Diddy didn't need this.
He's among the wealthiest men in music, worth some $750 million, and according to Forbes was the top earner in hip hop last year. He could be hot-tubbing in Ciroc right now instead of schlepping around the country on a 20(ish)-year nostalgia tour for his label, Bad Boy Records.
But you don't earn $750 million thinking small. And by golly, if Sean Combs – a.k.a. Puff Daddy, a.k.a. Puffy, a.k.a. Diddy – is going to celebrate the legacy of the House that Biggie Built, he's gonna do it up big.
As a result we have the wholly unnecessary but entirely welcome Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour, which hit Tampa's Amalie Arena Sunday night, bringing with it a time capsule of hip-hop circa 1998 -- Diddy, Mase, Lil Kim, Faith Evans, 112, Total and many more, capitalizing on America's insatiable thirst for late-'90s nostalgia.
Puffy, 46 might not've gotten the hero's welcome he expected – at just over 8,000 the crowd was late-arriving and perhaps a little light, and the upper deck was almost entirely curtained off. But there are no failures in Diddyland. He ain't Drake, but his Family Reunion was a comprehensive retrospective of a generation's worth of signature singles, a two-plus-hour hit parade that reminded everyone just why he once owned the top of the pops.
Emerging from a cloud of smoke in a long red coat and blinding medallions, dancing in his signature torso-tilting style, Puffy warmed up the crowd with a few solo hits – Victory, Bad Boy For Life, Nas's Hate Me Now – before igniting it all with his first guest, Mase.
The laconic, lost-then-found rapper combined with Puff on a pair of shiny-suit classics, Can't Nobody Hold Me Down and Been Around the World, their classic samples taking you back not just 20 years, but 30 or 40, a wormhole of nostalgia that feels hard to parse without a Ph.D from Caltech.
Diddy never was the best rapper or dancer or producer – but he was a hell of a mogul, and huge chunks of Sunday's show were devoted to that side of his Bad Boy legacy. Once Diddy left the stage, the show went into Jingle Ball mode, with 10 of his "Family" protégés getting their own mini-sets loaded with 'member-this-one? late-'90s jams.
There was Lil Kim, Brooklyn's feisty Queen B, who spit and snarled out spitfire singles like Lighters Up and Quiet Storm. There were the Lox – Styles P, Jadakiss and Sheek Louch – who rustled up harder hits like We Gonna Make It and Good Times. There was a return engagement from Mase, whose Feel So Good got the crowd moving like they did during that mini-set with Diddy early on.
Puffy also brought Bad Boy's stable of singers. 112's female counterparts Total brought a futuresexy vibe to grown-ass jams Trippin', No One Else and Kissing You. Clad all in white, R&B wailer Carl Thomas dosed Amalie with a blast of gospel on Emotional and I Wish. Even relative youngster Cassie dropped by for her 2006 hit Me & U.
Yanking things even further into this millennium was club and mixtape fixture, and recent Bad Boy signee, French Montana. His set of street smashes (Pop That, Ocho Cinco, All the Way Up) not only featured Diddy-referencing tracks Hot N---- and No Shopping, but Diddy himself for a cover of Future's Same Damn Time, during which both men donned white fur coats with 20-foot trains. As one does. (Unfortunately, Montana didn't bring out his reported girlfriend Iggy Azalea, though she was spotted backstage.)
But if Puffy has a signature singer, it's the Notorious B.I.G.'s widow Faith Evans, a.k.a. the "First Lady of Bad Boy." Sporting a cherry red suit and only slightly darker locks, the Lakeland native brought a the church to her love-themed suite (No Other Love, I Love You, You Gets No Love, You Used to Love Me and later Love Like This). She also brought out a couple of guests – Jadakiss to help plug her upcoming Biggie duets album The King and I, and Diddy himself for sultry slow jam Soon As I Get Home.
"Dang, you was singing your ass off, girl!" Diddy said as they walked off.
All of this – the solo sets, the pop-ins, the guest spots, the trips down memory lane – was almost exhaustive, an encyclopedic and authoritative history of Bad Boy at its baddest. But to anyone who remembers the summer of 1998, it was something of a miracle to behold.
There were Puff Daddy, Mase and 112 collaborating live on Only You, with a video backdrop of a rapping Biggie Smalls. There were Puffy, the Lox and Lil Kim ripping through It's All About the Benjamins. There were Diddy, Evans and 112 hopping in the wayback for I'll Be Missing You, that inescapable and iconic tribute to Biggie that we all thought we left back in the '90s. And there, somehow, was the entire Bad Boy family -- including dancers and band, more than 25 in all -- dancing on stage as Puff and Mase closed the show with Biggie's Mo Money Mo Problems.
Long after they all broke big, long after it seemed possible they might ever tour like this again, the man who started it all had resurrected their prime years in a setting that felt like a festival.
"We could've all done this separately," Diddy said. "God blessed us with that talent. But the Bad Boy family, we did it together."
No, Diddy doesn't really need the Bad Boy Family Reunion in 2016. But it's something only he could've pulled off. Sway like that, even money can't buy.
-- Jay Cridlin