By Tom Sinclair
September 03, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Puff Daddy wants you to feel his pain. He’d like you to know that like pimpin’, being a millionaire rap star ain’t easy. In fact, for a righteous brother like himself, it’s a stone bitch. He still grieves for his late buddy the Notorious B.I.G. He feels bad about the beating he allegedly put on a record exec in that silly misunderstanding about the Nas video. And he can’t fathom why all those playa haters resent his success so much.

So Puff Daddy (a.k.a. Sean ”Puffy” Combs) has decided to tell us about his troubles on Forever, a 70-minute opus brimming with megalomania, paranoia, and a comically solipsistic worldview. Such Nixonesque attributes may be endemic to latter-day hip-hop artists, but our man fecklessly takes things to absurd extremes. The album kicks off with references to B.I.G.’s death and Puffy’s alleged violent act, followed by this odd prayer: ”In my distress, I prayed to the Lord … Though hostile nations surrounded me, I destroyed them all … Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But his self-serving piety doesn’t end there. ”My Best Friend” (built around a sample of Christopher Cross’ saccharine 1980 trifle ”Sailing”) finds him proclaiming ”Power of the truth is shootin’ through my Timberlands/Here is my Lord Jesus Christ, my best friend again.”

Now, far be it from me to belittle another man’s spiritual beliefs. But in the context of Forever — a record filled with talk about guns, violence, and retribution — such attempts to stake the moral high ground seem glaringly specious. Like a rich thug who hires out his dirty work, Puffy disingenuously lets his big-name guests (Redman, Bizzy Bone, Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim) handle the more antisocial rhymes, occasionally egging them on in his curiously dead monotone.

Yet as reprehensible as his game is, you can’t help but feel for the guy — he’s apparently worried about his mortality. ”Cats in the street treat me like a marked man”; ”livin’ my life on the run with these niggas comin’ after me.” It makes for morbidly fascinating listening — frankly, picking out the instances of lyrical alarmism is more fun than playing spot-the-sample. This time out, Puffy apparently dug past the first layers of his CD collection to come up with unexpected source material from Al Green, Ryo Kawasaki, and Earth, Wind & Fire, among others. (Hey — artistic growth!)

But don’t waste too much time pitying the cat. Forever will probably be a monster: It’s state-of-the-art hip-hop, all gut-punching bass, spook-show keyboards, and rapid-fire verbal bombs — the kind of stuff core audiences hunger for. With God ostensibly on his side, the dude will probably be around … forever.

Here’s wishing similar longevity to newcomer Vitamin C (a.k.a. Colleen Fitzpatrick), a refugee from a failed combo called Eve’s Plum whose solo debut, Vitamin C, sounds like the unabashedly great pop album the Spice Girls might have made (but never quite did). She recently landed on the charts with a charming slice of dancehall pop called ”Smile,” and that’s exactly what her album makes me do. Like Puffy, she samples what she pleases, building some swell tunes around bits borrowed from Santana, Digital Underground, and the Clash. And give that gal bonus points for working an allusion to Mott the Hoople’s ”All the Young Dudes” into the closer, ”Graduation (Friends Forever).” Hell, you go listen to Puffy rap all night about his near-suicidal recklessness, or his relationship to a higher power, or his impending death if you want. Me, I’m all about another dose of Vitamin C.
Forever: B-
Vitamin C: A-