By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In January 2000, about a month after Combs was indicted in the nightclub shooting, the Associated Press began to examine the so-called "Puffy backlash," pointing out that beginning with the alleged April 1999 bat assault on Steve Stoute of Interscope Records, "Combs has suffered twin black eyes himself: a stiff drop-off in record sales and a sharp increase in negative publicity."
Spike, Combs's new album at the time, stayed in the Top 10 for just two weeks, and sold a fraction of its predecessor. Then came his arrest in the Club New York fiasco. This was how the AP capsuled public sentiment about Combs: "Some of Puff Daddy's problems are self-inflicted, others seem just the inevitable product of his runaway success. But detractors have a list of anti-Puffy complaints: Puffy is a phony gangster. Puffy can't rap. Puffy rips off other people's hits. Puffy, with his big bankroll and his Bentley and his $600,000 birthday party, is out of touch with the street. Puffy is just dumb." The story looked at Bad Boy record sales. "Disappointing," the AP concluded. "While 1997's No Way Out sold 7 million copies, the current Forever barely broke the 1 million mark."
Bashing Combs was becoming tantamount to playin' the dozens, subjecting him to the ultimate insult. "Puff, the Magic's Draggin'," declared a New York Post headline. "The Deflation of Puffy Combs," read one in The Washington Post. Vibe magazine ran a similar piece discussing the "Puffy backlash." Even the staid New Yorker dissed Combs, weighing in with "A Letter to Puff Daddy." The tongue-in-cheek piece had writer Andy "Stacky" Borowitz applying for a job with Puffy's posse, saying, "I am available to start hanging with you 24-7, effective immediately."
Insiders say that the beleaguered Combs was forced to call up his reservesartists working on projects that otherwise might never have seen the light of day. "Do you know how long Black Rob was on Puffy's label?" asks a disgruntled Bad Boy associate. "Forever and a day. Puffy didn't put him out until the shit hit the fan. He was down in the dumps. His record sales were slumping. Everything was going down the drain. The Biggie song had worn off. The group 112 was not the success he anticipated." Flatbush scuttlebutt raked Combs for stymieing rap talents like Black Rob.
"Why you holding on to your artists so long?" asks Damien, a self-described rap historian. "It's because you wanna drain all the wealth outta them and use them and discard them." Black Rob, however, came to Combs's defense. He told friends that even though it took a while for his music to hit the streets, he knew Combs eventually would release the album.
But the speculation regarding Mase's sudden departure from Bad Boy stirred up a storm of controversy. "How do you have a 19-year-old rapper named Mase who decides one day to wake up and say, 'You know what, I wanna get outta this shit and be a minister?' " a former Combs disciple told the Voice.
In 1999, Mase, whose real name is Mason Betha, quit Bad Boy Entertainment and announced the formation of S.A.N.E. Ministries (the acronym stands for Saving A Nation Endangered). He now calls himself Minister Mase "after a soul-stirring vision from God." Indeed, at the height of his popularity, owing to the success of his Harlem World album, Mase reportedly told one radio interviewer: "Tupac [who was killed in Las Vegas in 1996] heard the call and he didn't heed the warning. Biggie heard it; he didn't heed it. I'm no fool."
Some still have doubts as to why Mase left. "Puffy does not let people out of their contract so easily," claims a Bad Boy insider. "He had Mase under contract for a long time. You let somebody walk into your office and say, 'I don't want to be under contract no more,' and you just say, 'Okay, go ahead'? I think Mase had something over him, some little secret that Puffy did not want to get out, and he used it as a bargaining chip to get out of that record deal." Going S.A.N.E. may have saved Mase's life. "If anybody who wants to do something to you, they'll think twice," the insider asserts. "When you're with the Lord, they think twice about doing you stuff. Think about it. He's the only one who got out on top."
Supporters of Jamaal "Shyne" Barrow insist that his life was destroyed by the Bad Boy Curse. James Barnes, an aspiring r&b singer and record store owner, says he watched Barrow turn from wannabe rap superstar to one of Sean Combs's most vicious creatures.
Barrow was 17 when Barnes first met him hanging around his record shop in Flatbush. "He was at that time kind of cocky, but he had that young cockiness because people were showing so much interest in him," he recalls. "Prior to that, he hadn't had that much interest in him at all." Barnes had introduced Barrow to a rap impresario who knew Don Pooh, rapper Foxy Brown's associate producer. Barrow's rap name, Shyne, was coming up in conversations among record executives who pinned their hopes for a chart comeback on phenomenal ghetto talents like him. Then "Shyne from Brooklyn," as the industry came to know him, began to get, as Barnes put it, "negatively cocky."