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On 'Play,' Diddy gets a little help from his friends

The best advice that can be offered to potential consumers of Sean ``Diddy" Combs's new album, ``Press Play," is to obey the titular command and then immediately press fast forward.

The hubris-heaving rapper-producer-actor-fashion-mogul doesn't get to the good stuff until about six songs into this protracted 19 - track, 80 - minute album, out today.

But once Diddy dispenses with the obligatory braggadocio, this pseudo concept album about falling in, out, and back in love with his baby mama , Kim Porter , is admirably banging. (Porter and Diddy have one son and are expecting twin girls.) That Diddy weds his surprisingly sensitive tale to some of the most irresistible grooves he's ever been party to speaks volumes not only about the value in taking time off but asking your friends for help.

Because he's Diddy, his friends have names like Timbaland, Mary J. Blige, Christina Aguilera, Kanye West, Nas, Ciara, and Big Boi. And if that list, plus a dozen other names, makes it sound like the Bad Boy is a guest on his own album, then you get the idea, and it's actually a good one.

On the first few tracks, Diddy works alone to negligible success. The songs seem like meager attempts to either repeat the flashy orchestral sounds of his past -- regurgitated in the thumpy ``We Gon' Make It" -- or be ``edgy" a la the dark, clunky, Roots-y ``The Future," in which he implores listeners to ``mainline this Diddy heroin." Don't do it, it's a bad buzz.

While the appearance of a Pussycat Doll would hardly seem to be a beacon of hope, the turn from boilerplate hip-hop to lightweight dance - pop that occurs during ``Come to Me," his frothy duet with head PCD Nicole Scherzinger , is when things start to get interesting.

From there a story of lust at first sight on the dance floor to love match to break up to make up is told in a series of tracks that swing and swirl with innovative keyboard loops and beats sure to move feet.

Aguilera drops in for the sultry bouncer ``Tell Me," and Blige kills the throwback soul jam ``Making It Hard." Both divas underdo it for a welcome change of pace.

If Diddy is the weakest link on his own album -- enough with the songs about private planes, Patron, and being friends with Biggie -- he didn't get where he is by being a fool. The man is smart enough to put some heavyweights on this chain.

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