On Tuesday (Feb. 20), BET premiered part one of their six-part, three-night docu-series, Death Row Chronicles. The series recounts the historic rise and fall of Death Row Records as told by those who lived through it.
In the first two episodes that aired, we heard from an incarcerated Suge Knight, Michel’le, Dr. Dre and more. From that point on, the rest of the series unloaded many highlights. Here are 10 things we learned from the first part of the series.
Suge Knight didn’t live a gangster lifestyle.
Contrary to what you may believe, Suge Knight’s rugged demeanor did not come from a lifetime of growing up in the streets. In fact, Suge was raised in a two-parent home and went to the University of Las Vegas on a football scholarship.
Death Row Records had a silent partner who funded the company and came up with the name.
Death Row wasn’t completely the brain child of Suge Knight and Dr. Dre. In fact, drug kingpin Michael “Harry O” Harris played a major part in the company’s creation. In 1991, Suge’s lawyer David Kenner connected him with an incarcerated Harris who invested $1.5 million into Suge’s company, under the umbrella of his own Llc. He then named Suge’s company Death Row.
If Harris’ name sounds familiar, he’s responsible for giving Denzel Washington his start on Broadway. Harris produced a Broadway play called Checkmates, which featured an up and coming Washington alongside Ruby Dee and Paul Winnfield.
These days Harris believes he is owed over $300 million from Death Row’s success, including his portion of dealings involving Death Row and Dr. Dre.
Snoop Dogg got his musical start by singing in church.
Snoop Dogg’s mother was the first person to expose him to music. A self-proclaimed momma’s boy, Snoop could not tell his mother “no” when she requested that he lead the church choir.
Suge Knight never hung Vanilla Ice over a balcony but he ran with the rumor.
In 1996, Vanilla Ice revealed that he nearly lost his life for failing to pay Suge Knight’s artist Mario “Chocolate” Johnson what he’s worth. According to the story, Chocolate had writing credits on Vanilla Ice’s hit single, “Ice Ice Baby”, but was not compensated properly. After many failed attempts to get Vanilla Ice to pony up the cash, Suge and his crew met Vanilla Ice at his hotel room. According to the rapper, Suge took him out to the balcony of his hotel and threatened to toss him over if he didn’t re-write the contract. Vanilla Ice ended up doing as he was told, but Suge and Chocolate have a different recollection of what happened. In fact, there were no physical threats whatsoever. Suge was just very very persuasive. However, after Ice’s 1996 interview, Suge never disputed the story. The interview did wonders for his reputation. He became feared while simultaneously becoming known for making sure artists didn’t get the short end of the stick.
Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle debuted at #1 the same week he was indicted on a first-degree murder charge.
Snoop Doggy Dogg wasn’t able to celebrate the success of his debut album because the same week Doggystyle went #1, he was indicted on the 1993 murder of a gang member by the name of Philip Woldemariam. Snoop used the album as a way to get his mind off the possibility of going to prison for the rest of his life. After six days of deliberating, a five-woman, seven-man jury acquitted Snoop and his bodyguard of first- and second-degree murder charges in 1996.
This is one of the few interviews with Suge Knight since his prison sentence.
In Death Row Chroncicles, viewers see Suge Knight for one of the few times since he’s been on camera since he was charged with murder after allegedly driving over two people in his car in Compton. His fiancee Toi-Lin Kelly was arrested and charged for facilitating this interview that narrates this documentary.
Suge Knight and The D.O.C. attempted to launch a record label before linking with Dr. Dre.
Most know Death Row Records as the label that Suge Knight and Dr. Dre built. But Death Row Chronicles revealed that before bringing in the production legend, Suge and rap legend The D.O.C. attempted to launch their own record label. The two already had a professional relationship because Suge represented The D.O.C. under his management company. Their own label never got off the ground, but they made history after bringing Dre on board.
Bobby Brown sought the protection of Suge Knight on tour.
Knight was a bouncer at various nightclubs in LA during the late 1980s, and he became Bobby Brown’s bodyguard after protecting him from an attendee of an afterparty. But later, the New Edition member needed more help: he wanted to tour for his hit song “My Prerogative,” but Knight said in the documentary that the singer was scared to tour because people were planning to kill him over debts. Knight said that he confronted the person, that he was “aggressive,” and that the person eventually apologized to Bobby Brown, calling off the contract so the singer could go on tour without worries.
2Pac’s first Death Row collaboration arrived on the “Above the Rim” soundtrack
Before signing a deal with the label in 1995, Tupac Shakur’s first Death Row collab arrived years prior. 1994 to be exact. In that year, Pac starred in the film “Above the Rim” and recorded songs (“Pain,” “Pour Out a LittleLiquor”) for the soundtrack, which was distributed via Death Row/Interscope Records. It was his first-ever recording for the label. Despite having initially failed to ink Pac to a deal (“He wasn’t ready,” Knight said), the Death Row CEO “kept my eyes on him.” The rapper would eventually sign a deal with the label while incarcerated in 1995.
It took a lot to get this this story out
In addition to Knight’s former fiancee Toi-Lin Kelly being sentenced to three years in prison, the cell phone of “Death Row Chronicles” producer Nora Donaghy was seized after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department issued grand jury subpoenas for the producers of the film. Donaghy, who was one of the journalists working on the series, had her phone taken after officers arrived at her home with search warrants. Meanwhile, William Erb received the same treatment after detectives showed up to his home and served a Grand Jury subpoena. All of this stems from the fact that, according to the DA, Knight had violated the law by giving an interview when he is only allowed by law to speak with his attorney.
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