Suge Knight is ready to talk. In an interview with Rolling Stone, the Death Row Records founder spoke about his current relationship with one of the stars that launched his former label into orbit. Snoop “Doggy” Dogg released his debut album 20 years ago, and Suge says that no one knew that they had a future superstar on their hands.
“When we put out The Chronic people felt there’s no way in the world somebody can ever do an album and it come out that well,” Suge explains. “When The Chronic was out, even Snoop will tell you, if he came on the Interscope side, he didn’t see Jimmy [Iovine] any of those guys call Snoop in the office, chop it up with him… because he wasn’t the one. When Doggystyle came out, s–t, he couldn’t walk in there without them trying to give him some weed. People thought it couldn’t get no better. But the Dogg Pound came in and done well. And then came Tupac. It wasn’t Tupac because he was a new artist. Tupac was on Interscope the whole time. They couldn’t break a record on him. They couldn’t make him a superstar. But the minute I got Pac out of prison…”
Death Row’s fall was swift. In 1997, Snoop departed the label as Knight was carted off to prison for violating his parole. Soon thereafter, Interscope dropped Death Row Records from their distribution. The bitterness between Snoop and Suge lasted for years, but Knight insists that things are more cordial now and he gives Snoop credit for the role he played in his life and career.
“My relationship with him is where it’s supposed to be. It’s respectful on both ends. I could never turn around and say I hate this mothaf–ka, because he’s a part of my life and I’m a part of his life. There was times starting this business with Death Row that some people were scared to go out of town, scared to go to New York. I’d come grab him, we’d go straight to the airport, just me and him, no entourage, not one person with us. We’d get our room, we’d go hang out, we’d be everywhere. We would go there, post up, enjoy the city, respect the city, and that went so far. Therefore, I owe a lot of credit, and a lot of other people owe a lot of credit, because if Snoop’s not gonna hit the road with me and hit all those spots, I couldn’t have did it, because I’m the business man. I’m not the artist, I’m not the talent. And pretty much everyone else was scared to go.”
“[Snoop] played a role and built a lot of things. Built the West and built hip-hop. I think the things that happen in any relationship in business when you both come from the ghetto, it’s just [because of] the people that are your distributors. It might be a guy who’s not black, but he’s in the same business with you, and you’re gonna have a relationship. And they can never have a relationship with Snoop the way I have a relationship with him because you out four o’clock in the morning in different states, different countries, different streets, through good and bad. And the next person, they can only offer you a check. If you’re [former Def Jam heads] Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen, you can’t say ‘[Snoop], you got the best deal in the world.’ You’re gonna say, ‘You got the worst f–ked up deal in the world and I can make it better for you.’ And that’s what Russell and them did. Russell went to Snoop and flew him to New York and said, ‘I want to do a deal with you for Doggystyle.'”
During the interview, Suge also reflected on his time with 2Pac, who became Death Row’s biggest star after Knight bailed him out of prison and signed hum to the label in late 1995. Pac released his blockbuster double album, All Eyez On Me, in early 1996.
“At that time, any time you got in my car, it was always old sh*t in my CD changer. Tupac would hop in my whips to go grab a broad or something. We’d be at the studio and he’d go grab the keys, hop in that mothaf–ka and drive and call back and be like ‘Hey, I’m in your car but why you don’t got no good music?'” Knight recalls. “It would be Al Green, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway. I’d give s–t to everybody [and] because everybody heard it so much, everybody took took a liking to it, and adopted it. My family, that’s all we grew up on was those oldies. So it wasn’t nothing for people on the West Coast to take ideas or concepts from those old records and make them into hits. Even Snoop, his folks are from Mississippi also. People from the South, they was buying 45s and 33s, they was playing those albums… that was a big influence on every record on Death Row.”