The Downfall of Diddy Inc.

After months in court, Sean Combs withdrew his racially charged lawsuit against Diageo. A look inside that battle reveals the failed attempt of a fading hip-hop mogul—who’s been buffeted by charges of sexual assault—to salvage a crumbling business empire.
Sean “Diddy” Combs.Photo illustration: 731; Photo: Getty Images
Sean “Diddy” Combs.Photo illustration: 731; Photo: Getty Images

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Even before four women accused him of sexual assault, Sean “Diddy” Combs was having a bad year. He’d been on the verge of hatching “the largest Black-owned cannabis company in the world,” promising he’d help Black people who’d been disproportionately criminalized by harsh drug laws. But by July the $185 million deal to acquire the operations of two large weed companies in several states had fallen through. Around the same time, he explored making an offer for Paramount Global’s BET, the first Black-owned cable network, as part of what a confidant told Variety was “his strategy to build a Black-owned global media powerhouse.” In August, however, Paramount pulled the network off the market, before reportedly considering a sale to a management group a few months later for almost $2 billion. The following month, Combs dropped The Love Album: Off the Grid, his first solo record in 17 years, featuring Justin Bieber, the Weeknd, John Legend and Mary J. Blige. “It’s the Super Bowl of R&B,” Combs told the Today show. “One of the greatest combinations of talent put together on an album in history!” But even with the parade of high-profile cameos, Love peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard 200 album chart, making it the worst performer yet by an artist many have long considered a second-tier rapper and mediocre producer. A Guardian reviewer wrote that Combs’ album was “oddly dissatisfying” and called his sultry patter with a female protégée on one cut “rather creepy.”

Still, if there was one gambit in 2023 that seemed to have the potential to yield a payout worthy of Combs’ ambitions, it was the lawsuit he filed last May against the world’s largest liquor company, Diageo Plc. After a phenomenally lucrative run for more than a decade and a half as the face of Cîroc vodka, Combs was suing its owner—and his longtime business partner—for being racist. He accused Diageo of failing to devote sufficient resources to DeLeón, a tequila they’d purchased together in 2013 amid their Cîroc success. As proof, he pointed to DeLeón’s desultory performance compared with that of Casamigos, a tequila Diageo had acquired four years later from actor George Clooney and his partners in a deal worth as much as $1 billion. The reason, Combs argued, was simple: He was Black, and Clooney was White. Combs said in his lawsuit that he was seeking “billions of dollars in damages due to Diageo’s neglect and breaches.” But to hear him tell it, he wasn’t merely waging a legal battle against the company—he was on a crusade to get big corporations to do more than just pay lip service to diversity and actually treat Black people fairly. “It is time that Diageo’s actions match its words,” Combs said in his complaint.

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