"Russell's Mr. Oneworld," Andre says with a sigh.
"And Andre is the Minister of Colored People," says a friend of both men. "He keeps Russell in touch with that side of things."
Puffy, who is connected to both Russell and Andre, is, in a sense, a product of both of the cultural forces they represent: He was born in Harlem, raised in Mount Vernon; his father was a hustler who was murdered; meanwhile his mother, Janice, pushed him to go to Howard University -- which he dropped out of when he got a job interning for Andre Harrell.
"Andre cultivated Puffy. And Puff was a genius," says Russell. But Puffy also seemed like a trouble magnet. "He was getting into fistfights constantly, constantly," says Russell. "He was a young kid; he needed management. Andre would be like, 'Yo, Puff, you can't beat up people and do this and do that!' Andre stood by Puffy through a lot of shit." Like the rap-all-star basketball game at CUNY in 1991 that Puffy promoted, and overbooked, at which there was a stampede that led to the death of nine people, an event which haunts Puffy to this day. After the CUNY incident, Andre got William Kunstler on the phone for Puffy. Still, Andre fired him in late 1994. The split was dramatic, since Puffy had been nearly inseparable from his mentor, living in Andre's mansion in New Jersey, playing in his pool.
"Now the tables have turned. Puffy gave Andre a job" -- last year, as the president of Bad Boy, after Andre was fired as the head of Motown -- "just so he can have a chance to fire Andre himself," one music-industry executive speculates. "Puffy wants to humiliate Andre, just like Andre humiliated him. He'll fire him eventually."
When Andre fired Puffy, Puffy landed a $10 million deal with Clive Davis at Arista within months. He immediately set to launching the career of the late Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, whom he already had under his wing and who is now considered perhaps the greatest rapper ever and the rapper who made Puffy's career.
"If Andre was so smart, why did he fire Puffy?" another music-industry executive asks. "Why'd he let Biggie go?
"It was Russell who told Andre to fire Puffy. Russell separated Andre and Puffy. He thought they were too formidable as a team."
"I don't believe that was the reason at all," counters another hip-hop executive. "If Russell told Andre to fire Puffy, it was because he thought Puffy was going to get him in trouble. Andre was Russell's man," his close friend. "And Puffy was all up in the middle of all that East Coast-West Coast shit." Puffy was continually rumored to have had a hand in the feud between Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls that may have led to both rappers' unsolved murders.
"If Russell told Andre anything, it was probably 'That kid Sean is gonna get you killed.'
"And I think Russell didn't like the way Sean had started treating Andre. In front of Andre, Sean was saying things like 'You wouldn't be shit without me.' In public and shit."
Long before Puffy wound up in the news again for allegedly beating Steve Stoute on April 15, a Puffy backlash was in full swing -- something that has been lost in the stream of glowing reports on the rise of Puff Daddy in the mainstream press. "I was surprised when I went out on my book tour," says Nelson George, author of Hip Hop America, "how many kids were saying they were fed up with Puff Daddy."
Puffy can't rap, the backlash says; Puffy's too heavy on his use of samples (as in the way Sting's "Every Breath You Take" became "I'll Be Missing You," Puffy's ode to the late Biggie, whom he has mourned publicly and relentlessly); Puffy rode Biggie's coattails to fame and is still riding them (even Janet Jackson waxed skeptical about the depth of Puffy's grief); and finally, Puffy is all about money. "It's all about the Benjamins, baby," he raps; but while money is a hip-hop value possibly above all others, when it comes to Puffy, no one seems to want to see him get over anymore -- sometimes, not even his own people.