On December 28, 1999 Sean “Puffy” Combs and then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez had been celebrating a soon-to-be released album by Shyne, a.k.a. Jamal Barrow, the rap mogul’s 21-year-old protégé, at midtown’s Club New York. They were leaving when Combs, carrying a bottle of Champagne, accidentally jostled one of the club’s patrons, knocking a drink out of his hand. The man, Matthew Allen, a street tough known as “Scar,” responded with a shove. Things escalated—one of Allen’s companions allegedly threw a stack of money in Combs’s face—and shots were fired, leaving three people injured.
Combs and Lopez were arrested fleeing the scene in a Lincoln Navigator with a gun in the trunk. J.Lo was quickly absolved, and although witnesses said they’d seen Combs with the weapon—and his driver testified that his boss had bribed him to claim ownership—his legal team, including Johnnie Cochran, created enough doubt that Combs was acquitted, too. “I don’t know if you know this, judge, but this person Jennifer Lopez is a very famous actress,’’ one lawyer pointed out. “To think Mr. Combs is walking around with her with a loaded gun … it’s so ridiculous that it stretches the imagination.’’
In the end it was Shyne who served almost nine years for assault, gun possession, and reckless endangerment, though he did so angrily, claiming Combs had sold him out to save his own skin. After his acquittal, Combs changed his nickname to P. Diddy in hopes of putting the past behind him, but the saga lived on for years in song (“Whatcha gonna do when shit hit the fan / Take it like a man or snitch like a bitch?” Shyne asks pointedly on a track released after the incident), and naturally inspired a Law & Order episode, which aired in 2001. “It was a great New York story,” says Richard Sweren, who wrote the script. “Of course, we had to make it a murder.” The adaptation, “3 Dawg Night,” took other liberties as well: It’s rap mogul G-Trane’s famous girlfriend, a “ghetto girl made good,” played by a dewy Kerry Washington, who pulls the trigger after being disrespected. “He forgot who I was,” Kerry from the Block tells assistant district attorney Jack McCoy, of her aggressor. “I couldn’t let that happen. Not after how hard I worked to be who I am!”
The twist was inspired, but the story’s real-life ending is odder: This past December, Allen was shot to death at Footlights, a Brooklyn nightclub. And last month, Shyne, who embraced Judaism in prison and renamed himself Moses Michael Levi, squashed his beef with his former mentor at Paris Fashion Week, where they attended the Kenzo and Givenchy shows together. Shyne is prepping a new album for release this year, while Combs is still smarting over 2010’s Last Train to Paris, the lowest-charting album of his career. As L&O’s McCoy put it, “At that rate, he might have to go out and actually shoot somebody.”