Death Row Records
|Founded||February 25, 1992|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Location||8200 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California, U.S. |
Death Row (formerly Future Shock and Tha Row) was an American record label founded in 1992 by Dr. Dre, Suge Knight, The D.O.C. and Dick Griffey. The label became a sensation by releasing multi-platinum hip-hop albums by West Coast-based artists such as Dr. Dre (The Chronic), Snoop Dogg (Doggystyle), Tha Dogg Pound (Dogg Food), and Tupac Shakur (All Eyez on Me) during the 1990s. At its peak, Death Row was making over US$100 million a year.
By the late 1990s, the label began to decline after the death of its star artist, Tupac Shakur, imprisonment of Suge Knight, and the departures of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Although Death Row was enjoying financial success, it was embroiled in controversies, lawsuits, and violence by its artists and associates. Death Row Records filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and was auctioned to WIDEawake Entertainment for $18 million on January 15, 2009. The owner of WIDEawake bankrupted in 2012 and the label was then sold to Entertainment One, then became a division of Hasbro until April 2021 when eOne Music was sold to The Blackstone Group.
In the late-1980s, N.W.A's producer Dr. Dre signed to Eazy-E's Ruthless. As head of production at the label, Dr. Dre produced a large number of Ruthless projects, many of them successful; 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 in 1989 over financial disagreements with Jerry Heller, Suge Knight and The D.O.C. went over the books with a lawyer. Convinced that Jerry Heller was dishonest, they approached Dr. Dre about forming a label with them, away from Heller. Allegedly using strong-arm tactics, Suge Knight was able to procure contracts from Eazy-E for The D.O.C., Dr. Dre and Michel'le.
Dr. Dre and Suge Knight along with partners The D.O.C. and Dick Griffey began the process of starting a record label and music partnership in anticipation of Dre's departure from Ruthless. Although the name of their new music venture was originally called Future Shock, The D.O.C. claimed to have suggested changing the name of the new label to 'Def Row'  (a play on the Def Jam), but rights to the name were already owned by The Unknown DJ, who also happened to be one of Dre's former music associates in the 1980s. Unknown stated in an interview that he created the name "Def Row" for a potential deal to start another record label under Morgan Creek. However he later sold the naming rights to Dr. Dre and his partners in July 1991 and by 1992 the name changed to its eventual title of Death Row. Knight approached Michael "Harry-O" Harris, a businessman imprisoned 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.
Knight approached Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle), 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, Knight and two bodyguards arrived at The Palm in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, 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 fifteenth floor of the Bel Age Hotel, accompanied by Johnson and a member of the Los Angeles 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. Death Row was initially located at the intersection of Westwood Blvd and Wilshire Blvd, later to be relocated to the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and San Vicente Blvd.
With the help of Kenner, Knight began signing young, inner-city California-based artists and arranged for Death Row Records to handle the soundtrack for the 1992 film, Deep Cover. The single, "Deep Cover", established Dr. Dre as a solo artist and a young Snoop Dogg (then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg) as his protégé. Work soon began on The Chronic, Dr. Dre's debut solo album, which heavily featured Snoop and the rest of the label's core roster.
The album went on to sell 5.7 million records in the US, establishing the West Coast in the hip-hop industry and popularizing the distinctive style of G-Funk. The Death Row roster consisted of Dre, Snoop, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Lady of Rage, The D.O.C., RBX, and many more. Later on, Death Row artist Lil 1/2 Dead's contract was later sold to Priority Records where he released his debut album The Dead Has Arisen.
After finding solo success, Dr. Dre began crafting Snoop Dogg's debut album Doggystyle; the process took two years. Snoop's debut was released in 1993 due to public demand and high pressure from retailers. Though unfinished, it outperformed The Chronic at Quadruple Platinum, and garnered similarly glowing reviews. Soon after the release of the album, Snoop Dogg was charged with murder, fueling the debate that politicians C. Delores Tucker and Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle sparked by criticizing gangsta rap for being against American values, degrading to black women, and encouraging violence towards police officers.
Death Row Thanksgiving
On November 22, 1994, at the offices of The Brotherhood Crusade in Los Angeles, Suge Knight and several artists from Death Row such as Tha Dogg Pound and DJ Quik (wasn't signed to the label) distributed nearly 2,000 turkeys to the public. Death Row also donated turkeys the following year as well.
Signing Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight's rise
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 hip-hop music, which Knight billed as a breach of contract, resulting in a switch in distribution from Time Warner to Interscope. At The Source Awards in 1995, 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 two labels (and, soon after, the two entire coasts). Knight soon signed 2Pac while he was 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' involvement in the company and refusing to take his phone calls.
Bad Boy Records 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 (the founder of Bad Boy Records), whom he accused of setting him up to be robbed and shot at Quad Studios on November 30, 1994, as well as Mobb Deep, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, 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 one 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 that 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 record label. 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 tracks on the album, however, were 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 Records, Puff Daddy, Mobb Deep, and Prodigy, including many violent confrontations with many of those rappers at some points. On March 22, 1996, due to the infighting, Dr. Dre officially left Death Row Records to found Aftermath, which provoked 2Pac to turn against Dr. Dre.
M.C. Hammer's involvement and departure
Suge Knight's relationship with MC Hammer dates back to 1988. With the success of Hammer's 1994 album, The Funky Headhunter (featuring Tha Dogg Pound), Hammer signed with Death Row in 1995, along with his close friend, 2Pac. The label did not release the album of M.C. Hammer's music (titled Too Tight), 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, MC Hammer left Death Row Records.
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 boxing match, 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 member of the Southside Compton Crips street gang. Later that night, 2Pac was shot four times in a drive-by shooting in the front seat of Suge Knight's BMW 750iL waiting at a red traffic light at crossroads; en route 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 one week before Snoop Dogg's "Tha Doggfather". Both albums achieved Platinum sales. On February 28, 1997, Suge Knight was convicted of parole violation and sentenced to nine years in prison, causing Interscope to drop their 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 her solo album, The Lady of Rage left. Daz Dillinger departed in 1999 but produced for Big C-Style, he later formed Dogg Pound Records. Kurupt returned to the label in early 2002 upon Suge Knight's release from prison on August 6, 2001.
Second generation exodus (Tha Row Records)
Maintaining artistic control from behind bars, Suge Knight launched smear campaigns against his former artists, most notably Snoop Dogg, death threats were exchanged, and Snoop Dogg responded by publicly dissing Suge Knight, leaving the label, and later releasing a diss track named "Pimp Slapp'd", critically acclaimed by music magazine Complex. 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. 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.
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 first album Supernova in 2001. At this time, Death Row changed into Tha Row Records. Lopes joined to record a second solo album under the pseudonym N.I.N.A. (New Identity Not Applicable), while 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 second departure, Against tha Grain was released; soon after, citing dissatisfaction with serving five 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.
On April 4, 2006 both Death Row Records and Suge Knight simultaneously filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following the appointment of a Receiver to acquire and auction off assets of both Death Row Records and Suge Knight in the civil case filed by Lydia Harris against Suge Knight. Among those listed as unsecured creditors to Death Row include the Harrises, the Internal Revenue Service ($6.9 million), Koch Records ($3.4 million), Interscope Records ($2.5 million) and a number of artists previously signed to the label. Suge Knight eventually lost control of Death Row Records and his personal assets when Chapter 11 Trustees took over both cases.
From WIDEawake acquisition to E1
WIDEawake Entertainment Group was created in 2006 by Lara Lavi.
On January 15, 2009, Death Row Records was successfully auctioned to entertainment development company WIDEawake for US$18 million. WIDEawake Entertainment made a leveraged purchase of Deathrow Records in part thanks to financing provided by New Solutions Financial Corporation. On January 25, 2009, an auction was held for everything found in Death Row's office after it filed for bankruptcy.
Both WIDEawake and New Solutions Financial were based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. New Solutions by the end of 2009 began to squeeze Lara Lavi out of WIDEawake Entertainment by restricting her ability to access funds they had lent her for Deathrow. By November 2009 Lara Lavi was removed from WIDEawake entertainment and Robert Thomson of New Solution Financial had taken over day-to-day operations. Lavi then sued her former company, Ontario-based WIDEawake Entertainment Group, New Solutions Financial Corporation and New Solutions Managing Director Robert Thompson in New York County Court on November 19, 2009. New Solutions Financial Corporation was eventually exposed as a Ponzi scheme.
Of note was the Death Row electric chair which went for US$2,500.
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, 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 artists, producers, and songwriters with commercially released material under the label. On Record Store Day, April 18, 2012, the label 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 Chronic re-mastered with seven bonus songs from the vault by Snoop Doggy Dogg, CPO, Kurupt, Jewell, plus a DVD containing music videos, a Dr. Dre interview, a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg mini movie, and 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 four being produced by Dr. Dre.
Death Row The Ultimate Collection was released on November 24 and was a special box set containing three audio CDs (one greatest hits disc and two discs of unreleased content), one 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 by Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound, The Lady of Rage, Lord Autopz and Petey Pablo. During this period, there was a distribution venture between Entertainment One, WIDEawake, and Death Row.
On December 10, 2012, New Solutions Financial Corp., the Canadian company that owned WIDEawake Death Row, had gone bankrupt and sold both the label and catalog to a publicly held company. In 2013, Entertainment One purchased the rights to the Death Row catalog. 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 music library assets of Death Row. Death Row had a Pop-Up event in Los Angeles on April 10, 2019.
On August 23, 2019, American toy company Hasbro announced a $4 billion purchase of eOne, making them the owners of Death Row Records. In April 2021, Hasbro and Entertainment One announced it would sell-off eOne Music to The Blackstone Group. The acquisition was completed in late June 2021, making eOne Music the sole owner of Death Row.
Death Row Records UK
In 2001, Knight decided to enter the UK market with Death Row Records operating as an independent record label in conjunction with the Ritz Music Group, a company known for its success with Irish country music artists such as Daniel O'Donnell The joint-venture signed British R&B singer Mark Morrison to a five-year deal with Death Row Records UK, with a single called "Thank God It's Friday" and an album called Innocent Man scheduled for a 2002 release. However, the single did not chart in the UK and the album ended up being released by footballer Kevin Campbell's record label 2 Wikid, before being re-issued in 2006 by Mona Records.
under the label
|Dr. Dre||Founder, 1991-1996||1|
|The D.O.C.||Founder, 1991-1994||–|
|2nd II None||1994||–|
|Above the Law||2000||–|
|CPO Boss Hogg||1992||–|
|Lil' Bow Wow||1993||–|
|The Lady of Rage||1992-1999||1|
|Mark Morrison[nb 1]||2001||-|
|Prince Ital Joe||1995||–|
|Snoop Doggy Dogg||1992-1998||2|
|Tha Dogg Pound||1992-1997||1|
|YGD Tha Top Dogg||1998||–|
|1992||Dr. Dre – The Chronic|
|1993||Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle|
|1994||Above the Rim|
|Murder Was The Case|
|1995||Tha Dogg Pound – Dogg Food|
|1996||2Pac – All Eyez On Me|
|Makaveli (2Pac) - The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory|
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Tha Doggfather|
|Death Row Greatest Hits
|Christmas on Death Row
|1997||Nate Dogg – G-Funk Classics, Vol. 1
|Lady of Rage – Necessary Roughness
|1998||Daz Dillinger – Retaliation, Revenge and Get Back
|Michel'le – Hung Jury
|2Pac – Greatest Hits|
|1999||Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000
|2Pac and Outlawz – Still I Rise
|2000||Too Gangsta for Radio
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Dead Man Walkin'
|2001||2Pac – Until the End of Time|
|Tha Dogg Pound – 2002
|Snoop Doggy Dogg – Death Row's Snoop Doggy Dogg Greatest Hits
|2002||2Pac – Better Dayz|
|2Pac – Nu-Mixx Klazzics
|2005||The Very Best of Death Row
|Kurupt – Against the Grain
|2006||15 Years on Death Row
|2007||2Pac – Nu-Mixx Klazzics Vol. 2
|2Pac – Best of 2Pac, Part 1: Thug
|2Pac – Best of 2Pac, Part 2: Life
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It was founded by Tracy "The D.O.C." Lynn Curry, Andre "Dr. Dre" Young, Knight and Richard Gilbert "Dick" Griffey.
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He, Dre and Suge did, in fact, soon quietly launch a label called Futureshock, named for a Curtis Mayfield song. Their fourth partner in the venture was Dick Griffey, the cofounder of Soul Train Records and founder of Solar Records. The name wouldn't stick. "Futureshock Records?" Suge said. "That sounds like some bullshit. It's gonna be called Death Row...Dick Griffey, also an original Death Row founder, later testified that Suge Knight "secretly incorporated" Death Row and "transferred into it all of the assets" from their original partnership. In 1997 — with Suge behind bars — Griffey and D.O.C. successfully sued Death Row, alleging that they'd been cut out of the label's profits.
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The name Death Row came from my partner, Unknown [DJ]. Initially it was supposed to be Def Row, as in Def Jam. D-E-F. And Dre bought the name Def Row and changed the name.
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- "Dr. Dre: The Chronic". RIAA. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
- 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