As Vulture has previously pointed out, making music is arguably one of the multifaceted Diddy’s lesser talents. That means Last Train to Paris — Diddy’s fifth studio album, credited to his newly formed trio Dirty Money and seeing release tomorrow — may surprise some people: Along with his usual cadre of all-star collaborators both in front and behind the scenes, Paris features a non-linear concept built around a fraught romantic relationship and an austere, brooding ambiance that one would not necessarily associate with the man who once rhymed the words “three course meals” with “spaghetti, fettuccine, and veal.” Vulture spoke with Diddy about the album last week.
You have years of downtime between albums. Do you just wait for the inspiration to strike?
I have to have something to say. I can’t say I ever made music to make money. I know it’s the clichéd answer, but it’s really the truth. I’m addicted to that feeling that it gives you when you do it the right way. I’ll know when to stop. I know when I have nothing to say, when I can’t bring anything to the game. I have other things that I can do; raising my kids or making movies or doing business things. But I love music. I love what I do. And I feel that I have something to say.
What is it that you have to say this time?
The vision [for Last Train to Paris] started from hearing different sounds in Ibiza, at DC-10. There’s a lot of different dance clubs in Ibiza, but DC-10 — the way that the drums are syncopated, the percussion — it’s totally different from any club in the world. It opened my mind up to the fact that there’s something more than the four on the floor. The four on the floor is timeless, I’ll always mess with the four on the floor, but there’s something else out there. Being a producer and a connoisseur of hip-hop production, that’s the thing that motivated me. And then the truthful story of me not being successful in the category of love. I went from those two platforms.
Do you remember the first time you were at DC-10 and who you were with?
It was Felix da Housecat and Nelle Hooper, the producer of U2, No Doubt, all of that. We were on holiday and they said that they wanted to show me this club. It starts at two in the afternoon. So we went there and my mind was blown. [Stayed until] pretty much, yeah, the next day. And then we went to Space and then back to the house, our regular Ibiza routine.
As I understand it, a big part of Ibiza is the recreational drug use. Did you partake in that?
Ibiza’s like Vegas: What happens in Ibiza stays in Ibiza. But I have experienced Ibiza to the fullest. I definitely experienced Ibiza to its fullest. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a legend in Ibiza. I’m actually a legend in Ibiza. I’m not exaggerating. I’m actually a legend. You can read between the lines.
Where did the name of the group, Dirty Money, come from?
That came second. The first thing I knew was I didn’t want to do it by myself. I came to the realization that I’m better as a group player; I don’t feel I’m great as a solo artist. I wouldn’t want to hear myself on a whole album. And wanted to come into a concept that made sense for me and to tell a story. I was a big fan of [English R&B trio] Loose Ends, and it was two guys and a girl. The way they interacted, it felt so stress-free, because they had each others’ backs. And I looked out there at the landscape, and there’s really no groups out there, because nobody wants to split up the money. And the name Dirty Money — I was always jealous of rock groups that had cool names: Silversun Pickups and Smashing Pumpkins, N.E.R.D., Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance. I wanted something that related to me and Dirty Money is my black hip-hop soul record.
There’s a plotline running through Last Train to Paris. Can you explain it?
The story, it’s not linear, I don’t know if I ever make it to Paris. There’s nothing French about the album, there’s no Eiffel Towers in the video, the girl isn’t even French. It’s really a story about losing love, finding love, and trying to get it back again. It’s about that girl that you meet. She blows you away, you blow her away, y’all make love the first day, and then y’all just kind of leave it for what it’s worth. [You reconnect] and it’s that honeymoon phase, you’re with each other every day, every second. After a month, we’re about to go to the next city but she’s having to deal with everything that she’s heard about me. They say I’m selfish and she’s paranoid, and she says, I gotta do what I gotta do, and she’s very upset about it and it kind of breaks her heart, and it breaks my heart. Then I get a call a couple of months later, there’s a cocktail party in Paris and she’s there. And I happen to be in London and the airports are shut down. The only way I can get there is the last train to Paris. I don’t know if she’s gonna be there. I don’t know if she’s gonna look the same, or if she’s gonna be there with another guy, if I’m going there for nothing. That train ride is the definition of love.
Taking trains around Europe is a time-honored tradition for college kids. Have you done any of that backpack traveling?
I’ve actually taken the last train to Paris. I remember the one tunnel that you’re in for 30 to 40 minutes. I also remember growing up and taking the Amtrak train going to Pennsylvania from New York, and just how soothing it was, just staring out the window. Trains have such a hypnotic feel to them, and that’s why the music [on the album] has such a hypnotic feel to it.
During the recording, you were quoted as saying that you were going to do brand-new things with your voice on this album. What did you mean by that?
We went through that whole anti-Auto-Tune phase. The whole world thought that any effect on your voice was Auto-Tune. People have been putting effects on their voices for years! And it wasn’t about an effect so much as it was a tone. I wanted you to feel the pain and desire in that voice. Most of the stuff, it’s my natural voice, just said in a tone of a character, of a feeling. It’s not me trying to sing notes, it was me trying to express a feeling. It’s a way to like sing-talk. It’s the way my soul sounds. I was trying to express the definition that was in my soul. Whether I accomplished that or not …
What did your group mates, Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper, bring to the process?
You’re looking at the making of the biggest R&B soul-pop stars. They’re diamonds in the rough. These girls got a certain flavor and swagger, which is rare in this marketplace. Most female artists, they all have something [in common]. [One particular] song could go for any of the top five females. But when you hear the girls in Dirty Money, you know that’s a Dirty Money girl. You can’t give us a Beyoncé song, you can’t give us a Lady Gaga or a Pink song and we make that hit. We gotta make it Dirty Money. That right there, when that connects, that’s dangerous. And I’ve been there with an artist called Mary J. Blige on What’s the 411?. That’s some dangerous shit when you don’t get the publisher just sending you the top hot track, when you gotta actually go be the artist. You can’t send Outkast a joint that’s a No. 1 record that the publisher has. And it’s the same thing with Dirty Money.
On one track, “Coming Home,” you talk extensively about your family. Was it hard to get that personal?
Nah, I wanted to do that. I co-wrote that with Jay-Z. He knows me so much as a friend, there were some lines that he threw out that were like, “This is what I feel [about you], I know it’s uncomfortable that I’m saying it right now. You sure you wanna say that?” If I wanna say it, I’m gonna say it. If I bare my soul, I’m gonna put that shit up one time and put it in the history books.
So you actually sat down with Jay-Z and worked on the lyrics?
This was like sculpting a work of art. We worked on that shit for a month. One month. One record. That man got other shit to do. That’s the way he is with records. It don’t matter what it’s for, he gonna make it be the best record that it can be.
You’ve been up front about using ghostwriters in the past. But this time you collaborated on the lyrics?
I used to just sit down and have my lyrics given to me, but because this album is so personal I really had to sit down and say what’s on my mind.
How does that work?
I get the idea of the song, I go in the studio, I mumble the melody, I put down a couple of catchphrases, I work it as far as I can. And then I bring in a co-writer that’s good for the song. A Drake, or a Rick Ross, or even a Jay-Z. I guess I’m blessed with the opportunity, like a singer, that can work with other songwriters. In rap it hasn’t necessarily been cool, but I think that’s my own allegiance to the song. If somebody could help me make the song better, I don’t really care what other people think. I know I co-wrote more than half of my album, which is the most I’ve ever written in my life. On my own projects.
So before, how would it work with the ghostwriters?
Before, mostly, I would sit in the room and I wouldn’t even do any writing. And that’s when I came up with the phrase “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks.” But at the same time, I couldn’t just do that cop-out. I call Mos Def, he says, “I’m not writing for you, you write for yourself, ‘cause you can do it.” And that’s what got me.
One last thing: Have you gotten a chance to speak to Shyne?
I haven’t spoken to him. He had reached out to me. I haven’t connected with him. I spoke to him before he got out.
He’s in Israel now.
Yeah. I heard he’s doing pretty good. I think he’s almost a rabbi or something.