Puff Daddy, Faith Evans, 112, Total: Sound Republic, London

King of the bad boys

THURSDAY NIGHT’S launch of the West End venue Sound Republic was such a hot ticket the event was untouchable. Not only did it mark the first live show in the spot previously occupied by the dear old Swiss Centre in Leicester Square, it represented the debut “concert” by the incumbent messiah of black music, Puff Daddy.

Fresh from scooping two MOBO Awards the night before, Puffy had brought myriad representatives of his Bad Boy Entertainment empire along. A mere 400 invited guests were shoehorned into, the just-completed club room, located upstairs from an ultramodern restaurant lounge. And just to amplify the brouhaha, the whole caper was being aired live by MTV, obliging your correspondent to negotiate the sort of paparazzi melee usually reserved for film premieres across the square. And if any reminder were needed of the commercial forces that guide modem entertainment, MTV called the scheduling shots throughout an evening nonetheless full of old-fashioned glamour.

The performance space itself was so crammed as to make an assessment difficult, especially as the raised dancefloor area seems to be on the same level as the lower part of the stage. If you are planning a visit and you are not a six-footer, pack a periscope.

Puffy’s family members were a mixed bag as a live proposition, with the Atlanta quartet 112 bringing some fresh-faced gospel-soul to the occasion, while the three New Jersey girls in Total seemed happy to lip-synch in a somewhat meaningless procession.

The victory belonged to Faith Evans, who arrived in a curious position of notoriety as the widow of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G. and with some doubts about her own credentials, but left to rousing cheers after a fine display of contemporary soul emotiveness.

So to the Puffmeister himself, who appeared with requisite Midas swagger and proceeded to deliver a Bad Boy best-of package aided by various crew members, even including a gospel choir for the inevitable tribute to Biggie, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’, and a bemused-looking string section for Puffy’s shotgun marriage of rap and rock, ‘Come With Me’, based on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’.

The magpie mentality of his cross-genre sampling, and the audience’s delirious welcome for old tunes dressed up in Gangsta clothes, confirmed him as the true Daddy of urban culture — although in this artificial setting, even the mighty Puffy had to pause obediently for the commercial breaks.

© Paul SextonThe Times, 19 October 1998

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