Real Name: Marion Hugh ‘Suge’ Knight Jr.
D.O.B: 19 April, 1965 Compton L.A., California
Co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Death Row Records.
If boxing’s most ruthless promoter, Don King ran his own record label he would be Suge Knight. The same way King runs his stable of primed battering studs of the ring, Knight ruled his roost of rappers in the same feared manner. Hip-hop’s most brutal pimp had everyone within Death Row Records under his cast-iron thumb, dancing and rhyming at his beckon call. Knight turned one of the music industry’s fast-growing records labels into a wild west street gang. From 1992 until the crumble of an empire began in 1996, and west coast hip hop was Knight’s for the taking. During this period his Death Row catalogue provided some of hip hop’s greatest records. Knight has been one of the most feared and formidable business opponents in the battle of hip-hop’s hierarchy.This is his story, with every detail opened.
Suge Knight was born in 1965 by his father, Marion and mother, Maxine. Born and raised in Compton, a city of 110,000 at the time that saw the southern Los Angeles County still racially mixed of black and brown. So called ‘Sugar Bear’ because of his sweet disposition as a child, Suge was only ten years young when Compton was desolated by two parallel pandemics, the loss of it’s manufacturing plant bringing despair and unemployment into the community and the scourge of two of the most murderous gangs in American history, the Bloods and Crips. Unlike most children in his neighbourhood, both Suge’s parents were gainfully employed, his father a janitor at UCLA and mother who worked on the assembly line at an electronics factory. Suge had grown up north of Alondra Boulevard and west of Wilmington Avenue, a patch held by the Leudis Park Piru Bloods. By the time Suge reached his teenage years he was exempted from joining the destructive forces of the street gang, because at six feet, two inches tall he was a talented athlete. He earned letters in both football and track all four years at Lynwood High School eventually achieving a football scholarship from El Camino Community College after graduation in 1983.
In 1985 Suge transferred to the University of Nevada in Las Vegas wearing number 54 and starting at defensive end, he was a powerful build, listed on the program at 260 pounds. He was voted UNLV’s Rookie of the Year, elected defensive captain and won first-team all-conference honours. On campus he carried due respect as a promising athlete with all-American smiles. He socialised in College party circles with drugs, sex and alcohol, while team-mates committed armed robberies, carjacking and sexual assaults. He earned honest money as a bouncer for the Cotton Club.
His senior year Suge’s reputation took a change of direction, earning enough money for his own apartment and a series of late model sedans. With regular visitors from Compton, it seemed Suge had now earnt a title of being possibly the biggest drug dealer on campus. As he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams NFL team Suge promptly dropped out of school and moved back to L.A. He made the run-on roster during the NFL lock out season in 1988-89 crossing picket lines to play as a ‘Replacement’ player. As the strike ended, so did his short football career with professional players returning to their positions.
Having detrimental effect on Suge, his attitude turned for the worst as he steered himself into negative territory. His criminal record began almost immediately after leaving the field. A restraining order was placed on him after several altercations with his girlfriend Sharitha Golden. He was arrested for assaulting her and cutting off her ponytail in front of her mother’s home. Two weeks later on Halloween night Suge was again arrested in Las Vegas for shooting a man twice, in the leg and wrist whilst attempting to steal his Nissan Maxima. When the LVPD arrested him he was found with a .38calibre Smith and Wesson revolver in his waistband. Extraordinary events influenced felony charges dropped to a misdemeanour by way of a well-connected lawyer and reputation as an All-American football athlete. He was released with a $1000 fine and three years probation. In 1990 Suge used a pistol to break a man’s jaw. He pleaded guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon yet again managed to walk away with a $9000 fine and two year suspended sentence.
The Music Business
At this stage Suge Knight was working as a bodyguard for R&B sensation, Bobby Brown where he learned the fundamentals to the entertainment business by owning your masters. It wasn’t long before he found a new employer heading toward the direction of entertainment management by way of Beverly Hills sports agent, Tom Kline who was very interested in getting involved in the music industry. He hired Suge as a driver/bodyguard and soon evolved into talent scout. He soon used Kline’s office for auditioning local rap acts with the intentions of soon forming his own record label.
His first interest was in a young talented rapper from Dallas, Texas who was already signed with Eazy’s Ruthless Records working alongside the emerging legends of Ice Cube and a radical and prolific producer named Dr. Dre who was bound in a group called Niggaz With Attitude. Suge put into play what would be his greatest manoeuvre of business by infringing on the susceptibility of the artist when he was down. Tracy ‘The D.O.C.’ Curry was hospitalised from an automobile accident. Ruthless Records had all but given up on the star as his voice was rendered out of action for his career. Already with a successful album and chart-topping single he was a local L.A. celebrity affiliated with the colossal notoriety of N.W.A. Suge visited him daily with D.O.C.’s mother driving her to and from the hospital. He began to take over managerial jobs and arranged autograph signing sessions for the star. He eventually built up the level trust to convince the rapper that Eazy’s Ruthless records’ was financially robbing him of his royalties for ghost writing for N.W.A.’s lyrics. Suge Knight had started a campaign of destroying the Ruthless label and harbouring the talents under his own company. Becoming a confidant of The D.O.C. gave Suge the opportunity to approach Dr. Dre with the same intentions. Suge Knight’s immense power and serious reputation would allow him to physically sort out industry-related and contractual issues suffered from artists and management, becoming a dominant stand-over gangster in the surfacing west coast rap industry. Suge offered these artists powerful protection from outside attention and the realities of the content of the gangsta rap they emulated on. When Suge had knocked out an attempted assault on The D.O.C. at a club appearance one night, it became apparent Suge Knight could physically look after these stars.
His Reputation: Vanilla Ice Altercation
At this stage Suge created his own record label called ‘Funky Enough Records’ with only the word of D.O.C. leaving Ruthless Records to head his label and the possibility of attaining the work of Dr. Dre he signed local talent and good friend of his David ‘DJ Quik’ Blake who was affiliated with the Tree-Top Pirus Compton gang and his homies, (who would later join Suge as bodyguards) and another notable rapper Mario ‘Chocolate’ Johnson. Chocolate had called on the help of Suge Knight in the claim of both writing and producing the song ‘Ice Ice Baby’ released and performed by white rapper, Robert ‘Vanilla Ice’ Van Winkle who became an overnight sensation with the huge success of the chart-topping single. When Vanilla Ice had released the album ‘II the Extreme’ selling an unbelievable unprecedented 18 million copies worldwide Chocolate received little to nothing of credit nor money for the 7 out of 12 songs he had written.
Fresh from defending a charge of felony assault in Las Vegas, Suge showed up at The Palm restaurant in West Hollywood where Vanilla Ice was eating with his security entourage. The story according to Vanilla Ice was Suge walked in with two guys as big he was who literally pulled two bodyguards out of their seats and took their places. Suge stared at the white rapper imposing his power upon him. Instances similar to this were repeated before Suge showed up on the fifteenth floor of the Bel Age Hotel in Ice’s suite accompanied by Chocolate and several L.A. Raiders football players. Suge and the crew drew guns on the rapper’s bodyguards to extinguish their protection and proceeded to hang Vanilla Ice off the balcony and threatened his life unless he signed over the rights to the disputed songs off his album. Both parties have denied the story after Vanilla Ice reported this on NBC Primetime with received death threats from Suge Knight’s organization. However this was accomplished Suge’s reputation had gained powerful respect and made him a legend in the rap industry. His reputation as a negotiator and manager had made him the man he is today.
With the name for being the first black music executive known to many rappers who did not cower down to white corporate masters, Suge gained the respect of Dr. Dre proving he had the power to overthrow Ruthless Records’ white business manager, Jerry Heller. When Dre met Suge Knight through The D.O.C. he had begun to boycott the recording sessions he was commissioned to produce for Ruthless. The label stopped paying him leaving him at risk of losing not only his new home in Calabasas but his four new cars in the garage. Dre was vulnerable and needed the negotiations of Suge Knight.
The Ruthless Campaign
The campaign against Ruthless Records’ according to Jerry Heller himself began when an unidentified man representing Suge walked into the offices of Ruthless threatening to murder the Jewish manager. Suge then phoned Heller’s assistant, Gary Ballen threatening him before he walked into Ballen’s office one day with a crew of Blood gangbangers forcing him to sign an apology to Dre’s girlfriend Michel’le who was at the time a Ruthless R&B artist for “disrespecting” her. Ballen had started to fear for his life and carried a stun gun with him and taking up Karate lessons. Heller had hired a pair of body-building bodyguards and kept a shotgun in drawer of the front desk at his office. Apparently Suge had walked into the office while Heller was out and forced the two bodyguards onto their hands and knees and humiliated them. Suge had continued to direct his aim at Ruthless Records relentlessly pursuing the contracts of their artists and by 1991 Heller had refused the request. Suge forced himself into the office of Heller’s corporate attorney and searched through file cabinets and he found the contracts. Finding evidence of Heller and Eazy duping everybody out of their rightful finances, he informed Dre and D.O.C. By this stage, Heller had become increasingly paranoid for his safety taking no risks on his vehicles being bugged with bombs, his home and offices constantly checked for similar intrusions. State of the art security was installed in his Mountain Estate house, he slept with a .38 calibre gun under his pillow and assorted artillery strategically placed anywhere he could get caught, the girlfriend’s house, routes home were changed and constant panic consumed the businesses of Ruthless. However technically only Eazy-E had the power of signature to release Dr. Dre from his contract.
Dick Griffey, head of Solar Records and owner of Soul Train TV Show had encouraged Suge Knight to secure the employment of Dr. Dre with the promise of commissioning Dre for the production on the soundtrack from Sony Records to new movie, ‘Deep Cover’ starring Laurence Fishburn and Jeff Goldblum. This prospect was of course made possible if as Sony insisted, Ruthless surrendered Dre’s contract and Sony offered $1million for the rights to Dre’s music publishing rights. Both record labels were still negotiating by April ’91 when Eazy was invited to a meeting with Dr. Dre at Solar Records studios in North Hollywood to sort out their differences. However Suge Knight is not a diplomatic man. Eazy was convinced of Dre’s white flagging attempt to come to an arrangement he arrived without his security team. Assembled on the third floor of the then called ‘Future Shock Entertainment’ studios, ex colleague Dre was not present, instead Eazy was met by Suge Knight himself and a tight crew of Bloods. Suge was adamant on the release of his major artists, Dre, The D.O.C., Michel’le and Above The Law but when Eazy declined Suge informed him of his knowledge of his mother’s address and their holding of Jerry Heller as hostage in a van outside the building. At which point the intimidating thugs stood behind Eazy brandishing lead pipes. Accounts are according to ex Crip, Eazy-E. Another successful business acumen of Suge Knight as Eazy signed over all top five recording stars of Ruthless Records for no compensation other than a percentage payment from Dre’s next album release still owing to Ruthless. Dre was free from Eazy’s reign and promptly signed up alongside Suge Knight to open up a new chapter to the west coast rap music scene.
Welcome to Death Row
With the production genius of Dr. Dre on board, Suge was given the management for the Deep Cover soundtrack from Sony and Solar Record’s Dick Griffey under Future Shock Entertainment. But Suge had the strength of business mind to own the rights, a move that saw the creation of Death Row Records, the most profitable rap label in history. With Suge’s contacts through defence attorney David Kenner, the seed money to launch this business was funded by silent partnership of a Californian drug kingpin, Michael ‘Harry-O’ Harris and small contribution from his associate Patrick Johnson. All of whom were clients of David Kenner’s. The $1.5million injection was set up from meetings over visiting times while Harry-O was incarcerated for kidnapping and attempted murder while housed at Telachapi state prison before moving out to Lancaster.
Introduced to Harry-O in October ’91, Suge established a bond of mutual business interest with the major underworld figure, both knowing Solar Records’ Dick Griffey and common background shared on the streets of South Central L.A. The multimedia company, GF Entertainment was organised to launder millions of drug trafficking dollars through the movie production, pay-per-view and record company under GFE. Registered owners became Marion Suge Knight, Lydia Harris,(wife of Harry-O’s for tax and legal reasons) and lawyer, David Kenner. The major cash cow of GFE was the record label known as Death Row Records headed by two established rap stars, Dr. Dre and The D.O.C. working under Griffey’s Solar Records. Knight and Kenner controlled Death Row with the face of Dre flying their flag in the industry. Suge was the apparent CEO with Dre and Kenner controlled all legalities with Harry-O and wife Lydia Haris reaping a fifty percent share.
Dr. Dre had at this stage finished production on the Deep Cover project with The D.O.C. and new protégée, Snoop Doggy Dogg. Still utilising the Solar Records recording studios they underwent the very early groundwork to Dre’s solo album with D.O.C. and Snoop while Suge Knight and Kenner were scheming to disassociate with partners, Harry-O and wife Lydia Harris and distribution company, Solar Records that received minimal shares of the profits to Deep Cover. This brought on a bombardment of lawsuits of Solar’s parent company the Sony giant. The very multifaceted and costly legal battles required most of Death Row’s funds as they were already tangled in a lawsuit from Ruthless Records when they profited from Dre’s employment. Knight couldn’t fight them alone. He imposed on the backing from an independent record company, Interscope started by Ted Fields and Jimmy Iovine financed and distributed through the Time Warner giant corporation based on Iovine’s faith and foresight in the genius of Dr. Dre’s talent. For $10million they backed Knight’s rap label with distribution rights. Death Row promptly moved out of Solar Records studios and into their own building at the Can-Am studios in Tarzana under Interscope Records. Dre went right back to work on his solo album, The Chronic with a growing family of Long Beach and Compton talent joining the Row.
By December 1992 on the day of Dre’s The Chronic release Knight had re-signed corporate papers for Death Row stating only the names of Knight and Young, (Dre) as owners. Kenner insists this was for the protection of Harry-O from legal implications. Suge, with Kenner’s planning had separated himself from Harry-O behind corporate barricades leaving Godfather Entertainment merely a name on lawsuit paperwork. The Liner note on Dre’s album says “Special Thanks to Harry-O.” To be the last connection Michael Harris had with the record company.
Dre’s solo début, The Chronic that claimed insurmountable double-platinum profits for the company by 1993. Death Row had by this stage gained unparalleled sales from Snoop’s multi-platinum début album, Doggystyle and blown up by 1993 to become one of the most successful record label in America at the time making Suge Knight the most powerful and formidable CEO in Hip-Hop.
Stanley Brothers Assault
Whilst involved with Solar Records in July, 1992 Suge Knight was charged with assault and robbery after he had an altercation with two men at the Solar recording studios. Aspiring producer Lynwood Stanley and his brother George were sitting in the office using the company phone. When told to get off by Suge they disrespected him in front of his employees and Blood homies. Both brothers continued their call on a pay phone in nearby room when Suge forced a gun to Lynwood’s head and followed them down a hallway brutally beating them. Dre, D.O.C., Snoop and onlookers were instructed to leave the scene and proceed upstairs and lock the doors. Continuing to assault the Stanleys’ into the studio, Suge further embarrassed both by forcing them to their knees. When Lynwood refused he fired off a round, smacked the producer across the face with the barrel of the gun and told both to strip naked and lie face down on the ground. With I.D’s extracted from their wallets, Suge threatened to kill them and their family if they went to the police. They called the police anyway and within an hour the L.A.P.D. swarmed the offices leaving artists and gangbangers scrambling for exits. Both brothers pointed at Suge who denied the assault, nonetheless Suge was charged with the assault and robbery. With megalomaniacal attorney, David Kenner and possibly the most powerful addition to his legal team, Johnnie Cochran they managed to delay the impending case for three years giving them ample space to make their persuasive moves on the victims. Suge Knight was not simply a businessman with a record label he was a dangerous power player and reputed underworld gangster in the making.
By the time this event occurred Suge was already convicted of numerous assaults with a deadly weapon, carrying a concealed weapon and disturbing the peace from West Covina and Van Nuys, L.A. to Las Vegas, Nevada. All of which thanks to an impressive sports notoriety and attorney, David Kenner all were convictions let off with suspensions. However the Stanley assault case would remain open for the next three following years.
February 1995, Suge Knight had faced the impending robbery and assault case from 1992 had come to a head and Suge was forced to plead guilty to the felony charges. Through lawyers, Kenner and Cochran, Suge had managed to spend the last three years persuading prosecution lawyer Lawrence Longo and brothers, George and Lynwood Stanley to back his proposal for a suspended sentence. The Lynwood brothers were offered lucrative recording contracts with Death Row along with Gina Longo, the prosecutor’s 18 year old daughter who was offered a $1million contract to be the first white R&B singer to join the Row. Suge Knight had also moved into the Longo’s Malibu Colony home renting for a reported $19,000 per month. This proposal was agreed by Judge John Ouderkirk and Suge Knight received a five-year suspended sentence. No jail time was owed, only one month in a halfway house was paid back to the state by Suge. Incidentally neither Gina Longo nor the Lynwood brothers ever recorded any tracks or perceived any payments from Death Row Records. Thirty days later, Suge left the halfway house and retuned to head his record label and begin the most exploitive pursuit of his career, obtaining the employment of the most iconic, talented rap star in America, Tupac Shakur from a New York prison sentence.
Roderick Lockett Incident
Other cases of violence instigated by the record label’s CEO during the early period of Death Row’s dominance saw victims hospitalised and injured indefinitely. At an L.A. club, Prince’s Grand Slam Suge was surrounded by his gang of capricious, delinquent Blood brutes became embroiled in a fight with Roderick Lockett, a security guard who was thoroughly beaten so badly it took numerous surgeries to repair the man’s spleen. Suge’s reputation daunted many who came across his vision.
This same reputation carried onto the name of Death Row and made national headlines when Suge, Dre and D.O.C. were arrested after a meley in a hotel lobby of the Black Radio Exclusive convention in New Orleans. Consequently a fifteen year old fan was stabbed. New Orleans police rode in on horses through the lobby to break up the fight. This publicity of course, as with any gangsta rap, promoted the image and boosted record sales for the label.
An incident accounted by Wrightway Security’s off-duty police officers circulating the L.A.P.D. stations from a Death Row held private after-party event for the Soul Train awards in Los Angeles on March 14, 1995. At just after midnight at the El Ray Theatre in L.A.’s Wilshire District, held by Suge Knight with a sign outside the front entrance reading, “Death Row Private Party, Guest List Only.” Three working uniformed L.A.P.D. officers were called to a fight that broke out earlier in the evening as they were writing up the incident outside when they heard an eruption inside the theatre. They witnessed Crip banger, Kelly Jamerson get his head split open by a beer bottle as a group of Blood Pirus surrounded him and proceeded to beat the man viciously to death. By the time the officers arrived to interrupt the carnage the man was dying from the injuries sustained including a brain haemorrhage. Approximately four hundred guests fled the building in various states of inebriation
The only available credible witness was a bartender who claimed Jamerson was arguing with four black males. He stated one of the suspects was a member of Death Row Records described as 6’4”, 390 pounds with a short fade angled haircut. He saw him strike Jamerson with a Miller beer bottle over the head. It was early in the AM when police investigators arrived at the scene. By midday the victim was pronounced dead. Jamerson’s body was so badly beaten he lad lacerations, abrasions, swelling and bruising to the head, torso and extremities making it almost impossible for an autopsy to reveal the single blow as the cause of death.
The mood of the party went from celebratory to violent when Death Row star, Snoop Dogg instigated gang-related hostilities as he took the stage to throw up his Rolling 20 Crips affiliation in gang-sign toward the Piru Bloods who dominated the theatre and were associated with Suge Knight. In retaliation, rapper D.J. Quik threw back his Piru sign back at opposing Crips onstage. Quik who had suffered a broken jaw a few year prior by the same Crip set was looking to settle his score publicly. Quik picked up a chair and smashed the Crip to the ground as his accompanied Bloods began bashing the man with a champagne bottle. Quik broke away from the beating to take the stage where he addressed Suge Knight. Suge left and Quik continued fighting. He immediately initiated an attack on Kelly Jamerson who fled into a group of Bloods who knocked him down with a beer bottle briefly before murdering him. Later records show the assailants were not working for D.J. Quik but were Suge’s Piru thugs, Jai Hassan Jamaal ‘Jake The Violator’ Robles, Altron ‘Buntry’ McDonald, Ronald ‘Ram’ Lamb and close homeboys of Quik’s, Crawford ‘Hi-C’ Wilkinson, Bernard ‘Zeek’ Thomas and Donell ‘Donzel’ Smith. The notorious members of Mob Pirus employed by Death Row for various ‘secret service’ type tasks for Suge Knight.
The Crips believed they were safe at the event as they were guests of Snoop Dogg’s. However, a personal friend of Compton rapper, D.J. Quik gave police eye witness accounts of the attacks but stressed the importance of remaining anonymous. He stated not only is his life at risk, if they knew he was talking to the police his whole family would be killed on the words of Suge Knight. The witness said, “You do not realise how powerful Suge Knight is. Going up against Suge or any of his people is like going up against the mafia. It’s a death sentence.”
By this stage, proving that bad publicity created positive energy in the rap business, Suge openly claimed his allegiance to the Leudis Park Compton Piru Bloods gang of his native Compton. Suge had assimilated and embraced the Piru culture, as if making up for his teenage years spent avoiding any commitment to gang-life due to a promising athletic pursuit. Standing at six feet three inches of a man who lifts incredible weights for two hours daily, a 315 pound physique draped in deep blood-red tailored suits and shining gold Death Row emblem falling from a chain rope, smoking huge Cuban cigars presented an unmistakable view of a notorious west coast lord of criminal enterprise.
He surrounded himself in his gang’s company at almost every social occasion as well as being almost residents at the Can-Am studios. Effectively Suge had established his own crew of Bloods he named M.O.B.,(Member Of Bloods) Suge employed his homies to act as integral players in Suge’s personal business affairs. The F.B.I. had begun surveillance over Suge’s affairs suspecting him and his record company being involved in drug trafficking and guns trading from international connections to street distribution. To encapsulate Suge Knight’s iconic gangster stature he had employed personal bodyguards and security from Wrightway Security managed by his friend, ex Compton police officer Reggie White but unofficially owned and controlled by Suge Knight. Wrightway which was rife with off-duty L.A.P.D. officers moonlighting for extra pay checks by working directly under Death Row. On the face of their employment they were personal bodyguards for the Death Row stars, behind closed doors they provided Suge with inside police information and lookouts for his enterprising underworld drugs and arms trade. Fronting the offices were recording studios for west coast rap’s brightest talents, overshadowing the private matters of Suge’s illegal gang activity. Finances obtained from record sales were injected back into the Compton gangs he controlled and quadrupled on the street.
The Can-Am studios, situated on Oxnard Avenue, Tarzana which became Death Row’s main place of business, was situated in the quaint, mainly Mexican and middle-class white inhabited area in the San Fernando Valley section. An unlikely environment in which to find the Death Row family at work, Suge appreciated this anonymity the location provided. The building of Can-Am studios was greeted by a lobby with metal detectors and guards manning security personnel lists mainly consisting of hardcore Blood members who were allowed guns and drugs inside the studios. With the exception of artists, everybody was screened before entering. A second security room had the entire building captured on CCTV. Suge’s private office was decorated in blood-red, with a huge centred, white Death Row badge on the red carpet. The sofa, all chairs and cabinets were deep red complete with six television sets capturing every square inch of his recording studios. Also Suge kept a loyal German Sheppard companion who answers to the name of Damu (Swahili for blood) who is trained to attack on command and a sparkling trophy-like aquarium housed with ferocious piranha fed daily with rats. When one reporter asked a question Suge found offensive he dragged the man over to the fish tank and threatened to let them eat his face. This over-emphasised the identity of Death Row who was by now clearly becoming a strong Blood Piru empire of industry. Affiliated Death Row stars such as Snoop Dogg and his Long Beach Dogg Pound homies sometimes felt intimidated by the strong Blood influence in Death Row and at party events. Snoop and his blue-ragged Long Beach Crips were quite often outnumbered by Mob Pirus. This however did not stop the Crips from representing in the face of death.
This was a political decision made by L.A.P.D. officers who, after the O.J. Simpson trial and L.A. Riots were scared to tear down a man who at the time was being portrayed as one of the country’s most important black entrepreneurs in fear of racial conflict. Suge also had a lot of political allies in his corner including the most influential black office holder in Southern California, Congresswoman Maxine Waters who defended accusations of Suge Knight’s alleged criminal activities by telling reporters, “The only thing Suge is threatening is the status quo.” Suge Knight also held a strong friendship with mayor of Compton, Omar Bradley.
However in 1994 the U.S. Justice Department had commenced a long racketeering investigation into Suge Knight and Death Row Records. Long Beach Police officer, L.A. Arnwine had infiltrated Death Row as an agent of the federal task force searching allegations that Suge Knight and his gang member associates were heavily involved in illegally dealing in drugs and gun sales. According to various Death Row employees, the task agent was told of Suge Knight making exorbitant amounts of money from stealing drugs off Hispanic suppliers. The Death Row offices had served as a warehouse for transporting cocaine from the west coast to the east by Mob Piru Blood gang members. The agent reported the Bloods paid $18,500 for a kilo of cocaine in L.A. and sold it to rappers in New York for $26,000. Reports had already circulated that Suge Knight had paid off artists with drugs to deal to make more money than contracted payments.
The police officers most from Compton P.D. working for Death Row and Suge Knight’s Wrightway Security Company were supposedly acting as security detail for the artists. However an informant at Lancaster state prison (former Godfather Entertainment partner of Suge Knight’s Michael ‘Harry-O’ Harris) had reported to L.A.P.D. officer Stuart Guidry knowing a good deal of information on Kevin Hackie, one of the L.A.P.D. officers working for Suge and his involvement in drug trafficking for the record company. They provided security during transactions, accompanying Bloods during drug deals. Acting as lookouts and advisors, the officers monitored police frequencies, assisted in choosing locations and gave information on police tactics.
Outside of Death Row, Suge was living very large, he had homes in Westwood, Encino, Anaheim Hills and soon Las Vegas, as well as his family home in Compton in which he had remodelled complete with a four-car garage. Suge kept a fleet of luxury vehicles at his own auto-customising business, ‘Let Me Ride’ for his personal use. He had also put a lot of money back into his community, with Death Row holding the annual Mother’s Day celebration for fifty single mothers at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Also Suge sponsored Christmas toy give-aways at Compton churches and hospitals. Ironically he also put money into starting an anti-gang foundation in Compton and Maxine Water’s youth program. Suge had become a major target for rival Crip gangs, seeing him surviving numerous shoot-outs with gangbangers. All headlines he received built up a monstrous celebrity for the multi-millionaire Don of Compton and Godfather of west coast hip-hop.
This mythical lifestyle shared by Death Row and its artists held enthralled audiences throughout the country’s rap industry. Suge’s rapid-growing power had given him legendary status in the music industry, record executives and artists from across coasts following every movement and growing envious of the power Suge Knight carried. Pioneering New York A&R V.P. Sean ‘Puffy/P Diddy’ Combs had publicly stated his admiration for Suge’s Death Row movement as he called it when interviewed by Rolling Stones magazine and had inspired him to break away from Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records to form Bad Boy Entertainment in fashion of Death Row Records. In years later tales of Irving ‘Irv Gotti’ Lorenzo’s rise to fame in the rap industry follows very similar footsteps to those of Suge Knight. An unfortunate but almost necessary role model for this particular genre of cultural music business saw Suge atop of a much-envious trend of record companies emerging. Suge however would remain the prevailing, terrorising bully in the hip-hop community. During 1995 demons from the past surfaced as Harry-O (who had already been moved to a downtown L.A. detention centre to work as with federal investigators building a case against Suge Knight) spoke up publicly on his participation on the inception of Death Row Records filing lawsuits for his share of the profits suing Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine and parent company Time-Warner. Head of Interscope rap promotion Fade Duvernay was physically threatened by Suge’s head henchman Jake Robles and Mob Pirus ragged the executive out of a meeting and choked the man in his own adjacent office informing him to keep quiet on affairs and to stay away from visiting Harry-O in prison.
With an untouchable status by now, Suge believed he was bullet-proof to any prosecution, especially with the assistance of David Kenner. Those who dealt with Death Row were persecuted into submission by Suge’s power. Cypress Hill and House Of Pain manager, Happy Walters was engaged in a shouting stand off with Suge Knight over politics on a soundtrack appearance. A few days after the altercation while withdrawing money from an ATM, Happy disappeared off the scene sending shock waves through the music industry. He reappeared several days later wandering the streets incoherent, shaved down, naked and covered in cigarette burns. When admitted to hospital he had amnesia and refused to comment on Suge Knight.
Loud Records owner, Steve Rifkind was in a public dispute with Suge over Loud’s group Wu Tang Clan. Rifkind had hired Suge’s former UNLV teammate, Bigga B as a bodyguard escorting him from home to office daily who claimed Rifkind was so scared for his life he wouldn’t go to the toilet without security.
Warren G, close friend of Snoop’s from Long Beach and brother of Dr. Dre was claiming he was robbed of due credit for his part in establishing Death Row Records in the early stages. He insisted to a Source magazine reporter he had “made” Death Row only to phone in a few days later pleading with them not to print the statements. The quote appeared anyway and a story circulated the Death Row offices that Warren was visited by Suge’s Mob Pirus in the middle of the night and threatened with guns in his mouth warning him to watch what he says in future. What was certain was that Warren G was visibly shaken and begun carrying two 9mm pistols at all times.
Suge instilled fear through his employees, showing incredible power of controlling his star rappers bringing in aspiring and established artists together collaborating on tracks for no apparent upcoming release project. Owning rights to collections of tracks with varying artists for Suge’s own future superannuation, very rarely did anyone dare to ask for compensation or contract for rights. Many felt that their chance to advance their career through the label was enough. Stars were kept on short leashes in almost pimp fashion, Suge bought all his stars apartments, as Snoop was still living in an unfurnished apartment after the release of the explosive gangsta rap classic ‘Doggystyle’. With the exception of Tupac, artists were kept almost hand fed and dependant on Suge Knight solely. Suge spared no expense on Tupac’s lifestyle in the Row’s company after ‘Pac promised to increase the fortunes of Death Row and over the year and a half serving under Suge Knight he did just that.
After repeated reports of several deaths and beatings at the command of Suge Knight accompanied with suggestions of a relationship with the ‘Ghetto Godfather’ Harry-O and his drug empire starting up Death Row against growing allegations that Suge’s record company is used as a front for smuggling guns and drugs across the country the federal agencies and law enforcement were still investigating the 30 odd businesses under assumed order of Suge Knight.
“Any artists out there who wants to be an artist and stay a star, and don’t wanna have to worry about the executive producer trying to be…all in the videos, all on the records, dancing… Come to Death Row!”
At the first Source Awards in 1994, held at the Paramount Theatre in Manhattan, Suge’s Death Row business was booming with main stars, Dr. Dre and Snoop taking over the event winning almost all major awards for their achievements. However at the second annual Source Awards ceremony a year later Death Row took a back-seat to their CEO who dominated the event. Managing to stun the entire crowd and television viewers by taking main stage by himself dressed head-to-toe in a blood red suit, sent a shivering stare into the audience before he announced bluntly, “Any artists out there who wants to be an artist and stay a star, and don’t wanna have to worry about the executive producer trying to be…all in the videos, all on the records, dancing…” answered by a growing tirade of boo’s and hurled abuse from the eastern coast crowd he continued, “Come to Death Row!”
This was a direct attack on Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs, CEO of New York label Bad Boy Entertainment, who appeared in almost every video released from the label and shared vocals through many albums Bad Boy produced. The drama created not only an adversary but had precisely given the antagonistic label an arch-enemy that would overwhelmingly consume Suge Knight’s appetite for defeat and would take precedence above all business. This lone stunt birthed the notorious and fatal East/West coastal conflict that burnt the energy of America’s hip-hop industry eventually taking the lives of two of rap’s most prolific artists and would allow Suge to orchestrate every tactical move till the end.
Suge Knight had by this stage entered New York city to poach the talents of Andre Harrell’s Uptown Record’s Jodeci and Bad Boy R&B sensation, Mary J. Blige as a manager to secure better deals for them within their labels. Using his old format of fear and death threats Suge went about making appointments with the two labels.
Suge demanded a meeting with Harrell who became increasingly alarmed to find out Suge was beckoning him. Terrified by his presence, Suge finally met him face to face and several accounts of very horrific threats persuaded Harrell to upgrade Jodeci’s contract, doubling their royalty rate to eighteen percent and giving them almost complete creative control over their records. Harrell also agreed to free Mary J. Blige from contract for no compensation…Other than maybe his life. Suge also arranged a meeting with the lawyers and executives from Bad Boy Entertainment at the Four Seasons hotel to discuss the contract they held on Mary J. Blige. In an interview Suge put it frankly, “I told them they was lettin’ Mary out of that fucked-up deal. And they did.” Shortly after Newsweek media source stated Jodeci and May J. Blige had both signed management contracts with Suge Knight’s West Coast Management. Suge celebrated this success by presenting Devante Swing from Jodeci with a $250,000 Lamborghini. Andre Harrell as a result never travels anywhere without the security team he hires from Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam called the Fruits of Islam.
Jake the Violator Murder
Tensions soared a month after the gauntlet was thrown down at The Source awards between Death Row and Bad Boy at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party in Atlanta attended by both Suge Knight and Sean Combs. The party crown assembled at the Platinum Club which Combs attended accompanied by several men he later insisted were not his bodyguards. Knight had his favourite stand over man in toe, Jai Hassan Jamaal ‘Jake the Violator’ Robles with him. Standing six feet tall and roughly 245 pounds, Jake was an active M.O.B. Piru gang member with a physically domineering presence who was felt through hard looks than verbal address. After the incarceration of Daryl Henley, Suge replaced Jake with the job of keeping everyone on Death Row in line with a menacing look of promise over threat.
At 4am, off duty Fulton County Shariff’s deputy moonlighting as door security witnessed an argument ensuing inside the club that looked to escalate to a fight. He confronted Suge Knight and Jake Robles standing off against Combs’ cousin, ‘Wolf’ and four Crips. Breaking up the situation, the Deputy ordered Wolf and Combs’ men to leave the venue and insisted Suge and Jake to reamin inside for fifteen minutes to defer any further meeting between the two involved parties. Wolf and the Crips left with Combs shortly behind. After five minutes Suge and Jake impatiently walked out the front to their waiting limousine. Both man had taken their seats inside the vehicle when only to exit the car again to meet the approaching Wolf and crew. The deputy noticed Wolf reach for a gun and reached for his side arm and chased Wolf to the back of the club only to lose him among parked cars. The deputy had walked off to hear three shots ring out, finding Jake Robles laid out fatally wounded with bullets piercing his torso. Amongst the fleeing crowd, Combs walked up to Suge to inquire what had happened, Suge gestured to his fallen friend and promptly told him, “You had something to do with this.”
Back in L.A. word had spread around Blood organizations that Jake had died at the hands of Comb’s cousin and the Crips protecting Suge Knight who was targeted. Soon after an Atlanta newspaper identified Combs’ cousin as the murderer, although Combs denied involvement to a Vibe Magazine writer. “If I set a nigga up, which I would never do, I’m’a be in Bolivia somewhere.” He reported Death Row putting out a contract on his life. The magazine interview was not looked on favourably by Death Row’s camp. Later both parties met again at the Soul Train Awards in L.A. Bad Boy secured by a squad of ‘Fruits Of Islam’ soldiers.
After Suge’s release from the halfway house following the Stanley Brothers’ assault and robbery case, he spent the summer of ’95 travelling to the Danemorra state prison visiting fallen rap icon Tupac Shakur to secure the desperate star’s employment for three records to be released onto Death Row Records. This led to the ultimate demise of Tupac’s life. Siding with Suge Knight was in fact siding with the Devil himself. Death Row inherited Tupac’s violent beef with Bad Boys’ rapper, Notorious BIG fuelling the fire between both labels into disastrous consequences. Both Tupac and Suge Knight were antagonists by nature. They banded together under a common foe and went into battle, all the while Death Row’s dominance bounced back with the release of Tupac’s super-album ‘All Eyes On Me’ with him promoting Death Row to the world of hip-hop. Tupac would sell incredulously for Death Row voicing the apparent hatred of Bad Boy Entertainment on records for Suge Knight and surrounding himself in the company of Suge’s Mob Pirus.
Mark Anthony Bell Incident
It wasn’t long after another incident ensued in retaliation for Roble’s death. An unknown man working on behalf of Suge Knight attempted to persuade close friend of Puffy’s who was a local New York record promoter working independently to turn informant and give up Puffy’s home address and address of his mother’s in promise of a recording contract and money. Suge Knight wanted to hunt down and kill Sean Puffy Combs and his entire family it would seem according to L.A.P.D. crime reports.
New York promoter, Mark Anthony Bell was a high school friend of Puffy’s and occasionally worked for the record exec. As Bell reports, he was contacted in September following the murder of Jake Robles by an unnamed voice asking for him ti give up the home addresses for Puffy and his mother. He was asked to write the details down on paper and drop it outside his front door and that’s all he had to do. In exchange he would receive a record deal. Bell refused to participate.
Three months later in Los Angeles, Bell was over on business when his frind Roderick Nixon was commissioned to photograph the Death Row Christmas party in the Chateau Le Blanc mansion on Astral Drive in the Hollywood Hills. Nixon organised an invitation for Bell to the evening event. They arrived at the party at 22.30 whereas Suge and entourage didn’t arrive till around 02.00. When he did arrive he noticed Bell near the dance floor. Suge approached him and asked why he didn’t cooperate with his requests. After insisting his ignorance of such details, he was ushered into an upstairs V.I.P. room by six men, two of were recording legends, Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre. The room was filled with MTV reporters and a photographer being entertained. They were asked to leave by Suge’s brother-in-law, Norris Anderson who positioned himself outside the door as a lookout.
Inside, Suge pulled out a chair into the middle of the room for Bell and asked him to sit while seven men surrounded him. Suge demanded an explanation of his non-cooperation and quizzed him on knowledge of Puffy Combs. As Tupac whispered constantly in Suge’s ear, a Piru member started beating Bell with occasional blows dedicating each hit to Jake Robles vocally who eventually told him he was going to kill him. At which point Suge went to the bathroom and filled a champagne flute with urine and instisted Bell drink up. Bell escaped from the room and darted for the balcony overlooking the lobby entrance. He was caught hanging from the guardrail with an audience watching in awe. The group tried pulling him back up with the exception of Tupac who was pounding his grasped hands. When secured onto the floor they swooped onto him beating down on him with Suge ordering, “Body blows only!” He was choked until he almost fainted. Bell played dead while they stripped him of his gold Rolex watch, wallet and jewellery worth an estimated $20,000. Suge ordered him to stand.
Suge diplomatically tried to placate the victim into cooperating offering to make him rich and famous if he had friends who would deliver information leading to Puffy’s demise. After taking Bell to the bathroom to get his face and clothes cleaned up he told him if he wanted his jewellery back to see him tomorrow. A Blood asked Suge if he could kill him, but Suge passed. Bell’s life was spared. At this stage his friend Nixon had phoned the L.A.P.D. and fled the event. When questioned at the bottom of the stairs by a female officer, Bell who was pressured behind her shoulder as Suge stared him down and told her he had fallen down the stairs and everything was OK. The officer remained in the vicinity until a taxi arrived to drive Bell to a friend’s house in West Covina.
The following day Bell was hospitalised and treated for a haemorrhaging left eye, a laceration on his left elbow, an abrasion on his right arm, swelling behind the ear and bruises that covered most of his body. Four days later he did file a complaint report of assault and robbery to Hollywood L.A.P.D. station. However the district attorney’s office had refused to file charges due to the complaint coming four days after the assault compromising the case. The involvement of Suge Knight seemed too political to get involved with. Suge Knight was becoming untouchable. It wasn’t long after this Suge had renamed his record label, ‘The New and Untouchable Death Row Records.’
Mark Anthony Bell filed a civil lawsuit against Suge Knight and Death Row Records and had received a settlement of $600,000 and promptly migrated to Jamaica never to be heard from again.
Bruce Richardson Murder (May 1996)
Richardson was a well-known figure in South Central L.A. The owner of the Genius Car Wash at Crenshaw and 54th Street and just as famous for being a major drug dealer, Richardson was a former Blood gang member but had strong business relationships with both Bloods and the Rolling 60’s Crips. This was a very unique bond on the streets of L.A. Richardson was a hard man, a legendary street fighter unbeatable at hand-tohand combat, with a Karate black belt. He held a devastating reputation in downtown L.A. and instilled fear in almost anyone who crossed him, including Suge Knight who was a high school friend. Suge admired this reputation carried by Richardson until Suge captured the power and wealth of hip-hop in the palm of his hand.
However, Richardson refused to yield to this and openly disrespected Suge and decided to manage his own rap stars to beat Suge at his game. Signing notable talent, Dramacydal who became friends with Tupac and was promised a chance to back up vocals on ‘Pac’s All Eyes On Me album with a spot on his Outlawz click. Richardson consented on the proviso that Suge paid a percentage on the album’s royalties. Suge refused flatly and persuaded Dramacydal to leave Bruce and join Suge’s West Coast Management company. Richardson was enraged and confronted Suge out in a nightclub not long after. With a captive audience, he was able to slap Suge around and strike blows upon the ‘Untouchable’ before Suge’s Mob could contain the fighter. Publicly humiliated, Suge vowed revenge.
Two weeks later in May, Bruce Richardson was shot to death outside his home. Suspected shooters were Mob’s Roger ‘Neckbone’ Williams and Alton ‘Buntry’ McDonald, Suge’s most fearsome hit men. Nothing was confirmed and the murder is still unsolved.
That Night In Vegas (Sept 1996)
In April of ’96, straight after Bad Boy’s Southside Crips and Death Row’s Mob Piru’s clashed at the Soul Train awards, Suge Knight announced his new venture of starting an east coast division of Death Row Records in Manhattan headed by Big Daddy Kane and Wu-Tang Clan. On September 7, Suge Knight used the MTV Awards to launch Death Row East with a huge entourage of his notorious Pirus. Making a grand entrance with intimidating stares toward the music industry executives, presidents and were separated from Bad Boy’s camp by over 20 NYPD officers. Suge used Tupac’s celebrity to promote the DR East project. Under a rift between the two, with Tupac completing his honoured contract for three album releases under Death Row, this would be the last interview for Tupac Shakur. Suge and he had made peace by meeting up again in Las Vegas in the following weekend for the Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon fight night.
Suge had begun to stamp his authority on Sin City, Las Vegas and established himself in the city by opening up a club called 662. (spells out M-O-B on a keypad) He purchased a home in Monte Rosa Avenue in the Paradise Valley Township. An area exclusive to Las Vegas’ most notable citizens, across the road was Wayne Newton’s Shenandoah Ranch and two doors down was Mike Tyson’s home. The sprawling 1.33acre property bordered the 5,215 red brick house set with a backyard backing onto a gold course. Suge had first viewed the estate on Martin Scorsese’s film, Casino where it was shown as the house of Robert DeNiro’s character, Frank Rosenthal. Suge bought the place and promptly redecorated it unseen in the arse before. Painting the bottom of his swimming pool garishly blood-red with the Death Row symbol in the centre, the house was following suit of his Tarzana office, with red carpet and furniture. As well as his Rolls Royce Cornish he drives around town in. Suge embedded himself in the gangster lifestyle of Las Vegas.
Suge had tried for several years now to have an association with many of the country’s top crime families. Already Death Row lawyer, David Kenner had strong ties with the Genovese Family. Suge continued to collect contacts to infamous crime families of America. Son of ‘Tony the Ant’ Spilotro, John represented Suge as his Las Vegas attorney. Spilotro was a character from the film, Casino, the real life account about Chicago’s Outfit. Suge also retained the services of lawyer, Oscar Goodman the ‘Mouthpiece for the Mob’ who represented most of the important Mafioso charged in Las Vegas together with former U.S. Attorney David Chesoff. When Suge wanted to open 662 off The Strip he brought onside the two most powerful legal employees of Death Row. David Kenner and DR’s new business manager, Steve Cantrock who was connected with the ‘Las Vegas Businessman’ Robert Amira who years earlier had been indicted with Joseph Colombo Jr. and Alphonse ‘The Whale’ Merolla in a scam to defraud the Dunes Hotel with airline tickets. In suspicious format, the case against Amira had been dismissed. Suge successfully took possession of the club. The venue was formerly known as Botany’s but had become a Death Row clubhouse, housing packed crowds from hardcore Californian gangbangers to prominent black American celebrities all witnessing the recording stars of Death Row performing at Tyson after-parties and industry events. Las Vegas would experience some of the most rowdy disturbances and brawls the Sin City has ever seen.
On the night of Tyson’s latest fight against Bruce Seldon, Death Row was in town in full swing. Tupac was staying at the Luxor Hotel with his then-girlfriend, Kidada Jones (Daughter of Quincey Jones) and gambled most of the day between the Luxor’s floor and the MGM Grand casino floor. Suge Knight and ‘Pac united for the first round Tyson KO. The after party venue for Mike Tyson was to be held at 662 after the authorities allowed it to open up on the promise of the venue being a benefit for some retired boxer. Run D.M.C. were scheduled to perform.
In the MGM lobby, Tupac had raced after a Southside Crip in the venue. Orlando Anderson (who months earlier had entangled with Trevon ‘Tray’ Lane and his Mob homies outside a Compton convenience store and snatched his Death Row gold chain. There was a $10,000 bounty for a D.R. chain on the street.) was struck down by Tupac’s heavy blows and immediately Suge and his homeboys intervened to attack the victim. Tupac was pulled off by his security detail with his gold medallion link broken off from around his neck. Suge had taken part in the fight caught on CCTV and gave the word to exit the scene. The Death Row entourage stormed out of the vicinity. The party returned to The Luxor to change clothes before reuniting at Suge’s house before the club 662 opened for the after party. After leaving Suge’s Paradise Valley home, Tupac rode shotgun with Suge in his new black BMW With reckless abandonment, they drove erratically over towards 662. Stopped at a red light on Korval Lane, a white Cadillac halted in front and to the right of the BMW with four black men inside. The one in the rear left seat opened his window and extended his arm with a .40 calibre Glock sprayed BMW’s passenger side with 10-15 bullets.
Tupac tried desperately to climb into the backseat but in the process was hit four times. Two bullets pierced into his stomach opening up his “Thug Life” tattoo, two more hitting him in the leg and hand. The Caddy peeled away from The Strip leaving strong witnesses in the rear car containing Shakur’s bodyguard, Frank Alexander and two Outlawz. Tupac was critically wounded and Suge Knight was grazed slightly by a ricochet bullet on his scalp. By September 13, Tupac Shakur lost his life. Death Row Records would never be the same company again. Suge Knight survived the night in almost perfect health.
4 days later the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office removed prosecutor, Larry Longo from the Stanley Brothers assault and robbery case against Suge Knight stemming from 1992. His involvement with a record deal for his daughter with Death Row Records rendered him unable to participate any further in the case. Word of Suge Knight living in Longo’s Malibu home would soon leave Lawrence Longo fired from his job within the year. All this was leading to further action for the D.A. office over Suge’s participation in the MGM Lobby fight with Orlando Anderson from CCTV footage. This would be a direct violation of his probation handed down to him from Judge Ouderkirk as a result from Longo’s prosecution team from the Stanley assault. Replaced by a much tougher Stephen Czuleger judge, Suge had already been sent to L.A. County jail for failing a court-ordered drug test three days earlier. A hearing to revoke his probation was set for February 1997.
By late September on the streets of California in the wake of Tupac Shakur’s murder eruption of gang war breaks out between the notorious Blood and Crip factions. Police informants report Suge Knight had delivered a load of AK-47 assault rifles, ammunition and bullet proof vests to the Nickerson Gardens housing project, home to some of the most dangerous Blood Piru sets in the country. The worst gang-related fatalities were recorded since the temporary gang truce in 1992 across Los Angeles.
Suge continued downhill in a fiercely growing battle against him, immediately his public character besmirched reaching influential circles of people who would not know of Suge’s demeanour personally on a report by NBC Primetime he was described “Some say he’s the most dangerous man in music.” Together with detailed accounts of Vanilla Ice’s encounter with Suge. Both news agencies and law enforcement across America would rally against Suge forcing action to be taken as he breathed under the heavy microscope of the nation. The U.S. Justice Department’s multi-agency taskforce investigating Suge Knight’s involvement in trafficking guns and drugs seemed to surface and speak up also. But the worst weapon they had pointed at him was an employee of Suge’s turned federal witness, Steve Cantrock.
Suge Knight had claimed Cantrock had skimmed money as Death Row’s business manager and head-accountant. American Express had filed a lawsuit against Knight, Kenner and Kenner’s wife claiming unpaid bills of up to $1.5million. Suge and Kenner both blamed the expenses had been incurred by Cantrock. The situation came to a head in the backyard of R&B singer, Michel’le, former girlfriend of Dre’s in the San Fernando Valley. Cantrock was confronted by Suge and Kenner and accused of stealing millions of dollars from the record company. With blows from Suge and his Pirus, he was forced into signing a hard-written confession. The accountant immediately disappeared and word spread that he and his family had fled the country, where in fact by December 1996 he had turned federal witness for the U.S. Justice Department supplying the agency with three years worth of Death Row’s financial accounts.
Civil lawsuits and creditors cropped up from Amercan Express continuing their suit for unpaid expenses generated by Death Row. Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother claiming unpaid royalties for Tupac’s Death Row albums. Suge Knight and Kenner counter-sued claiming Tupac and his family owed advanced monies. Also Solar Records Dick Griffey and The D.O.C. sued Suge Knight for $125million over a breach of promise. Other creditors sought to have the record label put into receivership asking for $75million. More devastating was the claim from L.A.’s D.A. Bill Hodgeman that Suge Knight should serve out his nine year suspension for the Stanley Brothers assault. The MGM CCTV footage was the strongest evidence against Suge despite Kenner insisting Suge was trying to prevent others from attacking Anderson. This would be Suge’s only defence presented. Before the February hearing, Death Row remained in business and released the strongest two albums of the year in the hip-hop world. Tupac’s posthumous, ‘Makaveli’ and Snoop’s ‘The Doggfather’. But as 1996 saw the demise of Suge Knight, so fell his record empire. With Snoop Dogg being the only major recording star still left on the label, after Dre’s disgruntled departure, he too started making moves to leave Death Row. Snoop would later leave loose ends with his manager, Suge’s wife, Sharitha Knight working for Knightlife Management, working under Death Row Records as a subsidiary. A $1.6million lawsuit claim was filed by Sharitha who wanted her money before Snoop gets shot. Snoop believed he was in Suge’s crosshairs when he jumped ship and sought cover and protection from New Orleans outfit, No-Limit Records headed by Percy ‘Master P’ Miller. Fortunately for Snoop, Suge had much more important business on the line, his own freedom.
Suge showed up for court in February ’97 dressed head to toe, not in his blood-red tailored suits but a uniformed L.A. County Jail issued blue jumpsuit. An incredible witness appeared on the side of Suge’s legal team, Southside Crip, Orlando Anderson. The victim in question from the MGM Lobby scuffle used to convict Suge Knight of Probation violation. He claimed Suge was trying to play peacemaker and break up the fight. Anderson was a Southside Compton Crip and it was this gang who worked security for Bad Boy. Evidently he had cursed Suge Knight and the Pirus straight after the attack but before the trial jumped onboard Suge’s defence. Compton police officers attested differently to Anderson’s accounts. Interviewed on October 1996 after the incident in Las Vegas, together with MGM security who stated seeing Suge kick Anderson three times the judge was not swayed by Suge’s tactics. Judge Czuleger declared Suge an active participant in the attack on Anderson. Before the final ruling, Kenner brought in a highly-paid psychiatrist to protest Suge Knight was not “criminally oriented” and insisted Suge was an active social part of the black community and stated he was not a dangerous man. As well as community leaders who testified of Suge’s community aid in Thanksgiving turkeys, Mothers’ Day contributions, Christmas toy drives, C. DeLores Tucker was brought in who believed Suge Knight used his prominence to steer young black men away from gang activity. Tucker was a woman who dared to come up against Suge Knight’s record company and try to tear down the abusive element of rap music by threatening the parent companies of Death Row Records into shutting down Death Row Records. Suge swiftly destroyed her career and reputation. Still the defence stated, if she can forgive Suge Knight the judge should too. Suge pleaded with the judge that he does not want to return to prison and had found a righteous belief in changing the bad image of his dominant rap label and promised Tucker to never use the word ‘nigger’ in his Death Row albums.
Bill Hodgeman rebutted with verbally listing Suge’s rap sheet from the past ten years. Judge Czuleger ordered Suge Knight to be detained by the Californian Department of Corrections for a ninety-day diagnostic examination then return to court in May for sentencing in State penitentiary. It was only two weeks later which saw the death of Bad Boy Entertainment’s Christopher ‘Notorious B.I.G./Biggie Smalls’ Wallace in Los Angeles. Immediate L.A.P.D. investigations all directed their attention to Suge Knight as their prime suspect. Later, details would come to surface involving L.A.P.D. officers working for Suge Knight and his Mob Pirus. The cases entangled around the murders of Wallace and Shakur would shake the grounds of the L.A.P.D. with the strong stench of corruption and cover-ups. This would be known as ‘The Rampart Scandal’. Both cases of the hip-hop’s most talented stars would go unsolved to this day. Several key witnesses were murdered, tampered evidence and left only with pending civil lawsuits, most of which are directed at Suge Knight who from July, 1997 walked in to the California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo and for the next following five years would remain locked deep in the chambers of the U.S. penal system.
During Suge’s incarceration several of his Piru homeboys would be murdered, Aaron ‘Heron’ Palmer was shot and killed the same month Suge entered prison. Later in May ’98 assault victim from the MGM scuffle between Tupac and Suge Knight, Southside Compton Crip, Orlando ‘Baby Lane’ Anderson was murdered on the streets of Compton in the midst of escalating warring factions between Bloods and Crips.
Back on the Streets
7th August 2001 Suge Knight was released from a Portland, Oregon prison free to resume business. Welcomed back to the city of L.A. by a huge billboard emblazoned in blood-red lettering from Death Row Records “Welcome Back Suge”. An almost empty record company held together by attorney and business partner, David Kenner and friend, Reggie Wright who headed up Suge’s security company, Wrightway Security. Death Row continued to live off the master tapes of Tupac Shakur releasing several highly lucrative posthumous releases as well as signing T.L.C. star Lisa ‘Lefteye’ Lopez who changed her identity to .N.I.N.A. and joined Suge’s West Coast Management company before her untimely death. Death Row floated on several international distribution companies willing to support the fallen empire. Koch Records held the majority of the company. Suge would continue his bullying, domineering tactics over the music industry only without any stranglehold on any major recording stars.
Parole Violation From Raids
A task force involving L.A. Sheriff’s Department’s Operation Safe Streets Bureau, Special Weapons Team and homicide investigators obtained 17 search warrants through Los Angeles and Las Vegas into Marion ‘Suge’ Knight’s homes and offices related to Death Row Records seeking additional evidence related to numerous unsolved homicides and conspiracy to commit murder. At approximately 5am on Thursday 14th November 2002 the raids began at The Row’s Wilshire Boulevard offices. Guns and drugs were seized in the operation, investigations remained open. Police would not comment on which murder cases were being worked on. As a result, police found reasonable evidence implicating Suge’s continued relations with reputed gang members, which was a direct breach on parole. Suge had moved out to Larry Longo’s Malibu estate and used drivers and security who had not been vetted by state authority and was photographed associating with Bloods. By December Suge was again arrested and sent back to prison for 61 days with community service to follow. His incarceration comes at a time where gangs in L.A. County have put a hit out on Suge Knight with four of his closest Bloods murdered in gang war recently. He was released Tuesday 25th February, 2003 to serve 200 hours of anti-gang community service.
Suge was received with several rounds of bullets fired into the Beverly Hills offices of Death Row. At 2:30 am May 27, 2003 several bullets were fired by unknown assailants damaging the front door, windows and wall of the offices thus never giving a chance for the music label to retain any real business dealings. The record label suffered immeasurably.
Second Parole Violation
In June of 2003 Suge Knight was arrested at the White Lotus Club, an affluent celebrity hangout. Suge had allegedly assaulting parking lot attendant, Mehdi Lazrak for giving Knight the wrong parking space. Lawyer, Robin Yates told newspapers the allegation was ridiculous. “Have you ever seen the size of Suge? If he hit one of those little valets, the guy would be broken,” The Californian Board of Prison Terms was contacted to determine whether he had breached conditions of parole. By August Suge was sent back to jail for 10 months for the breach. He was again released on April 23, 2004 with Kurupt as acting boss of the small-time label. Suge announced they would collaborate with other labels to produce a Christmas hip-hop album to benefit the families of soldiers serving in Iraq. Not a well received stunt.
VMA Attack On Dre
At the Video Music Awards held at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California in 2004 Suge Knight and The Row’s stars attended the event that showed high appreciation to Dr. Dre for his contributions to hip-hop over the past 20 years. This did not sit well with Suge Knight. Their bitter feud continued.
Violence broke out at the event after Suge Knight got onstage and yelled, “Fuck the G-Unit,” then allegedly threw insults at the rest of the audience right before Dre was to achieve the lifetime achievement awards by Snoop Dogg and Quincy Jones. Jimmy James Johnson, an associate of Suge Knight’s who was sitting beside him at the event, walked down to Dre’s table surrounded by Dre’s G-Unit camp and struck the legend with a blow to the face. Immediately G-Unit soldiers stood up to protect their boss and three men brandished knives including rapper, Young Buck who stabbed the assailant several times. The fight continued for over twenty minutes with involved parties being maced by police intervening. In much horror to the star audience watching on, furniture was thrown and kicks laid into the man. The incident was calmed down for Dre to accept his accolade but onlookers were fleeing the hall in a panic and leaving the vicinity in cars. Subsequently the after party was cancelled. Nothing else had come of the altercation. Young Buck had retreated back to his hometown in Kentucky until Dre could convince him with strong support from Johnnie Cochran to return to face charges with L.A. authority. Dre insisted Johnson be charged with assault and battery.
Third Parole Violation
Suge Knight was pulled over in his large pick up truck for making an illegal u-turn at 7.36pm Saturday 2nd February, 2005 heading southbound on the on-ramp on Interstate 15, according to the Barstow Police Department. When they received information that Suge was on parole, he gave them permission to search the vehicle for drugs and weapons. Upon searching, officer Retamoza found a small amount of marijuana in the truck. This was a violation of his parole. He was also cited for not having relevant insurance for the vehicle.
Suge Knight was arrested and held by San Bernadino’s County Sherrifs Department pending his transfer to state prison for the breach of parole conditions. Also arrested with him was his passsenger, 18 year old Alexis Wilkenson of Las Vegas who provided a false I.D. and false information, she was later released, as was Knight finally.
August 29, 2005 Suge Knight suffered a bullet wound in the right leg during an assassination attempt at the MTV Video Music Awards, the event that saw Suge disrupting the night with violence on Dr. Dre one year earlier. Knight was taken to Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach for surgery to remove the bullet and repair a broken bone that resulted from the shooting.
On a glitzy, star-studded night in Miami Beach, America was celebrating the new wave of explosive pop-rap culture that saw east and west coasts merged into one happy family of mainstream culture. Rapping sensations Kanye West, Outkast and 50 Cent celebrated their insurmountable dominance of hip-hop in the new age. With the violent destructive pattern of Death Row records well behind them, the VMA after party, held by Kanye West was a very smooth, well run affair. Although somebody invited Suge Knight and everything that goes with having America’s most notorious and hated music mogul in the house, nobody was expecting a hostile shootout tonight. Nobody was searched and at the door and the possible suspects run high with Suge Knight being one of the most hated and feared men in America.
The after party event was held at the Shore Club Hotel off Miami Beach. Suge Knight was sitting in the V.I.P. red room when at 12:42am. Sunday, an unidentified man walked up to the gangster and opened fire. Six shots were fired and Knight was hit in the right leg. No-one else was hurt. Police and fire fighters quickly arrived on scene and Knight was taken to hospital for treatment. Described only as a black man in a pink shirt, the gunman remained at large, Associated Press reports.
Responding to recent reports suggesting Suge Knight is the subject of many of his enemies putting a price on his head he simply put it, “If you raised up or born in the ghetto, watching your back is what you do naturally,” Suge said. “You don’t choose the day you’re gonna go. … I don’t walk in fear.”
Today Marion ‘Suger Bear’ Knight is still a notoriously feared man in America and is free. The new Don King of hip-hop heavyweights, Suge Knight too remains in the industry today without a prized fighter to sell records for. Therefore ‘Tha Row Records’ is suspected as fronting a continuing empire of illegal industry. Federal agencies are still keeping Suge Knight under heavy investigation and surveillance and every move is watched intently. The notorious dictator of the west will forever be known as a forceful contributor to the teething era of Gangsta Rap.
Loss of Death Row Records
2nd April 2006
Record company CEO Suge Knight missed another court-ordered hearing on April 1st, 2006 to determine the legal ownership of pioneering west coast hip-hop label, Death Row Records. This comes about as a result of a long feud between old business partner Michael ‘Harry-O’ Harris who provided Suge with the capital start up money to launch the record label in 1991 from within prison. [see Welcome to Death Row] Harry O’s wife Lydia Harris filed a lawsuit against Knight and in March of 2005, Knight was ordered to pay Mrs. Harris $107 million dollars.
Harris was awarded the judgment and a settlement that included $60million in punitive damages, $47million in economic and non-economic damages. Harry-O has since divorced from his wife and is claiming half of the $107million.
Failing to respond to legal inquiries regarding the case, continually not turning up to court hearings and not showing assets when ordered, Suge faces a term in jail again this time for contempt of court until he appears for a hearing to disclose all that he owns outright. As requested by attorneys, Death Row could be put into receivership with the valuable music rights catalogue to be auctioned off. Knight’s assets have been frozen since August 2005. In February 2006 Knight and Death Row records filed a $106million lawsuit against Harry-O and other in Los Angeles Federal Court. Knight’s lawsuit alleges Harry-O is blackmailing the label with threats of exposing the illegal seed money for the legitimate company stem from proceeds from his drug enterprise.
On the 4th April, 2006 Knight has reportedly sought to file bankruptcy protection for himself and his record label. His lawyer told the Associated Press that the mogul was filing bankruptcy in an attempt to reorganize his financial affairs. This also serves as temporarily preventing Suge from losing the ownership of the label.
- Pleads guilty to battery with a deadly weapon in Las Vegas, sentence suspended
- Arrested for assault at Los Angeles International Airport
- Pleads guilty to battery in Beverly Hills, sentence suspended.
- Pleads guilty to battery in Hollywood, sentence suspended.
- Arrested in Las Vegas for assault with a deadly weapon.
- Pleads guilty to disturbing the peace in Van Nuys, sentence suspended.
- Persuades D.O.C. to leave Ruthless Records and join his new label he will call Funky Enough Records.
- Convicted of giving false name when arrested in possession of a deadly weapon in Beverly Hills, sentence suspended.
- Convinces Vanilla Ice to sign over song rights to Mario ‘Chocolate’ Johnson.
- Future Shock Entertainment files articles of incorporation, listing Marion Knight as president.
- Persuades Eazy-E to release Dr. Dre from Ruthless Records contract.
- David Kenner arranges meeting between Suge Knight and Michael Harris at Metropolitan Detention Center in L.A.
- 3 men negotiate the joint venture for entertainment company, Godfather Entertainment with Death Row Records.
- Charged with assault with a deadly weapon in Beverly Hills, pleads guilty to misdemeanour battery, sentence suspended.
- Convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in Las Vegas, sentence suspended.
- Convicted of carrying a concealed weapon in West Covina, sentence suspended.
- Convicted of disturbing the peace in Van Nuys, sentence suspended.
- Arrested for assault and robbery of George and Lynwood Stanley at Solar Records studios in North Hollywood.
- Death Row files articles of incorporation, Marion Knight listed as president, no mention of Michael Harris.
- Arrested with Dre and D.O.C. for brawling outside Black Radio Exclusive convention in New Orleans. 15yo fan stabbed.
- U.S. Justice Department starts racketeering investigation against Suge Knight and Death Row Records.
- Pleads guilty to assault and robbery of Stanley brothers, given nine year suspended sentence.
- Kelly Jamerson beaten to death at Death Row party in L.A.’s El Ray Theatre. Knight and Bloods implicated in murder.
- Insults Sean Combs from Bad Boy Entertainment on stage at the Source Awards, East v West war escalates.
- Opens private nightclub in Las Vegas, 662(MOB)
- Close friend and Blood gang member, Jake Robles murdered at music industry party. Bad Boy believed to be responsible.
- Mark Anthony Bell assaulted at Chateau La Blanc mansion in Hollywood Hills, info.of Combs whereabouts forced.
- 01/96 - Dick Griffey and D.O.C. file lawsuit against Suge Knight to contest ownership of Death Row Records.
- 03/96 - Crips working for Bad Boy Entertainment fight with Death Row’s Bloods at Soul Train Awards in L.A.
- 04/96 - Announces Death Row will open an east coast record division in Manhattan.
- 05/96 - Rival Bruce Richardson is murdered in Compton after public beating of Suge Knight in night club.
- 09/96 - Tupac murdered in Las Vegas. Suge Knight violates probation with fight in MGM lobby with Crip, Orlando Anderson.
- Police report Knight delivers loads of AK-47 assault rifles to Nickerson Garden housing projects.
- Gang war breaks out on the streets of Los Angeles.
- 10/96 - Jailed for failing drug test during trial of parole violation in MGM fight.
- 12/96 - Employee Cantrock turns federal witness - supplies U.S. Justice Dept. with information on Death Row’s finances.
- 02/97 - L.A. County District Attorney’s office revokes Knight’s probation and reinstate prison sentence. Knight sent for diagnostic exam at California Department of Corrections.
- 03/97 - Christopher ‘Biggie Smalls’ Wallace murdered at industry event in L.A. Suge Knight is major suspect behind case.
- 06/97 - Enters as inmate at California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo.
- 06/97 - Aaron ‘Heron’ Palmer Blood member of Suge’s gang murdered in Compton.
- 05/98 - Southside Crip, Orlando Anderson working for Bad-Boy murdered in Compton.
- 05/99 - Transferred to Mule Creek state prison.
- 02/01 Jail inmate Mark Hylland informs F.B.I. he was hired by Suge Knight and L.A.P.D. officers to courier money to pay for the murder of Wallace.
- 08/01 - Released from federal prison in Portland, Oregon.
- 12/02 - Jailed for 61 days for parole violation from federal raids on Death Row offices.
- 02/03 - Released from jail ordered to resume anti-gang community service.
- 05/03 - Wilshire offices of Death Row struck by drive-by shooting. No-one hurt but business suffers detrimental effect.
- 06/03 - Parole violated as Knight fights with parking lot attendant at Hollywood’s White Lotus Club.
- 08/03 - 10 month prison term for previous parole violation.
- 04/04 - Released from prison.
- 08/04 - Dr. Dre assaulted at V.M.A.’s by associate of Knight’s and evening shut down as a result. Assailant stabbed by G-Unit rapper, Young Buck. Dre presses charges.
- 02/05 - Arrested for making illegal U-turn and found in possession of marijuana. Parole violated.
- 03/05 - Ordered to pay $107million to Michael and Lydia Harris for loss of lawsuit over ownership of Death Row Records.
- 08/05 - V.M.A.’s after party, Knight suffers fractured leg from bullet wound in attempted murder. Hospitalised for surgery and later released.
- 08/05 - Assets gained from Death Row Records, master tapes and affiliated companies all frozen by federal courts.
- 02/06 - Files lawsuit against Harris’ for $106 million for blackmail over illegal seed money.
MOB Piru Members
- Jai Hassan Jamaal ‘Jake the Violator’ Robles (Murdered 1995)
- Roger ‘Neckbone’ Williams
- Aaron ‘Heron’ Palmer (Murdered 1996)
- Crawford ‘Hi-C’ Wilkerson
- Ronald ‘Ram’ Lamb
- Trevon ‘Tray’ Lane
- Henry ‘Hen Dog’ Smith (Murdered 1997)
- Alton ‘Buntry’ McDonald (Murdered 1997)
- Tim & James McDonald
- Reggie Wright (Whrightway Security)
- L.A.P.D. officer Rafael Perez (Imprisoned bank robbery 2/2000)
- L.A.P.D. officer David Mack (Imprisoned cocaine theft 12/1997)