A little more than two years ago, Sean Combs – then calling himself “Love” in the latest nomenclature rebranding of his multi-vertical career – held court in his Los Angeles mansion for a prestigious magazine profile writer. They delved into his psyche, his successes, his attitudes and history; through the course of the navel-gazing discourse at his home and on Zoom, Combs – sorry, ‘Love’ – began waxing lyrical about #MeToo.
It was an example, said Combs (formerly known as Puff, or Puff Daddy, or P. Diddy, or Diddy, the list goes on), of “people out there that are tired ... of the way that it doesn’t have to be.
“Like when they said it was over — when they said in the #MeToo, when it was over, it was over,” the mogul told Vanity Fair, adding: “The #MeToo movement, the truth, is that it inspired me. It showed me that you can get maximum change.”
It may also have inspired the three separate women who’ve filed lawsuits against him in a week, laying out jaw-dropping allegations of sexual and physical abuse, control and violence – the last of which has always been associated with the rapper’s rise and image. But gun charges, club fights and murdered associates exist in one realm; the intimate and domestic nature of these new allegations are on a whole different plane.
They also date back decades – raising questions about whether, as Combs leapt from one image to the next, one payday venture to a bigger one, a darker and more personal thread in his life remained unchanged. Within a day, he settled one suit by former long-term girlfriend Cassie Ventura, an artist nearly 20 years his junior who’d accused him of rape, sex trafficking and abuse.
Combs poses with singer Cassie, nearly 20 years his junior, in 2006, within the first year of the pair meeting— (Alamy)
Another suit was filed on Thanksgiving by a New York woman alleging Combs drugged and raped her in 1991; a third was filed the same day by an unidentified plaintiff. The legal actions were taken before the expiration of New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which provided a one-year window for the pursuit of litigation, regardless of when the abuse occurred. The allegations against Combs include claims of abuse more than 30 years ago.
That’s when one plaintiff, Joi Dickerson-Neal, claims Combs drugged her, raped her, filmed and shared the incident while she was enrolled as a psychology student at Syracuse University. In court documents filed on Thursday, demanding a jury trial, Dickerson-Neal alleges that Combs took her out to dinner in New York City, but “getting into Combs’ car that day was something Ms Dickerson would come to regret forever”.
“During their date, Combs had intentionally drugged Ms. Dickerson, resulting in her being in a physical state where she could not independently stand or walk,” continues the complaint, seen by The Independent. “Driving first to a music studio where she could not get out of the car, Combs proceeded to a place he was staying to sexually assault her. As was his practice, but unbeknownst to Ms. Dickerson, Combs video recorded the sexual assault. Days later, a male friend revealed to her that he had viewed the ‘sex tape’ along with other men. Horrified, Ms. Dickerson asked how many others saw it, to which he responded, ‘everyone.’
“Ms. Dickerson’s life went into a tailspin,” it continues, outlining how the young woman suffered severe depression and suicidal ideation, eventually dropping out of school.
Combs was dating Jennifer Lopez when he was arrested on gun charges following a 1999 nighclub shooting; he was later acquitted— (Getty Images)
The second suit filed on Thursday also involves allegations from around the same time period, according to Rolling Stone, which viewed the documents; the complaint and summons were listed on Friday as “returned for correction” on the New York State court’s website. A lawyer for the plaintiff, listed only as Jane Doe, did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday from The Independent.
According to the magazine, Jane Doe and a friend attended an event hosted by MCA Records in 1990 or 1991, eventually heading to an afterparty with Combs and another singer-songwriter at the latter’s apartment. There, “Jane Doe was offered more drinks and was coerced into having sex with Combs,” Rolling Stone reports the filing alleges. “After Combs finished doing his business, Jane Doe laid in bed, shocked and traumatized.
“As she was in the process of getting dressed,” the complaint continues, the other musician “barged into the room, pinned her down and forced Jane Doe to have sex with him.”
A spokesperson for Combs told The Independent: “These are fabricated claims falsely alleging misconduct from over 30 years ago and filed at the last minute. This is nothing but a money grab. Because of Mr. Combs’ fame and success, he is an easy target for anonymous accusers who lie without conscience or consequence for financial benefit. The New York Legislature surely did not intend or expect the Adult Survivors Act to be exploited by scammers. The public should be skeptical and not rush to accept these bogus allegations.”
But the more recent, more long-term and more graphic allegations can be found in the filing from Combs’ former girlfriend of a decade, singer Casandra Ventura, known professionally as Cassie, who lists Combs’ Bad Boy and Epic Records alongside other named defendants. While the suit was settled the next day for an undisclosed sum, the claims are staggering.
Cassie, pictured attending the Met Gala with the singer during their relationship, filed a suit alleging rape, abuse and sex trafficking; the singer settled the suit the next day for an undisclosed sum— (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly)
Representatives for Combs did not immediately return request for comment from The Independent, but one of his lawyers insisted in the days after the settlement announcement that it was “in no way an admission of wrongdoing.”
“Mr. Combs‘ decision to settle the lawsuit does not in any way undermine his flat-out denial of the claims,” attorney Ben Brafman told Us. “He is happy they got to a mutual settlement and wishes Ms. Ventura the best.”
The singer, who was just 19 when she met the mogul nearly 20 years her senior, alleges in the suit that Combs raped her “in her own home after she tried to leave him; Often punched, beat, kicked and stomped on Ms. Ventura, resulting in bruises, burst lips, black eyes and bleeding;” and introduced her “to a lifestyle of excessive alcohol and substance abuse and required her to procure illicit prescriptions to satisfy his own addictions.”
The couple were in a high-profile relationship for years, their 2018 breakup spurring a frenzy of headlines and gossip. In the course of the relationship, however, Cassie’s lawsuit shockingly claims Combs had another rapper’s car blown up after learning the musician was romantically interested in Cassie; forced her to engage in sex acts with male sex workers in sessions he called “freak offs” while masturbating and filming the encounters; and demanded she “carry his firearm in her purse just to make her uncomfortable and demonstrate how dangerous he is.”
Combs did not begin a relationship in any capacity with Cassie until around 2006, when he signed her to his label, gradually exerting more and more control over her personal and professional life, the suit alleges. It had been nearly a decade since Combs’ friend, Notorious B.I.G., was gunned down after the two separately left a party in LA – an unsolved killing attributed to the rap feud between the Coasts – and years since his 1999 arrest on weapons charges after a New York club shooting when he was dating Jennifer Lopez. He was later acquitted.
After Combs, as Puff Daddy, “had just got through East-West war,” he told Vanity Fair in 2021, “Nobody wanted to get in the room with me. They thought they was going to get shot.”
He added: “When I changed names, I put periods on those eras.”
Combs is pictured with the late rapper Notorious B.I.G., who was gunned down in front of him in 1997 in an unsolved killing attributed to the East Coast-West Coast rap feud— (Rex Features)
He’d seemed keen to distance himself from some of the more unruly thug-life elements of his persona, pursuing diversified success in the dining, fashion and business spheres; a September 2002 New Yorker profile gushed about the then-32-year-old as a “rap impresario, restaurateur, clothing entrepreneur, bon vivant, actor, and Page Six regular.”
The writer followed Combs to Paris Fashion Week, quoting big-name heavyweights about Combs’ visions while also capturing some hard-edged moments. When one friend advises the mogul about international phone calls as they prepare to take off for Europe, the singer responds “in a low, steady voice. ‘This is my fourteenth Concorde flight. I’m a international f***ing player. I’ll tell you how to use a phone.’”
In the same piece, many within Combs’ circle display a fierce loyalty to the performer and an optimistic spin on his litany of controversies – though now, more than two decades later and in a very different cultural climate, Diddy’s durability may be in doubt.
“The thing I love about Puff is that he comes back,” his right-hand woman told The New Yorker in 2002. “After B.I.G. died, people thought he would go right down the toilet – then he put out a No. 1 album. During the trial, Jennifer dumped him, they said his music career was over, he would be going to prison – and even if he got off he would be through.
“Well, guess what? He has a best-selling record, he’s a happy father, his clothing company absolutely rocks,” she said. “Puffy will always come back. He’s like nature.”
Perhaps this time will be the true test.