About Death Row
Death Row Records is a record label that was founded in 1991 by Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, and was once home to some of rap's biggest names, including Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tha Dogg Pound (Kurupt and Daz Dillinger).
Death Row has sold nearly 50 million units worldwide, and generated close to $750 million in revenue. The label was also once home to RBX, The Lady of Rage, Michel'le, Danny Boy, Bow Wow, DJ Quik, J-Flexx, Sam Sneed, Mark Morrison, MC Hammer, Tha Realest, Crooked I, O.F.T.B., Eastwood, and Gina Longo (notable for being the only white artist signed to the label). In addition, the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC was signed on and working on an album when she died in an automobile accident. While Dr. Dre was trying to leave Ruthless Records, he was introduced to Suge Knight, who was a bodyguard for The D.O.C. at the time. With Dr. Dre, Suge Knight, and The D.O.C., set out to found their own label which they called Future Shock Records and then later renamed it to Death Row Records. Knight would later explain his reasoning for the company in a 1996 interview with Vibe Magazine: "We called it Death Row because most everybody had been involved with the law. The majority of our people were parolees or incarcerated-no joke. We got people that were really on Death Row and still is." After a year long battle with Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, who still had disputes over where Dre was signed and on what terms, and a botched deal with Dick Griffey's Solar Records, funding Death Row was accomplished via financial support from Interscope Records. Interscope would then act as a distributor for Death Row Records for the next six years. The label's first release was The Chronic, the solo debut from Dr. Dre, in December 1992. Featured on the album were newcomers: Daz, Kurupt, The Lady of Rage, RBX and, most notably, Dr. Dre's new protege Snoop Dogg (then known as Snoop 'Doggy' Dogg). The album quickly exploded into 1993, eventually topping the Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart; selling over three million copies.
With acclaim came criticism. While riding high on the commercial success of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg, Death Row was blasted by several activist groups and public figures in the media for its glorification of the violence associated with the gangsta rap image that most of its artists promoted. The media criticism, meanwhile, grew louder by the summer of 1995, as dissenters zeroed in on Death Row's highly publicized forthcoming release, Dogg Food—the debut release by Tha Dogg Pound. The flak made the shareholders in Interscope Records' parent company, Time Warner, nervous—so much so that the company sold all of its shares in Interscope to MCA Music Entertainment. Dogg Food, meanwhile, was postponed from its intended July release date to October. As the controversy with boycotters and Time Warner was adding fuel to Death Row's engine; Suge Knight, in the meantime, posted bail for the then-incarcerated Tupac ("2Pac") Shakur in exchange for his signing with Death Row. At the time, Tupac and Death Row shared mutual disdain for the fledgling New York-based Bad Boy Records, along with its CEO Sean Combs and seminal star The Notorious B.I.G.
Upon Shakur's release from jail, he immediately went to work on his Death Row debut album, All Eyez on Me. The album, released in early 1996, topped the albums charts and going diamond ( 10x platinum) became the label's biggest commercial success to date. The escalating tension between Tupac and Biggie (as well as Death Row and Bad Boy), meanwhile, fueled what was eventually called the "East Coast/West Coast rap war." What was to follow would be a year-long dispute in which several Death Row artists fired verbal assaults at East Coast artists. Among those who took lyrical shots were: Snoop Dogg, The Dogg Pound, and Tupac (with his group, Outlawz). The list of those dissed by Death Row included most famously (but is not limited to): Mobb Deep, Nas, Jay-Z, the Junior M.A.F.I.A., Puff Daddy and the Notorious B.I.G. Despite the infamous feud, Suge Knight had planned to open a New York chapter of the label to be called Death Row East, even signing K-Solo, the only rapper that signed before the label disappeared. Eric B. was slated to head that label. In an interview, 2Pac named rappers they planned to sign, from Big Daddy Kane to the Wu-Tang Clan. The branch, however, was never formed.
Tupac was shot and killed in Las Vegas in September 1996, while riding on the passenger side in a car driven by Suge Knight. Soon after, Knight was sentenced to nine years in prison for a parole violation relating directly to a fight that both he and Tupac were involved in on the night of his death. As a result of Dr. Dre's having previously left the company, Tupac's death, and Suge Knight's incarceration; Death Row Records imploded almost instantly.
In 1998, Suge planned to launch the many rappers to come for the second generation of Death Row Records. Although he was incarcerated, he pushed rapper Top Dogg (also known as YGD) as his first new face making his television debut appearance in the video "All About U" on the 2Pac "Greatest Hits" album replacing Snoop Dogg. Top Dogg had generated a buzz from a hidden track on the Gang Related soundtrack titled "Goin Back To Cali" aimed toward Puff Daddy. The video, "All About U," received heavy play and Suge followed in 1999 with "The Chronic 2000: Suge Knight Represents" album to introduce a brand new roster headed by Daz Dillinger, Soopafly, Tha Dogg Pound, Top Dogg, Tha Realest, Swoop G, Lil Cstyle, Doobie K, Milkbone, Michelle, VK, and Mac Shawn.
By 2002, Knight's fanbase became frustrated with a lack of new albums from active artists. Although Kurupt of Tha Dogg Pound had returned to be President of the label, the release of Tha Dogg Pound's 2002, Tupac Shakur's Until The End Of Time, and Snoop Dogg's Death Row: Snoop Doggy Dogg at His Best escalated the frustration of loyal fans that wanted to see the new roster. Although he had a great relationship with Suge Knight, it was apparent that Kurupt had very little power when it came to major label decisions, album releases, and recruiting power as the President and that the significant decisions ran through Knight.
Death Row Records and Knight filed for Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in April 2006, listing debts of $137.4 million and $4.4 million in assets. Those filing claims must file with the bankruptcy court presiding over the case must file by October 31 or risk being barred from asserting claims against Death Row Records or Suge Knight. "We believe that it is vital that all parties asserting claims come forward and assert them in a timely manner so that Death Row can come out of Chapter 11 quickly", said Todd Neilson, the Death Row chapter 11 trustee. In March of 2005, Knight was ordered to pay over $100 million to Lydia Harris, who claims her husband, incarcerated drug kingpin Michael "Harry-O" Harris, provided $1.5 million in start-up money for Death Row in return for a 50% stake in the label. Knight missed several court dates in regards to the Harris' ownership claims, resulting in a default judgment. He filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which allows a company to continue business operations while restructuring. Death Row is currently being operated by Neilson during the bankruptcy proceedings, while Knight oversees his bankruptcy estate as a debtor in possession. Among those listed as unsecured creditors to Death Row include the Harris', the Internal Revenue Service ($6,900,000), Koch Records ($3,400,000), Interscope Records ($2,500,000) and others. With Chapter 11 bankruptcy Suge will not lose his company or any of his masters.
On May 29, 2008, TMZ published US Bankruptcy Court documents putting Death Row Records and all of its assets, including masters, for public auction on June 24 with bids starting at $24 million.