Death Row Records was to the 1990s as Motown Records was to the 1960s. Furthermore, it is the most important rap label in history and one of the reasons that rap, as a genre and a culture, sits atop the music world today. And it is all thanks to one man, Death Row founder Marion “Sugar Bear” Hugh Knight, Jr., also know as Suge.
In the course of a mere five years, Death Row grossed more than $150 million and has sold more than 10 million records to date. The “Fab Four” of Death Row — Suge, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and 2Pac — made up the most successful partnership in rap history.
But by the end of the decade, Death Row was in shambles. 2Pac had been killed in a mysterious drive-by shooting, Snoop and Dre had turned their backs on Knight and Death Row, and Knight’s volatile manner had led to a long list of run-ins with the law and, subsequently, a nine-year prison sentence (Note: Knight was released early but soon after was back in prison for violating his probation).
Feb. 25, Knight was released. He’s baaaack.
In recent interviews, Knight, who has taken the “Death” out of Death Row, (now it’s called Tha Row), has expressed excessive bitterness toward all of his former associates (as he did while incarcerated).
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound record executive has a history of violence in and out of the industry. So, when he threatens, people listen — even the hardest of rappers should take heed.
He has been arrested on numerous occasions for assault, publicly stated his affiliation with a dangerous chapter of the L.A. Bloods (an infamous gang) and is rumored to have confronted and threatened the lives of artists such as Eazy-E and Vanilla Ice about record contracts and royalties.
He says he is straight now, but we here at Oracle Music think something may be up. Who should beware? The past offers up quite a cast of characters. Boys, take heed, and as Wu-Tang Clan would say: “You best protect your neck.
Who: Andre Young
Alias: Dr. Dre
Beef: Turned his back on the man who taught him the trade of producing and helped him break huge as a rapper.
In 1995, Dre was the first to jump ship when he formed his own label, Aftermath Records. He was constantly dissed and threatened by the Death Row crew and his record sales dropped significantly without them. Then Knight went to jail, the Row lost its key artists, and Dre found a skinny, pissed-off white boy from Detroit. The rest is history. Dre was never one to fight back, which probably pisses off Knight to no end. Knight has accused Dre of being a closet homosexual and having a sexual relationship with the late Eazy-E (who died of AIDS in 1995). Dre also never gave Knight the credit he deserved for schooling him in the art of production and propelling him into stardom. Knight also might not be too happy about Dre finding the most successful mainstream rapper since, well, Dr. Dre.
Who: Sean Combs
Alias: P. Diddy/ Puff Daddy
Beef: Suge’s main enemy in the notorious East Coast vs. West Coast feud of the 1990s.
Once dubbed “shiny-suit man,” Diddy has been hangin’ with the likes of B2K and Ginuwine, who lack the hardcore gangsta tendencies of Suge Knight — I bet he wished Shyne was still in his clique. Damn that J.Lo. Suge also reportedly possesses a sex tape featuring Lopez and is itching to put it on the market.
Diddy, who was once at the nucleus of the worst feud in rap history, has moved on to happier things since Knight went to jail — doing remix albums, making flashy videos and acting in a movie in which he’s executed (Monster’s Ball). Let’s just hope that’s not a testament to his future.
Who: Calvin Broadus
Alias: Snoop Dogg
Beef: Left Knight and Death Row when they were at their weakest and habitually takes verbal shots at his former boss.
Snoop may be one of the coolest men on the planet, but he sure isn’t the smartest. It has been a while since Snoop became the final shoe, dropping from the ranks of the Row and jumping onto Master P’s No Limit bandwagon. This play — and the subsequent move of sneaking out of the No Limit camp after the label’s whirlwind popularity went sour — revealed to all, Knight probably included, what an attention monger he is. He may have slapped the proverbial target on his back as a result of snide comments about Knight. Snoop has accused Knight of cheating him out of cash, recorded diss tracks about Knight’s Death Row and told an L.A. radio station that Knight was involved in the death of former label mate 2pac. At last year’s BET awards show, Snoop and Knight even got into an altercation during a commercial break. Sign of things to come? Maybe, maybe not. And if that wasn’t enough to land Snoop atop Knight’s list, the Doggfather just released another diss song called “Pimp Slap.” The lyrics read as such: “With the fags and snitches, no killers just b——/ and you was paying n—– off with all my riches …/This n—-‘s a b—- like his wife/Suge Knight’s a b—- and that’s on my life …” I wonder if Snoop wants to be bizzuried or crizzemated.
Who: Tupac Amaru Shakur
Beef: Many believe Suge was behind his death.
The late Tupac would have been 31 years old this year, but, unfortunately for the rap industry he was slain seven years ago. Although there haven’t been any formal charges linking Suge Knight to Tupac’s death, many people think he may have been involved. Knight’s reported affiliation with the Bloods makes him look suspicious. There is one well-known reason that Tupac seemed like he knew Knight could be out to get him. The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory album, in its first few seconds, points directly at Knight with the legendary phrase “Suge shot me.”
Who: Marshall Mathers
Beef: Angst-ridden, pigeon-chested, woe-is-me white boy raking in industry dollars that used to go to Death Row–enough said.
Eminem is smarter than people think. He hasn’t dissed Knight, even though some of his closer acquaintances have urged him to. Still, constant comparisons with Death Row’s deceased crown jewel, and Knight’s best friend, have festered in the minds of 2Pac fans everywhere, Knight possibly included. Slim Shady has made a habit of calling himself a “thug like Pac” and even the “white 2Pac.” He also makes company with Knight’s most hated enemies. All that money and fame are going to the kid’s head, and if he isn’t careful, Knight may be going for it as well — on a silver platter.
Who: Percy Miller
Alias: Master P
Beef: Picked up Snoop Dogg where Suge left off.
Master P is to Southern rap what Suge Knight was to West Coast rap. He followed the Suge Knight handbook to underground rap success, starting No Limit Records out of the trunk of a car with a suspicious loan. He then added Death Row’s own Snoop Dogg to his stable, which likely bent Knight sumfin’ awful. Master P is feeling the heat now, as No Limit is in tough times, and his once flourishing USBL basketball career has floundered. The story of No Limit mirrors that of Death Row, except shorter and with a swifter demise. He did popularize Southern rap, which now rakes in the dough as West Coast rap is struggling.
Who: Oracle Music
Beef: This article
Here at Oracle Music, we love Suge Knight. Really, we honestly do. We think that among all producer/former replacement football players/ex-cons, he is by far the most talented and accomplished. He adds a, I don’t know, je ne sais quoi to the music industry, something that’s been missing from the business since his heinous incarceration. It’s a bum rap when a guy is assigned to anti-gang community service and then gets arrested on the parole violation of associating with gang members. It’s a setup, entrapment, I tell ya. Suge is a man with deep convictions, deep thoughts and deep pockets, and it would be masochistic of us to diss him in any way. So here’s to you, Suge Knight, may you regain your status of music industry pariah, and remember, USF is in San Francisco, if you ever want to visit us.
Rorik Williams contributed to this report.
Contact The Oracle Music staffat firstname.lastname@example.org