20 Years ago, Suge Knight and Dr Dre launched their now legendary record label Death Row Records. Under Suge’s feared reputation and iron-fist, Death Row was able to establish itself as one of the most formidable and profitable labels in the history of music. Multiple Platinum albums, Grammy Awards, # 1 songs, and the constant fear element that surrounded the label effectively placed Knight and the burgeoning, multimillion dollar Death Row enterprise on the very tip of the hip hop music mountain. Although Death Row has been defunct for over a decade, the everlasting legacy still continues . We reflect on 20 facts about Death Row records you may have not known.
Special Thanks to Allen Grissom of the Los Angeles Times Music Blog
20. DJ Quik & The Notorious B.I.G.
Death Row affiliate, and Compton rapper DJ Quik was once considered a suspect in the murder of the Notorious B.I.G. Quik and his crew known as the ‘Tree Top Pirus’ were present at the Automotive Peterson Museum the night Biggie Smalls was killed. (Read: DJ Quik Speaks on the LAPD naming him a suspect)
19. Death Row Security
Reggie Wright Jr, the head of security for Death Row Records was the son of Compton Police Chief Reggie Wright Sr. Many believe this was a tactical move by Suge Knight to stay one step ahead of the Police.
18. Mafia Connection
David Kenner, the infamous lawyer and close confidant of Suge Knight has long been rumored to have ties with the legendary Genovese Crime Family of New York City. But according to former LAPD Detective David Peterson, Suge Knight couldn’t care less and didn’t know who they were.
17. East vs West
The seeds of the East Coast vs West Coast beef were planted down South, when Anthony ‘Wolf Jones’, Puff Daddy’s one time best friend allegedly killed Suge Knight’s close confidant ‘Jake Robles’ in an Atlanta nightclub in 1995. That incident triggered the Death Row vs Bad Boy Beef. Ironically, Anthony ‘Wolf Jones’ was killed in 2003 in an Atlanta nightclub himself. Suge Knight’s friend, Big Meech and The BMF were investigated for the crime, but Police couldn’t find any witnesses to testify and the case was eventually dropped.
16. Legal Corruption
Gina Longo was the first and only White artist ever signed to Death Row Records. Coincidentally or not, she was also the daughter of the same Los Angeles Prosecutor who was investigating Suge Knight for assault charges. The Prosecutor, Larry Longo, eventually dropped the charges after his daughter secured a recording contract with Death Row.
15. No Price On Freedom
Dr Dre, who owned 50% of Death Row Records, received no royalty, publishing, or money when he left the label in 1995. Dre was reportedly entitled to earn over $60 million from the split. When asked if he was upset about not receiving any residuals, Dre famously said ‘You can’t put a price on a peaceful state of mind’. (Watch More Here: Dr Dre vs Suge)
14. Respect for the East
Young Noble of the Outlawz who is from New Jersey gave Tupac a copy of Illmatic in the fall of 1994, Pac quickly became a fan and respected Nas for his artistry. In 1996 Tupac released his track about man infatuated with his gun ‘Me and My Girlfriend’, which, according to the Outlawz was heavily influenced by Nas’ conceptual song ‘I Gave You Power’
13. Clash of Generations
When Run DMC received their life-time achievement award at the 1995 Source Awards, they were greeted with a standing ovation from nearly everyone inside the Paramount Theater in Madison Square Garden. The only ones not to stand or even acknowledge them was Death Row Records. Death Row was subsequently criticized by many publications for their perceived disrespectful gesture towards hip hop royalty.
12. Before The Beef
Prior to their now legendary beef, Suge Knight and Puff Daddy were friends who often held parties together and hung out on plenty of occasions. If Knight visited New York in 1994 he’d drop by Bad Boy’s office. If Puffy traveled to Los Angeles “he would come pick me up and we’d hang out” Puffy once said.
11. Record Sales
From 1992-1996 Death Row Records sold nearly 27 million albums, the catalog included The Chronic, Doggystyle, All Eyez On Me and more.
10. Label Beatdown
Sam Sneed, the man with the ‘master-plan’, was viciously beaten in an office meeting in March of 1996 by the Death Row entourage, led by Knight and Shakur. According to Daz Dillinger, the reason this happened was because Sam Sneed had too many East Coast Rappers and not enough Death Row affiliates in his Lady Heroin music video, which included Kool G Rap. (Sam Sneed speaks about the incident here:DubCnn)
9. L.A L.A vs New York, New York
When Mobb Deep & CNN released their diss track “LA, LA” which was a response to the Dogg Pound’s “New York New York”, it didn’t bother Kurupt, who laughed it off, but according to Kurupt, 2pac became irate when he heard the song. (Read More About This Situation Here: Kurupt Speaks to HipHop365.com)
On March 14th 1995, during an after-party hosted by Death Row at El Rey Theater in L.A.’s Wilshire District, Kelly Jamerson, a well known member of the Rollin 60 Crip Gang was beaten and murdered by a mob of 15 to 20 bloods who were in attendance. According to police reports and author David Sullivan, the violence was triggered when Snoop Dogg flashed gang signs when performing on stage. The party consisted mostly of Bloods from Compton. One witness refused to testify, saying “You Police do not understand how powerful Suge is, going up against Suge or any of his people is like going up against the Mafia, it’s a death sentence”.
7. The Hitmen
Although Suge and Death Row claimed allegiance to the Lueder Park Bloods in Compton CA, Suge also assembled his own crew known as the M.O.B. He then formed his own personal team of ‘Hitmen’ comprised of 5 of the most dangerous figures of the crew. Tupac mentioned them on his 1996 hit ‘To Live and Die in L.A “Neckbone, Tre, Herron, Big Buntry too, Big Rock got knocked, but this one’s for you”
6. What’s the 411?
In 1993 Mary J Blige and Jodeci were unhappy with their management deals with Andre Harrell and ‘Uptown Records’ where Puffy worked as well. Suge Knight, who was seeking to sign both acts reportedly stormed into Andre Harrell’s office and threatened him to release Mary J Blige and Jodeci out of their deals. It worked, just a few weeks later they were both released from their contracts, and soon signed with Suge’s ‘West Coast Management’. As for Andre Harrell, he told Newsweek in March of 1993 that he hired security services from The Nation of Islam.
5. The New Motown
In 1993, Death Row records was able to generate more than $75 million dollars and release two of the biggest selling hip hop albums of all time in just a 10 month span. Vibe Magazine once described Death Row “as the most profitable, independently owned African American hip hop label of all time.”
4. Giving Back
Along with being feared, Suge was also respected in Compton for his charitable work in the community.
One such venture was “Let Me Ride Hydraulics”, a car customization shop he formed with Dr. Dre in 1994 which employed hundreds from his hometown. Death Row also hosted a Mother’s Day celebration in Beverly Hills, California every year for 500 single mothers, sponsored toy giveaways at churches and hospitals, and doled out turkeys to the needy for Thanksgiving Day. They organized basketball tournaments, raised money for struggling families to pay rent and gave many Ex-Cons opportunities to work at Death Row Records.
3. The Night Biggie Smalls Was Killed
The scene at the Automotive Peterson Museum on March 9th 1997 was quite interesting due to the guest list. In attendance were Biggie and Puff Daddy, Tupac’s former finance’ Kidada Jones, Biggie’s ex-wife Faith Evans, Suge Knight’s ex-wife Sharitha, DJ Quik and a group of ‘Tree Top Pirus’, and the man suspected of killing Tupac Shakur, Orlando Anderson was also present.
2. Welcome to Death Row
Henry ‘Hen Dog’ Smith a suspected Bloods gang member and close friend of Suge Knight designed the original logo for Death Row Records. Suge promised him an opportunity for employment as soon as he was released from prison. ‘Hen Dog’ was murdered in October of 2002 during a drive-by shooting in South Central Los Angeles.
1. It’s Gettin Funky’
Suge Knight’s original record label was called ‘Funky Enough Records’, in 1989, he signed his first artist, fellow Compton native DJ Quik. In late 1990, Quik introduced Suge Knight to a local rapper that he managed who went by the name of ‘Chocolate’. The relatively unknown rapper quickly complained to Suge that he wrote and produced Vanilla Ice’s huge hit ‘Ice Ice Baby’ but wasn’t getting any royalty, which led to the famous “hanging” incident between Suge Knight and Vanilla Ice.