Monday, June 12 at Noon ET

The Life and Times of Suge Knight

Rap mogul Marion
Rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight Jr. and Death Row Records, the label he co-founded that helped bring gangsta rap to mainstream audiences in the early '90s, have been no strangers to controversy.

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Suge Knight
Rap Mogul, Founder of Death Row Records
Monday, June 18, 2007; 12:00 PM

Suge Knight was online Monday, June 18 at noon ET to discuss his new reality TV show, his turbulent life as the founder of Death Row Records and the Sunday Arts profile of him.

A transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: Suge will be on in just a few minutes.

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washingtonpost.com: We're having some technical problems, Suge will be joining us in about 10 minutes.

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Boston: What did you think of the article?

Suge Knight: I just got -- I haven't had a chance to read the whole thing; it has things in it that aren't true, but I haven't really had a chance to read it.

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Philadelphia: What led you to decide to try the world of television? Are you enjoying it, or it is more of a pain that one has to put up with?

Suge Knight: At first, when I started doing it, it was more of a pain. But the new project I'm doing is more exciting, because I'm dealing with kids -- I get about 20 troubled kids, kids in trouble for burglary, attempted murder, things like that. They're 20 kids who are gang members, white gangs, black gangs, Mexican gangs -- and they're all going to be in the same house. They'll learn to use computers, how to study, I'm going to have NFL players, NBA players, boxers, people. This isn't the average reality show where people get up in the morning with their makeup. This is 20 real people, and I'm gong to be there to supervise them.

When you're dealing with TV and with movies, people dont take it as serious as they do with music. If a rapper does a song about shooting people on the block, and goes into a restaurant or grocery store, people grab their purses because they're afraid the person is violent. With TV and movies, people know it's okay, it's just a script. Even with our governor, who played "The Terminator" -- people would embrace him and ask for his autograph, they wouldn't expect him to shoot up the store.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Give us a preview of some of the big names that will appear on your reality show

Suge Knight: I'm not sure which show will come first, but it will be the people I feel the kids can relate to, and will give them a positive spin -- and I mean people like Lil' Wayne, TI, it's a long list of people. But even more importantly, I'm going to reach out to people like Sean Penn, who is a friend, and he's been involved in a lot of things, he was in "Colors" which means a lot to the inner city. I don't want to give the whole script away.

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Rockville, Md.: Suge -- From many of your employees, it sounds like you are a great and generous guy to work for (provided, you know, they don't sue you or get shot mysteriously). Got any openings?

Suge Knight: Ha -- we've got some openings in things we're doing. I was really stepping away from the music side of things because of the change of it -- it's brought me back to doing some other things in the business. I'm doing some things for Barry Hankerson, who was a liason with Blackground Records, which was the home of Aliyah, the guy who represented R. Kelly until the tapes came out, they parted separte ways -- I have a lot of respect for him to represent R.Kelly and then leave him. I'm looking forward to working with him and doing some more refreshing things. I always feel like I'm defending my friends and we're defending the ghetto -- because no matter what my state in life, those are my peers. I grew up in Compton, and that's the ghetto. If you grow up in the suburbs, you hear of people dying of old age, car wrecks, cancer. In the city, it's always people dying of violence or stray bullets.

The thing is, there are people who know me, but I don't know them, but they get shot or whatever, and they still put them in the article as one of my employees or whatever.

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Washington, D.C.: What's up Suge?? You have had and may have in the future a lot of influence with the hip hop community. What's different now that you are back on the scene again? Or should I say how have things changed if anything at all?

Suge Knight: Well, the things that have changed is that my eyes are opened wider on the business side of it. There's no difference in dealing with the music business with the majors than any other competition. The music business is way more cutthroat than any other business...I think it's time that we see a union in the music business -- you have a union in baseball, basketball, football -- and if a guy puts in 10 years in the music business and makes million dollars or a billion dollars for a company, he's finished. We need a health plan, life insurance, things like that.

But as far as the music business, I'm doing something with a guy named Rock Star, who is completely different than what you would expect Suge Knight to be involved with...he's like a 2000s MC Hammer in the way he can dance and sing and rap with a lot of energy. There's a female audience named Butter who has a lot of vocal abilities, and her pen is crazy. And they guy in the article, Young Life, who's great -- he's really from Compton, he's really from the block, but he's fresh and young, and he can rap about what's going on in the city and what's going on, but can keep a positive spin. And the same thing with Rock Star -- there's a joy involved. So it's like handpicking -- i'm only working with 3-4, but they're handpicked. People talk about Imus and the n-word, but those only come up in the politics side of things, when people want to get over and score points, or play games with Interscope or Sony. Eminem can use the n-word and the b-word about black women, but because he's on Universal or Interscope, he'll never get targeted or protested.

In the 50s-60s, people made music to express themselves, and now its all about the business.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the most common question that people ask you that you wish would be answered once and for all?

Suge Knight: You know, that's a good question -- I don't think we have enough time today to answer that question. No matter what it is, I think people want the answer they want, they don't want the truth. My parents told me that if you tell a lie, you have to tell that lie everytime. So it's easier to tell the truth. I try to tell the truth, but people want you to say what they want you to say, so who knows?

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Philladelphia: Will the Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes album ever see the light of day? Last I heard, Death Row had the rights.

Suge Knight: Well, you know, Lisa was, when she came to the Row, she was Nina, and she came in so much of a spiritual, positive way, it never dawned on me to put a record out for profit. I put an album together with her that was awesome, and at the time LA Reid was leaving Arista for Def Jam, and he's a great guy, and I didn't want to pursue it without his involvement. But if we have input from her family, and they want to pursue it, i'm ready to go.

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Baltimore: Suge, Who are your top five MCs of all time. I say

1 Biggie

2 Jay-Z

3 Nas

4 Rakim

5 Tupac

Suge Knight: I would say, def. Pac and Biggie -- I would say, of all time, you have to say Jay-Z was great. I would say, at the early beginning, Snoop, def. did songs that were great, great songs. I would bet on Lil Wayne, TI, Life and Rock Star. But def. Biggie, Pac and Jay-Z.

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Arlington, Va.: How will hop-hop be different 10 years from now? What will change in the industry and what will change with the music?

Suge Knight: What's going to be different is that hip hop will come back to the rightful owners, the people who create it. People say hip hop is dead, but it's not dead, it's not being produced by the people who own it. It's corprorate -- Universal now owns Def Jam, AM, Interscope, Polygram, and Interscope owns Aftermath, Shady, I can go down the list. The people who make these records, who market and promote, are either people who make 15-20 million a year to have an office, security, people driving them around, and they never get to hear the music we put out. There's too much overhead going to the executives and the security detail -- and all the people who work for them are their friends, or nephews, and they have no idea how to make hip-hop...even on the same labels -- 50 had a great career, but could be even better; Biggie could have been better. Labels are caught up in the same thing -- the more negative things you say about somebody, the more records you sell. Which isn't true. They create feuds, and you don't get to see other sides of the artist...and the artists tear each other down.

Every executive in the business now is probably making 50 times as much as an artist -- all the overhead goes into the security of the executives and the talent. So how are the fans who love music going to get the best music when the money that should be making the record and promoting the record goes to executives cars and security?...We have to stop using the same songs with 5-10 artists. You can hear the same track on 8-10 artists -- they might slow it down or speed it up, but it's the same track. No one's creating anything new.

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Suge Knight: God makes us who we are, and we all have choices in life, and it's not about good choices or bad choices -- when people decide to get in the music business, and they like the entertainment side of it -- the reason why rap was so popular, we would go in the studio and spend $50,000 to make an album, $50,000 to make a video, and $100,000 to promote it, and sell 1-2 million albums. What we were doing was being smarter businessmen than the majors. What happened was that when it got corporate, and the majors got involved, it would cost $1 million or $2 million to make an album, or so they say. But that's all lies, it's just a kickback. The artist has to learn to have more power -- if the label isn't catering to the artist or the fans, you have your rights. The music business would be much better, for the youth and the kids, if they start hiring employees that understand the kids. Interscope don't have any employees from the inner city, unless it's the guys they stole from Death Row...my money could never, ever compete with Universal's money. These executives don't find talent, they get them from the guys in the inner city who find the talent. ... There's not one record company that's really owned by anybody who knows how to make music. All these other companies are owned by the majors, and they're going to put out the records how they feel they should, and those albums will never, ever sell as much as they used to. I'm going to end this by saying when I first got in the industry, people said oh, Suge, he started his company with drug money, but so did Eazy-E, Luther said he started his label with drug money -- no one went in and tried to seize these guy's companies, because the were owned by the majors...I was just trying to do what was right by my label and for my artists.

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