Suge Knight Speaks Upon Leaving Prison For Death Row

Hip-hop mogul says it 'felt magical' to return to work following five-year sentence.

LOS ANGELES — Marion "Suge" Knight walked out of an Oregon federal prison on Monday, flew home to Los Angeles, smoked a cigar and hit the Dairy Queen.

"The first thing I did when I got [off] the plane was fire me up a nice cigar," the Death Row Records chief said while riding in a limousine en route to a business meeting Tuesday (August 7).

"I stopped by a fast-food place and got me a cheeseburger and some french fries and a strawberry shake. It felt really good to dig in my pocket and [pull out cash] and pay for a meal. To press money again felt really good."

Knight was released from a Sheridan Federal Correction Institute Monday after serving nearly five years of state and federal time for violating probation.

After satiating his appetite, Knight proceeded to Death Row offices in the Wilshire District, greeted his employees and settled into his desk. "It felt magical," he said. "It felt magical to be out of prison, the vibe of the staff, the feeling of home, the new artists. It makes it exciting all over again."

Knight said the ultimate celebration came later, when he returned to the studio to oversee recordings by two Death Row artists signed during his incarceration. "I celebrated last night with making a smash hit on J. Valentine, and finished up a smash hit on Crooked I, who everybody says is the best in the West. They really got me jazzed and pumped up."

He capped the night off by heading over to his parents' house at 4 a.m. to surprise his mother, whom he described as "overjoyed with tears."

Knight had been locked up since late 1996 for violating probation by assaulting a man in a Las Vegas hotel, which occurred just hours before star Death Row rapper Tupac Shakur was mortally wounded in a drive-by shooting.

The assault violated Knight's state probation on his conviction for attacking two rappers at a recording studio in 1992, as well as his probation in a federal case in which he pleaded no contest in 1995 to trafficking firearms.

He completed the state sentence at Mule Creek State Prison in April and spent a month shuffling between facilities before arriving at Sheridan to finish his federal time.

Even before his freedom was official, Knight approached his last morning in prison like a businessman getting ready for work. "I just picked up like I'd never left," he said. "I didn't come out with the attitude, 'Poor me and

sorry me, I've been gone five years.' I woke up Monday and took a nice shower and got dressed and came to my office and went to work and went to the studio and put my energy into music."

Walking across the prison line brought emotions so intense he couldn't put them into words, he said. "I'd say it's gotta be really indescribable to actually know that you're walking away from prison walls and little bitty cells. There's nothing better than knowing you're walking to freedom. [Prison's] a learning experience. It was something I definitely needed because it made me a smarter, stronger, better man."

Death Row Records was a dominant force in hip-hop for much of the '90s before suffering a series of blows, including Shakur's death, Knight's incarceration and the departures of co-founder Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. In

addition to Crooked I and Valentine, the label signed unknown acts such as SKG, the Realest and Swoop G while Knight was behind bars.

Knight said he would revive the label by focusing on young MCs from the streets. "My immediate plan is to give opportunities back to the inner city, back to the ghetto," he said. "I feel rap and hip-hop are a young man's game, and a lot of these guys who are making money ... are 40-year-old, 35-year-old grown men who don't go to the ghetto no more.

"Those kids in the ghetto who are really living that life and writing those rhymes — it's time for them to get their chance to take care of their family and get them out the ghetto. I'm that man who believes in giving

opportunities. My main goal is to go searchin' for not only Death Row's next star, but the world's next star. Because it's time."

In anticipation of Knight's return home, Death Row purchased a billboard near the company's Wilshire Boulevard headquarters reading, "Welcome Home, Suge, from the staff of Tha Row and Suge Knight Films." Last week, the

label released Death Row Presents ... Tha Dogg Pound 2002, featuring Tupac, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Nate Dogg (see "Tupac Claims To Be 'Biggie Annihilator,' Snoop Dissed On Death Row Dogg Pound LP").

(This story was updated at 8:49 P.M. ET on Tuesday, August 7, 2001.)