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 the defence of 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.