Best Of '99: Puff Daddy Admits Harassing Record Executive

Superstar rapper ordered into anger-management program after guilty plea in 'Hate Me Now' video case.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, Sept. 8.]

NEW YORK — Sean "Puffy" Combs pleaded guilty to harassment

Wednesday morning (Sept. 8) in a case in which he had been charged with

assaulting record executive Steve Stoute with a chair, a telephone and

a champagne bottle.

The superstar rapper and producer was ordered to participate in a one-day

anger-management program administered by the New York County district

attorney's office. Upon completion of the program, the charge will be

wiped from his record.

Combs, whose second album, Forever, will fall to #8 this week on

the Billboard 200 albums chart — after debuting last week at

#2 — had faced up to seven years in prison after being charged with

felony assault for the April 15 incident. He admitted to the reduced

charge after what his lawyer, Harvey Slovis, said was seven weeks of

plea bargaining.

Combs' bodyguard Paul Offord also pleaded guilty to harassment and

received the same sentence.

"You have a very interesting history," New York County Criminal Court

Judge Martin Murphy told Combs during the two-minute proceeding. "Let's

hope we never meet again."

Murphy also handled a case stemming from a stampede at a 1991 charity

basketball game at City University of New York in which nine people were

killed. Combs and rapper Heavy D had organized the game.

Combs, dressed in a black suit and sunglasses, walked out of court with

his head down. He immediately left the courthouse for a press conference

to promote the Oct. 9 NetAid concerts in London, Geneva and East Rutherford,

N.J.

"He wants to move on," Slovis said outside the courtroom. "He wants to

put this thing behind him."

Combs has said he was angry at Stoute, who is president of Interscope

Records' urban-music division and a consultant to rapper Nas, over the

video for Nas' "Hate Me Now" (RealAudio

excerpt), in which Combs appears. In the initial video, which

premiered on MTV the day Combs confronted Stoute in the latter's New

York office, Combs was shown hanging from a cross in one scene.

The scene was later edited out of the video, and Combs apologized to

Stoute in June.

Stoute could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and his publicist did

not return calls.

"It was so upsetting to [Puffy] because he is very religious," Slovis

said Wednesday of the video.

Combs pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment. Wayne Brison, a spokesperson

for the New York County district attorney, said that means physical

contact with the intent to startle or threaten.

Despite the second-week sales dip for Combs' latest album — from

more than 200,000 copies sold during its first week to just under 119,000

in its second — hip-hop followers said Wednesday he remains a viable

major artist.

Tracey Cloherty, program director for WQHT-FM, a New York hip-hop station,

said Combs' slipping sales haven't deterred her from playing his new

single, "PE 2000" (RealAudio

excerpt), a remake of the 1987 Public Enemy song "Public Enemy

No. 1."

"It's not hitting as well as the first album, according to your numbers,"

she said. "But I still think it's a good album."

Combs' first album, No Way Out (1997), sold more than 500,000

copies its first week and has been certified six-times platinum. It

spawned two #1 singles, "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and "I'll Be Missing

You," as well as the popular "It's All About the Benjamins" (RealAudio

excerpt of remix).

Hedi Kim, general manager of Tower Records in New York's Greenwich Village,

said the drop-off between Combs' two albums is the same any performer of

his stature would experience. No one, she said, remains as popular as

Combs was two years ago

Combs is scheduled to perform at NetAid on Oct. 9 in East Rutherford,

N.J. The bill also includes Wyclef Jean, U2 singer Bono, Mary J. Blige,

Busta Rhymes and ex-Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.

(Staff Writer Brian Hiatt contributed to this report.)