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Cassie’s lawsuit against Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs is the latest chapter in hip-hop’s uncomfortable history with #MeToo

Explosive lawsuit details years of alleged abuse by the Bad Boy Records founder

The last person Sean “Diddy” Combs thanked in his lifetime achievement award speech at the 2022 BET Awards was Cassie.

“And also Cassie,” he said, looking directly into the camera, “for holding me down during the dark times.”

It turns out — at least from Cassie’s perspective — the source of the “dark times” was Diddy himself. In an explosive federal civil lawsuit, Cassie, whose real name is Casandra Ventura, says that during her yearslong relationship with Diddy, she was subjected to rape, assault, sex trafficking and more.

The allegations in the lawsuit are graphic, and the court filing includes a rare trigger warning. The suit mentions “freak-off” parties where Cassie said Diddy would make her have sex with male sex workers while he filmed them. The lawsuit also included accounts of domestic violence, manipulation, and forced drug use. There’s even mention of Diddy allegedly blowing up rapper Kid Cudi’s car after discovering Cassie and Cudi briefly dated. Kid Cudi’s spokesperson confirmed that a car exploded, telling The New York Times, “This is all true.”

Cassie’s allegations fall under New York’s Adult Survivors Act. The law allows people who say they are victims of sexual abuse one year to file civil suits once the criminal statute of limitations has expired.

Through his lawyer, Bob Brafman, Diddy denied all the allegations. “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,” Brafman said in a statement. “Despite withdrawing her initial threat, Ms. Ventura has now resorted to filing a lawsuit riddled with baseless and outrageous lies, aiming to tarnish Mr. Combs’s reputation and seeking a payday.”

The lawsuit against Diddy comes on the heels of several high-profile men in the music industry being accused of similar actions: Neil Portnow, the former chief executive of the Recording Academy, which is responsible for the Grammys, was accused of rape. Two women have accused Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler of sexual assault. Former music executive Drew Dixon filed a civil lawsuit on Nov. 8 against LaFace Records co-founder L.A. Reid, accusing him of assault. All of this while music mogul Russell Simmons, who was accused of rape and sexual assault by Dixon and others in the 2020 documentary On The Record, has appeared at celebrations of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, in photos on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and alongside New York City mayor Eric Adams.

Activist Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement for survivors of sexual violence in 2006, and it has highlighted how rape, sexual assault, and manipulation have run rampant in myriad industries for generations. Comedian Bill Cosby, movie producer Harvey Weinstein, singer R. Kelly, movie director Bryan Singer and others have seen their careers ruined and legacies tarnished. But a question that has been asked multiple times is whether hip-hop will hold itself accountable for its transgressions.

Hip-hop producer Sean “Diddy” Combs (left) and singer Cassie Ventura attend the GQ Men of the Year Party at Chateau Marmont on Nov. 13, 2012, in Los Angeles.

Jeff Vespa/Getty Images For GQ

While a person’s public visibility shouldn’t factor into innocence or guilt, Diddy’s fame and evergreen relevance mark a turning point in these conversations. He is the most high-profile person in hip-hop to be hit with accusations of this magnitude. Simmons, who wasn’t exactly in the spotlight at the time, fled to Bali in 2017 once allegations of sexual misconduct with multiple women surfaced. Diddy, however, is still very active in American pop culture.

The music industry has always been viewed as a boy’s club, and hip-hop is no different. Many of the conversations this year about hip-hop’s 50th anniversary have focused on its mistreatment and negligence of women in songs and throughout the culture. These topics matter as much, if not more, than the well-deserved celebrations. And if the genre is to thrive for another half century, moments like these need to be handled with the utmost care.

Diddy is a tour de force of American culture. He’s helped shape such music icons as The Notorious B.I.G., Jodeci and Mary J. Blige. His Bad Boy Records imprint has sold hundreds of millions of records, and Diddy’s business portfolio has made him a constant on Forbes magazine’s annual cash cow lists. Simply put, his money is long, and the power that comes with a résumé like his is even longer.

Yet, the controversies around Diddy rival his long list of hit records. There was the City College melee in 1991 that left nine dead — and Diddy suicidal for a time. Or the tragic deaths of those closest to him, such as The Notorious B.I.G., former girlfriend Kim Porter, former bodyguard Anthony “Wolf” Jones and former Uptown Records CEO and mentor André Harrell. In 2019, Diddy and an ex-employee settled a sexual harassment lawsuit. He’s also battled accusations of alleged financial improprieties for years by a long list of former artists who were an undeniable part of Diddy’s legacy. (Remember, it was The Lox who threatened to push a refrigerator on Diddy in 2005 if he didn’t release them from his label and return their publishing.)

This year there has been a flurry of goodwill stories about Diddy. In September, he decided to return publishing rights to his former artists. He donated $1 million to Jackson State University’s football team in August. Weeks later, Mayor Eric Adams gave Diddy a key to the city in September, which coincided with the release of his new album, The Love Album: Off The Grid. The MTV Video Music Awards gave Diddy their Global Icon award. Talk in the industry in recent weeks has alluded to these acts as smoke screens for larger, more catastrophic headlines. That logic, at least for now, appears accurate.

One of the most emotional moments that didn’t paint Diddy in a positive light came from rappers Cam’ron and Ma$e’s show, It Is What It Is. During one episode, Ma$e explained why he introduced Cam’ron to The Notorious B.I.G. instead of Bad Boy (Diddy) decades earlier when Cam’ron’s music career was in its infancy. The insinuation was clear. He didn’t trust Diddy.

“I knew with Biggie, instantly [he] would do right by you,” Ma$e, a former Bad Boy artist, said.

Then, of course, there is the Sept. 29 arrest of Duane “Keffe D” Davis for his alleged role in the 1996 slaying of rapper Tupac Shakur. For almost two decades, Davis has said Diddy placed the hit on Shakur and Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight during their bitter feud in the mid-1990s, an accusation Diddy has repeatedly denied. Amid all of the drama and rumors, Diddy has largely avoided this level of public scrutiny.

Diddy has every right to proclaim his innocence. Cassie has every right to prove her former boyfriend’s alleged illicit, immoral and illegal actions are true. Now, Diddy is the new face of the #MeToo movement in hip-hop, a cause he once lauded.

“The #MeToo movement, the truth, is that it inspired me,” he told Vanity Fair in 2021. “It showed me that you can get maximum change.”

This should be a watershed moment for hip-hop. Just how much is the culture ready and willing to discuss the abuses that occur? Just how much are fans willing to hear accusers speak of inhumane acts forced upon them instead of blindly attaching themselves to money and power they don’t have direct access to? Just how much will Diddy’s peers stand by him? And if Diddy is responsible for the alleged actions, is hip-hop ready to address how that changes almost everything we’ve known about his gifts to pop culture over the last 30-plus years? These are all questions for a genre that ignored them for far too long with little to no repercussions.

This isn’t a story that will fade with time. The parties involved are too prominent, the allegations are too salacious, and the lessons too important. Diddy’s world may not yet be on fire. But the smoke surrounding it now is impossible to ignore.

Justin Tinsley is a senior culture writer for Andscape. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single most impactful statement of his generation.