history to debut their first two albums at the top of the charts, Danity Kane disbanded in 2009 with Richard, considered one of the breakout stars of the group, inking her own solo deal with Bad Boy.
Tapped by Diddy to become a member of Dirty Money, the aforementioned duo he referenced in his initial announcement of Last Train To Paris, Richard was paired with buzzing singer-songwriter and dancer Kalenna Harper; whose resume includes writing credits on tracks from Christina Milian, Charlotte Church, Aretha Franklin, Pussycat Dolls, Ciara, Trina, Three 6 Mafia, Maino, and other stars. Officially announcing the formation of the group, and Richard and Harper’s roles via a social media post in July 2009, Diddy shared his vision by explaining that Diddy – Dirty Money is “a look, a sound, a movement, [and] a crew” and not about “drug money, illegal money, or anything negative … for my new concept album Last Train to Paris, I wanted to do something refreshing, something unique, something forward for myself as an artist … I wanted to tell a love story [but] I couldn’t just tell the male’s point of view.”
The first leak from the album, “Angels,” arrived shortly after with Rick Ross contributing an opening guest verse, Diddy crooning in auto-tune; and Richard, Harper, and The Notorious B.I.G. providing additional vocals. With a vocal approach similar to that of West’s on 808s & Heartbreak, Diddy’s performance was indicative of where the recording sessions for Last Train To Paris began, however, the group’s second release, “Love Come Down,” would be more representative of the progression that was taking place during the creation of the project.
Influenced by his proximity to the dance music world and collaborations with the likes of Felix da Housecat, Erick Morillo, Deep Dish, and DJ Hell, Diddy brought those vibes into his own realm by sprinkling it with the calling cards of his own cultural grooves to create an evolved sonic fabric, which he dubbed “electro-Hip-Hop soul funk.” While Last Train To Paris would be subject to various pushbacks throughout 2009 and 2010; Diddy, Richard and Harper used that extended period to bolster the buzz and profile of Diddy – Dirty Money by dropping hit singles such as the T.I.-assisted “”Hello Good Morning,” “Loving You No More” featuring Drake, and the Skylar Grey-assisted smash “Coming Home.” Guest appearances alongside Nelly and Murphy Lee on “k.I.s.s,” and Tamati on his 2010 release, “I’m On You,” as well as performances at the American Music Awards and on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” also garnered positive reviews, as did The Prelude – Last Train to Paris, a free mixtape of seven songs from the upcoming album exclusively released on Vogue.com, which brought the anticipation for the album to a crescendo.
Released on December 14, 2010; Last Train To Paris saw Diddy, Richard, and Harper join forces to present a project that served as a soundtrack to Diddy’s tumultuous love life, where boarding passes and red-eye flights double as displays of affection. Executive produced by Rodney Jerkins, Mario Winans, Harve Pierre, and the mogul himself, the album saw its braintrust rounding up some of the biggest artists and producers in music to come together with the common goal of packing dance floors and shutting down parties worldwide. The trio waste no time getting bodies while pulsating with the addictive opening number, “Ass on the Floor,” as Swizz Beatz commands listeners to bust a move while Diddy – Dirty Money serenade the crowd with Harper stealing the show with her impressive opening stanza.
Notorious for sampling the hits of artists from yesteryear, Diddy does one better and brings one into his world by collaborating with Grace Jones on the Danja-produced number, “Yeah Yeah You Would,” which finds Richard and Harper bringing the house down with their impassioned vocal performances. Polow da Don and James “JLack” concoct a trunk-rattling intergalactic soundscape on the Usher-assisted thumper “Looking for Love,” while Polow flexes his production prowess once again on the Trey Songz-headlined number, “Your Love.” Slight missteps like the Lil Wayne clunker, “Strobe Lights,” and ”I Know” featuring Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa and Sevyn Streeter may take the proceedings off course, but Last Train To Paris quickly regains its footing at these junctures via salvos like “Shades” featuring Lil Wayne, Justin Timberlake, Bilal and James Fauntleroy in addition to a spectacular performance on the part of Brown, who shines on the Winans-produced deep cut “Yesterday.”
Last Train To Paris is by no means a singles-only affair. That said, its finest moments double as the album’s most captivating songs. T.I.’s showing on “Hello, Good Morning” is precision at its finest, which may have inspired Nicki Minaj and Ross to hop on the song’s remix. Peaking at No. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Hello, Good Morning” was one of the bigger hits from the album and its first song to gain considerable commercial success, earning gold certification. The LP also includes one of the Drake’s earliest guest spots following his own rise to fame, as he pops up on the Sean Garrett-produced “Loving You No More,” which became a dark horse hit in its own right, peaking at No. 91 on the Hot 100. However, Diddy, Richard, and Harper’s take things to another level on “Coming Home,” which achieved crossover success and became the most popular song released from Last Train To Paris. Produced by Alex da Kid and JAY-Z, and written by J. Cole and Hov, “Coming Home” peaked just outside of the Top 10 at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was used as a rallying cry for troops returning home from active duty, as well as various other homecomings across the globe, which made it the impresario’s latest seismic anthem of his career. In addition to the music itself, Last Train To Paris includes various nods to Diddy’s appreciation for high fashion and fine art, using a photograph at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris taken by photographer Jarrod “Jrod” Kimber as the cover art, and peppering vocal segues from designers and editors such as Isaac Mizrahi, André Leon Talley, Zac Posen, Marc Jacobs, Anna Wintour, and Tommy Hilfiger throughout the album.
Debuting at No. 7 on the US Billboard 200 with 101,000 copies sold in its first week of release, Last Train To Paris produced multiple hits, and spanned various genres including eurodance, italo disco, tech house, hip hop, and R&B. Winning a BET Award for Best Group in 2011, Diddy – Dirty Money disbanded in 2012 with Harper and Dawn both going on to pursue other musical endeavors individually. In 2012, Harper released her mixtape, Chamber of Diaries, and would later go on to appear on the VH1 reality franchise “Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta.” Richard, who would perform as DΔWN before settling on DAWN, released her own solo debut album, Goldenheart, on Our Dawn Entertainment to widespread acclaim, and continues to release music while building her career as an actress.
Diddy last full-length musical release came in the form of his debut mixtape, MMM (Money Making Mitch), in 2015. Though Diddy – Dirty Money’s run may have been short-lived, Puff’s goal for presenting his own take on 80s bands like Soul II Soul and Loose Ends to the world was realized, and Last Train To Paris remains a beloved cult classic and stands as the most progressive body of work of the music legend’s career.