The music producer Suge Knight is told he must stand trial for murder, here are the hair-raising incidents that made him notorious
The music producer Marion “Suge” Knight has been told that he must stand trial for murder, following a “fatal traffic incident” in Los Angeles in January in which one man died and a second was seriously injured.
Knight faces one count of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of hit-and-run, stemming from the incident which started with a row on the set of Straight Outta Compton, a biopic about the influential rap group NWA.
Last month the judge set bail at $25 million, at which point Knight, who has diabetes, collapsed and was taken to hospital, however this has since been reduced to $10 million.
Knight, 49, handed himself in to police after he was named as a suspect in the hit-and-run, which took place outside a burger restaurant in Compton at around 3pm (11pm GMT). He is now being held on police bail of $2m (£1.3m).
Suge Knight hands himself in while smoking a cigar (APTN)
Knight’s lawyer, James Blatt, made the following statement: “He [Knight] was in the process of being physically assaulted by two men and in an effort to escape he unfortunately hit two (other) individuals. He was in his car trying to escape.”
Police at the scene in Compton, Los Angeles (AP)
For those familiar with Knight’s career as the founder and CEO of the hip-hop record label Death Row Records, his latest arrest fits a pattern of violence and criminality that stretches back to the 1980s.
Who is Suge Knight?
Knight was the founder and CEO of gangsta rap label Death Row Records, the biggest hip-hop record label of the 1990s.
At its peak, Death Row sold more than 18 million albums in four years, earning revenues of more than $325million. Its roster of artists included Dr Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Tupac Shakur.
However, sales and profits declined after Knight was sent to prison for parole violations in 1996. Knight was declared bankrupt in 2006 and his company was auctioned off.
Why is he called “Suge”?
Knight’s real name is Marion Hugh Knight Jnr. He was called Sugar Bear (subsequently abbreviated to Suge) by his father because he was such a “sweetie”.
Marion “Suge” Knight, the founder of Death Row Records (Eyevine)
What did he do before making his name as a record producer?
Knight had a brief career in American football as a defensive linebacker for the LA Rams. He also worked as a security guard for the R&B singer Bobby Brown.
Here are some of the hair-raising incidents that have made Knight one of the most combustible – and feared – figures in the American music industry:
1) Suge Knight vs Vanilla Ice
One of Knight’s early musical protégés claimed to have written and produced Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby two years before it became a worldwide hit. So Knight visited Vanilla Ice’s Beverley Hills hotel to negotiate a compensation package.
According to hip-hop legend, Knight threatened to throw Vanilla Ice, whose equally improbable real name is Robin Van Winkle, off a 15-storey balcony, underlining the seriousness of his intentions by dangling Van Winkle over the edge by his ankles.
Van Winkle claims Knight merely implied the threat with a menacing glance to the awaiting concrete.
However, Van Winkle still signed over publishing rights worth $4million dollars, later admitting, “I needed to wear a diaper that day. I was very scared.”
The rapper Vanilla Ice, whose real name is Robin Van Winkle
2) Suge Knight vs Easy-E
Knight went to similarly extreme lengths to prise Dr Dre away from his contract with Ruthless Records, which was run by Dre’s fellow NWA member (and former Crip drug dealer) Eazy-E (real name: Eric Wright).
According to Wright, Knight arrived at his offices with an uncompromising team of “negotiators” brandishing lead pipes and baseball bats. “I figured either I’d sign the papers, get my ass kicked, or fight them,” he recalls.
“It was like The Godfather,” said Ruthless Records’ lawyer Michael Borbeau. Wright apparently swallowed hard, signed the contract release forms and, despite a subsequent string of unsuccessful law suits, Dr Dre (real name: Andre Young) joined Death Row, making millions for Knight with his multi-platinum solo debut, The Chronic.
NWA’s manager, Jerry Heller, felt so intimidated by Knight he hired a pair of weightlifters called Animal and Michael to act as his bodyguards.
When Knight next arrived at Heller’s offices to be told that Heller was “out”, he forced the weightlifting bodyguards to crawl around on all fours pretending to be dogs.
3) Suge Knight vs The New Yorker
While being interviewed in his studio offices by a journalist from The New Yorker, Knight became increasingly annoyed by the writer’s persistent questions about his volcanic temper.
After another Knight evasion, the exasperated writer said, “C’mon, man. That answer’s bulls—!” Knight erupted, dragging the writer across the room and shoving his head towards a large tank of piranhas, asking with Paxman-esque directness, “How about if my fish eat your f—— face?”
Suitably shaken up, the writer was thrown back into his chair and meekly obeyed Knight’s instruction to “rewind the tape and ask me those questions again”.
Knight and the rapper Tupac Shakur (AP)
4) Suge Knight vs Happy Walters
Influential rap manager Happy Walters (who looked after major hip-hop artists including Cypress Hill and the RZA) foolishly mocked Knight on a soundtrack.
Soon after, while withdrawing money from an ATM machine, Walters disappeared, leaving just his wallet behind.
Three days later, Walters was found wandering round LA’s Long Beach, incoherent, shaved and naked – and, claims one associate, covered in cigar burns.
Walters refused to discuss what happened to him, or who was responsible, but he quickly severed ties with his lucrative roster of rappers, letting one of the Wu-Tang Clan’s most influential members, the RZA, go for nothing.
5) Suge Knight vs people using his phone
Knight was apparently in a jolly mood before he spotted an aspiring rapper called Lynwood Stanley using his phone while Knight was waiting for an incoming call.
“Say, Blood, don’t be on the phone,” Knight told him.
“Don’t be coming at me with all that gangbang s—. I’m not from LA,” Stanley retorted.
Minutes later Stanley and his brother George were lying beaten and naked in the Death Row back room with Knight pointing a semi-automatic pistol at their heads.
A shot was fired (the bullet lodged in the wall) and Knight, aping a scene from GoodFellas, removed an ID card from Stanley’s wallet to keep a record of their home address and prevent them from going to the police.
It didn’t work and, while Death Row staff were still mopping up a pool of blood, the office was raided by FBI agents.
Knight was fined and given a probation that, after subsequent violations, led to a nine-year prison sentence.
6) Suge Knight vs mounted police
During a music convention in New Orleans, Knight, Dr Dre and two of their associates were arrested. This sparked a Wild West-style brawl in their hotel lobby.
According to one journalist, “The Death Row people had this big-ass fight and the f—— New Orleans Police Department – being that they’re also a little psycho – rode their horses into the hotel.”
“They saying I beat up seven police and incited a riot?” Suge said later. “Damn, that ain’t saying much for your motherf—— police force if I beat up seven police.”
CRIMES & MISDEMEANOURS
1987 – OCTOBER
After an argument with his girlfriend culminating with him slicing off her ponytail in the street, Knight is arrested for assault. Later in the month he allegedly shot a man while stealing his car, and was given two years’ probation.
Knight is arrested for breaking a man’s jaw with a pistol. Despite pleading guilty, he received a $9,000 fine and two years’ probation.
Knight is alleged to have dangled the rapper Vanilla Ice from a hotel balcony in a dispute over royalties for his hit song Ice Ice Baby.
Suge Knight appears in court in October 2014 (AP)
1992 – JULY
Aspiring rappers Lynwood and George Stanley are beaten by Knight after he catches them using the company phone at a recording studio. The brothers are stripped naked and warned by Knight that he’ll come after their families if they call the police. Nonetheless, Knight is arrested and, after a three-year legal fight involving lawyer Johnnie Cochrane and the alleged offer of a recording contract to the prosecutor’s teenage daughter, he receives a five-year suspended sentence. The brothers were eventually given a recording contract with Death Row, but made no music.
1993 – MAY
Knight and his entourage are alleged to have beaten Roderick Lockett, a security guard at Prince’s Los Angeles club Glam Slam, so hard that he needed hours of surgery to repair his spleen.
Shortly after a shouting match with Knight over a business disagreement, House of Pain manager Happy Walters goes missing. He reappears a few days later, wandering the streets naked, with a shaved head, covered in cigarette burns and claiming to suffer from amnesia.
1995 – DECEMBER
Record promoter Mark Anthony Bell is allegedly beaten with champagne bottles and forced to drink his urine after refusing to provide Knight with the address of his rival Sean “Puffy” Combs. Bell refused to press charges after reportedly receiving a $600,000 settlement and moving to Jamaica. Knight later denied the charge: “I don’t p— in champagne glasses.”
1996 – OCTOBER
Steven Cantrock, an accountant with respected accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand, alleges that Knight had beaten him, forced him to his knees and made him sign a document in which he “confesses” to stealing $4.5 million from Coopers client Death Row Records. Cantrook, who briefly went into hiding for his own protection, was subsequently let go by Coopers amid doubts over the veracity of his claims.
Suge Knight and Tupac Shakur in 1996 (AP)
1997 – FEBRUARY
Knight is sentenced to nine years in prison for parole violation, after being caught on camera beating up a rival at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vagas, in September 1996. Death Row artist Tupac Shakur, who assisted in the beating, was shot dead hours later. Knight was freed from jail early, in 2001, and spoke to reporters on his release: “I’m stress-free,” he said. “I want to try to do better things. Watch me.”
2002 – DECEMBER
Knight is found “consorting with a gang member”, in violation of his parole, and sentenced to 61 days in jail.