NEW TORK - One of the biggest forces in hip-hop, Diddy has long since made his mark in the world of business. In a surprise return to music, he asks: what if street hustlers similarly redirected their talents?
The New York rap mogul - also known by his stage name Puff Daddy and his real name Sean Combs - celebrated his 46th birthday Wednesday with a gift to others in the form of an unexpected free album.
Entitled "MMM," the mixtape brings together Diddy and younger talent in the hip-hop world including French Montana, Future and Wiz Khalifa.
"MMM" takes as its inspiration "Money Making Mitch," a character from the 2002 movie "Paid in Full" that depicted drug-dealing in New York before the crack craze of the 1980s.
Explaining "MMM" on his Instagram account, Diddy described the mixtape as a "sonic motion picture" and an "ultimate hustler's fairy tale."
Diddy, who was born in a public housing project and is now estimated to be the richest person in hip-hop, dedicated the album to all people aspiring to make ends meet who "know that one day they are going to be the greatest because they have something special."
Diddy - who only recently began to speak about his father, a drug dealer shot dead when the future rapper was three years old - opens "MMM" with a reimagining of Mitch and the "fairy tale" that the film character represented.
"The fairy tale of it is most brothers and sisters end up dead or in jail," Diddy says in a spoken-word introduction.
"But check this out, with this fairy tale I created in my brain: Imagine if Mitch had survived, took those different talents and attributes and business skills and applied it to the world of business," he says.
As if drawing a direct link, Diddy envisions a flight of "Combs Air" as the plane descends on New York.
From the fictional window, Diddy offers a highly personalized vision of the metropolis. Harlem, one of the great hubs of African-American culture, is identified as the home of Puff Daddy while the flight attendant sums up Brooklyn as the base of the Notorious B.I.G., the slain rap giant who was signed by Diddy when he was a young record label entrepreneur.
"MMM" partly mirrors a long-awaited work by a sometime rival - "Compton" by Dr. Dre, another rapper turned businessman.
Dr. Dre released the album in August as a career-capping ode to the benighted Los Angeles-area city as Hollywood released the biopic "Straight Outta Compton" on his former group N.W.A.
Much like "MMM," "Compton" drew on new talent - in Dr. Dre's case, Kendrick Lamar - and reminisced about a late rap collaborator, Eazy-E.
But Diddy has long spoken of the "MMM" mixtape project and it does not appear intended as his last work.
While the distinction between albums and mixtapes has increasingly become blurred in hip-hop, Diddy has said he is working on a sequel to his debut 1997 work "No Way Out" to serve as his final album.
Diddy has rarely performed in recent years and has not released an album of his own since "Last Train to Paris" in 2010.
He worked on a 2011 album with Israeli DJ Guy Gerber, and the electronica influence can be heard subtly throughout "MMM," with Diddy equally comfortable with techno-inspired beats as he is with classic hip-hop.
Wealth magazine Forbes earlier this year estimated that Diddy was the richest person in hip-hop, with a worth of $735 million, topping fellow moguls Dr. Dre and Jay Z.
In addition to music, Diddy has pursued movie production, a clothing line and a venture that sells French-made Ciroc liquor.
"See my Oscars and Grammys, yachts in Miami," Diddy boasts on the title track of "MMM." But Diddy also makes clear how he earned his wealth - and why he is often heard rather than seen - on his track "Workin." "Don't bother me," he raps. "I'm workin'."