While other performers think in terms of hits or the next gig, rapper Sean Combs concentrates on empire-building. His latest deal may be the biggest yet, says The Guardian. The entrepreneur has teamed up with drinks giant Diageo to buy Hollywood’s favourite premium tequila brand, DeLeon, for an undisclosed sum. Each will own 50% of the brand.
This looks a racy move for Diageo, but Combs has form. Thanks to an existing marketing deal, he is already “the face” of Diageo’s premium vodka brand Ciroc, whose sales have rocketed almost 40-fold since he got involved. As he observes, “with Ciroc, we dated. Now with DeLeon, we’re married.”
Nearly 20 years after breaking into the mainstream with I’ll Be Missing You – a tribute to his gunned-down friend The Notorious B.I.G, aka Biggie Smalls – Combs’ every move still makes the celebrity headlines. But he has also proved the most durable of his fellow hip-hop entrepreneurs – and is certainly the most financially successful (see below).
Combs’ big secret is his flexibility, says LA Confidential. He likes to have “as many faces to his life and career as he has names” (Puffy, P Diddy, Puff Daddy), and switches between them with ease.
“I’ve never been someone who does just one thing. Life’s way too short,” he says. “My goal has always been to excel in every direction and in a monumental way; to be number one in whatever I like to do – and I like to do a lot.”
The two firms that established his first fortune (Bad Boy Records and his clothing label, Sean John) are still going strong, but Combs is always adding new ventures. As well as taking the liquor trade by storm, he’s just launched a cable music channel, Revolt TV.
Combs’ credits his natural way with money and image to his birthplace in Harlem – a place, he says, “known for its style, making something out of nothing”.
His father, an alcoholic, was shot dead in 1972 when he was three; his mother was a model. “I was definitely a mama’s boy,” he told The New York Times in 2005. But there was a lot of adversity: “80% of my friends are dead or in jail”. Luckier than most, Combs moved out to the suburbs and, at 13, was raking in $600 a week from a paper round.
While at college he talked his way into an internship at Uptown Records. A vice president at 21, he was fired soon after; but the upshot was the formation of Bad Boy Records, which minted $100m in its first five years with artists such as Mariah Carey, Mary J Blige and Biggie Smalls.
A father of six children from several different relationships, Combs moved to LA in 2008 and has relaxed his style. “In New York, I’m just running around on a track. Here, I live on top of the mountain. I can breathe, I can pray, I can prioritise and figure out what’s important.” Fortunes rise and fall, fashions come and go, but one thing never changes, says LA Confidential: “It’s always good to be Diddy.”
‘A business savvy bordering on genius’
He may not seem the most obvious of corporate bedfellows, but drinks giant Diageo could “stumble upon a treasure trove of riches” through its partnership with Combs and their joint purchase of DeLeon, says Rich Duprey on Fool.com.
The global premium and superpremium spirits market is on a massive roll – expanding at a 10% rate in 2013, compared with 3% for the overall spirits market. And tequila is enjoying a new sunrise as the preferred tipple of the world’s gilded youth.
You don’t get much classier than DeLeon – a brand founded by former mortgage financier Brent Hocking in 2009, which starts at around $120 a bottle, rising to $1,000 for the really high-end stuff.
With his “star power” (and 9.5 million Twitter followers), Combs will instantly give it street cred, in a way that Justin Timberlake (who has a stake in Beam’s rival product, Sauza) can only dream of.
With a fortune estimated at $580m by Forbes, P Diddy has risen to the top of the hip hop mogul league, having overtaken his old rival Jay-Z in the earnings stakes, says i-entertainment.co.uk. He earned $50m in 2013 (compared with Jay Z’s $43m and Dr Dre’s $40m) from a variety of sources, including Bad Boy Records, Sean John and his vodka deal with Diageo.
Despite their very different business styles, Combs and Jay-Z have a lot in common, said Steve Alexander Smith on Mobo.com. They both discovered early “that the only way to survive in a dog-eat-dog music industry was to diversify”. And their overall strategy was to “associate” rather “assimilate” with other businesses, meaning their brands were always strengthened rather than diluted.
P Diddy has a “business savvy bordering on genius”, but the ultimate winner here is hip-hop. The “spirit and drive” that created it on the streets of the Bronx is “embodied” in his success.