Puff Daddy & The Family Give Toyota Center Its Best Rap Show of 2016

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Puff Daddy & The Bad Boy Family
Toyota Center
September 15, 2016

In terms of a “show," fans should always consider two things. One is length. The longer, deeper the catalog, the more room a performer has to create a memorable experience. The second? How much energy is a performer going to give you to make you sweat, make you dance, scream and roar to the point where you’re going to show up at work the next morning saying, “Forget this, I’m still on a high?”

Puff Daddy knows about both of these things.

Ever since the original Bad Boy tours, Puffy has understood why spectacle in hip-hop is a big deal. Why it should be cherished. The videos in the ‘90s were big-budget homages to action flicks, stylized dance routines à la Fred Astaire and more. “Been Around the World” made Sean Combs an International Man of Mystery, complete with Jennifer Lopez on his arm before she was officially on his arm. Losses be damned, Puff Daddy is going to put on for the world at any given notice. Doesn’t matter what brand he’s pushing the moment he wakes up; it’s going to be loud, it’s going to feel important and it’s going to feel special.

The Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour is special. Not in the nostalgic sense — that’s pretty obvious — but in a grandiose, large-scale-production sense. Puff spared no expense in making sure the show looked and felt like a show. There were risers, floor inserts, a giant LED board that mixed flashy graphics with cuts of old Bad Boy videos and live footage. There were minks that dragged along the floor; minks so long they needed handlers, like wedding trains. There was pyro, hair-raising and effective. Costume changes to match each particular era of Bad Boy. The jerseys, the Shiny Suits, the video interludes and the individual segments for each of the 19 performing Bad Boy Family members. In multiple roles, Puffy played hype man, lead man, motivational speaker, church pastor and, finally, ringleader of the entire production.

I’m still catching my breath from all of it.

For two and a half hours, Puff Daddy and his motley crew of Faith Evans, Carl Thomas, Total, 112, Ma$e, Lil’ Kim, Black Rob and The LOX ran through 22 years of hits. Didn’t matter if they were all Bad Boy-affiliated (The LOX dug into their D-Block and solo catalogs); they were getting performed. In the opening video package alone, a young Puff Daddy told the world, “Black people love something real. And that’s what we’re giving to them.” He was talking about Bad Boy Records at its absolute infancy, a boutique label built off of his work with R&B acts Jodeci and Mary J. Blige. Even they could have shown up and soaked in a few cheers from the Toyota Center faithful. When the tour DJ played records from both, every aunt, old-school player and young'un who may have been conceived to either of the two belted out “I’m Going Down” and “Come and Talk to Me” as if they were in the studio getting direction from Puff himself.

Twenty-two years later, Puff still has the energy of a man half his age. He diddy-bopped, shimmied and danced as if there were no point in turning back. He was bringing the future out of himself, cutting through Bad Boy’s biggest arc from 1995 to 2000 in such rapid succession that it was hard to sit down, let alone keep up. Banger after banger, nostalgic moment after nostalgic moment. Each time a member of the Family appeared, the crowd lost it. When Lil’ Kim rose from the floor in her classic Hardcore squat, it felt like 1996 all over again and she once more became the most provocative woman in hip-hop.

The Tour has brought on its fair share of extended family members as time has progressed. Dallas got hometown queen Erykah Badu on Wednesday night, so Houston upped the ante with Bun B sliding through for a performance of “Draped Up” and the loudest, most vociferous singalong of “International Players Anthem” you could find. All Puff could do was watch from afar, thrilled to at least take a minor rest before getting back to handling master of ceremony duties. However, literally no one found himself stuck to the floor when DMX appeared with his trademark growl and bite. Even though he was advertised on the bill, no one truly knew if X would appear — his last actual Houston date (not counting his brief 2014 FPSF appearance) coming five years ago with Scarface at House of Blues. X shut out all the doubt, all the demons and for 15 minutes reminded us of why he was the biggest rapper on the planet in 1998.

“What’s My Name?” segued into “What These Bitches Want?” then slid into “Get at Me Dog." By the time X cranked “Ruff Ryders Anthem” into play, Toyota Center was in mass hysteria. X won everything Thursday night, including the very crowd that had constantly switched from being on their feet to jumping all night.

As meticulous and manicured a tour it’s been, Puff managed not only to keep all egos at bay but even laid out the set list for everyone to even catch their breath. Houston didn’t have too many diehard LOX fans, but they knew “We Gon’ Make It” and “Good Times” from Jadakiss and Styles P, respectively. Carl Thomas and his trademark turtleneck allowed for a little levity (and heartbreak, depending on how you treat his debut album). Faith Evans, who immediately moved into ultimate seductress around “I Love You” in 2000, still showed off the vocal registry to render a younger singer motionless and many a man spellbound. Lil’ Kim showed flashes of old, ignoring the slight debacle of her VH1 Honors flubbing and got through her set thanks to crowd energy and her backing vocals. You could argue the only down part was the fact that certain classics weren't performed, like "Money, Power, Respect" or even "Crush On You." Even French Montana, the one Bad Boy act of this generation slotted onto the tour, got things moving in the right way.

The legacy of Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs can’t really be condensed into a paragraph, but I’ll try. At 19, he was the boy king of urban music. By his mid-twenties, he was a millionaire mogul turned accidental rapper behind the highest-selling non-Notorious B.I.G. album on his label. By his thirties, he had cultivated his brand into a clothing line and vodka, threatened us on some Harlem Patrick Henry shit with “Vote Or Die,” and given us one of the world’s more infamous reality TV shows in Making the Band. In his forties, he’s created an entire television platform in Revolt and continued to inch closer to billionaire status, all while never redesigning himself or declaring himself to be anything other than a smooth kid from Harlem.

There’s plenty of interplay to be seen at the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour. Puff can take jabs at old Suge Knight disses that have now been woven into his history (“I’m the one dancing, all up in the videos…”), he can faux give you R. Kelly and Lenny Williams when trying to sing “Soon As I Get Home” with Evans. There was hardly a moment onstage Thursday night when the largest ghost in the room didn't linger. The Notorious B.I.G.’s presence was felt inside Toyota Center, as the crowd held a minor seance to bring him back to life. Every B.I.G. verse was rapped, a cappella, without stopping. Evans revealed that her album The King & I would be a duet album between her and her late husband. As the show closed with a roster-wide performance of “I’ll Be Missing You” (complete with gospel choir!) and “Mo Money Mo Problems,” the crowd embodied the spirit of the late Christopher Latore George Wallace one more time.

Even as we started heading for the exits, “Hypnotized” blared from the speakers. People still wanted to dance. People still wanted to celebrate. Because as nostalgic as it was to live in the era of Shiny Suit New York City Hip-Hop for nearly three hours, it felt as honest and pure and memorable as anything else. Because Puff Daddy believes in the show.

Especially when that show is the best hip-hop show I’ve seen this year.

Do You Need to See this Show? Undoubtably yes. With Kanye West next up to bat in the Toyota Center September trifecta, even I doubt he’s going to be able to match the energy of 46-year-old Puff Daddy & company.

Personal Bias: My Harlem shake didn’t fail me during “Special Delivery." I’d propose to Faith Evans on the spot if I could.

The Crowd: Aunties, uncles, twentysomethings, players, old pimps, tight leather and designer wear just to show off. Women who forwent bras and maybe even underwear; average cup size probably a solid 36D if we’re being honest. If they were trying to sneak into The Tunnel back in the day, they’d be welcomed with open arms.

Random Notebook Dump: When you go to a show like this, you’re bound to run into any and everybody you either grew up with, talked music with or maybe had a crush on. A family reunion within the family reunion; truly some Inception-level shit.

O Let’s Do It
Bad Boy For Life
Hate Me Now
I Get Money

Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down
Been Around the World
Been Around the World (Remix)

It’s Over Now
Dance With Me
Peaches & Cream

No One Else
Tell Me What You Want
Kissin’ You

Mighty D-Block (2 Guns Up)
Last Day
We Gon’ Make It (Jadakiss)
Good Times (Styles P)
Wild Out

Summer Rain
I Wish

No Other Love
I Love You
You Gets No Love
NYC (feat. Jadakiss)
You Used to Love Me
Soon As I Get Home

Hot Nigga (Remix)
No Shoppin
Ain’t Worried ‘Bout Nothin’
Ocho Cinco
Same Damn Time (Remix - Puff Daddy)
Work (Remix)
Pop That

Quiet Storm
Big Momma Thang
No Time
Get Money
Lighters Up

Feel So Good (Ma$e feat. Puff Daddy)
I Need a Girl Pt. 1 (Puff Daddy)
I Need a Girl Pt. 2 (Puff Daddy)
Cupid (112)

What’s My Name
What These Bitches Want
Get At Me Dog
Ruff Ryders Anthem
Party Up

Draped Up
International Players Anthem

Only You (112 feat. Ma$e)
Can’t You See (Total)
Love Like This (Faith Evans)
Whoa (Black Rob)
All the Way Up (French Montana)
Wasting My Time (Christian Combs)
All About the Benjamins (Puff Daddy feat. Jadakiss, Sheek Louch & Lil Kim)
I’ll Be Missing You (Puff Daddy, 112 & Faith Evans feat. A Gospel Choir)
Mo Money, Mo Problems (Puff Daddy & Ma$e)

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