So who owns Death Row Records in 2022? Snoop Dogg owns the label and has big NFT plans for it. Here is a brief history of ownership of Death Row Records.
Death Row Records was founded in 1991 by The DOC, Dr. Dre, Suge Knight and Dick Griffey. The label became a mainstay of West Coast hip-hop albums in the United States, dropping some of the most commercially successful hip-hop albums. Death Row Records was grossing over $100 million a year at its peak. So what happened?
Here is the origin of Death Row Records and how it all started.
In 1986, NWA’s Dr. Dre signed to Ruthless Records. He was head of production for the label and produced a large number of Ruthless Records projects – many of which were successful. Feeling underpaid for his role, Dr. Dre grew frustrated with Ruthless. After Ice Cube left in 1989, Suge Knight and the DOC began looking for a way to get away from Jerry Heller.
Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, along with DOC and Dick Griffey then began working on a new label for themselves. The name of the new music company was originally called Future Shock. The DOC claims to have suggested the name “Def Row” as a play on Def Jam.
The unknown DJ already owned the naming rights to Def Row. He says he created the name of a potential label under Morgan Creek. However, he then sold the rights to Dr. Dre and his partners in 1991. In 1992, the band settled on Death Row Records as their final name. Suge Knight approached Michael “Harry-O” Harris to establish Godfather Entertainment as the parent company of the new record label.
How did Death Row Records find the money to start? From Vanilla Ice, believe it or not.
Suge Knight then approached Vanilla Ice about unpaid royalties for “Ice Ice Baby”. Rumor has it that Knight showed up at Vanilla Ice’s hotel one night and implied that he would throw Vanilla Ice off the 15th floor balcony unless he licensed the song rights to Knight. Here’s how Vanilla Ice recalls it.
“He didn’t threaten me. He just walked in and said, ‘Look, this is my city. You want to play? You have to pay. Everybody does it,” Ice said in an interview. “He ran off the list of all these people and he said, ‘I got Eddie Murphy. I have Arsenio Hall. I have Dan Patrick here. They all pay me when they come to my town. And I say, “Well, I guess I have to pay you then.”
“He didn’t have to hang me from any balconies or slap me or anything,” the rapper continues. “It never happened. It was actually really weird, because he was nice. He was really nice. And it was really weird because he’s huge.
Records from the first days of death row
With the help of attorney David Kenner, Suge Knight began signing young inner-city California artists to Death Row Records. He also arranged for the label to handle the soundtrack for the 1992 film, Deep coverage. The single “Deep Cover” helped establish Dr. Dre as a young solo artist with Snoop Doggy Dogg as his young rap protege.
Work on The Chronicle began around this time, which featured Snoop Dogg and the rest of the label’s main roster at the time. The album sold 5.7 million records in the United States and helped establish the West Coast hip-hop style. At the time, the list of death row inmates included Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Daz, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Lady of Rage, the DOC, RBX, and many more.
After the success of The Chronic, Dr. Dre began work on Snoop Dogg’s debut album, doggy style. The album was released in 1993 and outperformed The Chronic, going quadruple platinum. After the album was released, Snoop Dogg was charged with murder.
West coast versus east coast feud
Following a visit to Tupac Shakur at the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York, Suge Knight made derogatory remarks about Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, then head of Bad Boy Entertainment. He was the leader of the New York rap scene, but Suge Knight urged disaffected BBE artists to join Death Row. This helped stir up tensions surrounding West Coast vs. East Coast rappers.
From around 1995 to 2000, the two rap scenes collided in America, often violently. In 1995, part of Suge Knight’s entourage was shot and killed. Puff Daddy has denied any involvement in the shooting and the case remains unsolved. After the shooting, Suge Knight visited 2Pac in jail and posted $1.4 million bond. 2Pac has started working on his Death Row album.
Dr. Dre grew increasingly frustrated with Suge Knight’s increasing violence within the label. He contributed two tracks on 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me. However, Dr. Dre officially left Death Row Records in 1996 to form Aftermath, which caused 2Pac to turn on Dr. Dre.
Distribution of Death Row Cases
MC Hammer and Tupac Shakur signed with Death Row Records in 1995. After Tupac’s death in 1996, MC Hammer left the label. Death also split the Eath Row roster into two separate camps. Daz was now a head producer who worked on Snoop Dogg’s second album, Tha Doggfather. Meanwhile, 2Pac locked himself in the studio and crafted The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. This album did not feature any high-profile Death Row appearances.
While on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, Tupac was asked if Death Row East was a possibility. But in 1996, Suge Knight and 2Pac were caught on surveillance camera at the MGM Grand Hotel attacking a gang member. Later that night, 2Pac was shot four times in a drive-by shooting. He died six days later at just 25 years old.
On February 28, 1997, Suge Knight was convicted of a parole violation and sentenced to nine years in prison. The conviction prompted Interscope Records to drop its distribution deal with Death Row. Suge Knight’s control over the label waned and artists like Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg, Kurupt and The Lady of Rage left.
Suge Knight maintained artistic control of the label behind bars. He launched smear campaigns against former artists like Snoop Dogg. Snoop Dogg then released a diss track titled “Pimp Slapp’d” aimed at Suge Knight. During this time, the label supported itself with various posthumous 2Pac albums and reissues by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
The Bankruptcy of the Death Row Cases
On April 4, 2006, Death Row Records and Suge Knight simultaneously filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. During this process, Suge Knight lost control of the label when unsecured creditors came forward.
- Harris – $107 million
- Internal Revenue Service – $6.9 million
- Koch Records – $3.4 million
- Interscope Records – $2.5 million
Death Row Ownership Changes – Who Owns Death Row Records?
WIDEawake Entertainment Group was established in 2006 by Lara Lavi. In 2009, the label was successfully auctioned off to the company for $18 million. WIDEawake Entertainment was able to buy the label thanks to financing provided by New Solutions Financial Corporation. But in November 2009, Lara Lavi was fired and Robert Thomson took over day-to-day operations. New Solutions Financial Corporation was eventually exposed as a Ponzi scheme.
In 2012, the company went bankrupt and sold the label and catalog to a public company called Entertainment One. The band invested $6 million to purchase the assets of Death Row’s music library.
On August 23, 2019, American toy company Hasbro announced a $4 billion purchase of eOne. This meant ownership of the label was transferred to one of the largest toy manufacturers in the United States. In April 2021, Hasbro announced that it would sell eOne Music to the BlackStone Group. This acquisition was finalized in June 2021.
Who owns the death row files? Third wave
On February 9, 2022, Snoop Dogg announced that he had acquired the rights to the Death Row Records trademarks. The sale did not immediately include the rights to the label’s catalog. On February 11, 2022, Snoop Dogg released his third studio album on Death Row Records, finally joining the label after 26 years.
Snoop Dogg’s purchase of Death Row Records did not originally include the rights to any Tupac or Dr. Dre albums. On March 4, 2022, Snoop Dogg announced that he had acquired the rights to all previously released albums on Death Row Records, including doggy style and Dr. Dr. The Chronicle. But Dr. Dre’s attorneys dispute that claim, saying Dr. Dre retains full control of the album.
On April 18, 2022, it was announced that Death Row Records would have its own streaming service. Snoop Dogg cited low-royalty services like Spotify Pay as the main reason to focus on streaming itself.