|Death Row Records|
Hip hop, R&B
Country of origin
United States of America
Los Angeles, California
The loss of key management and talent of Death Row Records from early 1997 and onwards resulted in a decline in terms of being a powerful hip hop record company in the industry, despite attempts from the last remaining founder and CEO at the time, Suge Knight, which included signing new talents and releasing many compilations of previously unreleased content recorded by ex-Death Row artists. The label filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and was auctioned to entertainment development company WIDEawake Entertainment Group, Inc. for $18 million in 2009.
Death Row has sold nearly 150 million albums worldwide and generated close to $750 million in revenue.
Main article: Ruthless Records Edit
In the late 1980s, N.W.A's producer Dr. Dre signed to Eazy-E's Ruthless Records. 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 mid-1991 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 hip-hop label 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 January 1992 the name changed to its eventual title of Death Row Records. 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, 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 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. Death Row was located at the intersection of Westwood Blvd and Wilshire Blvd, later Death Row relocated to the intersection of Wilshire Blvd. and San Vicente Blvd. Knight was seen on several occasions leaving Alex Roberts' home in Malibu.
The Chronic and Ruthless Records feud Edit
Main article: The Chronic Edit
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 6,000,000 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, The Lady of Rage, The D.O.C., RBX, and many more. Then 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.
Main article: Doggystyle Edit
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.
Signing Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight's rise Edit
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 Edit
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. In 1996, due to the infighting, Dr. Dre left Death Row Records to found Aftermath, which provoked 2Pac to turn against Dr. Dre.
M.C. Hammer's involvement and departure Edit
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 Edit
Main article: Murder of Tupac Shakur Edit
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. 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 2002 upon Suge Knight's release from prison.
Second generation exodus Edit
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 a Snoop Dogg compilation album 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 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 first album Supernova in 2001. Lopes joined to record a second 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 canceled 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 ($6,900,000), Koch Records ($3,400,000), Interscope Records ($2,500,000) 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 Edit
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 $2,500 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 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 Lord Autopz, 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 on 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 E1 and Wideawake 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, E1 purchased the rights to the Death Row catalog. The Group invested £175 million in content rights and television programs in the year (2012: £135.8 million) and £4.2 million (6 million $) to purchase the music library assets of Death Row.
Former artists Edit
- 213 (1991–1997)
- 2nd II None (1994–1998)
- 6 Feet Deep
- Above the Law (1999–2001)
- Bad Azz (1995–1997)
- Big C Style (1998–2001)
- Benji Burner
- Big Pimpin' Delemond (1994–1999)
- Big Tray Deee (1994–1997)
- Butch Cassidy (1996–1998)
- Chilly Chill (1994–1995)
- Chocolate (1991–1993)
- Chocolate Bandit (1996–1999)
- C.P.O. Boss Hogg (1991–1998)
- Crooked I (1999–2004)
- Crooks 187
- Danny Boy (1994–1999); (2002–2003)
- Daz Dillinger (1991–1999)
- DJ Quik (1994–1996)
- Dobbie (1998–1999)
- El Dorado (1998–1999)
- Dr. Dre (1991–1996)
- Fatal-n-Felony (1995–1996)
- Nanci Fletcher (1993–1996)
- Gangsta Girl
- Gangsta Ridd
- GP The Beast
- Harry Uncle Fonzy Appleton
- Hurt-M-Badd (1996)
- Jewell (1992–1999)
- J-Flexx (1994–1997)
- Kurupt (1991–1996) (2002–2005)
- The Lady of Rage (1991–1997)
- LA Nash
- LBC Crew (1995–1997)
- Lil' C-Style (1994–1998)
- Lil' Malik a.k.a. Lil' Hershey Loc a.k.a. Major lil' Hearoshima (1993-1996)
- Lil 1/2 Dead (1991-1994)
- Lisa Lopes (2002) (deceased)
- Mac Shawn
- MC Hammer (1995–1996)
- Mr. Sco.Bear (1991–1993)
- Michel'le (1991–1999); (2002–2003)
- Nate Dogg (1993–1997)
- O.F.T.B. (1994–1998)
- Outlawz (1995–1999)
- Petey Pablo (2005–2006)
- Prince Ital Joe (1995–1998)
- RBX (1991–1994)
- Runty 2 Pawmatic (2002–2005)
- Sam Sneed (1993–1997)
- Aminé (rapper) (1999-2000)
- SKG (2001)
- Slip Capone (1993–1998)
- Snoop Dogg (1991–1998)
- Soopafly (1994–1997)
- Spider Loc (2002– 2004)
- Techniec (1994–1998)
- Tha Dogg Pound (1991–1997)
- Tha Realest (1996–2001)
- The D.O.C. (1991–1994)
- The Gang (1996–1997)
- The Relativez(1998–2000)
- Tupac Shakur (1995-1996) (deceased)
- Sean 'Barney' Thomas
- V.K. (1999)
- Yaki Kadafi (1995–1996) (deceased)
- YGD Tha Top Dogg (1997–2000)
- Young Soldierz (1994–1998)
- Young Swoop G (1994–2001)
- 1992: The Chronic - Dr. Dre
- 1993: Doggystyle - Snoop Doggy Dogg
- 1994: Above the Rim (soundtrack) - Various artists
- 1994: Murder Was the Case - Various artists
- 1995: Dogg Food - Tha Dogg Pound
- 1996: All Eyez on Me - 2Pac
- 1996: The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory - Makaveli
- 1996: Tha Doggfather - Snoop Doggy Dogg
- 1996: Death Row Greatest Hits - Various artists
- 1996: Christmas on Death Row - Various artists
- 1997: Gridlock'd (soundtrack) - Various artists
- 1997: Necessary Roughness - The Lady of Rage
- 1997: Gang Related (soundtrack) - Various artists
- 1998: Retaliation, Revenge and Get Back - Daz Dillinger
- 1998: Hung Jury - Michel'le
- 1998: Greatest Hits - 2Pac
- 1999: Suge Knight Represents: Chronic 2000 - Various artists
- 2000: Too Gangsta for Radio - Various artists
- 2000: Dead Man Walkin' - Snoop Dogg
- 2001: 2002 - Tha Dogg Pound
- 2001: Death Row's Snoop Doggy Dogg Greatest Hits - Snoop Doggy Dogg
- 2001: Until the End of Time - 2Pac
- 2002: Better Dayz - 2Pac
- 2004: Son Rize Vol 1 - Yaki Kadafi
- 2006: 15 Years on Death Row - Various artists
- 2007: Death Row: The Singles Collection - Various artists
- 2009: Death Row: The Lost Session Vol. 1 - Snoop Doggy Dogg
- 2009: The Ultimate Death Row Compilation - Various artists
- 2010: Down and Dirty - Kurupt
- 2010: Hood Star - Crooked I
- 2011: Street Scholars - Sam Sneed
- 2011: Haven't You Heard - LBC Crew
- 2011: Damn Near Dead - O.F.T.B.
- 2011: Black Diamond - Jewell
- 2012: 20 to Life: Rare and Dangerous Vol. 1 - Various artists
- 2012: 20 to Life: Rare and Dangerous Vol. 2 - Various artists
- 2012: Doggy Bag - Tha Dogg Pound