Last week we posted a clip of Suge Knight joking about Eazy-E’s death on Jimmy Kimmel. Amidst buzz for the Straight Outta Compton movie the clip went viral, but Suge is a perennially fascinating character, at once embodying both the best and the worst that the hip-hop industry has to offer.
As the head of Death Row, he embodied the label’s gangster ethos as a bodyguard turned businessman. His practices in the ‘90s soon became notorious, leading to fantastical stories – some true, some not. As Ronin Ro, author of the infamous Death Row book Have Gun, Will Travel, writes, “If Suge felt someone was trying to cheat him, the offender would be dragged into a storeroom by his goons and pounded to a bloody pulp. Death Row employees went about their filing and faxing as bloodcurdling shrieks filled the office. They saw the doorknob jerking, knowing that people were desperately trying to escape a beating.”
Today we’re looking back at some of the craziest stories about Suge’s unconventional methods. Keep in mind, not all of these tales have been substantiated, but the simple fact that they’re so well known gives credence to Suge’s enduring, intimidating presence in hip-hop.
Suge’s reputation in the rap world got its start with the story that he hung Vanilla Ice off a balcony. Suge was managing an artist named Chocolate at the time who was writing songs for Vanilla Ice, but Chocolate wasn’t seeing the royalties he was due, so Suge paid Vanilla Ice a visit to his hotel room. Here’s how they tell it:
Ice says he was never actually hung over the balcony. Suge, meanwhile, says nothing happened.
Around 1994, Jodeci started messing with Death Row and Suge Knight, and their producer DeVante Swing contributed production to Death Row soundtracks Above The Rim and Murder Was The Case. The group had been experiencing some trouble under Uptown and in an August 1995 issue of Vibe, Swing plainly stated, “We down with Suge; we signed to Uptown.”
But before all that, something terrible happened to DeVante Swing that many say permanently affected him. In the summer of ’93, a trio of men broke into his home while he was asleep, “tied him up, pistol-whipped and threatened to shoot him, and made off with $160,000 of jewelry,” according to Vibe. Many believe Suge Knight was behind the robbery, as Swing started working with Death Row shortly after and rumors later swirled that Knight was screwing Swing out of production credits. Others say Swing was allegedly sodomized, forever damaging his psyche and beginning his downward spiral that accelerated after Jodeci’s third and final album, The Show, The After Party, The Hotel. Suge’s involvement in the incident has never been confirmed.
Mark Anthony Bell
As legend has it, on September 24, 1995, Suge Knight and Puff Daddy attended the same party at the Platinum House in Atlanta. A fight broke out and Death Row employee Jake Robles, who was allegedly a fellow Piru Bloods gang member along with Suge, was shot and killed. Witnesses apparently said they saw Puffy’s bodyguards fire the fatal shots, and since Robles was a close friend to Suge, Knight wanted revenge.
Soon after, an independent record promoter in New York named Mark Anthony Bell received a mysterious call asking for Puffy’s home address. Bell refused and three months later, Bell found himself at a Hollywood Christmas party at Chateau Le Blanc with Suge Knight. Suge invited Bell into a VIP room to talk, along with six goons. According to a police report, Knight began “grilling him for the home address of Combs and his mother,” and when Bell refused, Suge’s associates began to beat him. He tried to escape off the balcony, but they pulled him back in, and Bell later told authorities he was “beaten with champagne bottles, robbed and forced to drink a glass of urine.”
Bell later recanted his version of the story after settling out of court with Death Row. When asked about the incident, Suge simply told Newsweek, “I don’t piss in champagne classes.”
In 1992, George and Stanley Lynwood were aspiring rappers hoping to get a deal with Death Row. The brothers were invited to the studio by Dr. Dre one day and found a phone they needed to use, not knowing that the phone line was solely for the purpose of receiving calls from Harry-O, the infamous and imprisoned drug dealer who helped bankroll Death Row. When Suge found the brothers using the phone, he became incensed and ordered them to strip down immediately.
Suge then beat them, pulled out a gun, and let a shot ring out to scare them. After that, he took their wallets (to know where they lived if they went to the police) and threatened to kill their families if they didn’t forget about the incident. The intimidation tactic didn’t work, and FBI agents soon raided the record label. Knight was fined and given a probation that, after many violations, led to a 9-year jail sentence.
The New Yorker
Suge was once being interviewed by a journalist from the New Yorker, and when the writer got exasperated by Knight’s evasion of his questions, he grew short and allegedly blurted out, “C’mon man, that answer’s bullshit!” Knight exploded, grabbed the writer, dragged him over to his fish tank full of piranhas, and asked “How about if my fish eat your fucking face?”
Clearly shaken, the writer sat back down, after which Suge ordered him to “rewind the tape and ask me those questions again”.
The story of Happy Walters is a hazy one. Some say the one-time manager of Wu-Tang’s RZA mocked Suge on a song, thus inviting Knight’s ire. Others say Knight was simply trying to pluck RZA from the hands of Walter. Either way, in the summer of ’95, Walters was abducted at an ATM in Los Angeles and went missing for many days. He was later found in a Long Beach hotel dazed, beaten, and covered in cigar burns. He quickly dropped RZA as a client.
Eazy-E and Jerry Heller
If you’ve seen the Straight Outta Compton movie, then you know what Suge did to get Dr. Dre off of Ruthless Records and on to Death Row. Knight showed up to the Ruthless office one day with his entourage, brandishing baseball bats and leaded pipes, and Eazy-E said, “I figured either I’d sign the papers, get my ass kicked, or fight them.” The papers for Dre’s release were promptly signed, and Jerry Heller was apparently so shaken by the incident that he hired two weightlifters, Michael and Animal, as bodyguards afterwards.