25 Years Ago: Puff Daddy Rips Off the Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’
Music lost one of its most promising talents when the Notorious B.I.G died at the age of 24 as the result of a Los Angeles drive-by shooting in 1997.
His friends grieved especially. Sean Combs, who's been known as Puff Daddy and Diddy, had been close with B.I.G. since the very beginning: B.I.G. signed to Combs' label Bad Boy Records when it first launched in 1993. Combs also produced and added vocals to several of the tracks on B.I.G.'s debut album, 1994's Ready to Die.
“You get guilt when you lose a friend,” Combs told People magazine in 2017. “It could’ve been you. You have to deal with that. It’s a heavy thing.”
After the Notorious B.I.G.'s death, Combs chose to pay tribute by releasing a song titled "I'll Be Missing You" on May 27, 1997: "Memories give me the strength I need to proceed / Strength I need to believe / My thoughts big I just can't define / Wish I could turn back the hands of time."
"I'll Be Missing You" was an instant hit, debuting at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and winning a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.
There was one group, however, who was left out of the success: the Police, whose 1983 song "Every Breath You Take," was heavily sampled throughout "I'll Be Missing You." Combs lifted Andy Summers' famous guitar riff as well as the melody of its chorus, which was sung by Smalls' widow, Faith Evans.
Listen to Puff Daddy's 'I'll Be Missing You'
Summers wasn't even aware of the sampling until one of his children pointed it out.
“My 10-year-old came in the house and came over," Summers later told UCR. "He goes, ‘Hey Dad, I want you to come listen to my radio in the room. There’s a guy who is completely doing your guitar thing.’ I went in and it was the first time I’d heard Puff Daddy and whatever he called that song. I went, ‘Oh my God.’”
The Police immediately sprang into action. “We went from there and called the manager,” Summers said. “I think we ended up settling out of court and we got some kind of royalty. But I mean, I think he sold 30 million singles with that track or something, and we didn’t get anything out of it.”
More specifically, Summers didn't get anything out of it. Sting was the only credited writer of "Every Breath You Take," and had not permitted its sampling. He was subsequently awarded 100% of the royalties on “I’ll Be Missing You."
Summers was awarded nothing in what he described years later as the “major rip-off of all time."
"He actually sampled my guitar, and that’s what he based his whole track on," Summers said. "Stewart [Copeland]’s not on it. Sting’s not on it. I’d be walking around Tower Records, and the fucking thing would be playing over and over. It was very bizarre while it lasted."