I’d like to start this off with a disclaimer: I do not now, nor have I ever liked Sean Combs as a person, hip hop artist, producer, media mogul, or music video prop. He has always been something of a joke to me, always lurking in the background somewhere, scattering obnoxious ad-libs all over the Notorious BIG catalog, and, in the wake of BIG’s passing, trotting out a veritable army of marginally talented street rap sensations, loverman MCs, Biggie clones, and ill-fated singing groups. I never made it all the way through any of his albums, not even No Way Out, the one EVERYBODY has lying around somewhere as testament to the poor taste of confused youth. The only role I have ever enjoyed seeing Combs play is the asshole, the stern super-serious business man who broke hearts year after year shadily dismantling bands and making post-Bad Boy careers into rocky rides. That, I felt, was truer to what I understand of the man. In short, I fucking hate him, and I certainly wanted to hate his new album. But a funny thing happened after I pressed play. I liked it. A lot. I’m not gonna mince words: Last Train To Paris is good. It’s a beast, blessed by a talented coalition of the biggest and most expensive producers, guests, and writers that money can buy.
Last Train To Paris is Diddy’s 808s & Heartbreak, a concept album teeming with hurt and anguish over lost love. Last Train differs from its obvious predecessor in that it is much more interested in making you dance than turning a magnifying glass to a broken heart. All the crestfallen woe-is-me-isms are still present, but the instrumentals underneath rarely match the wounded cynicism of their lyrical counterparts. The beats on Last Train To Paris are compelling almost unto the point of showing up the rest of the music. While Chris Brown is busy whining about love being his funeral on “Yesterday”, Mario Winans fits an echoing, descending synth sequence over cavernous bass drums and strings. “Yesterday” is one banging ass funeral. Elsewhere wonky, flatulent synths and busy hi hats adorn “Looking for Love”, and on “Strobe Lights”, a symphony of ping ponging synth sounds do all the heavy lifting while Diddy coasts over the instrumental, dropping gems like “Bitch, you don’t love me no more.” It’s his record, but he is famously good for taking a backseat to his more talented compatriots where necessary.
The man himself only maintains a spectral presence throughout the album (thankfully), popping up for the odd couplet or verse here and there. While his lyrics, as usual, range from passable to laughable, at the very least, they are always entertaining. All of this is thanks to his stable of cowriters, which, glancing at Last Train To Paris’s writing credits, includes Drake, Rick Ross, J. Cole, etc. They have pumped this record full of hilarious, self-aware zingers like “Bitch you know I’m Diddy, ho!” in “Your Love” and “I feel disgusted/ People say I’m not to be trusted.” in “Someone to Love Me.” This is a party record, and with melodies as syrupy and beats as banging as these, your enjoyment of this thing will largely depend on your ability to tune out or laugh at Diddy’s antics.
At the end of the day, this is a fun ass record, and it’s really on you as to whether you enjoy it or not. Diddy lined up all the chips, called in all the best producers, the best writers, and the most in demand guests. Yeah, the lyricism here is a joke (“Let your tongue walk on this pussy!”), barring a few choice guest spots from the likes of T.I., Lil Wayne, Biggie, etc. But really, listening to a Diddy record for the lyrics is kinda like going to Denny’s for the steak. Where they do that at? This is dance music. It is not meant to be taken seriously or held up under a microscope. It’s about grooves and vibes and tunes. Last Train To Paris has all of those in spades. Shit is state of the art. Firing on all cylinders. Take off the thinking cap and enjoy some pure, surface pop.