A former rapper who was deported to Belize after opening fire at a New York club during a night out with P Diddy and Jennifer Lopez has returned to the United States as a politician 10 years on.
Once a rising hip hop star and prodigy of Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, Jamal ‘Shyne’ Barrow seemed to have faded into obscurity after he was arrested for a shooting in a midtown Manhattan night club and deported to his home country of Belize.
But now, more than 10 years later, Barrow is back in the United States – no longer as a convicted felon or a hip hop star, but instead as the leader of Belize’s opposition party trying to improve relations between the two countries.
He met with United States representatives from New York as he walked the halls of Congress this month, a free man, and even reconciled with his former mentor, Combs.
Barrow is pictured after being arrested over a shooting incident which later saw him deported to Belize
Jamal ‘Shyne’ Barrow was on his way to stardom in 1999 when he was arrested in connection with a shooting at a New York City nightclub. He is seen here leaving Manhattan Supreme Court in March 2001
Born Jamal Michael Barrow in Belize City in 1978 – three years before the country gained independence – Barrow moved to the Big Apple in the mid-1980s while his father, Dean Barrow, served on the Belize City Council.
Both the Barrows had a big year in 1998, with Dean becoming the Belize House of Representatives’ opposition leader.
He took control of the weak conservative coalition known as the United Democratic Party, according to Slate, while Shyne met Combs – then going by the moniker ‘Puff Daddy’ – and was offered a generous record label.
Combs was on his way to stardom in December 1999, having just released his self-titled debut album, which he decided to celebrate with Combs and Combs’ then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez at Club New York.
But Puff accidentally bumped into Brooklynite Matthew ‘Scar’ Allen and spilled his drink, leading to a heated argument that ended with a wad of cash being thrown in Puff Daddy’s face.
Eventually, shots rang out and three people were injured.
Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs was also arrested, but was acquitted. Barrow, seen second from right, was charged with 10 years in prison
JLo, Puff and his body guard quickly fled the scene, but were pulled over for running a red light and arrested for storing a gun in the getaway car.
Combs was then charged in the shooting, but was later acquitted, while Barrow was sentenced to 10 years in prison on assault and weapons charges. He has said he was defending himself, a stance he still maintains, according to the New York Daily News. Lopez did not face any charges over the scandal, but split up with Combs shortly afterwards.
By 2003, Barrow was dropped from Combs’ Bad Boy Records, and one year later, Barrow publicly said Combs betrayed him.
Still, he continued producing music while in prison – collaborating with Lil Wayne and Orthodox Jewish rapper Matisyahu and dissing Puff Daddy in multiple lyrics – and even converted to Orthodox Judaism himself, taking the name Moses Michael Levi Barrow.
He was released in 2009, but was promptly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and sent back to Belize ‘for an immigration law violation,’ Slate reports.
By then, though, his father led the UDP to a victory in the 2008 elections and became the Caribbean country’s first black prime minister.
In April 2010, Dean appointed his son as the country’s ‘musical goodwill ambassador,’ causing some controversy, until Barrow started organizing events for the benefit of artists and established new music institutions stocked with instruments he donated himself.
He also continued to make music, participating in a Bad Boy Reunion Show in Brooklyn from his home in Belize in 2016 via a livestream broadcast. Local media in the area praised him at the time for ‘bringing even more attention to Belize.’
In 2018, Barrow kicked off a House campaign, and earned the support of rapper Fat Joe and even his former enemy, Combs, now going by the name ‘Diddy.’
He won the election in November 2020 with 53 percent of the vote, Slate reports, and ousted the UDP leader, Patrick Faber, who had gotten in trouble after a video surfaced of him raging against the mother of his 2-year-old daughter – and the rapper formerly known as Shyne became the party leader.
Shyne converted to Orthodox Judaism while he was in prison, and has since visited Israel
He is now back in the United States – but this time as an ambassador for Belize. He is pictured here at the 40/40 club in New York Cityon Saturday with Jay-Z and Rudy Gay
This month, he returned to the United States a seemingly new man than when he left.
He met up with Combs on August 25, and in a video posted to social media Combs said: ‘I’m in my bag right now, crazy, I got my brother here, the leader of the opposition in Belize, my brother Shyne.’
Barrow said the two had an ‘understanding after speaking over the phone’ in 2012 and planned to meet in the future, according to Hot 97.
He also sought to improve relations between the United States and Belize while he was here, the Daily News reports, meeting with Congressman Gregory Meeks, of Queens, and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, of New York City.
‘I’m on official duty,’ he told the Daily News. ‘I’m very focused on making connections that will benefit Belize in the immediate and long term.’
He said he is focused on boosting tourism to his home country and improving the lives of ‘marginalized and disenfranchised youth who have been condemned.’
‘I don’t think any of us can be where we are without going through the process,’ said Barrow, now 42. ‘Some of our processes are different. Some of our pain is different.
‘I thought I’d be a billionaire rap superstar entertainer and that was going to be the way I helped Belize,’ he said. ‘But the architect of the universe had a different design.’
Barrow added that he has ‘always been a leader’ and ‘concerned about people,’ even going back to that debut album in which he raps about building schools rather than prisons. The album went platinum despite his arrest.
‘I was always very conscious of dilemmas facing inner-city youth and families,’ he said. ‘I was using my platform to call attention to that.
‘People would focus on the obscene language and the violence, but I was always aware and conscious to use my platform to be a voice for the voiceless.
‘I’m not going to be the 19-year-old child I was,’ he concluded. ‘I’m going to be a better version of myself. I’ve become who I always wanted to be.’