The Rise, Evolution, And Fall Of Death Row Records
The 90’s rap game was never the same after Death Row Records, and would never have such a controversial and volatile label since.
In a history lesson for those of you that aren’t schooled in the East Coast / West Coast feuds, Suge Knight‘s shady rap sheet, and all the rappers that fell because of the never-ending-gangsta-business, it’s time to get schooled. Sit down, grab some Gin & Juice or Hennessy, and let’s take a trip back in time.
1991, when Death Row Records was conceived, Suge Knight, along with Dr. Dre and other elevated A-Listers of the rap industry, became notoriously known for the dangers that were associated with them. With artists like Snoop Dogg on deck, the acquisition of Tupac Shakur with the exchange of money for bail to script a record deal, and well-known feature artist Nate Dogg, Death Row was one of the most lucrative labels known to man.
While most of the Death Row story includes many different people, the origins rely on the background of its patriarch, Suge. An ex-football player turned bodyguard for artists like Bobby Brown, he spent a lot of time around the music industry. Dr. Dre was acquired from Ruthless Records, which was the label Eazy-E was in charge of. They convinced Dre that he was being swindled out of some cash, and allegedly used some force, he was able to end the contracts for Dre and 2 other artists, The D.O.C., and Miche’le.
Knight also allegedly threatened Vanilla Ice (something that Vanilla Ice has repeatedly talked about) that he’d throw him off of a balcony because someone from his team had alerted him that he had produced the track and wasn’t receiving royalties for the song, and he signed over the rights to the song to Knight, which helped fund Death Row Records. Vanilla Ice told Behind The Music that Suge didn’t hang him off the balcony, but he was told to look over the edge (quoted in LA Weekly). Which honestly, if you think about that for a second, one of the most lethal labels was funded by extortion from Vanilla Ice, it’s honestly pretty funny.
After turning out artist after artist with albums like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle and then signing Shakur and selling $9Million for All Eyez On Me, Knight became a target for some more trouble, especially when falling into money troubles by borrowing $1.5 Million from drug kingpin Michael Harris, ABC News says that Harris was sent to prison, and then when Tupac was murdered, Knight had been on probation and had violated probation, being in the car with Pac that night. Once he went to prison for 5 years, the company fell to being poorly managed, and “his biggest acts had moved on.”
Once he was released from jail, he was not able to revive the label. He took a swing publicly at Dr. Dre, at a Vibe Award Show, and he ended up getting shot at a party hosted by Kanye West, according to ABC News. Michael Harris and his Ex Wife sued Suge for $107 Million, and Knight ended up filing bankruptcy, with $11 left in his bank account after the judge awarded the money to Harris.
In 2015, he was admitted to jail, and his bail, according to Rolling Stone was listed as $25 Million. He still remains incarcerated since then on the Murder Charges for a separate incident, and rumors had swelled that he knew who killed Tupac Shakur. The story hit the wire and blew up, and BET shared that there was an alleged affidavit that he not only knew who was involved in Shakur’s murder but had intimate knowledge of who may have killed Notorious B.I.G., as well. His lawyer later is quoted in XXL denying the story, using the coined term “Fake News.”
So with that in mind, the legacy of Death Row Records rots in a cell with what’s left of Suge Knight.
Amy Cooper is the type of journalist that when asked “What do you bring to the table,” she replies “I am the table.