Diddy spent the five years since the release of his previous solo album making (and shelving) a gospel album, dabbling (or flailing) in dance music, running in the New York City Marathon, developing a perfume called (almost unbelievably) Unforgivable, and undoubtedly doing many other important things. His Bad Boy empire settled into a severe lull until the summer of 2006, when Yung Joc's "It's Going Down," Cassie's "Me&U," and the Danity Kane album revived the label. Press Play is well timed, and it's also well endowed: the roster of collaborators and guests is both extensive and impressive enough to entice the severely Diddy-resistant. Peculiarly enough, Diddy's practically the opening act on his own album. During the first several tracks, he's the dominant voice, dishing out the expected variations on his wildly hubristic boasts of old, and that includes a baffling gritted-teeth threat like "America, fall back, you can't stop me/Got a thing for pigeon-toed chicks who walk knock-kneed." On his own, he does not deliver. Around track six, the guests begin to take over the 80-minute program, and the album morphs into a theatrical examination of love and romance that is partly randomized but mostly tremendous. Apparently inspired by his relationships with ex-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez and his wife, Diddy and his shifting cast of fellow songwriters/producers pen a series of songs -- you could almost call it a suite -- emboldened by a round of knockout performances from several women. Multi-threat up-and-comer Keri Hilson (watch for her), Brandy, Keyshia Cole, and Mary J. Blige all take lead roles and make up the heart of the album. This last half-hour of the album, with the exception of a couple instances where Diddy could've left everything in the hands of the vocalists, teeters on the edge of brilliance. Timbaland (with partner Nathanial "Danja" Hill) and Mario Winans (with Diddy) deliver robust, imaginative productions that lay the majority of modern-day R&B tracks to waste (glints of left-field dance music and the new wave that inspired it are incorporated to great effect), while Rich Harrison expectedly and thrillingly blends the blaring with the lush behind Blige. The rest of the album is worth talking about, as it involves noteworthy appearances from Christina Aguilera, Ciara, Nas, Big Boi, Cee-Lo, and several others, but it's less risky and not nearly as remarkable as the closing stretch. All told, the number of memorable hooks on display here is surprising.
Press Play Review
by Andy Kellman