In a community where even Catholics are still considered a bit risqué at certain private clubs, and where gentility is guarded so tenaciously that not too long ago, miniskirts were banned from the public thoroughfares of East Hampton, the two most terrifying words in the English language might just be rap impresario. So it was no surprise that after Sean "Puffy" Combs bought his house in Settler's Landing in the Springs last year, a portion of the populace started buggin'.
"I think people here were freaked out by the fact that rappers travel in crews," says one hip-hop Hamptonite. "They don't come by one or two; they come in big groups with loud music, sometimes by the truckload.''
"The Hamptons have always tried to be muted about the enormous wealth," sniffs an old-guard local, somewhat anachronistically. "Unlike Beverly Hills, there are very few Rolls-Royces out here.''
Puffy definitely didn't go for understatement with his $2.5 million Gwathmey mansion -- which he describes as "the Delano meets the Hamptons." After his decorator quit over "aesthetic disagreements," horrified gossips reported that the Bad Boy Entertainment mogul had ordered her to emblazon his initials on his gates, the bottom of his vinyl pool, his Jacuzzi, and every beach, bath, and dish towel on the premises. And former Motown head Andre Harrell's penchant for driving his Bentley through Bridgehampton blaring Big Punisher dismayed locals whose station wagons are usually tuned to Lite FM.
But none of this seems to bother the latest generation of Hamptons power players, who seem not only to accept their new neighbors but to desperately want to be down. The two most talked-about, written-about, and photographed July 4 parties this year were given not by a Duke or a Petrie but by Puffy and Interscope Records owner Ted Field, the man who made Snoop Doggy Dogg a household name. On the day of the Field bash, East End socialites frantically worked their cell phones trying to line up invites. Those who succeeded saw Funkmaster Flex spinning music, Puffy and Penny Marshall huddled together in the D.J. booth, and Ron Perelman, Donald Trump, and Mark Wahlberg getting down on the makeshift dance floor. Combs's barbecue featured Veronica Webb, Mike Tyson, the rapper L'il Kim and several hundred white socialites. The next day, fans ransacked the garbage for souvenirs.
"They've jazzed things up a bit,'' admits society chronicler Heather Cohane. Nick & Toni's owner Jeff Salaway agrees: "People want to hang out with them because they think it will be more fun.'' To Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, who established the hip-hop beachhead five years ago, it's a sign of the times. "When MTV started showing Run-DMC," he says, "they took the first step toward destroying the boring lily-white culture of the Hamptons. This was actually about the last place to get hip-hop."
"The hot energy of New York City has come to the Hamptons now," says Harrell. On a typical weekend, Harrell and Simmons play basketball from noon to 3:30, take in a movie, stop by Nick & Toni's for dinner, and hit the clubs until about 3 a.m. But over the past several weekends, they've been retreating to . . . Connecticut. "When I'm in the Hamptons, I do everything," sighs Simmons. "I need a vacation."