"I never got the award for [being] the best lyricist, but I was definitely up there for being one of the best marketers," Diddy tells Billboard.
On Wednesday (June 19), Revolt TV, the upcoming music cable network spearheaded by Sean "Diddy" Combs, took a major step forward by announcing a national distribution deal with Time Warner Cable. Combs, Revolt's majority shareholder who will launch the venture this fall along with MTV veteran Andy Schuon, calls Revolt "the most exciting thing I've done in my business career" -- and one that signals a decreased recording output in the near future for the rapper.
"It's an evolution for me," says Combs, whose last official album was the 2010 Diddy-Dirty Money project "Last Train To Paris." "I think I will personally be putting out less music, and I'll be going into that phase of empowering the next artists… I feel a musical and artistic responsibility to do one of the things I do best, which is framing people in the right way and marketing them in the right way. I never got the award for [being] the best lyricist, but I was definitely up there for being one of the best marketers and best coaches. I think that I'm evolving into that, and that's just as fun, even more fun, for me."
In February 2012, Revolt announced a partnership with Comcast -- the United States' largest cable provider with more than 22 million subscribers at the time -- and a 2013 launch date for the network. The deal was part of a diversity initiative from Comcast with the goal of launching four minority-owned networks, with NBA star Magic Johnson and director Robert Rodriguez also scoring distribution deals for their projects.
The newly unveiled Time Warner partnership adds nearly 12 million current customers to Revolt's potential viewership when the channel debuts later this year, with programs that Combs says will carry a certain "rawness" to them to complement the heavy emphasis on airing music videos.
"We will not be doing a bunch of reality shows," says Combs, alluding to the current lack of music programming on MTV. "We'll be doing music-driven shows that will be exposing you to the discovery and curation of new talent. We'll also be doing in-depth interviews and shows that will go into social issues with different panels and debaters of the culture. We'll be doing our version of a Barbara Walters/Oprah interview, but with someone from this generation, and of this generation. We'll be going to where the pulse of music is happening, and we'll be covering it in the way ESPN will cover a sports story, with that level of urgency and seriousness."
Combs acknowledges that his personal affinity for music videos has colored his desire to turn Revolt into a hub for the art form; the 43-year-old says that he "can't imagine" his life without having watched the iconic "Thriller" or "Walk This Way" clips at a young age. And although current music videos are largely constructed with minuscule budgets and digested for free on computer screens, Combs remembers the thrilling feeling of watching the bombastic, money-burning videos of the mid-90s -- many of which were his own product -- and believes that music fans are still craving that visual limitlessness.
"We were shooting million-dollar videos with [directors] Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek, shooting videos like 'Victory' and using actors like Ben Stiller in 'Bad Boy For Life,' and being able to be creative on a hip-hop level and appeal to the masses," Combs recalls. "It gave me another outlet of expression as an entertainer, a key piece of the experience. Now, that key piece is missing. Now, you find a video and you may see it for the first time on your phone, and you may not see the details of it or feel the emotion of it. Every director wants to see their video on the big screen and framed in the right light."
The launch of Revolt TV will follow a period in which Combs' focus has swiveled away from his output as a musician: after releasing three full-lengths and a remix album between 1997 and 2002, Diddy has only issued two albums, 2006's "Press Play" and the more experimental "Last Train To Paris," since then. Instead, Combs has spent the past decade expanding his portfolio as an entrepreneur. His equity stake in Diageo's Ciroc, inked in 2007, has netted the mogul over $100 million in revenue over the last six years, and helped the then-struggling vodka become a leader in its category. It's also inspired over a dozen copycat deals in its wake (Pitbull's Voli, Ne-Yo's Malibu Red, Kid Rock's stake in Jim a Beam, etc.) and prompted Diddy to dub himself "Ciroc Obama." Add his clothing lines Sean John and Enyce, his investment in marketing firm Blue Flame, and it's no surprise Diddy was named Forbes' No. 1 Wealthiest Hip-Hop Artist in 2012, with earnings of $550 million.
Although details on the specific shows airing on Revolt and Combs' involvement in each of them remain scarce, Combs wants to make it clear that he will not be the star of his latest project.
"This is not 'The Diddy Channel,'" he says. "This is the channel for the artist, for the fans, and the new contemporary art forms… It's going to take a long time to do it right and it's going to be hard, but I'm up to the challenge."
[Additional reporting by Andrew Hampp, N.Y.]