Blood, Threats and Tears: Inside Diddy’s Nightmare Workplace

This month, the world witnessed surveillance video that would forever change whatever reputation remained for Sean “Diddy” Combs. The undeniable imagery of Combs beating his ex-girlfriend Cassie in a hotel hallway left no doubt in the minds of anyone who watched it that the hip-hop superstar was, at the very least, an abuser.

Combs had already been accused of a slew of horrifically violent behaviors after Cassie first alleged that she suffered beatings, psychological torment, and more at his hands in a lawsuit against him last November. Since then, six more suits have emerged, alleging the rapper and former brand mogul engaged in rape, assault, forcible drugging, and even a sex trafficking operation.

Now, five former Combs employees told The Daily Beast that the rapper’s allegedly abusive tendencies in his personal life extended to a disturbingly toxic work environment.

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Former employees of Combs’ lifestyle brand Sean John and Blue Flame, his now-shuttered advertising agency, recalled “erratic” behavior while in Combs’ employ, including instances where he grabbed, berated, and threatened them. These former staffers spoke to The Daily Beast under condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.

One female Sean John ex-employee shared a harrowing account about a time Combs grabbed her face following a disagreement about a creative decision. “He didn’t like that I wasn’t agreeing with him, and he wasn’t interested in hearing my point of view,” the former employee recalled.

Instead, Combs allegedly began to yell and compared himself to a renowned fashion designer. “When you speak to me, you should imagine that you’re talking to Karl Lagerfeld,” she recalled Combs telling her. “Anything I say, assume that it’s coming from Karl Lagerfeld.”

“At that point, I didn’t have a response to that, and he reaches out and he grabs my face,” she added. “He puts one hand on both sides of my cheeks and says ‘Stick out your tongue,’ and then he squeezes my face harder and yells at me to stick out my tongue, forces his hands on my face.”

She recounted how Combs then told her he “just wanted to see” if her tongue was bleeding, because she was clearly biting it. “I started looking for a job immediately after that moment,” she said. “I just wasn’t interested in being there to deal with that kind of treatment. You have to really idolize him and see him as an icon. I didn’t. I was just there to do my job.”

This former staffer was one of several who told The Daily Beast that they weren’t shocked by the disturbing surveillance video released earlier this month showing Combs assaulting Cassie in the hallway of a Los Angeles hotel in 2016. After CNN published the footage, the rapper apologized, telling fans, “I hit rock bottom. I make no excuses. My behavior on that video is inexcusable. I take full responsibility for my actions in that video.” (Page Six later reported that Combs was “incensed” that the hotel footage “doesn’t tell the full story,” according to an “insider.”)

“I’m sorry that it took this long,” the ex-staffer said. “I hope he gets what’s coming to him.”

Rapper/designer Sean “Diddy” Combs (R) and model Tyson Beckford on the runway at the Sean John Fall 2008 fashion show, at Cipriani, 42nd Street on Feb. 8, 2008, in New York City.

Scott Gries/Getty

Another former employee told The Daily Beast that he was fired after making eye contact with Combs, visibly expressing disappointment when the mogul showed up hours late for a meeting. From the employee’s perspective, Combs “took the look that I gave him personally.”

“There was erratic behavior, there was definitely what I would consider mental abuse, [with] how he spoke to us as employees,” the person said, adding that he often worked from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. because of Combs’ demands and the “culture of fear” the rapper had created in the workplace. There was “a lot of profanity, kind of aggressive, in your face—physically in your face—kind of stuff,” the employee said.

This former Sean John employee said the work environment was like Game of Thrones, with everyone walking on eggshells, and some colleagues throwing others under the bus to stay in Combs’ good graces.

The employee added of their time at the company: “When people ask me about it, I always tell them it was the worst experience I ever had in my life.”

In one meeting, this employee recalled, a designer informed Combs his team was “inundated” with work and couldn’t complete a specific project. Combs, then known as “Puffy,” “stopped in the middle of my presentation, told him he wasn’t inundated with shit, and to say it one more fucking time, and walked up to him face to face, lip to lip, and said, ‘Say it one more time, motherfucker.’”

The ex-employee continued: “He felt as though he should never be questioned and what he says is what it is.”

During one episode at Fashion Week, his relationship with his boss changed for good. After inquiring with Sean John’s CEO Jeffrey Tweedy about whether an unidentified woman at an event was Combs’ girlfriend, the employee said the rapper seemed “possessive” over his gal pal. He said Tweedy replied in a huff, “You can’t ask questions like that… What are you doing?”

“Then Puff came over and didn’t even look at me and said, ‘What did he say?’ And then Jeff said to Puff, ‘He was asking about your girl.’” Combs, the employee claimed, glared at him, shook his head, and walked away.

That night, before the employee left, he thanked Combs for the invitation. He claimed the rapper grabbed him “very forcefully,” walked him to the elevator, and declared, “We want this to work out. You can’t ask questions like that… This is New York.”

While this employee said he didn’t see Cassie at the office often enough to witness any of the violent treatment she described in her lawsuit, he said the infamous hotel video was “not a shock at all.”

Diddy’s Couture Website ‘Sean John’ Has Gone Totally Offline

Yet another former Sean John employee recalled how Combs oversaw the company through fear. One company director was so terrified of the rapper-turned-mogul that he’d leave the building every time Combs arrived, this former staffer claimed. Turnover at the company was high; a marketing director might have lasted only six months.

This ex-employee also echoed the toxic work culture that others described firsthand. In fact, they said, there was a specific term used around the office—“catching a brick”—for when a staffer became a target for Combs’ ire.

“It was as if you’re walking down the street and someone randomly threw a brick at your head out of the blue,” this former Combs employee said. “Out of the blue, if he was unhappy with something that you might not have done but he thought you did, you ‘caught a brick,’” they continued, recounting how Combs verbally attacked him until “I was surrounded by security guards, [who] rushed over—while he’s six inches from my face, screaming at me, telling me I fucked up.”

“That’s when I learned what a brick is. I caught my first brick, my only brick.” The employee put up with the rapper and the culture for a time, because “the opportunity he gave to young Black entrepreneurs, people that had vision and passion—it was super inspirational.”

For this former Combs employee, the Cassie video did come as a shock: “I was surprised by the level of violence that he had toward Cassie in that video. I didn’t see his anger going to that level. I really didn’t. I wouldn’t have stayed had I known what was going on, I’ll tell you that much.”


Sean “Diddy” Combs during Blue Flame Marketing/Alliance’s Upfronts at Carolines at Carolines in New York City, New York, United States.

Johnny Nunez/Getty

Cassie settled her November lawsuit accusing Combs of rape and beatings a day after it was filed. While her lawsuit accused Combs of sex-trafficking and sexual battery, it also included claims for sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and hostile work environment.

The legal papers mirror what some employees told The Daily Beast they faced in the office: Loyalty to Combs without question.

“Mr. Combs’s aggressive and demanding approach to those he worked with made it impossible for anyone to challenge him,” the complaint stated, “and Ms. Ventura soon learned that Mr. Combs insisted on blind loyalty from everyone in his inner circle.”

Still, the suit also said that Combs would order his employees to “lure” Cassie back whenever she tried to escape him. “Throughout their relationship Mr. Combs was prone to uncontrollable rage, and frequently beat Ms. Ventura savagely,” the complaint added. “These beatings were witnessed by Mr. Combs’ staff and employees of Bad Boy Entertainment and Mr. Combs’s related businesses, but no one dared to speak up against their frightening and ferocious boss.”

A former Blue Flame employee echoed the experiences of those who worked at Sean John. “There was a lot of cursing, a lot of talking to people crazy, a lot of [calling women] bitches, [saying], ‘Fuck you,’ or ‘Stupid,’” or “‘I’ll fire y’all bitches right now.’” She said that in her experience, she’d “never seen him be like that with men” unless they had no “power or stature in the industry.”

Combs’ female assistants would warn newcomers about his behavior, she added. “Everyone was kind of cautioned that, ‘Oh, he might say something weird or something off,’ but were told they should ‘just turn the other way.’ His assistants and representatives would be like, ‘We just keep it moving.’ He has so many assistants, I can’t remember who they all were.”

Although women were treated the worst in her experience, the former employee underscored that a substantial portion of the rapper’s success is owed to women. “I think the public persona of him is [that he’s] around a lot of men, but a lot of women have made him money,” she said. “He has a lot of power, but I don’t think a lot of people understand how many women work for him.” This former employee specifically referenced Combs’ executives Dia Simms, Erica Kue, and Erin Harris as examples of powerful women “who collectively have been crucial to his growth.”

Simms was formerly Combs’ assistant before she became President of Combs Enterprises. Along with Kue (former Sean by Sean Combs creative director) and Harris (former SVP of Combs Enterprises), the three executives now hold prestigious roles outside of Diddy’s sphere of influence.

“I can’t say that these women are pushovers,” she continued, “They are fucking brilliant if you ask me… but I would hope that power didn’t come at the cost of them turning a blind eye to other people’s suffering.” Simms, Kue, and Harris did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.

Diddy Seen Assaulting Cassie in Newly Released Surveillance Video

Not everyone who spoke with The Daily Beast had such a poor experience, but even those with positive things to say about working with Combs acknowledge that he could be “intimidating and scary and mean” or were aware of rumors about his abusive behavior.

One person who worked closely with Sean John and Combs—and who was provided to The Daily Beast by Combs’ representatives in lieu of an official statement, said the above horror stories were simply “not the experience that I had.” (Despite his “net positive” time working for Combs, this former employee asked to remain anonymous because “no matter what side of the argument I’m on, there’s no benefit for me, and it would be very detrimental to my personal life and career if I’m identified.”)

“I don’t think he was exceptionally crazy,” he said. “It was intense work, the hours were not normal,” but “I spent so much time up there [at Sean John], and I never heard any of this stuff,” he said, adding he’d “never” seen Combs talk down to or be aggressive with an employee. “He could be intimidating and scary and mean, but there was always this underlying professionalism to him,” he added. “You felt like he was pushing you to get the absolute best last little bit out of you.”

Another former employee at one of Combs’ companies—who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely about her experience—also said the rapper treated her well.

“He lives up to everything,” she said, referring to his standards and successes as a businessman. However, she added, “You learn to understand what you are dealing with.”

Before she took the job, she was warned that Combs was unconventional to work with, but actually ended up liking him. “We had to learn to get along together,” she explained.

This insider did say that the workplace was full of rumors that Combs’ relationship with Cassie was volatile. After seeing the hotel video last week, the former employee said she’d “washed my hands of” the mogul. “I’m done,” she said. “I didn’t even listen to the apology. It’s not worth my time.”

The latest lawsuit against Combs, filed last week by April Lampros, accuses him of battery and sexual assault in the 1990s. And just this week, CNN reported that Combs’ accusers would appear before a federal grand jury, as the U.S. Justice Department potentially seeks an indictment against the rapper.

One former Sean John employee told The Daily Beast she was “disgusted” by the hotel surveillance video.

“The video disgusted me as both a woman and someone who used to take pride in working at Sean John,” she said. “I am shocked because he has always claimed to be a God-fearing person, but there is no God in abusing a woman you claim to love.”

—With additional reporting by Josh Fiallo.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that several of the quotes were from the same Sean John employee, not two different employees.

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