Death Row Records
|Death Row Records|
|Parent company||Entertainment One Music (current)
Godfather Entertainment, Time Warner, Interscope (former)
|Founder||Dr. Dre, The D.O.C., Dick Griffey, Suge Knight|
|Genre||Hip hop, R&B, gangsta rap|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Location||Los Angeles, California|
Death Row is an American record company founded in 1991 by Dr. Dre, The D.O.C., Dick Griffey and Suge Knight. Many west coast artists were on the label such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, The Outlawz, MC Hammer, Young Soldierz, Sam Sneed, Michel'le, Jewell, RBX, The Lady of Rage, Danny Boy, DJ Quik, O.F.T.B., LBC Crew, and the rap group Tha Dogg Pound consisting of Kurupt, Daz Dillinger, Nate Dogg, Soopafly, and many others. Death Row Records was making $100 million a year and by 1996 most of the aforementioned artists departed from the label after the death of Shakur. 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 History
- 2 International success and controversy
- 3 2000-present
- 4 Former Artists
- 5 Releases
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
In the late 1980s, producer Dr. Dre was a member of N.W.A, signed to friend Eazy E's Ruthless. 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 and feeling he was underpaid, Dr. Dre became frustrated with Ruthless. After the departure of Ice Cube over financial disagreements with N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller, Suge Knight and friend and fellow Ruthless artist The D.O.C. went over the books with a lawyer. Convinced that Heller was dishonest, they approached Dr. Dre 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 E for The D.O.C., Dr. Dre and Ruthless singer Michel'le.
Knight approached Vanilla Ice, using management connections with Mario "Chocolate" Johnson, claiming Johnson had produced the song "Ice Ice Baby", and had not received royalties for it. After consulting with Alex Roberts, who sources suggest was Suge Knight's connection to the underworld, Knight and 2 bodyguards arrived at The Palm in West Hollywood, where Van Winkle was eating. After shoving Van Winkle's bodyguards aside, Knight sat down in front of Van Winkle, staring at him before asking "How you doin'?" Similar incidents were repeated on several occasions, including alleged attempts to lure Vanilla Ice into a van filled with Bloods and Crips, before Knight showed up at Vanilla Ice's hotel suite on the 15th floor of the Bel Age Hotel, accompanied by Johnson and a member of the Oakland Raiders. According to Vanilla Ice, Knight took him out on the balcony by himself, and implied he would throw Vanilla Ice off unless he signed the rights to the song over to Knight; Van Winkle's money helped fund Death Row. At one time, Death Row 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, a parent company for the newly christened Death Row.
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 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, Dr. Dre's solo album, which heavily featured Snoop and the rest of the label's core roster.
After finding solo success, Dr. Dre began crafting Snoop Dogg's debut album Doggystyle; the process took 2 years. Snoop's debut was released in 1993 due to public demand and high pressure from retailers. Though unfinished, it outdid The Chronic at Quadruple Platinum, and garnered similarly glowing reviews. Soon after the release of the album, controversy began to hit the label; Snoop Dogg 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.
Signing Tupac and Suge Knight's rise
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By 1995, the label began to flood with Suge 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 violent atmosphere and Suge Knight'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/Hip Hop music, which Knight billed as a breach of contract, resulting in a switch in distribution from Time Warner to Interscope. At the 1995 The 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 CEO Puff Daddy, sparking friction between the 2 labels (and, soon after, the 2 entire coasts). Soon Knight signed 2Pac, incarcerated on a sexual abuse conviction, after agreeing to post 2Pac'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
2Pac began work on his Death Row album, kicking off his tenure by insulting The 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, Prodigy, 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, then joined Snoop in ridiculing New York rappers with their single "New York, New York," featuring Snoop Dogg. The video, set in New York City, New York, was also heightened when the set was fired upon in a drive-by. After the shooting, Snoop Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound filmed 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, and Mobb Deep.
Another report was that Sam Sneed was beaten in 1 of the label's meetings by a group of Death Row affiliates, led by Suge Knight and 2Pac. 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 Suge Knight exercised tighter control over the rest of the roster. Dogg Food was not produced by Dr. Dre but was mixed by Dr. Dre, a further testament to Dre's dwindling involvement with his own label. Dr. Dre also grew tired of Knight's violence within the label, although he contributed toward 2 tracks on 2Pac's All Eyez on Me. The rest of the album, however, was mostly produced by Daz Dillinger and Johnny J, despite Dr. Dre being nominally titled as Executive Producer. Shakur's behavior reportedly became erratic as he continued his verbal wars with The Notorious B.I.G., Bad Boy, Puff Daddy, Mobb Deep, and Prodigy, including many violent confrontations with many of those rappers at some points. In 1996, due to the infighting, Dr. Dre left Death Row to form Aftermath which provoked 2Pac to turn on Dr. Dre.
M.C. Hammer's involvement and departure
Suge Knight's relationship with M.C. Hammer dates back to 1988. With the success of Hammer's 1994 album, The Funky Headhunter (featuring Tha Dogg Pound), M.C. Hammer signed with Death Row by 1995, along with Snoop Dogg and his close friend, 2Pac. The label did not release the album of M.C. 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 2Pac in 1996, M.C. Hammer left Death Row. He later explained his concern about this circumstance in an interview on Trinity since he was in Las Vegas, Nevada with 2Pac the night of his death. Hammer released 2Pac's "Unconditional Love", on his Family Affair album, in 1998.
The friendship between Hammer, 2Pac, and Suge Knight 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 Tha Dogg Pound. 2Pac shut himself into the studio with 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 The Outlawz and Bad Azz. Suge Knight was now barely reachable by his staff, and employees were assaulted as punishment for not following orders.
During a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada for a Mike Tyson fight, 2Pac was interviewed on the possibility of Death Row East, an East Coast branch of Death Row. It was also during this time, that Alex Roberts and David Kenner had been seen at Suge 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, Suge Knight and 2Pac were caught on surveillance camera at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas attacking gang member Orlando Anderson who was a Southside Compton, California Crip (which was also rumored to provide security for Bad Boy artists). Later that night, 2Pac was shot 4 times in a drive-by shooting while in a car Suge Knight was driving as they headed to Knight's Las Vegas Club 662; despite living six days in critical condition, 2Pac died September 13, 1996.
Shakur's "The Don Killuminati: 7 Day Theory" was released in November 1996, just 1 week before Snoop Dogg's "Tha Doggfather". Although both albums went to Platinum sales, the impact on Death Row had started to mount; Suge Knight was convicted of parole violation and sentenced to 9 years' prison time, causing Interscope to drop its distribution deal with the label. Suge Knight's control over the label diminished, as Nate Dogg was able to leave, followed by Snoop Dogg and Kurupt; after the release of their solo albums, Daz Dillinger and The Lady of Rage left. Daz Dillinger 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.
2nd generation exodus
Maintaining artistic control from behind bars, Suge Knight launched smear campaigns against 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 Crooked I who had been lighting up the Californian underground with his rhyming ability, particularly the Wake Up Show with Sway & King Tech. Suge Knight also signed Left Eye. He also appointed Cold 187um head producer, to oversee the 2Pac album Until the End of Time and Tha Dogg Pound 's 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 Daz Dillinger and Snoop Dogg. He began work on Against tha Grain; his verbal feud with his former partners continued from 2002 to 2005. Left Eye signed with Death Row after finishing her solo deal with Arista who released her 1st album Supernova in 2001. Lopez joined to record a 2nd 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 her death in April 2002. The album was leaked online in 2011.
After promoting his new talent from prison, directing a campaign against his former artists and exacerbating the conflict between Daz Dillinger and Kurupt, Suge had still yet to release any albums by his new artists. After Kurupt's 2nd departure, Against tha Grain was released; soon after, citing dissatisfaction with serving 5 years on the label and seeing no release, Rapper Crooked I left Death Row, eventually filing a gag order on Knight to prevent him from interfering with him 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 E1
On January 15, 2009, Death Row was successfully auctioned to entertainment development company WIDEawake for $18 million USD. On January 25, 2009, an auction was held for everything found in the Death Row office after it filed for bankruptcy. Of note was the Death Row electric chair which went for $2500 USD.
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-Death Row, under the management of WIDEawake , 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 music from Petey Pablo and Danny Boy
"The Chronic Re-Lit" was released on September 1, 2009. The album contained the original The 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 Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg mini movie, and rare 1992 television commercials for the original The 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, Tha Dogg Pound, The Lady of Rage, and Petey Pablo. During this period, there was a specific distribution venture between E1 and Wideawake Death Row 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 closed on December 10th. In 2013, E1 purchased the rights to the Death Row catalog, representing 1 of the most successful urban genre catalogs 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.
- Dr. Dre (1991-1996)
- The D.O.C (1991-1994)
- Michel'le (1991-1999); (2002-2003)
- Snoop Dogg (1991-1997)
- Chilly Chill (1994-1996)
- Tha Dogg Pound (1991-1997)
- Lady of Rage (1991-1997)
- 2Pac (1995-1996)
- Outlawz (1995-1999)
- 213 (group) (1991-1997)
- RBX (1991-1994)
- Nate Dogg (1991-1997)
- MC Hammer (1995-1996)
- Kurupt (1991-1997) (2002-2005)
- Daz Dillinger (1991-1999)
- Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (2002)
- Crooked I (1999-2004)
- SKG (2001)
- Tha Realest (1996-2001)
- YGD Tha Top Dogg (1997-2000)
- Danny Boy (1994-1999); (2002-2003)
- Sam Sneed (1993-1997)
- Yaki Kadafi of The Outlawz (1995-1996)
- Jewell (1992-1999)
- O.F.T.B. (1994-1998)
- J-Flexx (1994-1997)
- Petey Pablo (2005-2006)
- Soopafly (1994-1997)
- 2nd II None (1994-1998)
- Prince Ital Joe (1995-1998)
- LBC Crew (1995-1997)
- O.G. Big Tray Dee (1994-1997)
- Bad Azz (1995-1997)
- Lil' C-Style (1994-1998)
- Techniec (1994-1997)
- Young Swoop G (1994-2001)
- Nanci Fletcher (1993-1996)
- DJ Quik (1994-1996)
- C.P.O. Boss Hogg (1991-1998)
- Above the Law (1999-2001)
- Young Soldierz (1994-1998)
- Big Pimpin' Delemond (1994-1999)
- Butch Cassidy (1996-1998)
- V.K. (1999)
- Dobbie (1998-1999)
- Eastwood (2002-2005)
- Big C-Style (1998-2001)
- 6 Feet Deep
- Chocolate (1991-1993)
- Chocolate Bandit (1996-1999)
- Mr. 2-3 (1991-1993)
- Sean 'Barney' Thomas
- Slip Capone (1993-1998)
- Lil' Malik a.k.a. Lil' Hershey Loc
- Fatal-n-Felony (1995-1996)
- The Gang (1996-1997)
- GP The Beast
- El Dorado (1998-1999)
- The Ralatives (1998-2000)
- Spider Loc (2002- 2004)
- Gangxsta Ridd
- Mac Shawn
- LA Nash
- O.Y.G Redrum781
- Gangsta Girl
|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|
|Soundtrack – Dysfunktional Family (Soundtrack)
|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
|Various Artists - 20 To Life: Volume 1
|Tha Dogg Pound - Doggy Bag
|Various Artists - 20 To Life: Volume 2
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- Discogs tracklist
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- 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