Suge Knight

MOB Piru

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.