'Puffy Betrayed Me'

Shyne’s Heartbreak:

"You have any greater or lesser personal relationship with Mr. Barrow than any of the other recording artists on your label?" Brafman asked.

"The personal relationship I have with all my artists is about the same," Combs responded. "I respect all my artists."

Barrow remembered grasping his Bible and staring in disbelief as Combs gave his version of events. "He proved that he was just there to save himself," Barrow charged. "There are no boundaries to what he would do to exonerate himself. I had the Bible in front of me, and I was just praying that he wouldn't continue to lie. He sort of took himself out of the situation, that [we] were never involved in meeting together that night."

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)

Combs, Lopez, and their entourage arrived at Club New York a little past midnight after a limousine ride from East Hampton. Trouble began when Combs tried to leave shortly after 2:30 a.m. Someone bumped into Matthew "Scar" Allen, there was an exchange of insults, and another man tossed a fistful of dollar bills at Combs. Three to six shots then rang out, sending panicked clubgoers diving to the floor or charging toward the exits. Three were injured. Natania Reuben was shot in the face, and Robert Thompson and Julius Jones were each hit in the the upper torso. Nine witnesses said they saw Barrow with a gun. Two of the shooting victims testified they also saw Combs with a gun—a charge the music executive denied.

Combs fled the club along with Lopez and Jones, with Fenderson at the wheel of his Lincoln Navigator. They were stopped 11 blocks away after Fenderson first steered the SUV onto a sidewalk to evade a police car and then ran several red lights. A 9mm handgun police found in the SUV and a similar weapon allegedly hurled out of a window during the chase led to the gun possession charges against Combs and Jones.

Lopez was arrested, but not charged. The pop diva told the grand jury that she never saw Combs with a gun on the night of the shooting. She was not called to testify, and did not appear in court. Charges were dropped against Fenderson after he agreed to testify against the others. In stilted testimony laced with malapropisms, he said his wild escape attempt was caused by fear of the gun-toting Combs and Jones. Fenderson, who twice told police that he owned the gun before recanting, also detailed the alleged bribe offer.

There was a time in the relationship between Jamaal Barrow and Sean Combs when the awestruck Barrow almost was eating out of Combs's hands. In 1998, when Barrow was barely 18, a talent scout heard him rapping in Leroy's Barber Shop in Flatbush and introduced him to Combs. "That was when he was like the Michael Jackson of hip hop," Barrow recalled. "I went everywhere with him. That was the relationship. I was just watching Michael Jackson at work. Combs was one of the biggest people in the world, and I was just going along for that joyride."

As an apprentice rapper, Barrow "dawged" Combs's every move, spending most of his time at Daddy's House, the Midtown business where Combs has his recording studios. "I was there all the time because one day I hoped to be on the level of a Michael Jackson," Barrow said. "I was gonna study everything Combs did, just try to be around him as much as possible to absorb some of that energy and see what it was that got him to the level he is at right now."

Barrow stuck with Combs through good times and bad. "I was there as well when it all deteriorated and crumbled," he said, alluding to the sensational "shootout" at Club New York and their arrest and prosecution. "I was right there." Barrow hinted at what his supporters believed all along—that he took the fall for Puff Daddy. "When you're with someone all the time, it is incumbent upon you to do that," Barrow said. "We should go through it together. We live together. We die together. That's just the kind of person I am."

Barrow said that after leaving the Midtown North station house on the evening of December 27, he became a pariah in Combs's eyes. "We would speak only through lawyers," he said. "He was afraid to put my album out because he wanted to distance himself from me. [My contact with him] was never personal. There was never a concern such as 'Do you need help? Is everything all right? Do you need anything?' It was never like that."

When Combs allegedly signaled to Barrow that he planned to shelve the album Barrow had devoted his life to completing, Barrow threatened legal action. "To my surprise, he didn't want to put my album out," Barrow reflected. As his relations with Combs worsened, Barrow reached out to other executives at Bad Boy Entertainment. "I think the people at the record company love me and they wanted to do as much as they possibly could, but Combs wanted the relationship to remain minimal and not have me publicized. I don't think they promoted me as much as they could have and gave everything they could have given because of him."

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