'Puffy Betrayed Me'

Shyne’s Heartbreak:

Shyne's mother and grandmother placed this young man in the care and custody of Sean "Puffy" Combs, who they believed was a responsible executive of a company. Puffy has the same responsibility as a teacher, as a coach. This boy, Shyne, was out with his idol on that fateful night. When I put my child in your hands, I don't expect him to end up dead or in jail. —Conrad Muhammad, the "hip hop minister"

A heartbroken Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow has accused Sean "Puffy" Combs of flaunting his arrogance and power, shunning him, and ultimately betraying him.

For 13 months, Barrow, a 21-year-old Belize-born gangsta rapper, bottled up a storm of angry emotions about Combs, the hip hop czar he once considered his idol. But one week before a Manhattan jury acquitted Combs of gun and bribery charges and convicted Barrow of assault stemming from the Club New York shooting, Barrow let it all out in a gut-wrenching interview with the Voice.

Judgment day: a somber Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow as he learned of his fate from jurors (Sean "Puffy" Combs, foreground; Anthony "Wolf" Jones, right)
illustration by Shirley and Andrea Shepard
Judgment day: a somber Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow as he learned of his fate from jurors (Sean "Puffy" Combs, foreground; Anthony "Wolf" Jones, right)

"Honestly, he never really did anything to help me after the shooting," said Barrow, dispelling rumors that Combs footed the bill for his lawyers. Barrow said he paid for his own defense, using up every bit of the advance he had received from Bad Boy Entertainment, Combs's high-riding label, which produced Barrow's critically acclaimed debut album, Shyne, last year. "As soon as we were indicted, he wanted to keep me away from him. He didn't even want to put my album out. Throughout the trial, it's like, 'You get out of this however you can and I'm gonna get outta this however I can.' It [was] never, 'This is the young man that used to live with me, be with me all the time, under my guidance. This is the young man who was with me that night, and we are all going to get out of this together.' "

Barrow, who had been charged with attempted murder, was convicted last Friday on two counts of assault, two weapons charges, and reckless endangerment for the shooting inside the crowded Times Square nightclub in the early morning hours of December 27, 1999. Three patrons were wounded. While Combs walked away a free man, Barrow was jailed pending his April 16 sentencing. The rapper, whose glum reaction following the verdict stood in stark contrast to Combs's celebratory hosannas, could be sentenced to a maximum 25 years in prison. Combs was acquitted of taking an illegal handgun into the club. He also was cleared of trying to bribe his way out of trouble by offering $50,000 and a diamond ring given to him by ex-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez to driver Wardel Fenderson. Combs's doting bodyguard, Anthony "Wolf" Jones, was acquitted of the same charges. Both men had faced up to 15 years in prison.

"It's bittersweet," Combs said of the verdict. "My heart goes out to everybody who was hurt by this."

Barrow never believed the man he refers to as "Combs" would hurt him. "I never really wanted to admit this," he said. "I was in a state of denial because I am such a loyal person. . . . I could understand if I was just another guy, but I am somebody that you groomed, somebody that you showed the ropes [to], and to just leave me hanging there, nobody speaking up for me, nobody trying to spin it my way, nobody trying to show that there [were] other guns fired [inside the club], nobody trying to show that shots were in the ceiling, nobody trying to show that this was clearly self-defense. Everyone's trying to make the two shots that was supposed to be fired from the gun that I had [the act of] this desperado at the O.K. Corral."

Every day, Combs walked into court and took his seat between his high-priced lawyers Benjamin Brafman and Johnnie Cochran—treating Barrow like the invisible man, never looking to the right of the defense table where Barrow sometimes sat as if spellbound, watching witness after witness parade into court, accusing him of recklessly firing a gun. Barrow felt some of the witnesses lied to protect Combs. Following testimony by Club New York security guard Cherise Myers, a key defense witness who claimed that she fell on top of Combs during a mad dash to the exit after the first shots were fired and never saw him with a gun, Barrow reacted angrily.

"You don't have to prove that I did it in order to prove that you didn't do it," reasoned Barrow, who several days later would sever his contract with Bad Boy Entertainment. "She lied for him. Fine. But don't let her testify against me. That's when I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't believe it. That was it," the rapper added. "There was no way I could continue. I couldn't even look at him anymore."

Jamaal Barrow had eagerly anticipated Sean Combs's testimony. Would Combs sell him out to save his own neck? "I didn't know what to expect," Barrow recalled. "I didn't know what he was going to get on the stand and say."

Combs was the key defense witness, spending a full day testifying that he never carried a weapon on the night of his arrest and instead thought he was the target. "I thought I was being shot at," the millionaire rapper told the jury. Disgusted supporters of Barrow commented within earshot of a Voice reporter that Barrow saved Combs's life by drawing his 9mm Ruger and firing at would-be assailants. But under questioning by Benjamin Brafman, Combs said he had no special love for Barrow, hinting that the rapper was just another "dawg" in his pound.

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