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Bad Boy for Life

s he took
the stage at the BET Awards in June 2022 to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, Sean “Diddy” Combs was elated. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” he bellowed, punctuating his words with triumphant jumps. The adoring crowd — who gave him a sustained standing ovation — included his mother and children, longtime friends, and music-industry peers Kanye West, Janelle Monáe, Babyface, and Lil Wayne. After three decades of relentless hustling that took him from hungry teenage intern to A&R executive, producer, label impresario, respected fashion designer, and household brand name, Diddy had seemingly reached the apotheosis of his career.

He closed his eyes and repeatedly thanked God. He got down on one knee and praised his mother. He name-checked a laundry list of people who’d mentored and inspired him. “Anything I do is through love,” Combs proclaimed early in a nine-minute speech. “That’s what I evolved to be, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”

But soon, Combs struck a more somber tone. “I was in a dark place for a few years,” he said. “I gotta give a special thank you to the people that was really there for me.” He listed friends and advisers. Then, looking directly into the camera, he added, “Cassie, for holding me down in the dark times. Love.” He raised one hand to make an “L” sign and held his gaze steady, silently, for several seconds.

Combs and Casandra “Cassie” Ventura, a former singer for his iconic Bad Boy record label, had split four years earlier. But he had been openly pining for her ever since. He posted photos of her online and urged her to listen to Michael Jackson’s “The Lady in My Life.” He publicly congratulated her on her first pregnancy with her husband. His comments at the awards show were part of a pattern of behavior — one that had been tormenting Ventura for years. When she learned of her ex’s latest remark, sources say, Ventura was distressed. She was also resolute.

Almost 18 months later, in November 2023, Ventura sued Combs, claiming he held her in a violent form of sexual servitude throughout their relationship and raped her upon their final breakup, in 2018. She invoked Combs’ BET speech in her filing: “For Ms. Ventura, the ‘dark times’ were those she spent trapped by Mr. Combs in a cycle of abuse, violence, and sex trafficking.” She said Combs’ brutal beatings — one of them captured in harrowing hotel surveillance video obtained by CNN in May — left her with bruises, burst lips, black eyes, and extensive trauma. 

Ventura in October 2023, one month before she sued Combs

Emma McIntyre/The Hollywood Reporter/Getty Images

For Grammy-winning songwriter Tiffany Red, a friend of Ventura’s who worked closely with the singer during the height of the alleged abuse, Combs’ words from the BET stage had been a taunt. “It’s like harassment,” she explains. “You’re still fucking with her — leave her alone. Leave her the fuck alone.” 

In the five years after her breakup with Combs, Ventura remained silent. While he was posting about her pregnancy in 2019, she was “negotiating in distress” behind the scenes to escape her Bad Boy contract, Red says. (Despite Ventura signing a 10-album deal in 2006, Bad Boy only released one studio album by her.) Combs was allegedly trying to tie her separation agreement to a non-disparagement clause. “It’s not like we were negotiating with just her record label,” Red says. “We were negotiating with her abuser.” (Through her lawyer, Ventura declined to speak for this article. Combs did not respond to a request for comment on this allegation.)

At some point, Ventura checked herself into a rehabilitation center to deal with the “physical and psychological repercussions” of her time with Combs and found renewed purpose in being a mom, her lawsuit says. When she eventually gathered her strength and stepped forward, a flurry of other lawsuits followed. Five more women have since accused Combs of rape or violent sexual assault dating as far back as 1990 — two of whom claim that Combs secretly recorded their sexual encounters and showed the footage to others without their consent. Music producer Rodney “Lil Rod” Jones also sued, alleging Combs groped his genitals and forced him to “solicit sex workers and perform sex acts to the pleasure of Mr. Combs.”

While Combs would eventually take responsibility for the assault captured on surveillance video, he has vehemently denied all the other allegations against him. The day Ventura filed her complaint, he blasted it as a shakedown based on “outrageous lies.” “For the past six months, Mr. Combs has been subjected to Ms. Ventura’s persistent demand of $30 million, under the threat of writing a damaging book about their relationship, which was unequivocally rejected as blatant blackmail,” his lawyer, Ben Brafman, said. In response, Ventura’s lawyer, Douglas Wigdor, said Combs “offered Ms. Ventura eight figures to silence her and prevent the filing of this lawsuit.” The parties came to an undisclosed settlement within 24 hours of Ventura’s filing. 

When his fourth rape accuser sued in December, Combs, 54, issued another passionate denial: “Enough is enough. For the last couple of weeks, I have sat silently and watched people try to assassinate my character, destroy my reputation and my legacy. Sickening allegations have been made against me by individuals looking for a quick payday. Let me be absolutely clear: I did not do any of the awful things being alleged. I will fight for my name, my family, and for the truth.” 

For many, the lurid allegations against Combs were jarring, in part because he had risen to such great heights as a bankable bon vivant who threw the best parties from New York City to the Hamptons to Hollywood. He’s the pop-culture stalwart who walked under a parasol held by his campy valet Fonzworth Bentley in Saint-Tropez and turned up at a Met Gala in a Swarovski crystal-encrusted tuxedo and floor-length cape. He rapped about Bentleys and Benjamins and held court at his over-the-top annual White Parties attended by Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and Martha Stewart. He called himself the Great Gatsby and considered circus showman P.T. Barnum his “muse.” 

Now, the spotlight Combs constantly chased is trained on his alleged crimes. In staggering scenes that underscored his fall from grace, heavily armed Homeland Security agents stormed his sprawling Los Angeles and Miami estates as part of a federal sex-trafficking investigation on March 25. Investigators tore through his offices and bedrooms, leaving cables dangling from a command center and multiple safes wide open. Three gleaming Grammys and an Oscar sat atop a gutted console like relics of a crumbling regime. A crestfallen Combs was later seen alone, a cell phone hanging useless in his hand as he slowly paced around Miami-Opa Locka airport. His vacation in the Bahamas was canceled, his once-fortified homes breached, his adult sons handcuffed, and his empire on the brink.

While the raids made global headlines, the silence from Combs’ famous friends was palpable. This felt different than before, when he could use a checkbook, a high-powered attorney, and a media blitz to overcome scrapes with the law; when his charisma, influence, and connections would allow him to shake off allegations of violence or outcry from his disfranchised artists. “Reparations is getting closer and closer,” former Bad Boy artist Mase said a day after the raids. “The big payback.”

Over the past six months, Rolling Stone conducted dozens of interviews with Combs’  former friends, acquaintances, employees, and Bad Boy artists as well as industry insiders. Out of 300-plus people contacted for this investigation, more than 50 were willing to speak about their experiences. Several would do so only off the record, citing a fear of retribution. (Some requested compensation in exchange for their stories. Rolling Stone does not pay for interviews.) Many declined to participate, wanting to distance themselves from Combs. “[I’m] trying to leave that part of my life behind me,” says one former employee. 

Those who did speak about Combs describe a complicated man with opposing personas. Outwardly, they see a tastemaker who is unapologetically driven, generous, and jovial, even silly at times. He can be the same privately, but associates who got close enough to him discovered something darker behind the facade: a menacing figure who desperately wants to be accepted and admired, who uses public declarations of devotion, splashy donations, and boasts that he is “Brother Love” to hide an undercurrent of alleged abuse and violence that — in one previously unreported allegation — traces back to before his career even started. Combs wielded his growing power to bend people to his will, sources claim, sending staffers to win back onetime girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, beating a label executive bloody after he became romantically involved with Combs’ ex-partner Kim Porter, and allegedly trying to solicit sex from a woman on his payroll. 

As part of this investigation, Rolling Stone sent Combs a detailed list of questions about the new and pending allegations. He did not specifically address any of them. “Mr. Combs cannot comment on settled litigation, will not comment on pending litigation, and cannot address every allegation picked up by the press from any source, no matter how unreliable,” his lawyer, Jonathan Davis, tells Rolling Stone. “We are aware that the proper authorities are conducting a thorough investigation and therefore have confidence any important issues will be addressed in the proper forum, where the rules distinguish facts from fiction.”

Joi Dickerson-Neal, who is suing Combs for sexual assault, tells Rolling Stone that her decision to come forward “isn’t about money. It’s about making sure the world sees that this man who rose to the level of an ‘icon’ is actually sick and has left so many victims in [the wake of his] unpunished disgusting behavior for years.”

Combs and Ventura at her 21st Birthday in 2007 in Las Vegas

Denise Truscello/WireImage

FOR VENTURA, COMBS presented as her flashy, established 37-year-old label boss when he pulled her into a bathroom and forcibly kissed her on her 21st birthday in 2007, leaving her in tears, according to her complaint. She says he was holding the keys to her nascent music career when he pressured her to consume drugs and have sex that same year. Combs quickly became “deeply entrenched” in every aspect of her life, paying for her apartment, having her medical records sent directly to him, and lashing out for perceived slights, the lawsuit says. When Ventura tried to move on and had a brief romantic relationship with musician Kid Cudi in 2011, Combs allegedly beat her. Combs later told Ventura he planned to blow up the rapper’s car in his driveway, the lawsuit claims. In a statement to The New York Times in November, Cudi confirmed that his car exploded. “This is all true,” he said.

In her suit, Ventura says she learned to “blindly” submit to Combs to avoid “vicious beating[s].” Eventually, her lawsuit claims, the abuse extended to sex trafficking, with Combs ordering her to slather herself in oil, get high and drunk, and have intercourse with male sex workers while Combs pleasured himself and filmed the interactions, which he dubbed “freak-offs.” She learned to “disassociate during these horrific encounters,” she says.

The public got a disturbing window into Combs’ treatment of Ventura in the surveillance video unearthed by CNN. In it, a towel-clad Combs is seen pursuing a barefoot and fleeing Ventura after he’d allegedly punched her in the face during a freak-off in a Los Angeles hotel in 2016. At an elevator bank, Combs throws Ventura to the floor, kicks her, stomps on her, and attempts to drag her back to the room before grabbing what appears to be a vase off a table and hurling it in her direction. Ventura describes the incident in her lawsuit and alleges that Combs paid the hotel $50,000 to obtain the footage. 

Screenshot from Combs’ attack on Ventura captured in hotel surveillance footage in 2016

Screenshot via CNN

“After years in silence and darkness, I am finally ready to tell my story, and to speak up on behalf of myself and for the benefit of other women who face violence and abuse in their relationships,” Ventura said in a statement accompanying her lawsuit. “This was an opportunity to speak up about the trauma I have experienced and that I will be recovering from for the rest of my life.”

As Ventura’s damning allegations were on the verge of going public, Combs was strategizing, according to Jones, who produced multiple songs on Combs’ Grammy-nominated 2023 release, The Love Album: Off the Grid. “He detailed how he planned to leverage his relationship with [celebrity pastor] Bishop T.D. Jakes to soften the impact on his public image,” Jones wrote in a sworn declaration in April. (Jakes did not reply to a request for comment.) Publicly, Combs seemingly jumped into overdrive producing positive press. He fulfilled his $1 million promises to his alma mater, Howard University, and the football program at another historically Black college, Jackson State University. He launched Empower Global, an e-commerce platform for Black entrepreneurs. And in dropping his new album — proclaiming he was in his “love era” — he announced that he was giving Bad Boy artists and songwriters their publishing rights back. (Only some artists say they were offered rights back, and Danity Kane’s Aubrey O’Day said she refused because her offer came with a mandatory nondisclosure agreement.)

A year before her breakup with Combs, Ventura conceptualized a short film titled Cassie that appears telling in hindsight. In a voiceover speaking about the film’s fictionalized romance, she says, “How do you just walk away from it and escape it? I just want to be free.”

I. “Puff Is Out Here Acting Crazy. He’s Beating Her.” 

The hotel security footage prompted horrified reactions around the world. Forced to acknowledge his actions, Combs made a rare admission of guilt but tailored it to that incident: “I was fucked up. I hit rock bottom, and I make no excuses.… I take full responsibility for my actions in that video. I’m disgusted.” He claimed he went to therapy and rehab and was “truly sorry.” (Ventura’s lawyers said Combs’ apology showed “his pathetic desperation.”)

Many who watched footage of the assault were stunned — even those who’d known Combs for years. LaJoyce Brookshire, a former publicity executive at Bad Boy, says she was disturbed to learn “that these types of actions could have occurred … and that Puffy could stand in my face the next day with a straight face. That shakes me to my core.” Several women who attended Howard with Combs, however, had seen signs of a controlling and abusive personality decades ago. 

Combs started at the esteemed college in the fall of 1987 and quickly earned a reputation for throwing legendary, rowdy parties. Flamboyant and boisterous, he was often seen driving his convertible around campus and passing out fliers. Though he left after his sophomore year, Combs turned Howard into a pipeline for his enterprises, teaming up with future label execs and producers Harve Pierre, Mark Pitts, and Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie, all key figures in Bad Boy’s early success.

Shante’ Paige, a former A&R executive for Universal Motown Record Group, was among those who say they had positive experiences with Combs at Howard, calling his “iconic” parties a “once-in-a-lifetime type of vibe.” He was a “go-getter” from the start, she says, “always in the know.” 

But other women described previously unreported incidents involving unwanted touching and fits of rage. One woman says she kept “as far away as possible” after Combs “caressed” her back without warning and asked if she would be willing to meet one of his friends. Another former student recalled that Combs “flew off the handle” after she objected to him cutting a cafeteria line.

While the moments may seem small, they showed flashes of danger that would soon explode. A third former student recalls how the future mogul would tap on the window of an English class to get a girlfriend to ditch. The visits became noticeably unwelcome, the classmate tells Rolling Stone. “She would tense up [when Combs appeared],” the student, who sat next to the woman in class, recalls. “He just had a weird control thing. I felt like she was fearful.”

The classmate, who requested anonymity due to fear of retribution, says her concerns were validated when Combs appeared outside the school’s Harriet Tubman Quadrangle dorm and started screaming in a “belligerent” manner for his girlfriend to come outside. The classmate says other women soon began running through the halls, knocking on doors in a panic. They were sounding the alarm that Combs, known then by his nickname “Puff,” was attacking the young woman outside, she recalls.

“Puff is out here acting crazy. He’s beating her,” the fellow students said, according to the classmate. 

“He screamed and hollered and acted a stone fool until she came downstairs,” another Howard student who witnessed the alleged attack tells Rolling Stone. She says Combs used what appeared to be a belt to strike the young woman “all over the place.” Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the incident, the witness said Combs appeared “super angry” and was “screaming at the top of his lungs.” She says he “whupped her butt — like really whupped her butt.” The witness says the woman was clearly terrorized: “She was trying to defend herself a little bit. She was crying. And we were telling him, ‘Get off of her.’ We were screaming for her.” A third source also recalled the alleged assault to Rolling Stone. (The woman at the center of the alleged attack declined comment.) 

COMBS WAS BORN with a short fuse, telling Jet magazine he earned his nickname as a kid because he would “always huff and puff” when he got mad. “I had a temper. That’s why my friend started calling me Puffy,” he said. His mom, Janice, a former kindergarten teacher, described him as a “ham.” Combs barely knew his father, Melvin; a handsome drug dealer working for a Harlem kingpin, he was murdered in 1972 at the age of 33, when Combs was just a toddler. Throughout the years, Combs mourned the loss of a father figure, but Melvin had a profound influence on him nonetheless: “Even if we don’t know our parents, we still have their DNA in us, we have their genes,” Combs has said. “I have his hustler’s mentality, his hustler’s spirit, his drive, his determination, his swag.”

When Janice moved the family from Harlem to the suburb of Mount Vernon, 12 miles north, Combs straddled disparate worlds. In one, he was a defensive back on the football team at his all-boys Catholic high school. In the other, he rode a train to the city, immersing himself in its burgeoning hip-hop scene. “I didn’t know exactly what he would do, but he was blasting me out of the house with his mixing kit I bought him when he was 13, making that noise, scratching those records,” Janice told Vibe in 1993. 

After a taste of celebrity at Howard, Combs itched for more. He was hell-bent on breaking into the music industry, simultaneously attending college and working a part-time internship at Uptown Records back in New York City. It was Uptown artist Heavy D, a neighbor in Mount Vernon, who brokered the job interview after Combs repeatedly badgered the rapper at their local pizza spot, former Uptown A&R VP Kurt Woodley tells Rolling Stone. Combs commuted from Howard for the job, evading the train fare by hiding from the conductor in the bathroom. He dropped out of school to work at Uptown full-time, eventually becoming CEO Andre Harrell’s mentee. 

“It’s not like we were negotiating with just her record label. We were negotiating with her abuser.”

Tiffany Red, friend of Cassie Ventura

Combs’ ascent at Uptown is by now part of his lore. He helped newcomers Mary J. Blige and Jodeci go multiplatinum after reshaping their images. He reinvented the remix and ushered “hip-hop soul” into the cultural lexicon. He threw exclusive “Daddy’s House” parties at the since-shuttered Manhattan hip-hop club Red Zone that even his older Uptown colleagues jockeyed to attend. 

“He had the ability to convince people that whatever he was doing or wherever he was, that was the hot shit,” Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop, tells Rolling Stone. “He understood more than anyone how the innovations of hip-hop — specifically, sampling and using classic rap records as a basis for R&B songs — would be really powerful for a generation.”

As Combs’ star was rising at Uptown, his predatory instincts resurfaced, according to the sexual-assault lawsuit filed by Joi Dickerson-Neal last November. Dickerson-Neal acted opposite Combs in a 1990 music video and received what she considered a “warning” from Bronx rapper Sister Soulja to keep her distance “given his infamous reputation.” (Sister Soulja did not reply to a request for comment.) 

Dickerson-Neal with Combs in a 1990 music video. She alleges Combs raped her in 1991, filming the attack and showing it to others. (He denies the claim.)

Uptown Records

Dickerson-Neal says she “reluctantly” agreed to a dinner date with Combs in January 1991, while she was a college student paying for her studies with a restaurant job. Wary of being alone with him, she requested they dine where she worked. She alleges Combs spiked her drink when she used the restroom and later pressured her into taking a hit off a blunt. She says her legs went “rubbery” a short time later and that Combs raped her at a nearby residence. She also claims Combs filmed the attack and showed the video to others like a trophy. (Through a rep, Combs denied the allegations at the time: “[This] 32-year-old story is made up and not credible. Mr. Combs never assaulted her.” Combs’ lawyers have moved to dismiss the lawsuit, calling the allegation “false, offensive, and salacious.”)

Mike Nice Lewis, who worked with Dickerson-Neal at the short-lived PMD Records, tells Rolling Stone that she confided in him at the office about the alleged sexual assault in the early 1990s. Combs and Bad Boy came up in conversation, and Lewis says Dickerson-Neal’s demeanor abruptly changed. Lewis claims Dickerson-Neal told him that she had a “very bad sexual experience” with Combs, keeping her head down as she talked. “I believe Joi,” he says. “I just knew from what she [was] telling me that it still affected her, even two years later.” Adds Michelle Caiola, attorney for Dickerson-Neal and another accuser, Crystal McKinney: “The amount of irreparable harm to [my clients’] mental health and professional lives cannot be overstated.”

Within hours of Dickerson-Neal filing her complaint, another woman sued Combs for rape. Liza Gardner claims she was 16 in 1990 when she and a friend met Combs and Uptown singer-songwriter Aaron Hall at an MCA Records event in Manhattan. Gardner alleges the men were “very flirtatious and handsy,” feeding the girls drinks and inviting them to Hall’s residence for an “afterparty.” She alleges Combs offered her more alcohol at Hall’s home in New Jersey and forced her into sex despite her protests. While she was still “shocked and traumatized,” trying to get dressed, Hall allegedly “barged into the room, pinned her down” and raped her, too. Gardner claims an “irate” Combs later showed up where she was staying and “began choking” her until she almost “passed out.” Combs feared the women would tell his girlfriend “what he and Hall had done,” the lawsuit claims.

Combs’ legal team denied Gardner’s allegations, calling them a “money grab.” But another woman who says she was with Gardner the night of the alleged attack corroborated many details of Gardner’s lawsuit in a sworn affidavit filed in mid-May. The woman, who is the younger sister of the friend mentioned in Gardner’s complaint, said she has a photo of herself with Gardner and Hall from the evening in question. She recalled frantically looking around Hall’s apartment for her sister and Gardner after they disappeared with Combs and Hall. The then-15-year-old said she walked into a room and saw a man watching “whatever Puffy was doing to Liza.” The woman wrote that she awoke the next morning at a different location where an “upset” Gardner said Combs had just shown up there and “choked” her. (Hall did not respond to a request for comment.)

Back in the Uptown office, Combs’ inflated ego, outsized opinions, and machiavellian scheming were becoming a problem for his peers. He went from internally divisive to openly controversial in December 1991, when he and Heavy D helped organize a celebrity charity basketball game at City College of New York that left nine people dead — aged 15 to 28 — and dozens injured in a stampede. Combs shirked responsibility, claiming he had tried to enlist help from the NYPD and that he had personally administered CPR to several people. But an incident report ordered by then-Mayor David Dinkins faulted him for allowing inexperienced underlings to handle the event planning and found that reckless overpromotion had drawn too many people without tickets to the event. 

With the city investigating possible criminal charges, lawsuits mounting, and rivals pushing Harrell to cut Combs loose, the Uptown exec urged Combs to lie low. A terrified Combs spent months holed up in a Manhattan hotel with his mother, according to Kirk Burrowes, Bad Boy’s co-founding partner and president. (Burrowes was fired from Bad Boy in 1997. In 2003, he sued Combs for allegedly threatening him with a baseball bat and coercing him into signing over his stake in the company. His claims were dismissed as beyond the statute of limitations.) 

After the controversy subsided and Combs returned to Uptown, he still considered himself Harrell’s heir apparent. But his access to his mentor was restricted. He spent much of 1992 producing Blige’s landmark debut, What’s the 411?, gaining redemption in the album’s acclaim. Around this time, he founded his own Uptown imprint, Bad Boy Entertainment, where he could sign his own artists and make extra cash. Burrowes remembers “jealous” Uptown execs referring to Combs as “Satan” and flipping him off as they walked by his small offices in the Uptown building. 

Harrell soured on him, too. As Woodley recalls, Harrell said, “‘I’m gonna fire Puff, he’s getting a little too big for himself. He’s bothering people.’” With pressure mounting, Harrell fired Combs in July 1993. Uptown was supposed to oversee the album release of Combs’ newest signee — Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G. — but Combs was free to find a new home for his fledgling label.

The termination was devastating for Combs, Burrowes says, leaving the 23-year-old “crying buckets of tears” outside the office. “He loved Andre,” Burrowes says. “He loved Uptown. He didn’t understand what Bad Boy was going to be.” 

“I cried for a couple days and felt like I wanted to jump off a building,” Combs told Rolling Stone in 1995. “I think at times I was hard to work with.… Possibly I was doin’ shit that an asshole would do, just abusing the power. But that was only a little bit of the time.”  

II. The Making of a Mogul

Cast out of Uptown and blamed for a tragedy that claimed nine lives, Combs could have faded into obscurity. But he was scrappy and determined, quickly securing a reported $10 million deal from Arista Records’ Clive Davis that kept Bad Boy Entertainment alive. Now, he was helming a skeleton crew eager to turn artists into superstars and cement hip-hop as a mainstream genre. “While the world did not understand the power of hip-hop, I was working in it and watching it unfold,” says Michelle Joyce, Bad Boy’s first director of marketing. “I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t if it was going to pop — it was when.” 

It wasn’t easy. Hours were brutal, pay was low, and the workload intense. Combs expected his small team to make the impossible possible. Brookshire, the former director of publicity for Arista and Bad Boy, recalls Combs demanding she hire a daredevil to scale a skyscraper to promote the band 112. 

The next summer, their work paid off with Craig Mack’s ubiquitous “Flava in Ya Ear” and the Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance.” In the next three years, Bad Boy would become the premiere label for upcoming hip-hop and R&B artists, churning out chart-topping albums from Faith Evans, Total, and 112, and soundtracking clubs and radio stations nationwide. And in Wallace, Bad Boy had a budding superstar — Biggie Smalls, the storytelling genius with the effortless flow. 

Still, Combs was volatile. Burrowes says he once saw Combs attack a woman inside Bad Boy’s office in 1994. He and another ex-employee tell Rolling Stone they had to tear Combs off the woman after hearing screams and the sound of shattering glass. (The woman declined Rolling Stone’s request for comment.) Felicia Newsome, the first manager of Bad Boy’s recording studio, Daddy’s House, says she once held Combs back when he was about to “beat this girl’s ass” after a fight broke out between two women. “I’m holding him by his waist, saying, ‘You need to calm down. This is not your fight,’” Newsome recalls.

April Lampros (right) claims Combs forced her to perform oral sex on him in the mid-1990s.

Former Arista intern April Lampros claims Combs turned violent with her, too. In a lawsuit filed in May, Lampros alleges Combs attacked her in a parking garage in the mid-1990s, forcing her to her knees to perform oral sex. It was one of four “horrific” sexual assaults she says she endured during her on-off relationship with Combs.

As Bad Boy was on the rise, staffers kept Combs’ transgressions quiet, whether out of loyalty, fear, or a belief that such incidents were rare. Outwardly, he was the label’s unceasing hypeman, ad-libbing on tracks and making cameos in his artists’ videos. It was clear he wanted something bigger for himself. “I distinctly remember the day that Clive Davis called and asked me to start garnering press for Puffy just as if he were the artist,” says Brookshire. “Behind his back, I used to call him my problem child, the Notorious V.I.P.” 

Combs got all of the press he wanted when he and his L.A. counterpart, Death Row Records boss Marion “Suge” Knight, became entangled in a yearslong heavyweight hip-hop fight. The pair had once been friendly; Combs even modeled Bad Boy after Death Row, he told Rolling Stone in 1997. But the subsequent rivalry between Biggie and Knight’s charismatic superstar Tupac Shakur would turn into a pyrrhic victory for both labels. 

Combs was fond of Shakur, admiring his ability to marry street credibility with mainstream appeal. Burrowes notes that the Bad Boy team spent the summer of 1993 studying the rapper’s buoyant hit “I Get Around” as a blueprint for a commercial hip-hop record. Desperate to be taken seriously, Combs tried to foster a friendship, but Shakur wasn’t interested. “Pac didn’t have any kind of respect for Puff,” says Nineties hip-hop photographer Monqiue Bunn, who was close with Wallace and other Bad Boy artists. To Shakur and even Wallace, Bunn says, Combs was a “corny executive.” 

Instead, Shakur bonded with Wallace, whom he viewed as his peer, Burrowes remembers. As a result, he says, referring to Combs, “there was someone on the sidelines, jealous.”

Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., and Sean Combs perform in New York in 1993.

Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The friendship would be short-lived. After Shakur was ambushed and shot five times in the lobby of Quad Studios in Times Square in 1994, he blamed Combs and the Bad Boy crew for setting him up, which Combs has always denied. From there, everything “got blown out of proportion,” Bunn says. Bad Boy execs started encouraging Wallace “to write certain songs,” Burrowes says, despite the rapper not “feeling so beefy” with his former friend. With tensions frothing, Combs released Wallace’s single “Who Shot Ya?” in 1995. It was widely viewed as a sneering provocation aimed at Shakur, though Wallace was adamant it wasn’t. Shakur responded with the ferocious “Hit ’Em Up,” pushing hostilities to their peak.

Perhaps seeing a promotional play, Combs stoked the East Coast-West Coast rivalry. The two label heads traded jabs, with Knight cast as the intimidating, cigar-chomping, gang-affiliated boss, and Combs the slick, clean-cut executive.

When a 25-year-old Shakur was murdered in September 1996 in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Knight immediately pointed the finger at Combs, who denied involvement. Some Bad Boy employees received personal death threats soon after. “I didn’t recall reading in the employee manual [that] dodging bullets was a part of my job description,” Brookshire says. (Last September, Compton Crips gang member Duane Keith “Keffe D” Davis was charged with Shakur’s murder. His trial is set to begin in November. Davis has claimed Combs offered $1 million for a hit on Shakur. Combs vehemently denies the claim.)

Six months after Shakur’s death, in March 1997, Wallace, 24, was attending a Soul Train Music Awards afterparty in Los Angeles when a gunman opened fire on his GMC Suburban, killing him. Police consider the homicide an unsolved act of retaliation. 

Multiple reports allege Wallace had been preparing to leave Bad Boy shortly before his death. It didn’t help that Combs had been fighting with Wallace’s attorneys, who were trying to wrest back the rapper’s publishing rights. “I will never give it up until I’m dead and my bones are crushed into powder,” Combs told the lawyers, according to The Big Payback. “[Biggie] was absolutely about to leave Puff,” Bunn says. “I know for a fact [because] he told me that.” Another source adds, “Everybody wanted to leave Puffy. Everybody leaves him.”

“She was crying. And we were telling him, ‘Get off of her.’ We were screaming for her.”

A Howard University student who witnessed an alleged beating

Combs capitalized on the shock and sorrow over Wallace’s death. Brookshire — who had been traveling in the same SUV as Wallace during press events the day before he died — says Combs denied her request for time off to process her grief. Instead, just two weeks after the slaying, she says, Combs ordered her to focus all efforts on Wallace’s upcoming album, Life After Death. Combs demanded it be “Number one, number one, number one, number one, number one. Top 10, top 10, top 10,” she recalls. (It sold nearly 700,000 copies in its first week.) 

When Rolling Stone approached Bad Boy about a cover opportunity a few months after Biggie’s murder, Burrowes claims he advocated for the late rapper to take the spot. “I was telling Sean, ‘Let’s make it Biggie. You still have a chance [for a cover in the future],’” Burrowes recalls. “He’s like ‘No, he’s dead. I’m putting out [Combs’ debut album, No Way Out] in July. I need to be on the cover of Rolling Stone.’”

Combs got his cover. And two years later, he acknowledged how Biggie’s death had been big business. “I think his passing added to the fame,” Combs told Rolling Stone in 1999. “At least 2 million [of the nearly 5 million copies of No Way Out] sold were due to [his death], straight up. And that doesn’t necessarily feel good, but that’s the reality.”

Even Death Row’s fearsome boss — who’s currently serving a 28-year manslaughter sentence and has been labeled a “boogeyman” of hip-hop — said Combs’ behavior was distasteful. “When Pac left, I didn’t pick up a microphone,” Knight said on his prison podcast. “I picked up the pieces.” 

III. “People Did Whatever He Said to Stay in His Good Graces.”

In the late 1990s, fans regularly gathered outside the Daddy’s House studio in midtown Manhattan, angling to see a famous face or pass along a mixtape. “We had built this machine — the hottest hip-hop label in the world — and people started to jockey to get next to Puffy,” Joyce says.

As the new millennium dawned, hip-hop entered its bling era, with Combs and his artists mining the melodies of 1980s pop songs to guarantee commercial hits. They wore matching shiny suits, spit raps about designer socks and yachts, draped themselves in diamonds, and filled their big-budget videos with fawning women and bombastic pyrotechnics.

The label was thriving off Biggie’s legacy and bolstered by rising stars Mase, Shyne, and Black Rob. Combs won Grammys and was nominated for his work with outside artists Mariah Carey and R. Kelly. He entered the upper echelons of New York society, partying with Revlon billionaire Ron Perelman and Donald Trump. “There was a certain narcissism, an attitude of objectifying not just women but all people [and] wanting to be with other men who enjoyed moving people around like chess pieces,” Charnas says of Combs, adding that he was “the standard-bearer for hip-hop as capitalism [and] a social-mobility play.” 

Becoming a dominant force in the industry only seemed to amplify Combs’ bullying behavior. In April 1999, he barged into the office of Interscope Records executive Steve Stoute and allegedly turned violent. Combs was furious that Stoute didn’t cut him from a crucifixion scene in a Nas music video before sending it to MTV. “He punched me in the face, and then he grabbed the phone and bashed me in the head with it,” Stoute recounted to the L.A. Times. Combs privately settled with Stoute, reportedly for $500,000, and dodged a seven-year prison sentence by pleading to a reduced charge of harassment. That summer, Combs released his second album, Forever. The album’s critical and commercial failure — it sold less than half what its predecessor did — hardly diminished Combs’ star power.

Combs is led in handcuffs from the Manhattan South Police precinct in New York City on December 27, 1999.

Mike Segar/Reuters/Redux

A few months later, in December, Combs was arrested after a nightclub shooting in which three people were injured. His newest star Shyne, a.k.a. Jamal Michael Barrow, was convicted of firing the shots and sentenced to 10 years. (Barrow was deported to Belize upon his 2009 release.) Combs, meanwhile, was charged with weapons possession and attempted bribery after he and then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez fled the shooting in a Lincoln Navigator that reportedly ran 11 red lights. 

Combs was facing up to 15 years in prison if convicted. Kevin Rogers Francis, a host at Combs’ restaurant Justin’s who did marketing work for Combs’ short-lived magazine Notorious, recalls the mogul scrambling for money, shuttering the magazine, and hitting the restaurant’s drawers for cash in what Francis presumed was an effort to cover hefty legal bills. 

The prosecutor claimed Combs offered cash to witnesses after some said Combs was the shooter. Victim Natania Reuben has been adamant that Combs fired the bullet that tore through her nose. Combs’ own driver testified that Combs offered him $50,000 — using a $40,000 pinky ring as collateral — if he would say he owned the unlicensed gun found in the SUV. Others have claimed Combs paid as much as $1 million to Barrow through an intermediary to buy his silence. (Barrow denies the claim to Rolling Stone, calling it “ridiculous misinformation.”) After a six-week trial, Combs was acquitted in March 2001.

With his mounting scandals, a tabloid relationship with Lopez, and the popularity of his Sean John clothing line, which launched in 1998, Combs entered the pop-culture stratosphere. It became a point of pride to work for Bad Boy, says former employee Flash Rodriguez: “It wasn’t just a company, it was a lifestyle.”

But Combs was difficult to work for. Employees who wanted to stick around had to learn how to “speak Puffy,” Brookshire and multiple sources say. A demanding boss, Combs often yelled to get his point across and fired employees on a whim. “No one on his team at Bad Boy spoke back to him,” former Daddy’s House studio manager Newsome says. “No one challenged him.” Another source recalls Mase, whose real name is Mason Betha, calling Combs “massa” behind his back. (Betha did not reply to a request for comment.)

“He was so volatile,” says a source who sometimes worked with Bad Boy. “He’s always on the edge of snapping and being scary. People did whatever he said to stay in his good graces … and Puffy exploited people’s desires to be in those environments.” 

IV: “Why Is Nobody Saying Anything? Are They That Scared of Him?”

After Combs’ acquittal in the nightclub shooting in 2001, he reportedly headed straight to church. He later made a less god-fearing visit to the Peninsula Hotel, where he was throwing a massive bash to celebrate the verdict. It was there that “Anna,” a freelance graphic designer working with Bad Boy’s marketing team, says Combs approached her and began to massage her shoulders. (The woman requested a pseudonym, citing fear of retribution.) “I’m getting touched on my shoulder, my arms, my back. He’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, you like that? I know you like that.’ Like really, really gross,” Anna recalls, sharing her story publicly for the first time. “I was like, ‘No, not so much,’ and I sort of floated my way out of there.”

Anna says she avoided Combs the rest of the night. Weeks later, her boss’ girlfriend confided that Combs allegedly approached the boss the night of the party to “solicit me for sex,” Anna says. (A friend confirmed to Rolling Stone that Anna told her about both the encounter and the proposed arrangement when they began working together a few years later. The boss did not return Rolling Stone’s request for an interview and the girlfriend declined to speak.) 

“I felt quite unsettled about this for many years. When people ask me about my days at Bad Boy, it’s just overshadowed by his crap,” Anna says, adding that Combs treated her as though she existed to “accommodate his whims.” 

Combs often flaunted his sexual encounters, even if underage artists were around to see. A teenage Usher briefly lived at Combs’ New York house in the early Nineties as a young Bad Boy protégé. “Puff introduced me to a totally different set of shit — sex, specifically,” Usher recalled to Rolling Stone in 2004. “There was always girls around. You’d open a door and see somebody doing it, or several people in a room having an orgy. You never knew what was going to happen.”

Kasey Sheridan, a member of the teenage girl band Dream, recalls the group being summoned for a meeting with Combs to a Beverly Hills hotel bungalow when she was 15 and awkwardly eyeing a purse and a pair of high heels by the front door as the group waited. After 20 minutes, a bathrobed Combs emerged from a nearby room. “It’s like, you can’t even keep our innocence. I’m 15, walking into this situation knowing exactly what he was doing next door,” Sheridan says. 

Crystal McKinney at a Sean John show in 2003. Hours later, the model alleges Combs forced her to perform oral sex on him.

Gregory Pace/FilmMagic

Feeding off his fame and power, Combs appeared to be pushing his most sickening impulses even further. Model Crystal McKinney was photographed during a star-studded Sean John fashion show in February 2003. Hours later, according to her recent lawsuit, Combs said she was “acting too uptight” and pressured her to take a hit from a “laced” joint. She alleges he then forced her to perform oral sex on him, despite her resistance. The night sent McKinney into a “tailspin of anxiety and depression” that, she says, resulted in a suicide attempt.

“I had a whole future [in modeling] mapped out that was stolen from me. Being sexually assaulted and having no recourse is so painful,” McKinney tells Rolling Stone. “I felt like I was dying every day because I did not yet have the strength to come forward.… I hope that by speaking out, I can help other survivors come forward and seek justice.”

Not long after, between the spring and fall of 2003, a 17-year-old girl was out one night with friends at a Detroit-area lounge when a man in a suit approached and allegedly introduced himself as Combs’ “best friend.” The man purportedly called Combs and let the girl speak directly with the famed producer, who was twice her age. The man, alleged to be former Bad Boy President Harve Pierre, convinced the girl to board a private jet and take the two-hour flight to Teterboro, N.J., just outside New York City, to meet Combs in person, according to a lawsuit filed last December by the girl, now an adult Jane Doe plaintiff. Then a high school junior, she was awestruck by the opportunity, documenting the trip with photos from inside Daddy’s House, where she’s seen pretending to record a song, pointing at Combs’ initials on the wall, and sitting on Combs’ lap.

A Jane Doe with Combs at his Daddy’s House studio on the night she alleges that Combs and two other men gang raped her when she was 17 in 2003.

The photos were included in the lawsuit to corroborate the woman’s allegations that she was gang raped that night by Pierre, Combs, and a third, unidentified man inside the recording studio. The woman claims the men plied her with drugs and alcohol until she was nearly unconscious and unable to consent. As she started to black out, she claims, Combs led her to a bathroom where he removed her skirt and underwear and penetrated her from behind. As she drifted in and out, the unnamed assailant replaced Combs and raped her from behind as Combs watched, she says. The woman alleges Pierre replaced the second man and raped her, too. When the men finished, she fell into a “fetal position” on the floor in excruciating pain and was later escorted out of the building and flown back to Michigan, she claims.

(Combs’ lawyer filed a motion to dismiss, calling Doe’s account a “decades-old tale,” a “baseless” claim and an effort to “extract an undeserved financial recovery.” ​​Pierre did not reply to a request for comment, but previously called the accusation “fiction” and a “desperate attempt for financial gain.”)

Drugs were a consistent part of Combs’ life, Ventura alleges in her lawsuit, claiming he was “addicted to prescription painkillers and took ecstasy frequently.” She claims he had pills and other drugs out in the open “like candy” and that he would supply alcohol, ecstasy, cocaine, the sedative GHB, ketamine, and marijuana during “freak-offs.” But far from enhancing a party vibe, Ventura and others say these substances only darkened his mood. Once Combs got drunk or high enough, says one frequent party guest in the early 2000s, “he would turn violent [and] loud. He would take his anger out on people.”  At several points when Combs was extremely intoxicated, Ventura alleges, he beat her.

An industry source says they once left a party at Combs’ home because they felt so uncomfortable watching an aggressive Combs yell at Ventura throughout the night. “You could tell in her eyes that she’s scared,” they said. “I’m like, ‘Is this normal? Am I trippin’ right now? Why is nobody saying anything? Are they that scared of him?’”

IN A 2015 APPEARANCE on The Breakfast Club radio show, Combs described the “deal” he offers his girlfriends: “If I’m in a relationship with you, 25 percent of your time, you’re gonna just feel like, ‘Aw, man, I hate being here, this guy cheated on me, he lied on me,’” Combs explained, while sitting next to his teenage son Christian. “But then there’s 75 percent of ‘I’ma make you the happiest woman in the whole wide world. I’ma be there to support your dreams. I’ma be there to hold you, listen to you. I’ma be there to be your best friend. And I promise you’ll smile the most. You know who I am, this is what it is.’ 

“Which deal would you choose?” 

There was one term of the deal Combs never disclosed, sources say: The women who signed up for it were not allowed to walk away. Damien Vasquez, a former Bad Boy intern, says after Combs and Lopez broke up, Combs had staffers camp outside MTV’s TRL studios with signs to win her back. Ventura claimed that every time she hid, Combs’ network of operatives found her and implored her to return, including a Bad Boy executive who threatened to withhold the release of her music if she didn’t return Combs’ calls. After Ventura left Combs, he tried “to paint a picture of a heartbroken, hurt man,” a source who knew the couple throughout their relationship says, when the reality was “he’s a liar [and] abuser.” 

Burrowes believes Combs’ losses at a young age — especially the murder of his father — took a toll on his relationships. “He is fortified now with the money and the power,” but “abandonment and the act of leaving can bring about vicious results,” he says. “And the women catch it the worst.”

Combs’ long-term partner Kim Porter, who died of lobar pneumonia in 2018, was no exception. Their relationship was tumultuous, according to two sources who claim Combs physically abused her. “I remember Kim used to go through a lot of stuff,” former Bad Boy rapper Mark Curry says. “If you live around them, you get to see the toxic relationship.…  I think every relationship he had that I experienced around him was like that.” 

Combs and Kim Porter in 1994

Nitro/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Combs and Porter first got together in 1994 and dated on and off until 2007. She ended it for good upon learning Combs had fathered a secret child while she was pregnant with their twin daughters. There were other infidelities, including Combs’ affair with Lopez. But Combs never let Porter truly move on, she told Essence. He still called “50, 60 times a day,” she said. “It was like my life was not my own.… He was very, very intrusive.”

In 2000, Porter’s fledgling courtship with late music executive Shakir Stewart enraged Combs. When the industry gathered for L.A. Reid’s wedding in Italy that summer, Combs went to Stewart’s room after the ceremony and allegedly broke a chair over Stewart’s head, Stewart’s mother and two of his close friends tell Rolling Stone. “He left him bleeding on a hotel floor in Italy,” Stewart’s mother, Portia, says. “He had to have stitches and then [Combs] threatened him … ‘I’m going to kill you’ … That’s when I said you need to get out of this business. This man is crazy.” 

V. “I’ve Noticed Him Kill a Lot of People’s Spirits.”

By the mid-2000s, Bad Boy had hemorrhaged several top acts, including Faith Evans, Total, 112, Craig Mack, and Foxy Brown. Two decades later, nearly all of Combs’ artists have left him. Apart from himself, stepson Quincy Jones, and son Christian, only Janelle Monáe is left on the label. (A rep for Monáe did not reply to a request for comment. Machine Gun Kelly’s last track released with Bad Boy was in February 2024. He started his own label, EST 19XX, under Interscope.) 

Rolling Stone reached out to dozens of artists who’d been signed to Bad Boy to ask about their experiences with the label. Many declined, with one saying, “I don’t have anything nice to say when it comes to my time with Bad Boy. It was not a good experience and one I really don’t want to relive.” Those who did speak to Rolling Stone say they felt their time with the label was squandered through lack of direction; several spent years at Bad Boy without releasing any music. 

Curry, who was affiliated with Bad Boy from 1997 to 2006, has been one of the most outspoken detractors, writing about his dealings with Combs in his 2009 book, Dancing With the Devil: How Puff Burned the Bad Boys of Hip-Hop. He says Combs repeatedly promised to produce his solo album but never gave him a budget. “There’s different ways you can kill a person,” Curry tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve noticed him kill a lot of people’s spirits.”

“He is this monster, nothing has changed. This guy got no soul, no duty to anyone, not even his kids.”

Producer Rodney “Lil Rod” Jones

Not everyone felt the same. Singer-songwriter Kalenna Harper says one of the highs of her life was joining Combs’ Diddy-Dirty Money group in 2009. (She was later invited to work with Combs on The Love Album.) “He was fucking cool as shit,” she says, adding that artists who blame Combs for the trajectory of their careers may suffer from “disgruntled employee syndrome.”

Years ago, there were whispers that some Bad Boy A&R executives would expect sexual favors from female artists in exchange for professional attention. “I would hear about [female artists] being asked to do stuff with some of the other male executives,” recalls one former Bad Boy staffer. “Like, ‘We can make or break your career, what are you gonna do about it?’” Going to HR was useless. “If you want your job, you’re not going there to complain,” they add.

On the Call Her Daddy podcast in 2022, Danity Kane’s Aubrey O’Day said she was kicked out of the group because she wasn’t “willing” to do certain things, “not talent-wise, but in other areas.” She refused to get specific, saying the truth was “what you can imagine.” “There was no #MeToo,” she added. “You signed a million NDAs and a million contracts that took away your rights.” Asked by Rolling Stone to elaborate, O’Day said: “The answer to what happens if you don’t do what the executives want? I’m the full-blown fucking story of that.” 

Some who left Combs worried he might try to expel them from the industry altogether. Brooklyn rapper Lynese “Babs Bunny” Wiley of Combs’ MTV reality show Making the Band says she was “blackballed” after leaving the label. Bunn, the photographer, claims her gigs instantly dried up after winning a lawsuit against Combs in 2000 for withholding a set of Biggie photos from her. She claims a friend at The Fader magazine told her that Combs personally called the office and said if they worked with Bunn, Bad Boy would pull its advertising from the magazine.

Talk-show host Wendy Williams wrote in her 2004 book that Combs “spent a lot of money and used a lot of his influence to try to crush me” after she posted an alleged sexual photo of Combs and another man on her website. (Combs denied it was him in the photo.) And music producer Easy Mo Bee claimed in February that after he challenged Combs over a credit Combs had given himself on the producer’s song, he noticed “certain people wouldn’t deal with me.” 

“He’s someone you don’t want to make an enemy out of,” says one former employee of Combs. “When people do go against him, that person gets ostracized.” 

For some, the effects of being shunned by Combs were profound. Francesca Spero joined Bad Boy Entertainment in 1998, rising through the company to become Combs’ right-hand woman. But Spero alleged in an age and disability discrimination lawsuit that Combs illegally fired her in 2010. She claimed Combs “froze” her out after she took time to recover from a hip surgery and voluntarily checked into rehab to treat a lapse in her sobriety. Spero tried to continue working in the music industry, but opportunities would disappear, a family member says. The alleged blacklisting “led to significant health issues, which brought her to her end,” the relative says. “She was devastated by the way she was treated — she felt betrayed.” (Spero died in 2014.)

As ex-Bad Boy president Burrowes puts it, Combs “never” forgets a grudge. “If he sees a snag in the sweater, he’ll pull.”

VI: Life Ain’t Always What It Seem to Be

For Combs’ 50th birthday in 2019, revelers gathered at his 17,000-square-foot Holmby Hills home in black-tie attire and beaded gowns. Sipping champagne and ice-cold Cîroc — the vodka brand Combs shilled for a share of profits — they admired the breathtaking Kerry James Marshall painting that Combs had recently purchased for $21 million. Guests Beyoncé and Jay-Z rubbed shoulders with Dr. Dre, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kobe Bryant, Cardi B, Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian, Usher, and Post Malone. 

It was a crowning moment for Combs, a testament to the multifaceted success he had worked so hard to achieve. Combs had conquered fashion — winning Menswear Designer of the Year at the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America awards in 2004 — acted on Broadway, become the co-owner of DeLeón tequila, founded the Revolt TV cable network, purchased the sports beverage company ​​AQUAHydrate with Mark Wahlberg, and filmed a cameo in Disney’s 2014 movie Muppets Most Wanted. He even legally changed his middle name to Love. With his hard edges seemingly polished away by his gilded life, Combs appeared untouchable. It was all the perfect cover for his alleged physical and sexual abuse of Ventura.

Ventura says there were multiple witnesses to her alleged mistreatment, but they were too afraid to cross Combs. She claims both Combs’ head of security and his assistant “began to cry” when they saw the extent of her injuries. In an open letter published by Rolling Stone, Ventura’s friend Tiffany Red wrote that she was present the night Ventura says she was forced to leave her 2015 surprise birthday party for another “freak-off” with Combs. Red recalled seeing Ventura backed up against a wall with Combs cursing her out. She said Ventura returned later that night, apparently “sedated,” while Combs screamed at Red, “Tell your girl she wants some birthday dick. I flew all the way from Miami. She gone get this birthday dick!” Red wrote that she told a “visibly angry” Combs to leave Ventura alone. She recalled Combs ignoring her and driving off with Ventura in a golf cart. 

Combs and Ventura in 2015

NCP/Star Max/GC Images/Getty Images

Combs’ physical abuse extended to Ventura’s inner circle as well, according to her lawsuit. She claims one of her friends obtained a settlement after a physical altercation with Combs in 2018. After Ventura’s birthday party in 2015, a “severely intoxicated” Combs allegedly “dangled” another of Ventura’s friends over a 17th-floor balcony. (Neither friend responded to a request for comment from Rolling Stone.) One source who worked with Combs and Ventura says people failed to speak up because Combs “doesn’t believe in being told no, and if you get caught up in the wrath of that, it can be very dangerous.”

In her lawsuit, Ventura says she finally found the strength to leave for good when Combs allegedly forced his way into her apartment and raped her in September 2018, the night she met him for dinner to discuss breaking up. She claims Combs pulled off her clothing and assaulted her as she repeatedly said “no” and tried to push him away. A month later, People reported the relationship was over, citing a source who said Ventura was moving on with renewed focus on her career.

Though Ventura’s alleged hell at the hands of Combs was largely unknown until she filed her complaint, overlapping public claims about Combs’ behavior made minor headlines during their decade together. In 2017, Combs was sued for sexual harassment by personal chef Cindy Rueda in a lawsuit that seemed bizarre at the time but has gained renewed scrutiny. Rueda claimed that when she worked for Combs in 2015 and part of 2016, he “regularly” had her serve dishes while he and his guests “were engaged” in “sexual activity.” Rueda claimed Combs once asked her to prepare a “postcoital meal” then greeted her fully naked and asked if “she liked his naked body.” One incident in August 2015 allegedly involved Combs ordering Rueda to serve him breakfast in his room and then partaking in “sexual activity” with model Gina Huynh as Rueda “dropped” the food on a table and fled. (The lawsuit was forced into arbitration and ended privately. A lawyer for Rueda did not reply to a request for comment.)

Huynh, meanwhile, reemerged in 2019 with claims that Combs beat her. In an interview with gossip blogger TashaK, Huynh said she started dating Combs in 2014 and that he offered her $50,000 to terminate a pregnancy that year. Huynh also said Combs shoved her to the ground and dragged her by her hair in 2018, and in a jealous rage, once “stomped” on her stomach. The allegations barely made a ripple, and Huynh went silent after the interview. (Huynh declined to comment for this article.)

THE DETROIT-AREA Jane Doe who sued Combs and Pierre in December tells Rolling Stone she hopes her lawsuit will hold “not just Combs, but also all of those who acted with him, stood silent, and actively covered up his behavior” accountable. In her lawsuit, she said her nightmare was not an “isolated incident” and pointed to another Jane Doe who sued Pierre on Nov. 21. (That woman alleges Pierre groomed and sexually assaulted her when she was his assistant between 2016 and 2017.)

Then in early February, Jones, The Love Album producer, sued. The 73-page complaint filed by lawyer Tyrone Blackburn — which included unusual elements such as photos of the defendants and redacted names that could easily be deciphered — claimed that Jones worked, traveled, and often lived with Combs while producing nine songs for the project. Jones described his experience as a hedonistic hellscape. He claimed to have hundreds of hours of footage and audio capturing Combs, his staff, and his guests engaged in “serious illegal activity,” including the use and distribution of ecstasy, cocaine, ketamine, marijuana candy, mushrooms, GHB, and “Tuci,” a pink powder described as a mixture of ecstasy and cocaine. He claimed that at one party in July 2023, Combs fed him ecstasy-laced liquor until he blacked out and woke up naked next to a sex worker.

Jones said Combs terrorized him with “constant, unsolicited, and unauthorized groping and touching of his anus,” and that Combs kept him compliant by displaying weapons, threatening to “eat [his] face,” and according to the suit, “inform[ing] Jones that he was willing to kill his [own] mother … if he must [to] get what he wanted.” (Combs’ lawyer called the complaint “pure fiction.”) 

“He is this monster, nothing has changed,” Jones told Rolling Stone shortly before filing his lawsuit. “This guy got no soul. He has no duty to anyone, not even his kids.” 

Combs’ associates, meanwhile, have faced allegations of their own. Twenty-five-year-old Brendan Paul — who Jones described in his lawsuit as Combs’ drug “mule” — was arrested and charged with cocaine possession during the raids on Combs’ properties. (Paul pleaded not guilty but later accepted a deal in May, agreeing to complete a drug-diversion program, after which his case will be dismissed. The deal was offered because Paul is considered a first-time offender, and the substance amount allegedly found was not of a “trafficking” level, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said.)

In early April, yacht steward Grace O’Marcaigh sued Combs and his 26-year-old son, Christian, alleging that Christian drugged and attacked her onboard a luxury vessel rented for a 2022 vacation in St. Martin — while filming a since-scrapped family reality show for Hulu. According to NBC News, O’Marcaigh can be heard in an audio recording asking Christian to stop touching her legs. She claims Christian later tried to force her to perform oral sex, allegations he denies through his father’s lawyer. Christian Combs’ lawyer, Aaron Dyer, did not reply to a request for comment on the allegation, but previously claimed O’Marcaigh’s complaint was rife with “manufactured lies and irrelevant facts.” 

VII: Is This the End?

On May 4, Combs posted a video of himself standing by an ocean, staring down a tropical monsoon with his arms outstretched as the recorded voice of his spiritual advisor T.D. Jakes booms: “Not hysterical, not frantic, not anxious, not fretful, but steady in the storm.” 

While Combs gathers support where he can, the new allegations have reshaped his world. After stepping down from Revolt, he reportedly sold his shares in March. The Harlem charter school he co-founded reportedly cut ties and scrubbed his name from its website. In April, premium liquor giant Diageo revealed it paid approximately $200 million to buy the outstanding 50 percent share of their DeLeón tequila brand from Combs, fully dissolving their partnership. (In a 2023 court filing, Diageo said that Combs had “amassed nearly one billion dollars” from their 15-year relationship.) And the wave of lawsuits reignited industry beef with Combs’ longtime rival 50 Cent, who is making a documentary about his downfall. 

Combs is preparing for a fight — for his reputation, his legacy, and in some sense, his life. Federal officials declined to say much after the March raids, but a source confirmed to Rolling Stone that investigators in the Southern District of New York interviewed potential witnesses as part of a sex-trafficking and racketeering probe. Agents may also examine Combs’ alleged ties to the infamous Black Mafia Family cartel after the Detroit Jane Doe alleged in her suit that the group “is rumored to have seeded Bad Boy.” (No criminal charges have been announced as of publication.) 

“Sex trafficking is certainly a potential component of a pattern of racketeering, or it could be charged on its own,” former federal prosecutor Elizabeth Geddes, a member of the team that successfully prosecuted R. Kelly in New York, tells Rolling Stone. “The indictments of R. Kelly, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell — high-profile individuals who long evaded real accountability by law enforcement — offer prosecutors a playbook for a possible prosecution of Sean Combs.” 

Combs is known to sport a gold medallion depicting Lazarus, the biblical figure raised from the dead — and why not? He survived the deadly CCNY tragedy, the shooting that killed his top artist, and his Club New York criminal trial — and prospered. He named an album No Way Out, but he’s always managed to find one. 

This time may be different. As more accusers and associates emerge with hellish accounts of their time with Combs, as more voices hint that there are darker stories still to be uncovered, he stands exposed in a much harsher light. To some, his claim that his brutal 2016 attack on Cassie represented a “rock bottom” from which he has since recovered doesn’t ring true. One source who knew the former couple says the mogul’s rage was always on the verge of “creeping out.” “Rock bottom must be his personality,” they say. “I’ve never not seen this person.” 

Misa Hylton, the mother of Combs’ first son, Justin, had been silent in the wake of Ventura’s lawsuit. But after the video broke, she responded by saying, “I know exactly how she feels, and through my empathy, it has triggered my own trauma.” (Hylton declined to comment for this article.)

It’s a long overdue reckoning, says Anna, whose encounter with Combs at the Peninsula Hotel still haunts her. “People have been sitting with [their experiences] for years because you don’t know what to do with it.” Gardner’s friend wrote in her recent affidavit that she wishes she “had spoken up then, raised hell earlier.” She watched her friend grapple with the aftermath. “This experience completely changed Liza as a person,” she wrote. 

Dickerson-Neal, too, says she was forever changed by a single night. “One date with Sean Combs led to the trauma and pain of sexual assault and an ocean’s depth of shame,” she tells Rolling Stone. Learning that Combs allegedly distributed an explicit video of her was “devastating” and she’s “suffered debilitating self-doubt and a lifetime of inner turmoil.”

Those who were watching decades ago have long suspected Combs’ legacy would end in disgrace. “None of this was really a surprise for me,” says one of the Howard alums who had knowledge of Combs’ attack on a classmate. “You’re already an abuser [in college]. You were already feeling you had to have certain power over people.” Another says Combs must now face accountability: “It’s time.”

In an Instagram post in late May, Ventura expressed gratitude for “all the love and support” she’s received. “With a lot of hard work, I am better today,” she wrote. But, she added, echoing the experience of many of Combs’ accusers, “I will always be recovering from my past.”

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