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P. Diddy & the Bad Boy Family

And what a trite saga it is. Following his well-publicized criminal trial and subsequent acquittal, Sean "Puffy" Combs has slithered back into the spotlight boasting a brand-new name. Now answering to P. Diddy -- which sounds more like a pesky urinary tract infection than a fearsome hip-hop chieftain -- Combs has released his first album since his disappointing 1999 platter, Forever. But anyone hoping for insight into the aftermath of his controversial legal travails will be sorely disappointed. Featuring performances by Combs's Bad Boy Records labelmates, The Saga Continues... offers fans a reheated helping of Combs's own pseudo-gangsta rap. Though they're not really street thugs, Combs and crew vainly attempt to convince us that they're the baddest mufuckas on the block, but methinks they doth protest too much.

The Saga Continues... is among the biggest botched opportunities in pop-music history. Moreover it illustrates just how constraining hip-hop careers can be. In the wake of the aforementioned trial -- not to mention the shooting death of his friend Notorious B.I.G. -- Combs could have used the spotlight to examine the complexities of the gangsta-rap lifestyle. But when your megamillion-dollar empire is dubbed Bad Boy Entertainment, it's disingenuous to clean up your act. Combs has an image to uphold, and the savvy producer, rapper, and multimedia baron plays to type on The Saga. Assisted by Faith Evans, Black Rob, G. Dep, Loon, and others, Combs spends the entire Saga bragging about his wealth and stature. This isn't a record, it's a commercial.

Almost thoroughly devoid of insight, The Saga Continues... is a nightmarish monument to Combs's mediocrity. Though there are 24 featured tracks, only a handful of rhymes and melodies glom to the memory. Worst of all, Combs's self-obsessed rhymes are guaranteed to tax your patience. He vainly adopts the tone of an Italian mobster on "Shiny Suit Man," but his boyish voice is laughably unauthoritative. The infantile "Where's Sean?" unfolds like the rap equivalent of "Where's Waldo?" Astoundingly lacking in substance, The Saga Continues... chronicles the delusions and insecurities of a modern media mogul. Perhaps he should change his name to P. Thetic.

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