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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Like Knight and Day?

Knight himself ended up serving five years in prison for violating probation on assault and weapons charges -- thanks to a brawl preceding Tupac's murder in 1996. Ultimately, his time in the joint started a downward spiral, as Death Row faltered without him at the helm. It didn't help that he served 10 more months in 2003 for allegedly punching a parking lot attendant.

In 2005, he took a bullet in the leg at a party for the MTV Music Awards. But nowadays Knight doesn't bother with bodyguards. "I'm living," he says, "a worry-free life. . . .

"I've been through so much that whatever they try to bring on me is nothing. . . . I never thought that I'd be alive at 18. "

Robbing Corpses

In rap lore, Compton has taken on mythic status, a city where men are gangstas, women are either compliant toys or castrating she-devils, and the streets flow with blood. But the Compton of the late 1960s that Marion Knight Jr. moved to when he was 3 was a multiracial, middle-class suburb. Many whites took flight, but Suge's neighbors, an elderly couple, stuck around, and his earliest days were spent hanging out in their home. For him, he says, racism didn't exist.

His father, Marion Sr., was an R&B singer who turned to truck driving; his mom, Maxine, was a homemaker. Suge was the baby boy -- he had two older sisters. Says Maxine: "He had to be home by a certain time or I'd be looking for him in my car."

But life in Compton changed. The Bloods claimed a stake of his block. Running into a dead body wasn't such an unusual thing for a little kid: Suge claims that he and his friends would surround the corpse, pick his pockets clean, then run off to buy some candy.

At 12, Marion Jr. was big and brawny, with "an enormous Afro," he says.

"Ever since I was in elementary school, they said I was a bully. I wasn't a bully. I knew what I wanted. I didn't prey on the weak. I preyed on the strong."

He learned the lessons of power early on, when a 22-year-old friend punched his 15-year-old sister in the eye. He marshaled his forces, he says, with the help of his uncles -- some of them red (Bloods) and the others blue (Crips).

Knight tells his story with relish, a rambling saga of windows blown out by gunfire, 'tween tenacity, the Hatfields vs. the McCoys in the 'hood. "We ran them out," he recalls, laughing. "I was 12 years old. But I was running around with an 'S' on my chest."

A football scholarship meant a way out of Compton. At the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, he played defensive lineman, a position that required him to be both brainy and brawny, to make snap decisions, to survey the field and calculate how to take an opponent down -- skills he would later put to use in the music industry.

After college, Knight did a brief stint with the Los Angeles Rams but he says an attempted murder arrest scuttled his career. Records show he pleaded no contest to the charge in 1987. He didn't do time. "It went to a misdemeanor." Of the victim, he says matter-of-factly, "I shot him with his own gun."


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