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NEW YORK – "Let's go." "Can't stop, won't stop." "Come on." "Get in your bag, stay in your bag." "Let's work."
For Diddy, the Harlem native whose impenetrable hustle is embedded into his DNA and woven into every moment of his three decades of music from his lyrics to his motivational ad-libs, this moment was destined. Sean Combs – or Diddy or P. Diddy or Puffy or Puff Daddy or Love, depending on your generation – received the key to New York City from Mayor Eric Adams in Times Square on Friday.
The honor arrives the same day as his new studio album, "The Love Album: Off the Grid," and days after his Global Icon Award performance and celebration at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards – a grind-coded moment for the multihyphenate mogul if there ever was one.
"I'm a New York boy, and I just got to key to the city, and everything is just a little surreal right now," he says, still on a high from the ceremony.
The rapper, businessman, fashion designer and music exec – who revolutionized hip-hop with his work at Uptown Records and his creation of Bad Boy Records, and brought sampling mainstream – is "having one of those great days," he says, as this moment converges with his "Love Album" rising on the iTunes charts.
The new record, his first solo album since 2006's "Press Play," his first studio album since 2010's collaborative Diddy – Dirty Money "Last Train to Paris" and his first musical project since 2015's mixtape "MMM (Money Making Mitch)," is a true R&B album and has a laundry list of features including The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, French Montana, Fabolous, Teyana Taylor and Ty Dolla $ign.
"God blessed me with a second chance at life," Diddy says, "I've decided there's another mountain for me to conquer. I'm looking for the next era in my life, and that's the love era. That's really being a unifier, fighting for radical change and making some beautiful music for people to feel good to."
Now 53, the Grammy-winner hugs and shakes hands with the mayor before the doors of a large screen above Times Square open up, revealing the crowd of fans, tourists and onlookers below. His team, sons Quincy Brown and Justin Combs, and City Girls rapper Caresha "Yung Miami" Brownlee cheer him on as he emerges and takes hold of the ceremonial key to the Big Apple. It's a long way from the kid who woke up to roaches crawling over him at night growing up in Harlem, a moment of Diddy lore he's said shaped his mindset.
"The bad boy of entertainment is getting the key to the city from the bad boy of politics," Adams said while introducing Diddy, who in his speech encouraged people to manifest what they want out of life. "You can do anything you put your mind to. Don't let nobody stop you! Nothing can stop you. Change your reality, dream bigger and bolder and spread love."
After stepping off the platform to debut a song from the new record, he takes pictures with Adams and the key before addressing the small group of press gathered backstage. "I'm sweating in front of the mayor," he says with a laugh, as Yung Miami helps wipe the sweat from his brow with a towel and his team passes him water and a fan.
"The moment is so big," Diddy says. "You see it in movies, but you really don't imagine … getting the key to the city of New York. And so it's just like I'm living in a movie right now. And it just feels like I'm living a dream, and it feels beautiful."
The honor also coincides with the 50th anniversary of hip-hop (and the 30th anniversary of Bad Boy Records, plus the 20th anniversary of Diddy's famed New York City Marathon run for charity), a genre of which Diddy has been an architect as he helped produce for and build the careers of Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, 112, Mary J. Blige, Mase, The Lox, Usher, Lil' Kim and Jodeci. He recently agreed to give the label's publishing rights back to all artists and writers who worked with the company.
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"When I look back at my contribution to music, I look at it as a celebration," Diddy says. "That's all I ever wanted to do is make you dance, make you sing, make you feel good. And so in the 50 years of hip-hop, that's my biggest blessing – and just seeing how global hip-hop has become."
Alongside victory, loss has also permeated Combs' life. He's mourned the shooting deaths of his father Melvin and close friend Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace, as well as the death of his long-term partner and mother to three of his children, Kim Porter.
"What would Biggie say about me getting the key to the city? He would be very proud. He'd probably be crying," Diddy says. "Because it means so much to us. For me, when I get out of here, I'm definitely going to have a good cry. I will have a good, happy cry, because it really means a lot. I have New York tattooed on both of my arms. That's how much I love New York."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Diddy says getting key to NYC, new album is like 'living in a movie'