The Birth of Diddy: Sean Combs Makes His World Debut

Born on the dangerous streets of Harlem and exposed to violence at an early age, the odds were stacked against Sean Combs, a.k.a. Diddy, from day one. Nobody believed he would amount to much, let alone go on to become one of the most successful and well-known musicians, producers and entrepreneurs of our time.

November 4, 1969 was the day Sean John Combs entered the world. Born in Harlem, New York City to Janice and Melvin Combs, Combs’ early life was a far cry from the luxurious existence he has grown accustomed to since. At the age of two, Combs’ life would change forever. His street-hustler father was gunned down, leaving Janice to raise Combs and his sister on her own. Fearful of the increasing danger Harlem posed to her children, Janice moved the family to Mount Vernon, New York. This, she believed, would provide the children a safer environment in which to grow up.

Without the support of her husband, Janice was forced to work three jobs in order to not only provide for her kids, but to be able to also give them the best possible education. Combs attended Mount Vernon Montessori School and later completed his secondary education at the private, Catholic boys’ school Mount Saint Michael Academy. Of his mother’s influence on his life, Combs recalls, “She was constantly pushing. I feel like I was nurtured into wanting to be somebody special.” Were it not for his mother’s strong encouragement and the faith she had in him, Combs’ could have easily followed in the footsteps of his father and suffered the same fate at a young age. Instead, with his mother by his side and a good education in hand, Combs was given a strong character base, from which his future success would later stem.

After graduating from high school, Combs moved to Washington, D.C. to attend Howard University where he pursued a degree in business administration. His attention slowly began to shift from inside the classrooms to outside on the streets. His entrepreneurial instincts started to kick in, and soon he was producing weekly dance parties and also running an airport shuttle service.

Combs would never finish his degree. Fortune smiled on him when he was offered an internship at Uptown Records, one of the most popular hip-hop and R&B labels of its time. Recalling his desire to work closely with Uptown founder Andre Harrell, Combs says, “I told him I’d wash cars, quit school – anything – a priceless chance to be in your presence.” At just 19 years old, Combs had been promoted to become one of the label’s top executives, managing such notable acts as Father MC, Mary J. Blige and Heavy D & the Boyz. The very first record that Combs produced, Jodeci’s Come & Talk to Me, sold two million copies and led to Combs’ promotion to vice president.

After just two years with Uptown, Combs was fired. “I guess Andre didn't want two kings in the castle,” Combs says of his dismissal. “I had obtained some success, some notoriety, and I didn't realize it wasn't my house.” And so, at the young age of 21, Combs decided to create a company of his own.

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