Oprah: Did you grow up longing for your father?
Sean: No. My mother played the role of a father, and my grandmother played the role of my mother. One day when I was about 9, I went to the store for my grandmother, and someone stole my money. I came home crying. My mother wouldn't let me in the house. She said, "Go back out there and get that money—and if anyone ever puts their hands on you, make sure they never do it again." She knew the reality—if people smell weakness, they take advantage of you. You have to defend yourself. On the other hand, my grandmother was like, "Come here, baby. I'll walk with you to the store." I'm not saying that my mom would never have let me in the house that day, but she was trying to teach me a lesson.
Oprah: You met Andre Harrell, who hired you at Uptown Records, when you were 19. Did that feel like a life-defining moment?
Sean: Yes. As I walked through the record company, I knew that it was exactly where I wanted to be. It felt like home.
Oprah: You shot up through the ranks, yet Andre eventually fired you. Did that lead to a kind of freedom?
Sean: I was like a wonder kid at Uptown. The first record I produced sold two million copies—and I'd only produced it because the producer didn't show up. My talent is definitely a gift. I don't understand where it comes from. I don't play an instrument, and I never went to school for music production, but I know exactly how a song should sound and how to give an artist direction.
Anyway, at Uptown, I sold a huge number of records. I was very passionate, and I didn't understand protocol or workplace politics. So I got fired because there can't be two kings in one castle. I wasn't trying to be disrespectful to Andre, but I was fighting so hard. He wanted to be more diplomatic and to make sure everybody felt involved. Getting fired was one of the best things that could have happened to me.
Oprah: What did it teach you?
Sean: It taught me that putting out a record is a team effort. It taught me how to motivate people. It taught me not to get caught up in my own hype. I'm glad I learned that at a young age. But still, I didn't want to go out like that. I didn't want to disappoint the person who put me in the game. Later I made it up to Andre by changing. Then he came and worked for me, so our roles were reversed.
Oprah: How did you get the name Puff Daddy?
Sean: It's a nickname somebody gave me.
Oprah: What does it mean?
Sean: I've never told anyone that. I know you get people to tell you everything, Oprah. But I can't look you in the eye and explain that one.
Oprah: So look away! Did they call you Puff because you were puffed up?
Sean: No, no, no. It's just a silly name.
Oprah: I can see that you're not going to tell me.
Sean: I'll answer every other question.