In May, Sean “Diddy” Combs filed a lawsuit against Diageo PLC, his partner in the vodka brand Ciroc and tequila brand DeLeon, accusing Diageo of racial discrimination. In classifying the brands as “urban” brands, the lawsuit alleges “Ciroc and DeLeon have been starved of resources,” including “production, distribution, and sales.” Now, a new court ruling has unredacted several portions of the lawsuit, revealing that Combs also accused Diageo of developing a watermelon-flavored tequila against his wishes — even after being informed of the racist associations that could be attached to such a move.
In the original lawsuit, Combs said Diageo had not invested in Ciroc and DeLeon, and said that a president at the company, Stephen Rust, told him “race was part of the reason Diageo limited the neighborhoods where the Combs brands were distributed.” Diageo denied the allegations and ended its partnership with Combs in late June. But New York State Supreme Court Judge Joel Cohen recently ruled that Diageo could not keep the entirety of the lawsuit secret.
According to Rolling Stone, which obtained the unredacted lawsuit, Combs was not only asked to downplay his connection with Ciroc, “with the goal of rolling back its ‘image of being an African-American brand,” Combs claims that the company specifically refused to take his advice regarding the potentially prickly nature of the perception of a Black-owned tequila company selling a watermelon-flavored tequila.
“Diageo showed up in person to Mr. Combs and his team with a developed watermelon-flavored DeLeon Tequila,” the lawsuit reads. “They did this despite DeLeon not having flavored tequila, Mr. Combs’ consistent objection to adding flavors, and the efforts to educate Diageo about the racial history and connotations relating to watermelon.” However, a Diageo spokesperson told Rolling Stone, “Mr. Combs supported, publicly endorsed for several years, and benefited financially from the success of Ciroc Summer Watermelon. His attempt to recast follow up discussions regarding innovations for DeLeon is, as is his entire suit, disingenuous and self-serving.”
Diddy’s not the only rap mogul to have trouble with his alcohol brands; 50 Cent recently settled in Rémy Martin’s suit against him, while Jay-Z sold a significant stake in his D’usse brand after a heated lawsuit with Bacardi.