NEW YORK — Death Row's Back. The label has its first full album of new music in stores, more new records on the way and even a new name.
"It went from Death Row, that's the catalog," Suge Knight began to explain Thursday in Manhattan. "Then it went to Tha Row. 'Tha Row' used to be like a little slang that everybody would say. But I went to 'Death Row's Back' and that's the name of the label now: Death Row's Back. Death Row's back on the streets, back in those clubs, back in those ghettos, back in your car, in the systems."
Death Row's Back's first release is the soundtrack to Eddie Griffin's comedy concert film "Dysfunktional Family," which showcases most of his label's acts, including up-and-coming MCs Crooked I, Eastwood and Virginya Slim.
"I've been knowing Eddie for a long time," Suge explained, "and when Eddie got ready [to do the movie], he talked to a few people and a lot of people were pretty much dragging their feet. I felt like, 'I'll do the soundtrack for him.' You can't be Hollywood with it. If you bring something to the table for somebody, you do it. Plus I thought that was a great opportunity for [our] new acts. I also wanted to show some unity, too, 'cause Jay-Z is on there, Ashanti's on there, Ja Rule is on there, and Juvenile."
Aside from his recent legal troubles (see "Suge Knight Released, Must Do Anti-Gang Community Service") and the difficulty in securing a distributor for his label, Suge said it has taken him this long to put out new product because everything had to be just right.
"It just can't be about the money," he said. "A lot of artists put out a record once a year or almost like once every eight months sometimes. There's situations where people [are] turning records just to get an advance [from their label]. A soundtrack, that's one thing, but when you say Crooked I's album, Say Hi to the Bad Guy, or Kurupt's album, Against the Grain, that's on the edge. Instead of rushing it, you wanna take your time. We're not under pressure, under the gun or nothing. Anytime you do something, it's important that you be happy with it."
Despite the whispers of some who say Knight's relevance in the music industry has slipped too far for a recovery, Suge's been oblivious to the doubters.
"I didn't feel it," the burly exec said nonchalantly. "I knew at one time I was away for five years. I just didn't feel Death Row was imprisoned for five years, I felt the whole West Coast was imprisoned for five years. Death Row is history — not like saying it's over, but 'history' as a great thing that's a part of the music business. Not too many people can say they made history and then turn around and make it twice, which we will. It's gonna be great 'cause then it won't be a situation where people say, 'Hey, that was luck.' "
In August Death Row's Back will put out Crooked I's debut, and Kurupt's record will follow soon after. But Suge still has not received the full blessing from Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes' family to release her solo LP recorded under the name N.I.N.A. (see "Suge Knight Plans To Release Left Eye's 'N.I.N.A.' LP").
"The N.I.N.A. record is a special record," Knight said, explaining why it has taken so long to drop. "We didn't choose to push, to rush it out. Me and LA [Reid] are good friends, and she was an artist on [his label,] Arista. And when somebody passes, you gotta respect the family; her mother, brother, sister — there's gotta be something they want to do. Those situations can be tricky 'cause one minute somebody says, 'OK, do it,' and the next minute say, 'Don't do it' or 'How much money we gonna get?' ... So I try to just stop the controversy when dealing with that type of situation. But it's definitely coming."