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Suge Knight: Death Row Records Co-Founder
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Marion "Suge" Knight, the controversial co-founder and former CEO of Death Row Records, has been a central figure in the gangsta rap scene and is currently serving a 28-year prison sentence for a fatal hit-and-run. From his tumultuous music industry career to his ongoing legal troubles, Knight's story continues to captivate the public, as evidenced by his new podcast "Collect Call with Suge Knight," where he shares unfiltered insights from behind bars.

 

Suge Knight's Early Life and Background

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Marion "Suge" Knight Jr. was born on April 19, 1965, in Compton, California, to Maxine and Marion Knight Sr. His childhood nickname "Sugar Bear" was shortened to "Suge." Knight attended Lynwood High School, where he was a standout football player and track star. He graduated in 1983 and went on to play football at El Camino College from 1983 to 1985. Knight then transferred to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), playing defensive end for the Rebels for two years.
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Suge Knight: From Undrafted to Los Angeles Rams During the 1987 NFL Strike

After going undrafted in the 1987 NFL Draft, Suge Knight signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a replacement player during the NFL players' strike that year. He played two games as a defensive lineman for the Rams against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons, though his official stats are largely lost to history. Despite his brief NFL stint, Knight was disillusioned with the league, later stating, "The NFL is the worst muthaf—–g place you could be. Because the NFL is like a plantation for slaves." He abruptly retired after disagreements with coaches over playing time.
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Suge Knight's Music Industry Beginnings

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After his brief NFL stint, Suge Knight transitioned into the music industry, working as a bodyguard for celebrities like Bobby Brown. In the late 1980s, he formed his own music publishing company. Knight's first major profit came when Vanilla Ice agreed to sign over royalties from "Ice Ice Baby" due to alleged plagiarism of material written by Knight's client. In 1991, Knight co-founded Death Row Records with Dr. Dre, launching the label to prominence with Dre's seminal album "The Chronic" in 1992. Death Row became a driving force behind the commercial success of West Coast gangsta rap in the 1990s, releasing blockbusters like Snoop Dogg's "Doggystyle" in 1993 and the "Above the Rim" soundtrack in 1994. However, the label was plagued by controversies, with investigations into alleged ties to gangs, drugs, and racketeering.
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The Rise and Fall of Death Row Records

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The rise and fall of Death Row Records reads like a Greek epic, with larger-than-life characters and violent undercurrents. Co-founded in 1991 by controversial music mogul Marion "Suge" Knight, the label was home to some of the biggest names in rap, including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac Shakur. Death Row transformed hardcore rap into an international phenomenon, selling not just records but a lifestyle. At its peak, the label pulled in over $100 million a year, with its roster of platinum-selling artists seemingly untouchable. However, plagued by legal troubles, mismanagement, and debt, Knight was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2006, and the label was sold at a court-ordered auction for $24 million in 2008, marking the end of Knight's reign as a formidable figure in the music industry.
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Fatal Hit-and-Run Aftermath

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In January 2015, Suge Knight was involved in a fatal hit-and-run incident in the parking lot of Tam's Burgers in Compton, California. His truck struck Terry Carter, killing him, and injured Cle "Bone" Sloan. Knight initially faced murder charges but pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in 2018, admitting he used his truck as a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison. The case was further marred by misconduct from Knight's former attorney, Matthew Fletcher. In 2022, Fletcher pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and perjury charges after being accused of plotting to bribe witnesses to lie for Knight. Prosecutors claimed Fletcher told Knight it would take "$20,000 to $25,000 to secure his freedom" by paying off witnesses. Under a plea deal, Fletcher was barred from practicing law for life and placed on probation for five years to avoid prison time.
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Suge Knight's Controversial Legacy

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Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight: A Complex Relationship

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Tupac Shakur and Suge Knight had a complex and controversial relationship that began when Knight signed Shakur to Death Row Records in 1995 after posting his $1.4 million bail. This move freed Shakur from prison pending an appeal of his sexual abuse conviction. Under Death Row, Shakur achieved his greatest commercial success with the double album "All Eyez on Me" in 1996. However, their friendship was marred by violence and manipulation. One of Shakur's friends, Danny Boy, claimed that Knight was "probably the best manipulative friend, the one that was good at manipulation." Another Death Row associate, Mob James, said Knight was a bad influence on Shakur and should have mentored him better. On the night of Shakur's fatal shooting in September 1996, Shakur, Knight, and their entourage had assaulted gang member Orlando Anderson earlier that evening. Knight, who was driving the car Shakur was shot in, has never publicly revealed the identity of the shooter.
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Knight's Family and Health Struggles

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Suge Knight has faced numerous personal and health challenges in recent years. He has several children from different relationships, including a son named Suge Jacob Knight. Knight has been married twice, first to Sharitha Golden in the early 1990s, and later to Toi-Lin Kelly, to whom he became engaged in 2003. Since his 2015 arrest, Knight's deteriorating health has raised concerns. He has experienced major issues like blindness in one eye, significant weight loss, blood clots, and other untreated injuries. These problems have caused Knight to be hospitalized multiple times and disrupted court proceedings, such as when he collapsed during a 2015 hearing after his bail was set at $25 million. His son Suge Jacob Knight expressed worry that the stressful conditions were exacerbating his father's health problems, stating, "He needs attentive care all the time."
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Closing Thoughts

Suge Knight's 28-year prison sentence in 2018 marked a dramatic fall for the once-powerful music mogul. The plea deal, which saw Knight admit to voluntary manslaughter charges for the fatal 2015 hit-and-run that killed Terry Carter, capped off a long history of legal troubles and controversies. Knight, who was a towering figure in the West Coast rap scene in the 1990s with Death Row Records, will now likely spend most of his remaining years behind bars. His story serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of unchecked power, violence, and hubris in the music industry.
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