Suge Knight, the founder of Death Row Records, has done jail time and claims to be $137 million in debt. But he has a reality TV show in the works, and says he wants to form an R&B record label dedicated to
Suge Knight, the founder of Death Row Records, has done jail time and claims to be $137 million in debt. But he has a reality TV show in the works, and says he wants to form an R&B record label dedicated to "happy music."
By Jonathan Alcorn for The Washington Post

Like Knight and Day?

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 17, 2007

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Five-star hotel, poolside cabana. Marion "Suge" Knight Jr., dethroned rap mogul, ex-con, self-proclaimed penitent, is kicking back with his crew: Personal assistant. Trusted friend from back in the day. Young Life, a rapper just starting out, stops by for a huddle.

An automatic mister spritzes cool water in the air. The hotel chef pops in for a chat, while a beautiful Brazilian massage therapist serves up complimentary foot rubs. Suge -- pronounced like the first syllable in "sugar" -- unties his blindingly white sneakers, stretching out his 6-foot-3, 315-pound body on a lounge chair.

"Everybody here loves Mr. Knight," the masseuse says, after he peels a bill from a fat wad. She hugs him. "He's so generous."

In this moment, there are no court cases. No radio reports that he's a deadbeat dad to his seven kids. No reminders of a blood-soaked past. Here, there are no creditors clamoring to claim pieces of his once-mighty Death Row Records, home to rap royalty -- Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac -- and now run by a bankruptcy trustee.

In court filings, Knight claims to be $137 million in debt, with $12 million in IRS liens, $51,000 in monthly expenses -- and $11 in his checking account.

He's not exactly living the life of the indigent. Ask Knight where his money comes from, and he chuckles: "Y'know, I'm a guy that did Chapter 11. I haven't been working, so people feel sorry for me."

Point out that he hasn't answered the question, and he turns serious. He'd rather not answer, he says, than tell a lie: "I told you: I don't lie.

"The only people I lie to are the police."

* * *

At 42, Knight, the man some call the "John Gotti of hip-hop," says he's a changed man -- a man with new plans. He no longer wants to be seen as the CEO whose preferred negotiating tools were a baseball bat and a tankful of hungry piranha. Today Knight says he'd like to form an R&B label dedicated to "more of a postive spin."

There's a reason, he says, why he's calling his upcoming reality TV show "Suge Knight's Unfinished Business": "I got a lot of unfinished business."

At the top of his list: two pending bankruptcy cases, the largest creditor of which is Lydia Harris, a one-time Death Row associate and estranged wife of Michael "Harry O" Harris, a one-time drug dealer doing time in San Quentin for attempted murder. Lydia Harris claims that she and Michael fronted the seed money for Death Row; Knight insists they didn't. Now she is in court attempting to collect a $107 million default judgment against Death Row, whose major assets are its master tapes of rap stars and publishing rights.


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