Death Row Records
|Death Row Records|
|Parent company||Entertainment One Music (current)
Godfather Entertainment, Time Warner, Interscope (former)
2009 (with Black Kapital Records)
|Founder||Dr. Dre, Suge Knight, Dick Griffey, The D.O.C, and Micheal Harris (Harry-O)|
|Genre||Hip hop, R&B, gangsta rap|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Location||Los Angeles, California|
Death Row Records was a record company founded in 1991 by Dr. Dre, The D.O.C., and Suge Knight. Many west coast artists were on the label 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, O.F.T.B., Nate Dogg and the rap group Tha Dogg Pound consisting of rappers Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, Soopafly, and many others. Death Row Records was also making $100 million a year and most of the aforementioned artists departed from the label after the death of Tupac (2Pac) in 1996. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and on January 15, 2009, was auctioned to entertainment development company WIDEawake Entertainment Group, Inc. for $18 million.
- 1 Origins and early formation
- 2 International success and controversy
- 3 2000-present
- 4 Former artists
- 5 Releases
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Origins and early formation
In the late 1980s, 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 rapper Robert "Vanilla Ice" Van Winkle, using management connections with 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, who 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
The Chronic And Ruthless Records feud
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 dissing 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 Dre.
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-vice 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
|This section does not cite any references (sources). (May 2015)|
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 signed 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 Records 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., Junior M.A.F.I.A. and Puff Daddy, whom he accused of setting him up to be robbed and shot earlier that year, as well as Mobb Deep, Jay-Z, Chino XL, De La Soul, The Fugees 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. The single provoked a response called '"L.A., L.A." by East Coast rappers Capone-N-Noreaga, Tragedy Khadafi as well as Mobb Deep.
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 Dre's dwindling involvement with his own label. Amidst all this, Dr. Dre was recording his second studio album for Death Row, rumored to be titled "The Chronic 2: A New World Odor", but due to the happenings at Death Row at the time, and a contract disagreement with Suge Knight, he scrapped the album. Dr. Dre also grew tired of Knight's violence within the label, although he contributed toward two tracks on 2Pac's All Eyez on Me. The rest of the album, however, 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 his verbal wars with Biggie and Puffy, including many violent confrontations with many of those rappers at some points. In 1996, due to the infighting, co-founder Dr. Dre left Death Row to form Aftermath Entertainment which provoked Shakur to turn on Dre. Shakur incensed that Dre was getting credit for producing recordings that he had little or no involvement in.
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, Hammer 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. Tupac Shakur 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 Knight's 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; On September 7, 1996, Knight, Shakur and others were caught on surveillance camera at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas attacking gang member Orlando Anderson who was a Southside Crip (which was also rumored to provide security for Bad Boy Entertainment artists). Later that night, Shakur was shot multiple times in a drive-by shooting while in a car Suge Knight was driving as they headed to Knight's Vegas Club 662; despite living six days in critical condition, the rapper died on September 13, 1996.
Shakur's "Makaveli 7 Day Theory" was released in November 1996, just one week before Snoop 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 depart in 1999 but produced for Big C-Style, he later formed Dogg Pound Records. Kurupt returned to the label in 2002 upon Suge Knight's release from prison. Soon after, the record label was renamed Tha Row.
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 (Helecia Choyce), 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 group 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 "3D" because Lopes had already completed most of her vocals for the songs. TLC went on hiatus in 2003 until 2008. The album was leaked online in 2011.
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.
From WIDEawake acquisition to eOne
On January 15, 2009, Death Row Record is 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 unreleased material from such artists as Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, 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, rare 1992 television commercials for the original Chronic release, and a promo for Death Row's upcoming film, SAIGON, CA.
"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 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 library assets of Death Row Records.
- Dr. Dre (1991-1996)
- The D.O.C (1991-1994)
- Michel'le (1991-1999)
- Snoop Dogg (1991-1998)
- Tha Dogg Pound (1991-1999)
- Lady of Rage (1991-1997)
- 2Pac (1995-1996)
- Outlawz (1995-1999)
- RBX (1992-1994)
- Nate Dogg (1992-1997)
- MC Hammer (1995-1996)
- Kurupt (1991-1999) (2002-2005)
- Daz Dillinger (1991-1999)
- Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (2002)
- Crooked I (2001-2004)
- Tha Realest (1996-2001)
- Top Dogg (1996-2000)
- Danny Boy (1994-1999)
- Sam Sneed (1993-1997)
- Yaki Kadafi (1995-1996)
- Jewell (1991-1999)
- O.F.T.B. (1994-1999)
- J-Flexx (1994-1997)
- Petey Pablo (2005-2006)
- Soopafly (1994-1999)
- 2nd II None (1994-1998)
- Prince Ital Joe
- LBC Crew (1995-1998)
- Tray Dee (1994-1998)
- Bad Azz (1995-1998)
- Lil' C-Style (1994-1998) (1998-2001)
- Techniec (1994-1998)
- Young Swoop G (1994-2001)
- Nanci Fletcher
- DJ Quik
- Above the Law (2000-2001)
- Lil' Bow Wow (1993)
|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|
|Yaki Kadafi - Son Rize Vol. 1
|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
|2Pac - Reincarnation
|Various Artists - 20 To Life: Volume 1
|Tha Dogg Pound - Doggy Bag
|Various Artists - 20 To Life: Volume 2
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- 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.
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- Death Row Records auction
- Discogs tracklist
- Dr. Dre's Chronic Get Expanded Re-Release. MTV.com. Retrieved on August 19, 2009
- mr said that he had been in the morning to you but I'm still waiting on the phone with the best thing about being able too see my friends and relatives 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
- Official Death Row Records 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