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

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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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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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