Death Row Records
|Death Row Records|
|Founder||The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, Suge Knight, Dick Griffey|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Location||Los Angeles, California|
Death Row Records is an American record company founded in 1991 by Tracy "The D.O.C." Lynn Curry, Andre "Dr. Dre" Young, Marion "Suge" Knight Jr. and Richard Gilbert "Dick" Griffey. It is known to have signed many popular West Coast hip hop artists such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, The Outlawz, The Lady of Rage, MC Hammer, Young Soldierz, Sam Sneed, LBC Crew, RBX, Michel'le, Jewell, Danny Boy, DJ Quik, Nate Dogg and the rap group Tha Dogg Pound consisting of rappers Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, Soopafly and many others, also Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC although most if not all departed from the label after its demise following the murder of Shakur in 1996.
The loss of key management and talent of Death Row Records meant a decline in terms of being a powerful hip-hop record company in the industry, despite attempts from the last remaining founder and CEO at the time, Suge Knight, that included signing new talents and releasing many compilations of previously unreleased content recorded by ex-Death Row artists. The label filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and on January 15, 2009, Death Row Records was successfully auctioned to entertainment development company WIDEawake Entertainment Group, Inc. for $18 million.
Death Row has sold nearly 150 million albums worldwide, and generated close to $750 million in revenue.
- 1 Origins and early formation
- 2 International success and controversy
- 3 A New Century
- 4 Releases
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Origins and early formation
In the late '80s, producer Andre "Dr. Dre" Young was a member of the gangsta rap group N.W.A., signed to fellow member Eric "Eazy-E" Wright's Ruthless Records. As head of production at the label, Dre produced a large number of Ruthless projects, many of them high-selling; feeling the pressures of having to produce so many acts, Dre became frustrated with Ruthless. After the departure of Ice Cube over financial disagreements with manager Jerry Heller, artist and friend The D.O.C. went over the books with a lawyer. Convinced that Heller was dishonest, they approached Young about forming a label with them, away from Heller and Eazy-E. Allegedly using strong-arm tactics, Knight was able to procure contracts from Eazy for The D.O.C., Dr. Dre and singer Michel'le.
Knight approached successful rapper Robert "Vanilla Ice" Van Winkle, using management connections with rapper Mario "Chocolate" Johnson, claiming Johnson had produced the song "Ice Ice Baby", and had not received royalties for the song. After consulting with Alex Roberts, whom sources suggest was Suge Knight's connection to the underworld, Knight and two bodyguards arrived at The Palm in West Hollywood, where Van Winkle was eating. After shoving Van Winkle's bodyguards aside, Knight and his own bodyguards sat down in front of Van Winkle, staring at him before finally asking "How you doin'?" Similar incidents were repeated on several occasions, including alleged attempts to lure Van Winkle into a van filled with Blood and Crips gang members, before Knight showed up at Van Winkle's hotel suite on the fifteenth floor of the Bel Age Hotel, accompanied by Johnson and a member of the Los Angeles Raiders. According to Van Winkle, Knight took him out on the balcony by himself, and implied he would throw Van Winkle off unless he signed the rights to the song over to Knight; Van Winkle's money helped fund Death Row Records. At one time, Death Row Records was located at the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and San Vicente Blvd. Knight was seen on several occasions leaving Alex Roberts' home in Malibu. Knight approached Michael "Harry-O" Harris, a businessman incarcerated on drug and attempted murder charges. Through David Kenner, an attorney handling Harris's appeal, Harry-O set up Godfather Entertainment, a parent company for the newly christened Death Row Records.
International success and controversy
With the help of Kenner, Knight began signing young inner-city California artists and arranged for Death Row to handle the soundtrack for the 1992 Laurence Fishburne/Jeff Goldblum film, Deep Cover. The single, "Deep Cover", established Dre as a solo artist and a young Snoop "Doggy" Dogg as his protege. Work soon began on The Chronic, Dre's solo album, which heavily featured Snoop and the rest of the label's core roster. Its singles, "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" and "Nuthin' but a "G" Thang", saw Dre and Snoop responding to Eazy-E and other artists at Ruthless.
The album went on to sell three million records, establishing the west coast in hip-hop and popularizing the distinctive style of g-funk. Continuing to release songs on albums that dissed Dre, Eazy-E claimed the success of the album and its singles netted him nearly as much money as it did Young.
After finding solo success, Dre began crafting Snoop Dogg's debut album Doggystyle; the process took two years. Snoop's debut was finally released in 1993 due to public demand and high pressure from retailers. Though unfinished, it outdid The Chronic at four times platinum, and garnered similarly glowing reviews. Soon after the release of the album, controversy began to hit the label; Snoop was charged with murder, fueling the debate that politicians C. Delores Tucker and then-presidential candidate Dan Quayle sparked by denouncing gangsta rap as against American values, encouraging violence towards police officers, and degrading to black women. They used the music and video images of Death Row Records as examples.
Signing Tupac and Suge Knight's rise
By 1995, the label began to flood with Knight's cronies—friends and gang members fresh out of jail, as well as off-duty LAPD officers later implicated in the Rampart scandal working as security. Emboldened, Knight began taking more control of the label and further sought the spotlight, while Dr. Dre receded into the background, shying away from the increasingly violent atmosphere and Suge's newfound volatility. Tucker's pressure to conform extended to a joint proposal by herself and a Warner executive to set up a record label with Knight to put out content-controlled rap music, which Knight billed as a breach of contract, resulting in a switch in distribution from Time Warner to Interscope. At the '95 Source Awards, the Death Row roster's performance garnered a poor reception from the mainly east coast audience; Knight also made comments pertaining to Bad Boy Entertainment CEO Puff Daddy, sparking friction between the two labels (and, soon after, the two entire coasts). Soon Knight would sign rapper Tupac Shakur, incarcerated on a sexual abuse conviction, after agreeing to post Shakur's bail. At the same time, a rift between Michael and Lydia Harris and Suge and David Kenner began to grow, with the latter pair denying Harris's involvement in the company and refusing to take his phone calls.
Bad Boy feud and Dr. Dre's departure
Tupac immediately began work on his Death Row album, kicking off his tenure by insulting Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy, who he accused of setting him up to be robbed and shot earlier that year, as well as Bad Boy Entertainment, Mobb Deep and Nas. Tha Dogg Pound's debut album, Dogg Food, continued the label's streak of commercial successes; its members, rappers Kurupt and Daz Dillinger, joined Shakur in ridiculing New York rappers with their single "New York, New York," featuring Snoop Dogg. The video, set in New York City, was also heightened when the set was fired upon in a driveby. After the shooting, Snoop and Dogg Pound decided to take a new turn with the video production and filmed new scenes kicking down a building in New York. Death Row's reputation began to grow as rumors began to spread in the media about the label. Suge Knight, along with other Death Row associates, reportedly beat up a music promoter associated with Bad Boy Entertainment at a Los Angeles party, and forced him to drink urine.
Another report was that Death Row Artist, Sam Sneed, was beaten in one of the label's meetings by a group of Death Row affiliates, led by Knight and Shakur. According to Daz Dillinger, the reason this happened was because Sam Sneed had too many East Coast Rappers in his Lady Heroin music video. Disillusioned with the direction of Death Row, artists RBX and The D.O.C. chose to leave, after which Knight exercised tighter control over the rest of the roster. Dogg Food was not produced by Dr. Dre but was mixed by Dre, a further testament to Young's dwindling involvement with his own label. Though he contributed two tracks to 2Pac's All Eyez on Me, it was mostly produced by Daz and Johnny J despite Dre being nominally titled as Executive Producer. Shakur's behavior reportedly became erratic as he continued verbal wars with Mobb Deep, Nas, Biggie, The Fugees and Jay-Z. Shakur also turned on the label's co-founder and former head producer, Dr. Dre. Shakur was incensed that Dre was getting credit for producing recordings that he had little or no involvement in. In 1996, due to the infighting, Dre left Death Row to form Aftermath Entertainment.
M.C. Hammer's involvement and departure
Suge Knight's relationship with M.C. Hammer (Stanley Kirk Burrell) dates back to 1988. With the success of Hammer's 1994 album, The Funky Headhunter (featuring Tha Dogg Pound), Hammer signed with Death Row Records by 1995, along with Snoop Dogg and his close friend, Tupac. The label did not release the album of Hammer's music (titled Too Tight) while he had a career with them, although he did release versions of some tracks on his next album. However, Hammer did record tracks with Shakur and others, most notably the song "Too Late Playa" (along with Big Daddy Kane and Danny Boy). After the death of Shakur in 1996, Burrell left the record company. He later explained his concern about this circumstance in an interview on Trinity Broadcasting Network since he was in Las Vegas with Tupac the night of his death. Hammer released 2Pac's "Unconditional Love", on his Family Affair album, in 1998.
The friendship between Hammer (played by Romany Malco), Tupac (played by Lamont Bentley) and Suge (played by Anthony Norris) were depicted in the television film, Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story (airing on VH1 in 2001).
Tupac Shakur's murder and Suge Knight's incarceration
Formerly a united front of artists, Death Row's roster fractured into separate camps. Daz, now head producer, worked on Snoop Dogg's second album Tha Doggfather, which featured Bad Azz and Techniec of his LBC Crew, Warren G and Nate Dogg of his group 213 and Kurupt and Daz of Tha Dogg Pound shut himself into the studio with little-known producers Hurt-M-Badd and Big "D", crafting The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory - unlike All Eyez on Me, it was devoid of high-profile Death Row guest appearances, instead showcasing Shakur's The Outlawz and Bad Azz. Knight was now barely reachable by his staff, and employees were routinely assaulted as punishment for not following orders.
During a trip to Las Vegas for a Mike Tyson fight, Shakur was interviewed on the possibility of Death Row East, an east coast branch of the record label. It was also during this time, that Alex Roberts and David Kenner had been seen at Knights Vegas Club 662 in discussion about the possibility of having Roberts New York underworld connections help pave the way for Death Row East. Though names from Big Daddy Kane and the Wu-Tang Clan to Eric B. and K-Solo were mentioned, the label would never be formed; three days later, Knight and others were caught on surveillance camera at the MGM Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas assailing gang member Orlando Anderson who was a Southside Crip (which was rumored to provide security for Bad Boy Entertainment artists). Later that night, Shakur was shot several times while in a car Suge was driving as they headed to Knight's Vegas Club 662; despite living several days in critical condition, the rapper died on September 13, 1996.
Shakur's "Makaveli 7 Day Theory" was released in November just one week before Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Tha Doggfather". Although both albums went to platinum sales in their first weeks on the shelves the impact on Death Row had started to mount; Knight was convicted of parole violation and sentenced to nine years' prison time, causing Interscope to drop its distribution deal with the label. His control over the label diminished, Nate Dogg was able to leave, followed by Snoop Dogg and Kurupt; after the release of his own and the Lady of Rage's solo albums, Daz and Rage followed suit. Daz would later return in 1999 with Big C-Style to form Dogg Pound Records only to leave again in early 2001. Kurupt returned to the label in 2002 upon Suge Knight's release from prison. The record label was renamed Tha Row.
A New Century
2nd generation exodus
Maintaining artistic control from behind bars, Knight launched smear campaigns against several of his former artists, most notably Snoop Dogg. The label supported itself with releases pulled from vaults—most successfully various posthumous 2Pac albums, along with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg re-releases and then-unreleased compilation records such as Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000 and Snoop Dogg: Dead Man Walkin. He signed new talent, including Female Rapper SKG, Crooked I, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Top Dogg and Tha Realest, picking up affiliates Spider Loc and Eastwood. He also appointed former Ruthless Records artist Cold 187um head producer, to oversee the 2Pac album Until the End of Time and unauthorized Dogg Pound release 2002.
Despite bad blood, Kurupt would again sign with Suge Knight in exchange for the position of Vice President, which sparked a feud between himself and former friends Daz and Snoop Dogg. Mentoring Crooked I, he began work on Against tha Grain; his verbal feud with his former partners continued from 2002 to 2005. TLC band member Left Eye signed with Death Row after finishing her solo deal with Arista Records who released her first album Supernova in 2001. Lopes joined to record a second solo album under the pseudonym N.I.N.A. (New Identity Not Applicable) she was also working on TLC's new album 3D. N.I.N.A. was cancelled after Lopes's death in April 2002. TLC decided to finish the album 3D because Lopes had already completed her vocals for most of the songs, it would be their last album. TLC went on hiatus in 2003 until 2008.
After promoting his new talent for years from prison, directing a campaign against his former artists and exacerbating the conflict between Daz and Kurupt, Suge had still yet to release any albums by his living artists. After Kurupt's second departure, Against tha Grain was released; soon after, citing dissatisfaction with serving five years on the label and seeing no release, Crooked I also left Death Row, eventually filing a gag order on Knight to prevent the mogul's interference with his finding a new deal. Petey Pablo, who had signed in 2005 and started the never-released album Same Eyez on Me, left along with rapper Tha Realest in 2006.
Further legal troubles included Suge Knight's possible implication in the 1997 murder of Notorious B.I.G. in Los Angeles. A federal informant provided testimony that Los Angeles police officers David Mack and Rafael Perez—both implicated in the Rampart scandal—worked as security for Death Row when off-duty, and that they and Suge Knight had conspired to have Biggie killed after a party the rapper attended on the night of his murder. However, testifying in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by B.I.G.'s mother and widow, he went back on his testimony, claiming it as hearsay. In the same case, a second prison informant named Kenny Boagni claimed that Mack and Perez were indeed on the label's payroll at the time. The case was eventually declared a mistrial, and criminal investigation reopened, though a second suit has thus far brought no claims against Knight directly.
Knight was also investigated in 2005 for paying a man to punch Dr. Dre as he accepted a lifetime achievement award at the 2004 Vibe Awards; though he denies the claim, the assailant apparently told Santa Monica police that Knight offered him $5,000 for the job. A lawsuit was brought against him by Lydia Harris, resulting in a court order to pay her $107 million in profits owed after she'd been forced from the label. The judgment resulted in Knight declaring bankruptcy in 2006, after turning down Warner Music Group's offer to buy at $25 million, and made to auction off all assets of the label.
2006 also saw Dr. Dre bring a lawsuit against the label demanding rights to The Chronic, by reason of unpaid royalties. By 2008, it was reported separately that Susan Berg, president of Global Music Group, bid on the label at auction for $24 million, and that Warner had topped her bid by reiterating its $25 million offer, but neither sale went through; questions regarding Knight's financial status surfaced when he sued Kanye West over a shooting/robbery at the rapper's birthday party.
From WIDEawake acquisition to eOne
On January 15, 2009, Death Row Records was successfully auctioned to entertainment development company WIDEawake Entertainment Group, Inc. for $18 million. On January 25, 2009, an auction was held for everything found in the Death Row Records office after the company filed for bankruptcy. Of note was the Death Row Records electric chair which went for $2500.
Since the acquisition, the company has continued to release material from its vast archives of materials acquired in the sale. Noteworthy releases include previously commercially unreleased material from such artists as Snoop Dogg, Kurrupt, Danny Boy, Crooked I, Sam Sneed, LBC Crew and O.F.T.B. Since the acquisition of the material, Money Mafia-Deathrow Entertainment, under the management of WIDEawake Entertainment Group Inc., has made many positive steps towards improving the image of Death Row by making good on its promise to make royalty payments to many of the various artists, producers, and songwriters with commercially released material under the label. On "Record Store Day" April 18, 2012, the label has issued a free Death Row "Record Store Day" CD sampler, which included Petey Pablo's "Pay for the Pussy," Crooked I's "Hoodstar," and Danny Boy's "Do What You Do."
"The Chronic Re-Lit" was released on September 1, 2009. The album contained the original Chronic album re-mastered and 7 bonus songs from the vault by Snoop Doggy Dogg, CPO, Kurupt, Jewell, and more; plus a DVD containing music videos, a rare Dr. Dre interview, a Dre and Snoop mini movie, and rare 1992 television commercials for the original Chronic release.
"Snoop Doggy Dogg – Death Row The Lost Sessions Vol 1" was released October 13, 2009 and contains 15 previously unreleased tracks with 4 being produced by Dr. Dre.
"Death Row The Ultimate Collection" was released on November 24 and was a special box set containing 3 audio CDs (1 greatest hits disc and 2 discs of unreleased content), 1 DVD of music videos which includes the unreleased Dr. Dre music video "Puffin' On Blunts" and a limited edition Death Row T-Shirt. The set boasts over 20 unreleased tracks from the likes of: Snoop Doggy Dogg, LBC Crew, Dogg Pound, Kurupt, Lady of Rage, O.F.T.B., Crooked I, Petey Pablo, J-Flexx, Sam Sneed, Jewell Peyton. During this period, there was a specific distribution venture between eOne and Wideawake Death Row Records LLC.
In 2012, New Solutions Financial Corp., a Canadian company that owns WIDEawake Death Row, has gone bankrupt and is selling both the label and catalog to a publicly held company. The deal is set to be closed on December 10. In 2013, Entertainment One purchased the rights to the Death Row Records catalogue, representing one of the most successful urban genre catalogues in the music industry. The Group invested £175.0 million in content rights and television programmes in the year (2012: £135.8 million) and £4.2 million (6 million $) to purchase the iconic music libraryassets of Death Row Records.
|Dr. Dre – The Chronic|
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle|
|Soundtrack – Above the Rim (soundtrack)|
|Soundtrack – Murder Was The Case|
|Tha Dogg Pound– Dogg Food
|2Pac – All Eyez On Me|
|Makaveli (2Pac) – The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory|
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Tha Doggfather|
|Various – Death Row Greatest Hits
|Death Row artists – Christmas on Death Row
|Soundtrack – Gridlock'd (soundtrack)
|Lady of Rage – Necessary Roughness
|Soundtrack – Gang Related (soundtrack)
|Daz Dillinger – Retaliation, Revenge and Get Back
|Michel'le – Hung Jury
|2Pac – Greatest Hits|
|Death Row artists – Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000
|Death Row artists – Too Gangsta for Radio
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Dead Man Walkin'
|Tha Dogg Pound – 2002
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Death Row: Snoop Doggy Dogg at His Best
|2Pac – Until the End of Time|
|2Pac – Better Dayz|
|Death Row artists – 15 Years on Death Row
|Various Artists – Death Row: The Singles Collection
|Dr. Dre – The Chronic Re-Lit
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Death Row: The Lost Sessions Vol. 1
|Various Artists – The Ultimate Box Set
|Kurupt – Down & Dirty
|Danny Boy – It's About Time
|Crooked I – Hood Star
|Sam Sneed – Street Scholars
|LBC Crew – Haven't You Heard...
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Three Disc Collection: Tha Doggfather, Death Row: The Lost Sessions Vol. 1 & Murder Was The Case
|O.F.T.B. – Damn Near Dead
|Jewell – My Blood, My Sweat, My Tears
|Jewell – Black Diamond
|Various Artists - 20 To Life: Volume 1
|Tha Dogg Pound - Doggy Bag
|Various Artists - 20 To Life: Volume 2
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- "Erotic D Interview- Part 1 (June 2008)". Retrieved 7 August 2013.
- Sullivan, Randall (2003). LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records' Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal. Grove Press. p. 56. ISBN 0-8021-3971-X.
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- "What had happened was MC Hammer". vibe.com. March 2009.
- Philips, Chuck (September 6, 2002). "Who Killed Tupac Shakur?". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
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- Interscope Music Group – Company History. Fundinguniverse.com. Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
- Scott, Cathy. Las Vegas Sun, "The death of Tupac Shakur one year later", September 6, 1997
- [dead link]
- Suge Knight Interview. Ukmusic.com. Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
- Life After Death Row: Crooked-I, Russel Simmons, Master P, Loon, Bun-B, WC, Jay Cee: Movies & TV. Amazon.com. Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
- Walker, Verbal. (February 21, 2005) Crooked I’s Restraining Order | Get The Latest Hip Hop News, Rap News & Hip Hop Album Sales. HipHop DX. Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
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- Daily News – : Tha Realest Leaves Tha Row, Preparing Debut Album. Allhiphop.com (March 31, 2005). Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
- Kaufman, Gil. (June 3, 2005) MTV News. Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
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- Kuperstein, Slava. (June 26, 2008) "Death Row Auctioned Off For $24 million". HipHop DX. Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
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- Langhorne, Cyrus. (November 12, 2008) "Suge Knight Sues Kanye Over Party Shootout, Robbery". Sohh.Com. Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
- Death Row Records auction
- Snoop Dogg – Death Row: The Lost Sessions Volume 1 | Read Hip Hop Reviews, Rap Reviews & Hip Hop Album Reviews. HipHop DX (October 13, 2009). Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
- Death Row Records To Release Box Set Including Work From Tupac, Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre. Keepittrill.com. Retrieved on July 11, 2011.
- Have Gun Will Travel: The Spectacular Rise and Violent Fall of Death Row Records, Ronin Ro, Doubleday, 1998, 384 pages, ISBN 0-385-49134-4
- Labyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implications of Death Row Records' Suge by Randall Sullivan, Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2, 2002, 384 pages, ISBN 0-87113-838-7
- The Killing of Tupac Shakur, by Cathy Scott, Huntington Press, 2002 (2nd ed), 235 pages, ISBN 0-929712-20-X
- Welcome to Death Row, Director: S. Leigh Savidge & Jeff Scheftel, (Video) 2001
- Death Row Records – Official website
- Death Row Records – Official Myspace
- Death Row Records – Official Twitter
- Death Row Records – Official YouTube
- Interview with new owner of Death Row Records
- GEL Media Interview with John Payne of Death Row Records / WIDEAwake Entertainment
- Allhiphop.com Exclusive Interview – Lara Lavi: Death Row Records' New Warden by Han O'Connor
- Suge Knight
|Notable accused officers||Victims||Coverup and investigation||Gang involvement||Other elements|