How China’s biggest audio platform funded one man’s frat boy dreams
Imagine you’re a podcaster who’s been recording your show at CBS Radio, a venerable, if not unglamorous spot. One day, you’re instead offered the chance to start recording in a Beverly Hills home. The house has a pool, free food for the talent — that means you! — and the space to host blowout events. You know what you’d choose, and you know what podcaster Norm Steele chose: the Hollywood life.
When Steele walked into the HiStudios hype house for the first time, he found an oasis, one you wouldn’t expect to come with the territory of being a podcaster. Even the biggest podcaster in the world, Joe Rogan, records in a studio resembling an underground bunker. But here, alongside two studios equipped with hardware and support staff, was a vast view of Los Angeles and the cachet that comes with it.
“It was the professional element,” Steele says when asked why he chose to work with HiStudios, a company spun out of the buzzy podcasting startup Himalaya. “Basically, me having shows that are on the verge of being something great, they had a purpose there. It was a nice place.”
Peter Vincer, the man behind the hype house and the CEO of HiStudios, gave me a lofty spiel ahead of the company’s launch in August 2019. He envisioned a global podcast network with influencers and athletes and shows that would become international hits. He name-dropped Mike Tyson, Penny Hardaway, and Zane and Heath, and he said the company had a deal with Studio71, which works with top YouTubers like Marques Brownlee. Vincer and his team would help launch their shows not just in the US, but in China, too, thanks to HiStudios’ ties to Himalaya, a US podcasting startup funded by the massive Chinese audio company Ximalaya. (Yes, it’s just a one letter difference and very confusing.)
It was a bold ambition, but everyone in the podcast space pitches something. So after writing about HiStudios that summer, I didn’t hear or think much about them again. That is, until things started falling apart.
“I don’t want to have nothing to do with this dude no more,” Steele says about Vincer now. “It’s real easy to get caught up in the allure of that house. He may have it clean one day, and next thing you know, you sign the bullshit contract with some dude, and you get took.”
The story of the hype house starts, as many do, with the promise of money. Specifically, the chance to cash in on the burgeoning podcast industry. Podcasting has been thrust into the limelight over the past few years. Nearly every big tech company — from Apple and Google to Spotify and Facebook — is now involved in the space, and radio companies like iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Audacy, and SiriusXM have incorporated podcasting into their radio businesses. And these would-be podcast hitmakers have signed huge names, like Kim Kardashian, the Clinton family, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, to their networks.
Collectively, these companies have spent billions of dollars on acquisitions in an attempt to become the dominant names in audio. The industry is expected to exceed $1 billion in revenue this year, according to a recent study. But these companies are playing the long game, believing they can bring billions more dollars into the space through their own investments.
Audio content is already huge in some countries, and in China, Ximalaya dominates. The company says 250 million people use its app every month; users spent more than 1.5 billion minutes listening in 2020. It filed to go public in the US in April this year and was reportedly valued at over $3 billion in 2018. So, of course, the company decided to try to replicate its success stateside through an offshoot called Himalaya.
Himalaya announced its arrival in February 2019 with a podcast player and list of exclusive shows, including a partnership with the Dallas Mavericks. In a debut Variety piece, the company boasted about a $100 million investment led by Ximalaya, as well as from General Atlantic and SIG. It really seemed like the company could find a place in the industry, if for no other reason than having cash in the bank. (Disclosure: General Atlantic is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.)
But with Vincer and the hype house, Himalaya got more than it bargained for. In less than a year, what was intended to be a schmoozy haven for creators turned into a perplexing world of cocaine, dog poo, and unpaid bills, according to more than a dozen people who spoke with The Verge. All the stories centered on one man: Vincer.
Vincer had already made a name for himself when he was brought on at Himalaya, and not always for the best reasons.
One person remembers him as disrespectful and hard to work with at Castbox, a separate China-based podcasting company. Another alleges that he would get drunk and discuss sexual escapades at business dinners. Nick Quah, of the podcasting newsletter Hot Pod, says he banned Vincer from his invite-only conference after he started drinking before noon and made attendees uncomfortable. (“He seems like a jackass,” Quah told me.)
In another story recounted by two sources, Vincer allegedly walked up to a group of people at Podcast Movement, another industry conference, in 2018 while wearing a fanny pack. He then asked if anyone wanted drugs, which these people believed were in the bag strapped to his waist. “The thing that stuck with me was, ‘Okay so you’ve got [drug] options,’” says one person who asked to remain anonymous because of their continuing work in the industry. Vincer denies that all of this happened.
Still, Vincer was brought on as Himalaya’s VP of global marketing and partnerships in August 2018. He spent his time wooing potential collaborators and doing his best to promote Himalaya as the next big thing in the podcasting business.
Himalaya pitched podcasters on a simple idea: we’ll sell your ads, market your show, and take a cut of revenue from whatever sales are made. This differs in a crucial way from other companies. Other networks will sell ads for a podcast, but often aren’t willing to risk their own cash to promote a program and help it grow.
This marketing budget mostly meant swag. Charlie Worroll, the host and creator of Crimelines, says Himalaya sent listeners who signed up for her premium Himalaya feed a merch box with Crimelines-branded water bottles and enamel pins. The company also offered to run a banner ad for her show at the top of its app and highlighted it in a booklet handed out at Podcast Movement. Another podcaster, Jack Luna of true crime show Dark Topic, says he was told he’d be paid for every person that followed him on the Himalaya app, and other creators say they were offered the same incentive.
“A lot of these quote unquote podcast networks are literally just ad sales ... and so Himalaya was really trying to set themselves out as a network where they’re promoting their independent shows,” Worroll says. Himalaya took a vested interest in her show’s success and wanted to see it grow by fronting these marketing costs. “I think Himalaya’s vision was great. It didn’t happen, but if it did, it would have been amazing.”
It soon became clear that Himalaya might not have as much money as it let on. At least one of the investments Himalaya announced at launch turned out to be exaggerated, according to an Axios report from September 2019. General Atlantic never invested directly in Himalaya Media, per the report, and had actually only invested in its parent company, Ximalaya. Another supposed investor, SIG, never confirmed its funding of Himalaya. It didn’t respond to Axios’ request for comment in 2019, and it also didn’t respond to multiple recent requests for comment from The Verge.
That confusion might have stemmed from Vincer, according to Richard Selah, a former Himalaya contractor and eventual CRO at HiStudios. Selah tells The Verge that Vincer made the $100 million figure up as a way to get more investment out of Ximalaya and build hype for the company. Selah says he and Vincer were in an Uber, and Vincer asked what was a “better number” for a PR piece: $50 million or $100 million. Selah suggested the higher figure, and he says Vincer went with it. “That’s where the $100 million came from,” Selah says.
The inaccurate figure was later repeated by Himalaya’s CEO, Yu Wang, to at least one prominent journalist in the space, James Cridland from Podnews, which Selah witnessed during a podcast festival.
Vincer spoke with The Verge for this story and offered multiple explanations for the following reporting and allegations made against him. Most of which comes down to none of what follows happened, or, if it did to some degree, it wasn’t his fault.
“There were, of course, a lot of stressful moments,” Vincer says. “It was not easy, but our team banded together, and then it’s been growing and flourishing since.”
It’s simultaneously easy and incomprehensible to understand how Vincer has lasted in the industry for years. He’s charismatic, funny, and has conviction on whatever he’s selling you. Plus, he’s fun — if you’re the type of person who likes partying with your boss.
Selah, the former CRO at HiStudios, for example, alleges that Vincer would do coke and drink to excess on every work trip they took together. Which, yes, is a major red flag for any corporate executive. But on the flip side, there might be free coke in it for you. Selah also alleges Vincer used an app to arrange meetups with sex workers during work trips. (Selah didn’t report any of this to Himalaya’s CEO, and Vincer denies everything.)
“His personal lifestyle I felt was a runaway train waiting to leave the tracks, and it was just a matter of time before, you know, he would basically either take the company down or take himself down,” Selah says. “He’s just a bad guy, and unfortunately, he’s a bad guy wrapped up into this magnificent personality.”
Still, Vincer succeeded at Himalaya and ended up with a promotion.
Himalaya spun out a new company called HiStudios to produce podcasts, court creators, make shows, and sell ads — pretty standard podcast network stuff. The company launched publicly in August 2019 with a focus on inking deals with influencers and athletes, and Himalaya gave the team a monthly budget in addition to whatever sales they made.
Vincer, an American who also speaks Mandarin, was put in charge as CEO.
In his telling of events, Vincer says HiStudios’ creation gave him — an entrepreneurial spirit — a place to run free. He “didn’t see eye to eye” with Himalaya’s COO, he says, and this gave Himalaya a separate business to fall back on if the app didn’t work out. Selah, however, says it was more like Himalaya wanted some distance from Vincer’s behavior, particularly after he allegedly lashed out at a subordinate employee, which Selah says he witnessed.
HiStudios’ main office was based in Austin, Texas, out of a WeWork and states away from Vincer, who lives in California. Vincer, however, also wanted to run branded studios out of Los Angeles to draw talent. He envisioned impressive places where influencers and athletes could record. What he ended up with was a hype house — a rental home in Beverly Hills that he rented for between $16,000 and $17,000 per month, depending on the lease year.
The house is tucked into the Los Angeles hills, surrounded by well-to-do neighbors, including a bookstore owner and dermatologist. It’s in Beverly Hills and has the famous zip code — 90210 — for prestige. The home epitomizes 1960s California modern style with a gated driveway leading up to the front entrance, which includes two Greek-style pillars framing the door. It also features floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors, showcasing the backyard pool, and because the house is in the shape of an L, people in one room can see what’s happening on the other side of the house. It looks like a place designed to hang and live, not so much to work.
Instead of building a traditional studio, HiStudios turned the rental home into a space where people could work and stay for extended periods of time. Someone who’d been to the home says the LA house served as a real workplace where people could sleep if they were in town for business. Vincer says there was always one room for people to stay in, which helped the company avoid hotel fees. Vincer himself had a room that he occasionally stayed in while in town, he says, and another room was given to his assistant. The HiStudios team occasionally hosted clients for drinks at the Beverly Hills home, but never let it get out of hand, the source who visited the home says. People could work from the living room or by the pool.
“Everything was perfect at first,” says Steele, who leads the Digital Soapbox podcast and multimedia network and hosts a show called The Gangster Chronicles. “We said, ‘Okay, we’re going to be recording in this cool mansion.” The house had two studios decked out with production equipment, which Himalaya funded, and a producer and studio manager would be on hand to help with production.
Podcasters could host events at the house, too. One night, in March 2020, the home turned into a venue for a cannabis launch party for Krayzie Bone, of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, who regularly recorded a show at the house.
The event sounds like a stoner’s dream. Also a frat boy’s: naked women with body paint in the cannabis line’s colors danced and mingled with the crowd; a red carpet was rolled out for photo-ops; rappers performed; party guests smoked weed out of an ice sculpture that doubled as a bong; people passed around 24-karat gold and rose petal hand-rolled cigars; and women danced with fire and albino snakes.
“It was a beautiful spot — a great view, nice pool, perfect for throwing a party,” says Crystal Bauer Feldman, who owns the marketing agency Arcane Media and was hired to run the event.
On the outside, the house and party looked incredible and suggested the company was thriving. But behind the scenes, HiStudios was off to a more troubling start, as shows struggled to get off the ground and employees alleged that the party-like atmosphere had turned toxic.
Multiple shows Vincer highlighted to build hype either never panned out or didn’t last long. Vincer says HiStudios and Studio71 created some shows that he “isn’t proud of,” and that Studio71 sent him “shitty shows” to work with. The Zane and Heath show he told me about at launch ended up being a “real bummer deal” for him with the hosts eventually switching networks, and Penny Hardaway’s show fell apart after he ran into trouble with the NCAA and a suspension of a player. “I can tell you that he was not into making a podcast after all that went down with his team,” Vincer says. Studio71 declined to comment, as did Zane and Heath’s talent agency.
Vincer’s behavior was allegedly hurting the company’s deals, too, prior to HiStudios’ public launch. Selah alleges Vincer slept through meetings or nearly missed them because of late nights spent partying or with sex workers. In one case, he alleges he and the team repeatedly called Vincer to wake up for a meeting with Nelson Mandela’s family foundation. He says the meeting was at 9AM, and Vincer came down to the hotel lobby that morning at 9:15 with a woman.
Vincer denies this happening and says he’s close partners with Mandela Media now, although multiple requests to the team for confirmation went unanswered.
“Peter Vincer should never manage people ever again in his lifetime, let alone even own a dog,” Selah says.
HiStudios employees also allege they were on the receiving end of harassment throughout their time at the Los Angeles house, according to a lawsuit filed in fall 2020. Four former HiStudios employees, including the company’s former VP of marketing, studio manager, creative director, and assistant to the CEO, allege the company facilitated and encouraged open drug use and other inappropriate workplace behavior, including inviting sex workers to events, over the course of nearly a year. These former employees describe events in which they say they were subjected to ridicule, abuse, and sexual questions that ultimately led to their alleged wrongful terminations.
Two women who worked at HiStudios say in the lawsuit that Vincer constantly brought up sex around them. Alexa Passer, who worked as the vice president of marketing for HiStudios, alleges that Vincer would routinely ask her questions about her sex life, including the size of her boyfriend’s penis. Passer says he once introduced her boyfriend to a group of colleagues as the guy “who Lexy is fucking,” according to the lawsuit. On another occasion, Vincer allegedly attempted to get Passer to arrange a fivesome between him, her, her boyfriend, and two women she met at a bar after a work dinner. When the women eventually walked away from the group, Vincer allegedly said to Passer, “Of course you couldn’t get it done, like everything else.”
Vincer says that all the plaintiffs’ employment contracts were terminated for just cause, and all the defendants have since responded to the lawsuit, denying the allegations and, in one filing, requesting the case be thrown out. The lawsuit is still pending and a trial date is set for April 2022.
The lawsuit also alleges that when looking to hire a studio manager for the company’s hype house, Vincer gathered team members around a computer and clicked through LinkedIn profiles of women, asking aloud how big their breasts were and whether they were attractive. He passed on any person of color, the lawsuit claims, because that “wasn’t the look he was going for.”
“I don’t do that,” Vincer says in response. “A lot of people compare me to Michael Scott, and I’m obsessed with The Office, and I always have been. I make very Michael Scott-y jokes, but no, that’s not the type of character I am. Everyone that knows me knows I’m not like that. That’s not me.”
Another plaintiff, Misti Taylor, was eventually hired for this studio manager role, which involved her sleeping and living at the house for prolonged periods of time, according to the lawsuit. Taylor alleges that drug use was common, and that Vincer’s children were present while people smoked marijuana and drank excessively. Vincer is also said to have repeatedly made inappropriate sexual comments to Taylor, including asking whether she had “wild sex parties” or “orgies” in the house while she lived in it over the holiday season. The lawsuit claims she was eventually fired because Vincer said she gave off “bad vibes” and placed the Christmas tree in the wrong spot in the house.
Vincer says the above incidents didn’t happen and that he fired Taylor because she deleted security footage from the home during her stay, and when he let her go, he alleges that she took control of the house’s connected thermostats and turned the heat up to “like 90 [degrees]” and started playing death metal music over speakers. “It really was like a horror movie,” he says.
One of Taylor’s lawyers, Nick Rosenthal, says he “doesn’t know anything” about the smart house allegations, but “even if everything that Mr. Vincer just said was true, none of that excuses sexually harassing your employees.”
One male employee also claims to have been the subject of abuse. Dylan Fussman, Vincer’s former assistant and a plaintiff, alleges that he was told to hire sex workers and purchase drugs, so Vincer wouldn’t carry the risk of doing it himself. Fussman would sleep at the house and allegedly was woken up one morning around 3 or 4AM and told to prepare lines of cocaine for clients. Vincer denies this happened.
Another HiStudios employee, Mike Botticello, HiStudios’ head of content, allegedly physically abused Fussman and would “nut slap” him in front of other people. Botticello hasn’t replied to multiple Verge requests to comment, but his lawyers responded to the complaint saying he denies “each and every allegation asserted in the complaint.”
Strangely, Vincer corroborates this part of the lawsuit and says Fussman reported the “nut slapping” to him, causing Vincer to have to sit the two men down and talk about the situation and put a stop to it. Botticello’s lawyer declined to comment for this story.
One of Fussman’s lawyers says this situation speaks to the “kind of environment” the plaintiffs worked in daily.
“Imagine at a normal company if an executive went up to an employee and slapped him in the genitals, and the CEO’s response was, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it,’” the lawyer says. “Would that ever happen? No, he’d be fired immediately.”
Drennon Davis, another male employee, alleges Vincer offered to introduce him to a sex worker, but Davis turned the offer down, though he believed doing so could provoke retaliation. Vincer denies this.
Meanwhile, Selah was fired prior to HiStudios’ public launch and the renting of the house. Selah says he began recording every conversation he had with Vincer and Himalaya CEO Wang before he was let go. About a year later, he says he took his old work laptop with all the recordings out during hunting season and “shot holes” in it.
When employees informed Himalaya of their experiences at the hype house, the company told Vincer to open an investigation with HiStudios’ own budget, Vincer says. The Verge attempted to reach the lawyer who conducted this investigation but received no response.
Vincer says he never saw the findings himself, as they were sent to Himalaya, but heard secondhand from two employees that the lawyer confirmed drug use in the house. Himalaya did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the lawsuit or investigation.
The whole situation ostensibly spooked Himalaya. In a rapid effort to get away from the mess that was HiStudios, Himalaya publicly separated itself from the studio on March 5th, 2020, with seemingly no plan in place for what that might mean. Himalaya portrayed the split as a strategic move to “allow both businesses to grow,” in a press release.
Vincer also decided to give HiStudios a new name: Notorious
Himalaya’s intended clean break didn’t go as planned, however. The company wanted to keep HiStudios’ clients — it owned HiStudios, after all — but Vincer seemingly had other ideas. Once the companies separated, Vincer set Notorious up to essentially take over HiStudios’ roster of shows and creators, according to an email sent to creators by Wang and obtained by The Verge. Per the email, Vincer allegedly locked the Himalaya and former HiStudios production team out of their emails, shared drive system, and Megaphone account, which hosted every podcast the team created and published. That gave Notorious nearly full control over the network. “This is not only illegal, but creates lots of difficulties to release new episodes for many shows,” the email from the CEO states.
The Notorious team also locked Himalaya’s accountant out of the shared drive that included documents she needed to pay creators, according to the email. At that point, Himalaya’s board began preparing a lawsuit to try to regain access to the emails and shared drive. (It seemingly never filed that lawsuit.) Both sides began reaching out to creators, per emails viewed by The Verge, to win them over. Notorious emailed creators and declared its “full independence” from Himalaya, with a name that reflects the company’s “innovative spirit, culture, and dedication to delivering bold content.”
“The conversations I had were surreal, like, this is a bunch of suits and they’re talking to me like they’re arguing parents,” says one creator, who asked to remain anonymous because of their ongoing work with Notorious. “It really did feel like a divorce or something.”
Vincer denies locking Himalaya’s team out of any accounts, although a source familiar with the situation, who has asked to remain anonymous over fears of retaliation, says Vincer instructed the HiStudios / Notorious team to change all the passwords. Because Vincer’s name was on the lease for the home, he stayed in the hype house and made it Notorious’ office, as well as his actual home. That’s when things got even messier.
Following the Notorious transition, Steele says the house fell into disrepair. He and another member of his team say furniture was destroyed; dog poop sat on the floor inside the house; trash, including baby diapers, would linger in the driveway for weeks. Vincer, he says, would occasionally be passed out in the living room when podcast guests were coming over.
“[It went] from being a really pristine place to create that could have been something amazing, but it just got mismanaged to the point where it turned into a dump,” Steele says. “It turned into a personal haven for this middle-aged man to relive his childhood.”
The source familiar with the split backs up these claims and says the state of the house got in the way of work. This person recalls a time when ice cream was smeared all over a screen the team used to give presentations, and Vincer, this person says, laughed when the team pointed it out instead of offering to get it cleaned up.
At the same time, this person also says men in the house, including Vincer, would hang out without their shirts on, adding to the frat-like environment.
“I had to walk up to a guy [Vincer] that I worked for to talk about something business-related, and he’s got no shirt on, and he’s got his gut hanging out, and he’s got a beer in his hand,” they say, adding that food also sat out for days, attracting flies.
This person also alleges the studio manager once had to hang up the phone after stepping in dog poop that sat in the studio.
At this point, Vincer, his wife, three kids, four cats, and two dogs had moved into the home making it exactly that: a home. But the people who had been using the space as a workplace didn’t get the memo that this was now a place where a family lived.
As Steele started spending more time with his team at the LA house during the spring and summer of 2020, he says things got less and less professional. For one, he says people in the house started out just smoking marijuana, which is legal in California, but later some moved on to doing lines of cocaine in the studios. He also says members of his team would get blamed for things in the house they didn’t do.
“It was always assumed, like, let’s say all the liquor at the bar was drunk up, they assumed my guys were doing it,” he says. “I was just like, ‘My guys didn’t do that.’”
He says his podcasters brought in their own drinks. “We got guys [on our podcasts] that are coming in with bottles of Clicquot and high-end stuff — Ace of Spades — they don’t even drink that crap that [the people at the house] drink.”
Vincer denies that the team would have been blamed for drinking all the booze.
Bauer Feldman, who planned the cannabis event, started working on a podcast under an agreement with Steele, letting her record at the house. She says she enjoyed her time at the home until it started to unravel.
“I feel like I was in a smaller version of Studio 54,” she says, describing the vibe of the home. “It was exciting. It was creative. It was a whirlwind. But it was fake, none of it was real.”
Other people lived or crashed at the home last summer, including mostly young Instagram-famous people who seemingly have a lot of followers for no reason. These guests, Bauer Feldman says, would take over the house and leave drugs, like cocaine, lying around. She says Vincer attempted to keep the two worlds separate: one in which professionals used the house’s podcasting studios and another where twenty-somethings partied late into the night.
The source close to the situation also says that someone associated with an in-network podcaster moved into one of the studios and would leave dirty clothes out, particularly dirty socks, making the room smell terrible.
Vincer confirms that other people lived in the home and stayed there, but he says there was no cocaine.
Still, a record request filed in Beverly Hills by The Verge lists more than 40 calls to police about the home since Notorious took over, most of which relate to “disturbing the peace.” Nearly all of them came in during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[There were] young girls coming over and doing cocaine and drinking at this mansion in 90210 with what they thought were all these stars and famous people and Peter,” Bauer Feldman says. “And Peter’s like running the whole thing, and Peter tells everyone, ‘Oh, it’s my house.’”
Bauer Feldman also says women she believed to be sex workers would come over to the house and take men into one of the bedrooms. Steele corroborates this, too, saying women “pushed up on” a few of his team members. Vincer says there were “absolutely not” sex workers in the house.
Coupled with the “creep vibes” Bauer Feldman got from Vincer, she decided to step away from the home. “As a woman, that bothered me, and then also being a mother myself, and watching him with his wife there and his kids, and just get completely trashed in front of them and black out and act like an idiot. It was heartbreaking,” she says. Bauer Feldman cut ties with Notorious in July.
Even the creators who didn’t work with Vincer in LA, and in most cases haven’t even met him, say the company became a mess following the split with Himalaya. These collaborators say the company fell behind on payments or didn’t pay out at all. Five creators, including Steele, tell The Verge they were owed money for their Notorious work. One podcaster says they were owed as much as $74,000 and that Notorious ended up paying them out once they got a lawyer involved. Notorious told this podcaster its ad buying company was to blame for the four-month delay.
Meanwhile, Crimelines host Worroll says she sent her bill to collections and hasn’t received any money. Steele says his team is owed $25,000 in back pay for advertisements they read for brands like Manscaped.
The anonymous source says Vincer also reduced each Notorious team member’s annual pay and was sometimes late issuing the money.
Vincer says Notorious struggled financially. “So yeah, I took a little longer to pay early partners than I probably should have or wanted to,” he says. But he isn’t aware of any current or former partners to whom he owes money, other than Steele who won’t “get a dime” from him.
One of the final straws for Steele, and what pushed him to leave Notorious, was seeing what he believed to be a large amount of marijuanna delivered to the house, which he viewed as an indication that Vincer and Notorious were bringing in cash but weren’t paying him or his team.
“The dude [Vincer] was trying to give me weed, and it’s like, ‘Dude, I don’t give a fuck about weed,’” Steele says. “I don’t even smoke weed, what am I gonna do with that?”
Eventually, Steele says he had to cut ties surreptitiously. “It’s almost like an abusive relationship, you kind of sneak out the house when your spouse is gone,” he says. “I went in and I made sure I took every last show that we had off the hosting platform. I snuck everybody off of there and snuck them back onto another platform.”
The team then stopped going to the house, and Steele changed his phone number, hoping to never hear from Vincer again. His podcast network ultimately signed a deal with iHeartMedia and Charlamagne Tha God’s Black Effect Podcast Network, where the show is now produced.
Vincer denies ever bringing in a large amount of weed.
Since this entire saga began last year, Himalaya has mostly exited the podcasting business, apart from one show. It now focuses on subscription-based “audio courses,” or educational audio content offered by reputable names, similar to MasterClass.
Meanwhile, Vincer’s hype house continued to host parties throughout the summer and fall of 2020, and the Notorious Instagram account makes it look like a party place for TikTokers and hype beasts, with partygoers playing beer pong, people getting pushed into the backyard pool, and weed being smoked in the studios.
Vincer tells The Verge the company makes “a handful” of shows now but is mostly focused on marketing and making content for brands. It’s hard to tell how much content or money the company is making, although Vincer says it’s “self-sustaining.” Some shows on the brand’s various Apple Podcasts pages haven’t published a new episode in over a year, while a few do appear to be in active production. One of the network’s biggest releases, Dumpster Fyre, which Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland hosted from prison, ended after McFarland was put in solitary confinement for hosting it.
Vincer says his current 30-person team, most of whom are 20-something-year-olds, are more interested in video and broad creative work than solely looking to podcasts as a business. He says they make music videos and have a five-person sales team that helps sell various things for brands. Notorious is the exclusive sales partner of the Summer Smash music festival in Chicago this summer, for example, and he says podcast ads represent 40 to 50 percent of the company’s revenue.
The team has also listed a variety of jobs, mostly for junior positions or interns. A junior sales agent listing asks applicants to send in a video saying why they’re a good fit for the role and answering the question, “If you were an item in a gas station, what would you be?”
The post also advertises four benefits: “Only non-store in the US equipped with a fully-stocked Yerba Mate fridge; relaxed environment; pool on-site; and lunch provided.”
One big thing has changed in the months since the split-up. In February this year, the Notorious team moved into a new hype house, one that’s more like a compound than the Beverly Hills home. The home, according to its online listing, sits on 10 acres of land and features seven bedrooms. Vincer says it has a living room with “big TVs,” a dartboard, an editing room, and hiking trails that “go over an hour.” “It’s more of an events space,” he says, and they’ve hosted parties, like one for rapper 24kGoldn, and shot music videos for people like Tom Hanks’ son Chet Hanks. The Instagram account calls the house the “Notorious estate,” and Vincer says “three or four” of his “most consistent contributors” stay at the home full time with a woman, referred to as the “house mom,” on hand to clean and cook during the day.
The beer pong and partying also continues, except this time with a bigger backyard that’s adorned with Greek statues and an interior that looks like an attempt at a French chateau vibe with sconces and ornate tapestries. Influencers post photos from the house, and drone footage shows off tanned guys with six packs hanging by the pool. Nothing seems different, apart from a bigger place to hang and make content.
“We don’t turn up that much because we don’t really have that much time to do that, but I couldn’t tell you how pleased I’ve been since I founded Notorious with how well my team, and especially the team that I have now, has been able to manage a unique work environment,” Vincer says.
But on March 23rd, March 27th, and April 1st of this year, police visited the property because of a “disturbance,” according to an eviction notice filed in a Los Angeles court. And Vincer’s new neighbors continue to complain about “loud noise and traffic in the middle of the night,” the document says. Vincer’s new landlord gave him and the other people living in the house three days to vacate the premises, but because they haven’t, the landlord has since filed a civil case against Vincer asking for him to leave the property for good and pay damages of over $1,900 per day while he and his team continue living in the home.
Vincer says he moved into the house thinking that he could host events there, not knowing the landlord and neighbors had a “longstanding feud,” which he says prompted the “aggressive actions.”
At the same time, Vincer’s old landlord, from the HiStudios hype house, also filed a lawsuit against him for owed money, alleging he failed to pay for rent and damages to the property. The landlord alleges Vincer owes $71,967 in rent from May 2020 until he left the property in March 2021 and that damages to the home total up to $83,741.
Vincer says this is “being negotiated right now,” but that he only didn’t pay the last month’s rent because he wanted “negotiating leverage.”
For Steele and everyone else who’s been left in Notorious’ wake, they can’t help but simultaneously marvel and speculate about this new place that, from social media, looks like a hopping spot that’s carefree and fun. Multiple people have called or texted me to point it out, seemingly suggesting that for all that’s gone down between Vincer, HiStudios, Notorious, and Himalaya, the party still goes on. At least, per what they see on Instagram.
But behind the doors, Vincer faces three separate lawsuits and collaborators demanding to get paid. He might have changed venues, but business — however he defines it in his universe — goes on as usual.
“I have nothing bad to say about Himalaya,” Steele says. “But that Notorious stuff, that’s the right name for it: Notorious.”