“I think Tribeca’s the perfect festival for it, because it really is—bottom line—about some kids from New York, and about the landscape of New York, kind of as a microcosm for the landscape of America, and how America has changed in the last 20 years for young black men,” Daniel Kaufman says, setting up his directorial debut, hip-hop documentary Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story.
“A lot hasn’t changed, but in terms of our culture in the music world, so much has changed,” he continues. “Puff [Daddy] helped sort of thrust hip-hop into the mainstream, from the streets to pop music radio, and you see that changing landscape of America, and changing skyline of New York, in the movie.”
With the tragic and untimely passing of iconic director Jonathan Demme, one thinks—among other things—about his contributions in the arena of the concert film, particularly with regard to his 1984 Talking Heads doc, Stop Making Sense. With Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop—premiering last night in New York, followed by a live concert featuring Sean Combs, Mase, Lil’ Kim and Faith Evans—Kaufman lends a sense of hope for the future of the genre.
“The documentary is sort of about these frantic three weeks, as cultural icon Puff Daddy is preparing this massive reunion concert. It’s one night only, it’s at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and it’s on the anniversary of Notorious B.I.G.’s birthday,” Kaufman explains. “A lot of the people that were coming together on stage hadn’t been together on stage for like 17 years, so there’s a lot of heated drama, and it kind of intertwines the drama of the rehearsals with the history of the record label.”
Through fascinating archival footage, Kaufman’s doc reveals a young and humble Sean Combs and his transformation into the incredibly confident, self-actualizing icon we know today. The doc also tells how Bad Boy Records came to be and flourish, and how certain tragic events—particularly the death of rapper The Notorious B.I.G.—changed everything.
Making his documentary—produced by Live Nation Productions—Kaufman was amazed at the access he was granted, working alongside Sean “Diddy” Combs, as he entered into one of the most vibrant and culturally significant musical communities of the last few decades.
“For a white 28-year-old filmmaker just like walking into [Combs’] house for the first time, I was kind of amazed at how trusting he was. That was definitely a process, but he kept saying like, ‘I want to liberate you to make your own decisions,'” the director says. “It was kind of hard for me to adjust to that, but he kind of held true to that throughout the process.”
In collaborating closely with Puff Daddy, Kaufman was struck by his work ethic and the way in which he pushes people to do their best work. “Puff, he’s very intimidating, and like a lot of his collaborators say in the movie, he demands the best out of people, and really pushes you, and loves to live in chaos, but that chaos is an environment out of which he’s created these incredible pop hits,” he says. “If you’re not rolling right away, or if you’re slow to get in a room or something like that, you feel it. You feel that fire, but at the end of the day when he sees something good, he knows it, and he trusts it. That was kind of a remarkable experience.”
Between the myriad iconic performers present in the documentary—including Lil’ Kim, Mase, Faith Evans, Mario Winans, 112, Total, Carl Thomas, and The Lox—Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop is a story of the American Dream, of individuals who came from nothing to build an unforgettable and highly influential cultural empire.
For Kaufman, the takeaway of the doc, and of Puff’s story, is its inspirational nature, rooted in the idea that if you work hard enough, you can realize any ambition. “Like he says in the movie—he’s like, ‘My life don’t work like that. I can make anything happen.’ He firmly believes that, and often despite considering the consequences, he does actualize,” he says. “I feel like that’s sort of the quality that people should take away from the movie, that fierce pursuit of the American dream. If you do chase hard enough, you really can do anything.”