Marion "Suge" Knight
Marion Hugh Knight Jr. was born on April 19, 1965, in Compton, California. He was the youngest of three siblings and despite his know violent reputation, he was considered a kind-hearted “mamma’s boy” by his close friends and family. When he was a child, his father gave him the nickname“Suge,” short for “sugar bear”. Growing up in Compton, CA he was no stranger to gang violence. Knight has stated that it was not unusual to see bodies in the streets on his way to school. For the most part, he managed to stay out of trouble in high school, claiming that the gang members typically would not mess with the athletes. Knight was an outstanding football player and even received an athletic scholarship to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he excelled academically. He went on to the NFL; playing for the Los Angeles Rams as a replacement player for two games during the strike season of 1987. His NFL career was unfortunately cut short when Knight was arrested for shooting a man while allegedly attempting to steal his car.
With his football career over, Knight used his size to get a job as a bodyguard for singer, Bobby Brown, thus starting his career in the music business. He eventually began spending time in the same circles as rapper the D.O.C., as well as Dre, Eazy-E, Cube, and a young MC named Mario Johnson. Knight quickly saw that the money was in managing artists rather than body guarding, so in the late 80’s he started his own publishing company. He convinced Mario Johnson, who claimed to have written much of Vanilla Ice’s album To the Extreme, to become one of his first clients. This led to the legendary balcony meeting. Knight and his heavily armed entourage met Vanilla Ice in his hotel room, where Knight invited him out to the balcony. After showing him how far his fall would be, Ice signed over what would eventually become millions of dollars worth of royalties. His next big break came when Knight convinced Eazy-E to release Dre and rapper D.O.C. from their contracts with Ruthless, allegedly using baseball bats and intimidation to ensure his cooperation. Knight, D.O.C., and Dre together co-founded Death Row Records in 1991. Knight handled the business side “his way”, and allowed Dre to produce as he pleased. Over the next few years, Death Row Records would produce some of the biggest West Coast hip-hop records in history. Dre's 1992 classic, The Chronic, went triple-platinum, followed by Snoop Dogg's quadruple-platinum, Doggystyle.
Death Row seemed untouchable, but things began to get heated between Knight and Dre when Tupac Shakur came into the picture in 1995. Tupac was incarcerated and awaiting trial on sexual assault charges when Knight decided to take a chance on him. He paid his bail with the condition that he would be under contract and would record with Death Row. Knight’s investment in Shakur would prove to be a fruitful one. His record, All Eyez on Me, would go on to sell 7-8 million copies and become the highest selling album in 1996. Shakur became both the main commercial focal point of Death Row records as well as a close friend to Knight. On September 7, 1996 Tupac Shakur was shot and killed while riding in a car with Knight, who also sustained serious injuries. Further investigation into the night revealed a video of Knight participating in a fight at the MGM Grand. This was a violation of his probation and he was sentenced to 9 years in prison. Serving only 5 years of his sentence, he was released in 2001. Dre had split from Death Row and started his own label, Aftermath, in 1996. Death Row had stayed solvent with the posthumous Tupac releases, but never really recovered from Knight’s time in jail. The final nail in the coffin came in 2005, when a civil case judgement awarded Lydia Harris a staggering $107 million in damages, based on claims that Death Row was founded with money from her then husband, Michael "Harry O" Harris. Death Row was forced to declare bankruptcy and was eventually liquidated and sold.
In the years since, things have not been great for Knight. No one wanted to work with him after Death Row went under. He had no artists and his old school tough-guy routine had fallen out of fashion. Near the end of Death Row, they were known more for their gang related activity than their music. In 2005 Knight was shot in the leg at a party hosted by Kanye West, and In 2014 he was shot six times by an unknown assailant. His most recent scandal may signify the end of the road for Suge Knight’s career in the music industry. On January 29th, 2015 Knight came to the set of the recently released biopic “Straight Outta Compton”. As he often does, he believed he was owed money for his involvement with Dre in their early career. In some sort of confrontation, Knight drove off erratically in his truck, striking and killing one man and seriously injuring another. Knight claimed it was an accident that happened because he was being attacked by one of the men. The trail is set to be held on February 22 of this year. Unable to pay the 10.5 million dollar bail, the once esteemed and feared music mogul, now sits in a jail cell, waiting for a jury to determine whether he will spend the rest of his days behind bars. Even if he miraculously finds himself a free man someday, Suge Knight has burned too many bridges to ever be relevant in music again.