Originally from Harlem, New York City, Combs began attending Howard University in Washington, D.C. before becoming an intern at Uptown Records. Only a few months later, Combs was an A&R executive, and helped produce Father's Day (Father MC; 1990), What's the 411? (Mary J. Blige; 1992), Blue Funk (Heavy D & the Boyz; 1992) before being fired in 1993. Combs set up his own label, Bad Boy Entertainment, and soon signed Craig Mack and the Notorious B.I.G.. Both quickly released hit singles, followed by similarly successful LPs, particularly B.I.G.'s Ready to Die. Puff Daddy, as he was then known, began signing more acts to Bad Boy, including Faith Evans, 112 and Total, as well as producing for Lil' Kim, TLC, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, SWV, Aretha Franklin and others. Mase and The Lox soon joined Bad Boy, just as a widely publicized rivalry with the West Coast's Death Row Records. Puffy and Notorious B.I.G. were allied against Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight, trading insults in songs and interviews during the mid 1990s. Shakur was murdered by unknown persons in 1996. Six months later, in March of 1997, the Notorious B.I.G. was also murdered. Both cases remain unsolved. Biggie's second album was a huge posthumous success.
Puff Daddy began his own career in 1997, releasing "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down", followed by "I'll Be Missing You". Both singles were successful, though "I'll Be Missing You" (a tribute to Biggie with guests Faith Evans and 112) was heavily criticized for sampling The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and adding little. Puff Daddy, plus various labelmates known as the Family, released No Way Out, an LP, in 1998. The album also produced the hit singles "It's All About The Benjamins," which featured Lil Kim, The Lox and The Notorious B.I.G. and had a popular rock remix, which was worked on by Rob Zombie and the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl, among others; and "Been Around The World," a song that featured Puffy's lablemate, Mase, and the late Notorious B.I.G., and was probably best remembered for having sampled David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and Lisa Stansfield's "All Around The World". The song's video starred many celebrities, such as Wyclef Jean, Quincy Jones, and Puff Daddy's future love interest, Jennifer Lopez. "I'll Be Missing You" won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, while No Way Out won Best Rap Album. Puffy's follow-up was 1999's failed Forever, which was a commercial failure and no more well-reviewed than No Way Out.
On April 15, 2000, Puffy was accused of beating Steve Stoute of Interscope Records. Stoute was the manager for Nas, whose video for "Hate Me Now" (off I Am) featured Puffy being crucified. Though Puffy had willingly filmed the video earlier that year, he demanded that the images be removed. Stoute's refusal led to an argument and Puffy's arrest for assault. This was followed by a yet more negative publicity as The Lox left Bad Boy Records, and a recording session with Lil' Kim and Lil' Cease was interrupted by gunfire. Most importantly, Puffy and his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, were at Club New York, a midtown Manhattan nightclub, when gunfire broke out. After a police investigation, Puffy and fellow rapper Shyne were arrested for weapons violations and other charges. Puffy was indicted after a huge blow to his case; his driver claimed that Puffy had tried to bribe him into taking the weapon after the shooting. With bribery charges added to the bill, Puffy was being attacked in the tabloids on a near daily basis. Before the trial was over, Puffy found himself in court on numerous civil charges. One was from a girl who claimed to have been mentally scarred at a party ten years before, and another was for sampling a phone conversation without permission. His driver and the club owner also sued before the shooting charges even made it to trial. With a gag order in place, the highly-publicized trial began. His attorney was Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. A talent agency then sued Puffy for unfair competition, as did a woman who rented an apartment owned by Puffy; she claimed he refused to rid the house of vermin. Puffy then launched his own lawsuit against a writer who did not follow through on an alleged agreement to help write his autobiography. Puffy was soon acquitted of all charges relating to the shooting incident, followed almost immediately by a break-up with Lopez. With the media circus over, Puffy changed his name to P. Diddy.
P. Diddy tried to reinvent his image, but was once again in court facing assault charges from a Michigan television host, and then was arrested for driving on a suspended license in Florida. In spite of continuing legal problems, P. Diddy released a much-delayed gospel album, Thank You, as well as a solo hip hop LP, The Saga Continues. After yet more legal problems stemming from an accusation of reckless driving by the Miami police, Puffy began working with a series of unusual (for him) artists. A collaboration with David Bowie appeared on the soundtrack to Training Day, while Puffy began working with Britney Spears and *N Sync.
This was followed by a serious set-back for Bad Boy Record when Arista Records stopped distributing Bad Boy releases. Faith Evans left the label, and 112 almost did, though P. Diddy filed a restraining order to keep them aboard. As a result, Bad Boy Records was formed as an independent record company.
Later in 2002, he made his own reality show on MTV called Making the Band 2, the sequel to the first Making the Band. In it, contestants compete to be in a new group on Bad Boy Records. The six finalists have to come up with their name, CD and video.
In 2003 P. Diddy ran the New York marathon and raised $2,000,000 for the educational system for the children of New York. He appeared on the March 10, 2004 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss the marathon.