The East Coast/West Coast Rivalry Ruined Suge Knight’s Life

If you’re into rap music, chances are you have heard of Suge Knight. The music executive and record producer was famously associated with hip-hop tycoons like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog. Knight co-founded Death Row Records with Dre and served as the CEO of the label. He also helped launch the legendary Tupac Shakur’s career.

Suge Knight with his lawyer sitting in court / Suge Knight walking behind Tupac, who is posing for the paparazzi / Suge Knight on the red carpet in 2004
Photo by Patrick T Fallon-Pool, Getty Images / Steve Granitz Archive, WireImage, Getty Images / KMazur, WireImage, Getty Images

Knight spent a lot of time in jail for countless different reasons such as probation violation, drug possession, and attempted murder, to name just a few. But his latest offense landed Knight in jail for the rest of his life. Knight is a complex person who is known for his rivalries, as well as his friendships with famous artists.

Popularizing Gangsta Rap

The man who brought “gangsta” rap into the mainstream music industry was recently sentenced to 28 years in prison. In a lot of ways, ex-rap mogul Suge Knight is one of the most crucial figures who shaped the bloody yet glorious era of hip hop. He is the founder of Death Rows Records, the record label which helped launch the career of rap legends like Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.

Suge Knight posing for a photograph walking down the street
Photo by David Klein / Getty Images

However, Suge Knight was known for his violent temper and extreme outbursts. In September 2018, Knight was sentenced to jail for a fatal hit-and-run. One of the victim’s daughters described the music producer as “truly a disgusting, selfish disgrace to the human species.”

Knight Pleaded No Contest

The incident happened back in 2015, and Knight initially pleaded no contest on the set of the rap biopic Straight Outta Compton. However, in 2018, he reached a plea deal which allowed him to avoid charges of murder as well as attempted murder.

Suge Knight in an orange prison jumpsuit sitting in court
Photo by Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Reportedly, Knight didn’t show any remorse during his sentencing, and just stood there in an orange jumpsuit, emotionless. In the state of California, the maximum penalty for voluntary manslaughter is 11 years in the slammer. But because of his previous convictions, his sentence was doubled. So, where did everything go wrong for Knight?

Here is a look back at one of hip-hop’s most notorious figures.

Who Is Suge Knight?

Before he founded Death Row Records with Dr. Dre, Suge Knight was a football lineman and bodyguard. Although he was a promising athlete, Suge was determined to make a name for himself and get out of his parents’ Compton home.

Suge Knight smiling while he responds to a question during an interview /
Photo by Mark Mainz / Getty Images

“As soon as I was old enough, I told myself that I’d never live or end up dying in a place like that,” he revealed to The Guardian. “I made up my mind that I wanted everything, and nothing would stop me.” That’s when he turned his attention to music.

His Violent Temper

While he was working as Bobby Brown’s bodyguard, hanging out in the same circles of hip-hop greats like Ice Cube and Dr. Dre., he formed a publishing company in 1989 and reportedly threatened to throw Vanilla Ice over a balcony during an argument over royalties for his song, Ice Ice Baby. Yikes!

Suge Knight looking angry on the red carpet / Vanilla Ice posing with his hands in his pockets
Photo by Lawrence Lucier, FilmMagic, Getty Images / Robin Platzer, Images, Getty Images

With a company full of controversies and aggression, Knight was eventually sent behind bars for violating parole on the fateful evening in which Tupac Shakur was tragically murdered. Knight went on to face a number of financial issues, and even more jail time.

Rags to Riches

On April 19th, 1965, Marion Hugh Knight Jr. was welcomed into the world as the youngest of three children in Compton, California. His nickname, Suge, stemmed from “Sugar Bear” which is what his father (who was also a musician) called him.

Suge Knight in a football uniform kneeling in the grass
Source: Twitter

That wasn’t the only thing Suge had in common with his dear old dad. Suge’s father was also a football player. Suge went on to receive an athletic scholarship to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he excelled in his studies.

Career Switch

Knight certainly had a talent for sports, but there was something he was even more passionate about – music. He had a short-lived career as a lineman for the Los Angeles Rams before becoming a bodyguard. When he got singer Bobby Brown as a client, he found connections in the industry.

Suge Knight standing talking to a man at a Grammy Awards afterparty
Source: Getty Images

He had big dreams and aspirations and did everything he could in order to succeed. He wrote songs with his publishing company and, in 1991, Knight and Dr. Dre co-founded Death Row Records, after Dre was ready to get out of his NWA record label Ruthless.

He’s Been “In The System” Since the 1980s

Suge Knight has been getting in trouble for years! Unfortunately, the nature of his crimes has escalated over the years. His first run-in with the law took place in 1987. He was faced with auto theft charges as well as carrying a concealed weapon and attempted murder.

Suge Knight leaving prison surrounded by cameras
Suge Knight leaving prison in 2002. Photo by J Emilio Flores / Getty Images

It’s well-known that Knight has a fiery temper and thinks the best way to solve conflict is by “wiping people out.” He was charged with both murder and attempted murder in 2015 but pled not guilty to those charges. His collaborators started to separate themselves from him due to his reputation and behavior.

The Perfect Job

Suge Knight was a talented football player before using his muscles and athletic physique to become a bodyguard. It’s a practical way to use his strong body and intimidating look to make money. I guess his clients didn’t run into many problems when he was around.

Suge Knight sitting at an event
Photo by Johnny Nunez / WireImage / Getty Images

Knight was a bodyguard for several famous artists, most memorably Bobby Brown. Ironically, Knight has become the one people need to be guarded from. He is serious about protecting the ones he cares about, but you certainly don’t want to be on his bad side.

He Was an Artist-Manager

Knight did a lot before becoming the notorious CEO of Death Row Records, including running his own artist management company. He helped the careers of artists such as D.O.C. and DJ Quick. It’s clear that he has a good eye for spotting talent. He is also a natural at promoting artists and making them stars.

Suge Knight pointing at Kanye West while he’s having a conversation at a party in 2002
Photo by Johnny Nunez / WireImage / Getty Images

However, he seems to run into conflicts with many of these same artists, eventually going as far as calling them enemies. The record producer is known for doing everything in his power to destroy them. He wasted his talent with all these petty rivalries.

Club 662

In 1994, Knight opened a Las Vegas club called Club 662. It was an exclusive appointment-only club that you couldn’t get into unless you were one of the hottest celebrities in the industry. It’s been speculated that the name for the club’s number, 662, was chosen because they coordinate with the letters M-O-B (which stands for Member of Blood), the gang that Knight is affiliated with.

Suge Knight on the red carpet
Photo by Denise Truscello / WireImage / Getty Images

The intention of the club was to be a nice place for people to hang out and have a good time. However, those who were allowed entry to the club didn’t always feel at ease there. This was just one of Knight’s questionable business ventures.

Death Row Records

The record label released Dr. Dre’s triple-platinum The Chronic in 1992. Then, they signed Snoop Dog and, in 1993, they released his career-defining album Doggystyle. By 1994, Death Row Records released the Above the Rim soundtrack and, at that point, the label was a major force in the establishment of West-Coast hip-hop.

Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg posing together for a photograph
Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg circa 1993. Photo by Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Although he was known for giving charity to local California communities, plenty of speculation and controversy surrounded Death Row, with police investigating the label’s involvement in racketeering, gang, and drug-related activities. Knight has been on probation several times with charges like assault, weapon possession, and even attempted murder. There was also controversy about the violent and misogynistic content in the lyrics of the music that the label produced.

He Was Shot Six Times

Suge Knight was shot six times in August 2014, after he attended a pre-video Music Awards party hosted by Chris Brown. Investigators looked at surveillance footage to confirm that Knight was in fact the target of the shooting. There are various people who want Knight dead for obvious reasons. But despite his injuries, Knight managed to walk to an ambulance.

Suge Knight sweating at a party
Photo by Shareif Ziyadat / FilmMagic / Getty Images

I guess that’s all part of being a gangster. Knight would not cooperate with the investigation about the incident, also for obvious reasons. Rapper Jeezy later explained that he would have been shot if he hadn’t been pushed out the way. This is more evidence that Knight was being targeted.

Knight Signs Tupac

Tupac Shakur signed with Death Row Records in the mid – ‘90s, after Knight paid his bail in relation to sexual assault charges. He subsequently released All Eyez on Me in 1996. Knight was infamously driving the car that Tupac was shot in on September 7, 1996. The rapper died of his injuries.

Tupac and Suge Knight at an event
Photo by Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

As it turned out, earlier that evening, videotaped evidence shows that Knight was involved in a brawl at the MGM Grand – which violated the terms of his probation. He received a nine-year jail sentence. However, he ended up serving less time from 1996-2001.

His Theory on Tupac’s Death

Many people believe that Suge Knight had something to do with Tupac’s death, but Knight has a different theory. He says that Sean Combs (Puff Daddy) is responsible for Tupac’s death. Death Row Records and Puff Daddy’s label Bad Boy Records were famous rivals; so, it’s speculated that the East Coast/West Coast rivalry had something to do with Tupac’s death (as well as Biggie’s).

P Diddy with his palms together posing for a photograph / Suge Knight and Tupac walking up to an event
Photo by Vivien Killilea, Roc Nation, Getty Images / Jim Smeal, Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images

A former LAPD officer also believed that Combs was the one behind Tupac’s death. Knight continues to maintain his innocence when it comes to Tupac getting shot, even though he had had some issues with the rapper in the past. Sadly, the murders of Tupac and Biggie were never solved.

Death Row’s Back

When he got out of prison, Knight re-launched his label using the name Tha Row, which was later changed to Death Row’s Back. But he didn’t seem to learn from his mistakes. He found himself back in jail in 2003 for violating his parole, once again.

Suge Knight sitting in court looking back over his shoulder
Suge Knight sitting in court after violating probation. Photo by Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

Later, in 2006, Knight filed for bankruptcy protection after a court ruled that he should make a multimillion-dollar payment to a producer who claimed that she played a major role in the establishment of Death Row Records. In 2008, the company was sold, and Suge Knight subsequently faced even more charges, from theft to marijuana possession.

“Straight Outta Compton” Drama and Violence

Knight was involved in a hit-and-run in January 2015, in Compton, California. Sadly, a man named Terry Carter died in the incident, and the other man, Cle Sloan, was injured. Apparently, Carter and Knight were actually friends, but he was seen arguing with the men on the set of the movie Straight Outta Compton, and then followed them to the burger joint where the accident occurred.

Suge Knight’s mugshot / Photographs of Terry Carter and Cle Sloan, victims of Suge Knights crimes
Photo by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Getty Images / Scott Gries, Getty Images / Source: Twitter

Witnesses at the scene believe that Knight’s intention was in fact to kill Carter as well as Sloan. The producer turned himself in and has been behind bars ever since. Knight was indicted in 2017 for threatening Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray, who didn’t portray Knight in the most positive way.

How Did This Happen?

It was already well known and documented that Knight was not pleased with the movie being made. Knight’s childhood friend Reggie Write said: “People working on the set were calling and telling Suge, ‘Hey man, this movie is really [becoming] a Death Row movie, with a Suge look-alike in the movie beating up people in the studio and all of that.’”

A scene from Straight Outta Compton where they are all sitting in a recording studio having a discussion
Source: / Copyright: New Line Cinema, Legendary Pictures

He added, “Suge felt like they were using his likeness in this movie without consulting him.” In the footage of the incident that followed, Knight’s vehicle is seen pulling up into the burger shop with one of the victims approaching the driver’s window. Then, Knight’s truck is seen going into reverse throwing one man on the ground and then slamming into the other one.

Turning Himself In

Knight did turn himself in the next day, but his lawyers claim that his actions were in self-defense. No one really bought that story. The story of Suge Knight definitely serves as a cautionary tale for many: a man who worked his way up and could have had it all.

Suge Knight’s mugshot
Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Prisons / Getty Images

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong for Knight, but rap industry manager Cash Jones makes a significant distinction: “You know what Dre did?” Jones said. “He kept chasing success. The fact remains right now, today, Suge sits in prison facing murder charges and Dre is a billionaire.”

Health Complications

In October 2018, Knight earned himself a 28-year sentence for the hit-and-run. But after his initial 2015 arrest for the crime, the former record label owner has been dealing with various heart problems. He was even reportedly hospitalized for blindness and blood clots in 2017. His health complications have prevented him from attending his court hearings.

Suge Knight sitting down while opening a small water bottle
Photo by Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty Images

At this point, Knight is 55 years old and many people think he got what he deserved. This is what being involved in gangs and violence can do to a person with great talent and extraordinary potential.

He Went Bankrupt

After gaining great success in the entertainment industry, Knight went bankrupt in 2006, which probably made him even angrier. The former record producer’s possessions were auctioned off in an episode of Storage Wars: High Noon In The Desert. The episode aired on A&E in 2010.

Suge Knight arriving to an event
Photo by Johnny Nunez / WireImage / Getty Images

Knight was likely embarrassed by the situation, but he had to pay off his debt somehow. Apparently, shady business deals and under-the-table payments are what led to it. Hopefully, Knight will learn from his mistakes and make better financial decisions in the future – if he ever gets out of jail.

He Threatens People to Get His Way

It probably won’t come as a surprise to find out that Suge Knight used scare tactics in order to get his way in the music business. When musicians Michel’le, the D.O.C., and Dr. Dre were on Ruthless Records (headed by late rapper Eazy), Suge and his squad threatened Easy and Heller with lead pipes and baseball bats in order to get “the job done.”

Suge Knight sitting in a seat at an awards event / Michel’le siting at a dinner event
Photo by Steve Grayson, WireImage, Getty Images / Vivien Killilea, Alliance for Women in Media, Getty Images

His manipulative strategy worked, and Ruthless Records released the artists from their contracts. That’s when the D.O.C. and Knight founded Death Row Records in 1991. The label, dubbed the “Motown of the ‘90s,” was incredibly successful.

A Family Man

Believe it or not, Suge Knight is a family man. Well, by that I mean, he has four children: two boys and two girls. His son Andrew shares his birthday, and his other son is named Taj. His daughters’ names are Posh and Bailiei.

Taj Knight posing for a portrait / Bailei Knight on the red carpet / Suge Knight with one of his sons on his shoulders and another one standing in front of him / Suge Knight Jr / Andrew Knight walking by a pier
Photo by Johnny Nunez, WireImage, Getty Images / Michael Kovac, Lifetime Television, Getty Images / Source: Twitter / Instagram / Pinterest

Bailiei is the child he had with Michel’le, who was featured on a reality show confessing to being the mother of one of Knight’s kids. However, Michel’le seemed hesitant when speaking about her past relationship with the producer. Many believe that the reason she didn’t get into detail was that she was scared that Knight would retaliate.

East Coast/West Coast Rivalry

As we mentioned, Knight was known for his feud with East Coast record label Bad Boy, owned by Sean “Puffy” Combs, in a rivalry over territory as well as musical supremacy. Tupac and Biggie’s notorious beef was allegedly because of their nemesis record labels. The dispute took on a fatal turn the night Tupac was shot.

Tupac and Biggie Smalls performing with P Diddy on stage with them
Tupac, Biggie Smalls, and P Diddy circa 1993. Photo by Al Pereira / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

It is evident that the drive-by shooting of Tupac Shakur came as a result of the treacherous East Coast/ West Coast rivalry. Knight, as we know, was in the car and has been blamed for at least one of the shootings.

Dr. Dre Leaves Death Row

When Knight paid his $1.4 million bail before signing Tupac in 1995, things between Knight and Dr. Dre were beginning to sour. Tupac was now the label’s commercial focus. In 1996, Dre made the decision to leave Death Row and create his own label, Aftermath.

Suge Knight and Dr Dre posing together
Source: Twitter

Tupac became a huge name in the industry thanks to Death Row Records before things took a dark and fatal turn. The East Coast/ West Coast rivalry was nothing like Hollywood feuds now. Instead of saying passive-aggressive things on social media, these people were out for blood and their feud ended with the deaths of two talented rappers.