By Chris Connelly
Just two days after Marion “Suge” Knight’s release from prison — where he served five years on charges stemming from a 1992 assault — MTV News sat down with the head of Death Row Records. We talked about Death Row’s newest imprint, Tha Row, Knight’s controversial past and his label’s future. Knight praised his newfound freedom (see “Suge Knight Speaks Upon Leaving Prison For Death Row” ) and pondered the death of Tupac Shakur, the fear many have of him, and the hard-edge worldview that has governed his actions ever since his days as a young man in Compton.
MTV News’ Chris Connelly: Are you just glad to be out?
Marion “Suge” Knight: Definitely. It’s a sight, it’s a great feeling. It’s a feeling that you can’t … it’s really indescribable how much joy is in your body just to get out and be free and do the simple things.
Connelly: How much music did you get to listen to while you were in prison?
Knight: A lot. I listened to CDs, I listened to tapes. I didn’t listen to the radio that much. [I] listened to a lot of oldies, though. I love oldies: Al Green, Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight, Isley Brothers.
Connelly: What did you learn while you were in prison?
Knight: Patience … to be a better judge of character. Coming from prison, you’re more appreciative. Somebody gives you a bottle of water, you’re like, “Thank you.” Because that water means something. It might not be too good. It might not even be drinkable, but you know, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Connelly: You said you found out who your real friends were while you were in prison.
Knight: Definitely. It’s like when a person dies and they have the wake. They’re viewing the body [and] you’re gonna have people walk around [saying], “I liked him because he bought me things or he gave me money.” [There] might be women walking by and saying, “He bought me a pair of earrings” or “a coat.” Then you see people saying, “I loved him for him. Take me with him. How could he go this soon?” But it’s too late then. Either you gonna go to heaven, or you gonna go to hell. In prison, you get that same feeling. You get to see it with your friends. You get to see who cared about you, who don’t care about you. You get to see which companies had their eyes on your prize and the first chance they get, they [try] to steal your acts. The only difference is that you get another chance. By having another chance … how’s the movie [line] go? “Chucky’s back”? I guess Chucky is back.
Connelly: What’s the name of your label now?
Knight: Tha Row.
Connelly: It changed. How come?
Knight: As far as Death Row Records, it’s always going to be Death Row, because I own my catalog [and] my masters. You’ve got those classics from All Eyez on Me to Makaveli to The Chronic to Doggystyle. It’s always going to be Death Row because of the catalog. The catalog is what you call the past, and the past is the past. Now it’s Tha Row. I feel like Death Row Records was great, it was fun. With Tha Row, it’s still the same logo, but it’s Tha Row. I’m proud of the new acts. I’m proud of the future. It’s time for changes.
Connelly: Why should an artist sign with Tha Row versus all the other labels out there?
Knight: I go like this. [Holds up two hands] That’s 10. If I hear something about [Master] P [or] any other new label [Holds up hands again] … what’s that gonna mean in the long run? Come talk to me in 10 years. See where you’re at. If you’re still in business in 10 years — and you’d be lucky enough to own your masters — then we could sit down and talk and do some business. Ten years from now, I’m still gonna be doing what I’m doing.
Connelly: You lost a lot of artists while you were in prison. How do you feel about those guys now?
Knight: I’m still gonna make my money no matter what. I don’t care who put out a record, who did what. If there is an artist on Death Row, my kids [are] still gonna eat off that. Death Row artists got Death Row babies, they got Death Row wives. They got everything they got because of Suge Knight and Death Row.
Connelly: Why are so many people afraid of you?
Knight: I really can’t answer that. I don’t put my energy into thinking about what they [are] doing.
Connelly: Do you think intimidation is an important part of your success?
Knight: No. If I let you tell me [that], you’re gonna think I’m an idiot. There’s no way a person can intimidate 5 million people, 7 million people, to go and buy our CDs. You think I [have the] time to go to every door, knock on the door, and say, “Hey, if you don’t buy my record … I’m gonna be pissed off”? There’s no substitute for good work. If I was 5’1″ and 160 pounds, you’d say I’m a genius. But since I’m a large guy, you figure that I’m intimidating somebody. It comes from here [Points to head]. See, I’m not an idiot. Look at my background. I’m the guy who went to college, graduated from college, and was on the honor roll and the dean’s list. I’m not trying to win no votes or be American pie boy.
In the ghetto, you see somebody do something and you tell on them, [then] you’re a snitch. In the suburbs, you see somebody do something and you tell on them, you’re an eyewitness. What they don’t understand is [that] they are still supposed to be from the ghetto, so they need to stop being snitches. Period.
Connelly: In your opinion, the worst you can say about a man is that he’s a snitch?
Knight: At worst he’s a rat. A rat will do anything. If a rat can’t get no food, he’ll eat his own waste. That’s those type of guys.
Connelly: What’s the biggest misconception about you?
Knight: I think the biggest misconception about me probably is … I don’t prey on the weak. I ain’t a bully, but I ain’t no saint, either. I ain’t gonna sit up here and tell you all through school I ain’t kicked a little ass. But I ain’t never preyed on the weak. I ain’t never gone and picked on a guy that I knew I could beat up, even as a kid. People wanna make me seem like I’m [that] type of guy.
Connelly: Are you afraid of anybody?
Connelly: Just of God?
Knight: Just of God. When it’s time for me to go, it’s time for me to go. You know there’s only one way to get to heaven: You die. I think I’d feel cursed if I was an old man, if I was 140 years old still living on Earth. When I start getting old, I’m going to start ending my prayers like, “Lord, it’d be a good day to die.” I don’t wanna be 130 years old with a diaper on, all my friends dead and gone. I wanna get to heaven, come get me!
Connelly: Do you know who killed Tupac?
Knight: No. I do not know who killed Tupac. The thing about it is, everybody asks that question, and [it doesn't] bother me, because they know I love ‘Pac. [I] still got love for ‘Pac, and I represent ‘Pac better than anybody who was ever close to him.
Connelly: A lot of people think Orlando Anderson killed Tupac.
Knight: OK. If a lot of you people thought that, that means the authorities knew that. So … [Holds arms open wide] what’s the problem?
Connelly: Do you believe that?
Knight: What I believe is not important. I doubt that, but I’ll tell you this: Even if I did think that about anybody, it ain’t my job to snitch. I would never snitch on nobody. You have all these people that call themselves Christians, godly people, and they support telling. … If you’re not man enough to believe in an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, then you’re ratting on them. I would never tell on nobody.
Connelly: But you would get vengeance somehow?
Knight: I think you put that in God’s hands. Wouldn’t you?
Connelly: I don’t know. It’s more, what would you do?
Knight: Like I said, I would put it in God’s hands.
Connelly: So, it’s out of your hands? Somebody will settle it?
Knight: If anybody does anything, you have to realize one thing: It’s up to God to make those decisions. God made us. He’s the Father. It’s not up to me, it’s not up to you. We’re not supposed to take the law into our own hands, right?