Sean “Diddy” Combs grew up without a father in his life, and his mother, Janice Combs, was determined to ensure that her child knew nothing about the reality of his life. Still, despite her best efforts, the future hip-hop icon was still able to piece together what happened to his father.
Diddy’s mother kept his father’s cause of death a secret from him, but he still knew
Diddy‘s father, Melvin Combs, was a drug dealer who made his money on the streets of New York; he was killed when Diddy was just two years old. Diddy continued to grow up in Harlem before he and his mother moved to the suburbs.
“Until I was 12, I lived in Harlem. Then we moved to Mount Vernon, New York. That was Mom’s way of getting us out of the inner city after my father was killed. But my grandmother lived in Harlem, so I went back and forth,” he recounted in a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “I remember the simple things about Mount Vernon: grass, trees, and being able to play baseball. In Harlem there was no Little League, no front yard with grass. But the neighborhood was multicultural, so that broadened my horizons.”
Diddy’s mother was determined to keep his outlook on life as peaceful as their surroundings, so she did everything she could to protect him. That included telling him lies about his father and his fate.
“She tried to protect me. My father was a hustler who sold drugs. During his time, that was the way out of Harlem—either that or playing basketball,” he said. “My mother didn’t want me to follow in his footsteps, so she was selective about which truths she told me: My father was in the army, and he owned a limousine service, and he died in a car accident. Actually, he was shot in a car. But even as a kid, I put two and two together. I noticed that guys from the streets in Harlem always seemed to know my family’s last name. ‘I used to run with your father,’ they’d tell me. All my uncles were street hustlers as well.”
Diddy’s mother acted like a father
Being a single parent isn’t easy, as one person is charged with duties typically split between two people. “My mother played the role of a father, and my grandmother played the role of my mother,” Diddy said honestly.
Diddy’s mother often had to step into the role of father, which included teaching her son how to defend himself.
“One day when I was about 9, I went to the store for my grandmother, and someone stole my money. I came home crying. My mother wouldn’t let me in the house. She said, ‘Go back out there and get that money — and if anyone ever puts their hands on you, make sure they never do it again,’” he recalled. “She knew the reality — if people smell weakness, they take advantage of you. You have to defend yourself. On the other hand, my grandmother was like, ‘Come here, baby. I’ll walk with you to the store.’ I’m not saying that my mom would never have let me in the house that day, but she was trying to teach me a lesson.”
Diddy regarded Andre Harrell as a father figure
In early 2020, Diddy received the Industry Icon award at Clive Davis’ famed pre-Grammys party. During his speech, he paid tribute to Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell, who gave him a job at the record label and helped him get his foot in the door in the music industry. He also explained that his connection to Harrell went deeper than just a professional relationship.
“I call you my big brother, but tonight I’ve gotta tell you the truth,” he said. “I told you my father died when I was two and a half. Andre, you’ve been my father for like the last 30 years.” Harrell died just a few months later in May 2020.
Diddy isn’t the only person in the music industry to consider Harrell a father figure: Mary J. Blige has expressed similar sentiments.
“Andre is really my father in this music industry. If he hadn’t come down that day to those projects to my apartment, I wouldn’t be here right now,” she said in a 2021 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “There was so much talent [out there], and he came to hear me — that will mean something to me for the rest of my life. He showed us that there was hope. He told me I was going to make it.”