Marion “Suge” Knight, the controversial co-founder of Death Row Records who has been in a California prison for nearly two years of a nine-year sentence, may be set free in a matter of weeks over a technicality. Knight, 32, originally received his sentence in a plea bargain when he was charged for kicking a man at a Las Vegas hotel while on probation. But his lawyers have argued that the plea arrangement was invalid and the punishment too harsh. The California Court of Appeals has overturned his past sentence, and experts have reportedly said that Knight will likely be released pending a new hearing.
Even if Knight is freed, the ex-con exec can’t expect his career to pick up where it left off. His label has declined sharply since its high-rolling days of five years ago when Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg led its roster. (Snoop has since defected to Master P’s No Limit label.) Plus, he’ll have a tough time finding business partners with his shady past.
“We’ve heard so much damning stuff that any record executive in his right mind would think twice about entering a business dealing with him,” says EW music writer Tom Sinclair. “Have Gun Will Travel: The Spectacular Rise and Violent Fall of Death Row Records,” a book released this year, documents the violent goings-on at Knight’s label, including the employment of vicious L.A. gang members, and one instance where Knight forced a victim to drink his urine. Knight is also being investigated for alleged tax violations, money laundering, and other infractions.
Knight’s illicit approach to business was always extreme, but it was forgiven in his heyday. The record business is less likely to overlook his ways now. “That thuggish way of doing business is not in favor now,” says Sinclair. “Master P has a shady past, but he learned from Suge’s mistakes and is running his label on the up and up, with no intimidation. P is selling hardcore gangsta rap but selling it like a legitimate businessman would. It’s conceivable that Suge has changed, but he would have to demonstrate that, and even then he has a hard road ahead of himself.”