"Did you know he works for me?" Clive Davis reportedly complained to Forbes after seeing Puffy on its March 22 cover with Jerry Seinfeld (for the "Power Celebrity 100" issue). Forbes called Puffy's Bad Boy Records "rap's most valuable label," despite the fact that Bad Boy spiraled in sales last year (from almost $200 million to an estimated $35 million), while Def Jam was soaring. The mistake was said to irk Simmons as much as the reason behind it irked Clive Davis.
"Clive made Puffy, and he's put a lot of money into him," says one manager in the hip-hop business (indeed, Davis gave Puffy a $55 million advance in 1998, which turned out to be a disappointing year for Bad Boy, which had only one hit record). "Clive is the dean of the record biz. So when Clive said, 'It's time, and this' " -- that is, Puffy -- " 'is the one,' it put rap on a whole other level. Puffy gets down with Clive Davis, and suddenly he's at dinner with Martha" -- Stewart. "Tommy" -- that is, Mottola, whom Russell used to work with when Def Jam was part-owned by Sony -- "wasn't taking Russell anywhere! Russell did all that on his own."
But no one, least of all his mentors, will say Puffy isn't a talented businessman. "Anything that was told to Heavy D or Mary J. Blige or Teddy Riley, from my mouth," Andre says with emphasis, "Puffy was there to hear it."
"Puffy's what Andre always wanted to be," says one old friend. "But Puffy's slicker at self-promotion, he's a one-man self-promotion machine. People think he's doing great even when he's not." "Puffy's a better management person than Andre or Russell," says the head of an independent label. "He's the shit on that."
It's Russell, however, whom Puffy seems to have been modeling himself on all these years, more than Andre or "Michael" or perhaps anyone. "Sean studied Russell very carefully," says a former Def Jam executive. "This is how you do it -- this is what you don't do, this is who you talk to, this is where you hang out . . ."
Russell had a clothing line; now Puffy has a clothing line. Russell had a magazine; now Puffy has one. "They compete on a daily basis," one close friend says.
But how deep does the competition go? Russell likes to appear above the fray. He's "truly happy when other people are doing things," according to the rapper Jay-Z. "He just feels it widens the market for everyone when someone's doing well." He grins. "I seen him with a Sean John hat on."
"Puffy is the epitome of what rap is," Russell insists. "Get some money and get fly, all that shit Puffy's talking about -- Puffy's living that for real. Puffy got the mansion and the yacht. On St. Barts, he had a quarter-million-dollar yacht two years in a row, and it wasn't an obscene thing for him to do. He belongs on the island, he's the most important person on the entire island in terms of flavor, everyone want him on their boat -- "
For Russell, it seems Puffy's success is a statement, the importance of which goes well beyond any personal concerns. That may be why he sounds so upset when he talks about Puffy's recent arrest and the fact that this young man -- and rival -- with whom he vacations, now faces a possible sentence of up to seven years in jail. "Frank Sinatra beat people up, and he didn't go to jail!" Russell rails. "I'm disappointed in Sean, yes; I don't like what he did, but Steve Stoute is gonna drive off in a new car with a trunk full of money! Why isn't that enough?"