There are many figures in the relatively short history of Hip-Hop as a movement, a music and a cultural phenomenon. For every pro, there is a con—either gaining our admiration or our enmity via their service or lack thereof to our culture, respect.One central figure has earned both our respect and our anger at once. One who inspires both love and fear. One who has influenced the very music we listen to and love. That man is Marion “Suge” Knight. This AllHipHop.com piece is a part of a fictional series intent on examining reality in a different manner.
What if he didn’t get cut from pro football? What if he didn’t end up body guarding for the D.O.C.? What if he never co-founded Death Row Records with Dr. Dre? What if he never bailed Tupac out of jail? IN FACT, WHAT IF SUGE KNIGHT NEVER MET HIP-HOP AT ALL?The impact, or lack of, is felt immediately. Without Suge’s notorious muscle and the legal assistance of lawyer David Kenner, producer Dr. Dre is unable to leave Ruthless Records. Dre continues to provide the soundtrack to N.W.A.’s five times platinum album, Music to Kill To, which succeeds Straight Outta Compton (1988), 100 Miles & Runnin’ (1990 EP) and Niggaz4life (1991). Tracks such as “Beverly Hills Massacre” and “Daggers for the D.A.” send chills to the spines of Right Wing conservatives across America, prompting some politicians to take action. The furor from parents groups increases as the suburban youth of America continue to feast on NWA’s increasingly nihilistic music. Priority Records, independent distributor of Ruthless Records, is put under investigation by the feds and its assets are frozen. With no Priority records to back him, Percy “Master P.” Miller, owner of No Limit Records, out of Richmond, CA, never gets a distribution network to put out his No Limit Record Label.Warren G never gets to pass his tape off to his step brother Dre, because after many talks about how bad his Ruthless contract is, Warren becomes disheartened. As a result, his friends, Nate and Calvin from 213, never get to share their talent with the world and young Calvin aka Snoop Doggy Dogg is killed in a gang-related altercation with Philip Woldemariam. Friend and crooner Nate Dogg sings at his funeral and is discovered by an L.A. Record exec. His album Rhythm and Gangsta changes the game and Nate is cemented in hip-hop history as the most prolific hip-hop hook singer of all time.With Priority floundering, a burdened Eazy-E searches for a new distributor and makes an alliance with Lyor Cohen for the creation of Def Jam West. Jerry Heller, Eazy’s Jewish partner becomes outraged by now, having the Israeli Cohen in charge of his operation. Similarly, Lorenzo Patterson aka MC Ren decides to leave the group in a huff. With no lyricists to speak of, Dr. Dre begins a nationwide search for replacements. Fiery, political rapper Tupac Shakur is appointed Ren’s replacement on NWA. The oft-troubled rapper proves to be the perfect replacement with a lyrical approach that appears to be Ren and Cube combined. Shakur backed by Dre’s block-busting beats and Eazy-E’s maniacal ravings prove to be a match made in heaven.But all is not well, for some realities are unavoidable.Eazy- E takes ill in the summer of 1995 and Shakur is unable to stay out of trouble for long. The multi-platinum success of NWA’s1994 epic album, Heaven for a N#####’s, is muted by Shakur’s looming sexual assault charges, brought on by an night of partying gone wrong in New York. Soon after falling sick, Eazy-E’s mystery sickness is diagnosed as AIDS and he tragically dies soon after. The Godfather of Gangsta Rap never gets a chance to meet and sign four wayward youths from Cleveland named Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.With Def Jam West/Ruthless imprint a new cash cow, Cohen blows off a meeting with self-proclaimed “cakeaholic” Dame Dash and his prime artist Jay-Z. The duo and partner Kareem “Biggs” Burke head elsewhere to get their blossoming music out to the world. After signing a joint venture with Rawkus, Roc-A-Fella Records never achieves the success it would have with Def Jam and after selling 300,000 units of Reasonable Doubt, Shawn Carter realizes hustling is more profitable. But the don will eventually become powerful enough to be slapped with RICO charges from the federal government. Still in jail, Shakur has no Knight to bail him out. Eazy-E’s estate is embroiled in a legal battle with Cohen and Heller for ownership of Ruthless’ masters. Def Jam, fat from the sales of Heaven for a N####, decides to let Shakur stay in jail so he can be rehabilitated. Tupac remains in prison and his indomitable spirit is redirected under the weight of a five-to-10 year sentence. After six moths in prison, Shakur begins to write and organize prisoners to change the horrible conditions in Dannemora State Prison. The jailhouse revolutionary raises the ire of the warden and his staff, who plot the covert assassination of Shakur. The murder of Tupac Shakur sparks a week-long riot at the prison and eventually the governor signs a bill of reform after the injustice is discovered. Shakur’s 1000-page jail memoirs of poetry, letters, and prison stories become the source of a novel about his life and countless books that garner him more praise and understanding than criticism. In 1998, three years after his death, dozens of hours of tape are found in the vaults of what used to be Ruthless Records. Tamika Wright, sole executor of Eazy-E’s estate, works with Shakur’s mother Afeni to release these songs on Amaru/Phoenix Records.Where does Dr. Dre stand in all this, one may ask.Chained to Ruthless by a Draconian contract since the original days of NWA, Dre produces hit after hit for the label while reaping some level of financial comfort. After Eazy-E’s death, Tamika, now in sole possession of all rights to every artist/contract on Ruthless, grants Dre his freedom.With no artist to produce for, no label to work for, Dre falls into a bout with depression and the hit producer loses his lust for music itself. While on a trip to the Source Awards in Miami, a drunken Dre hears a sobering rambling from the speakers of some emcees in the parking lot. He stops his truck and hears the fury of a particular rapper who is tearing up everyone in the parking lot and selling his album from his trunk. As Dre nears the crowd, the young emcee has decimated the would-be conquerors in the parking lot until two remain. It is there that something inside of Dre begins to tick. In an instant, he finds his love for the game rejuvenated. He sits in the driver’s seat listening to Curtis Jackson playfully rip through the crowd with ease, playfully insulting and spitting venom. Dre’s mind explores marketing schemes, daydreaming to the beat, when suddenly the last emcee, clearly not in a sane frame of mind begins rhyming at a feverish pitch, getting in Jackson’s face. Spitting furious lyrics and almost spitting in Jackson’s face, the young challenger takes him into the dirt. Angered, one of Jackson’s crew members punches the emcee, who slips, falls and hits his head on the truck’s bumper losing consciousness. The world would never get to know the talent that would become Eminem, as he is immediately taken to a Miami-area hospital. Marshall Mathers, 27, eventually returns to Detroit to his wretched life in construction with his mother, wife Kim, and his beautiful daughter Hailey.Despite missing the other emcee that impressed him, Dre is reenergized by this experience. He barricades himself in his Beverly Hills studio with Jackson, who dons the name 50 Cent. Additionally, he revamps songs from the departed Tupac, and a few verses from Shakur’s best friend, Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace. (Incidentally, Wallace opts to stick to his hardcore East Coast Root and records his official debut with tracks produced by DJ Premiere and Pete Rock.) Dre collects the best songs he’s produced and they become his album The Chronic, an eventual classic. After shopping the project to many labels, he rejects offers from many majors. After learning from his experience with Ruthless, Dre is all too aware of the danger of signing a bad deal. And with the product in his hand, Dre can afford to be picky.Needing a financial partner, Dre turns to an old friend of his friend Tracy, the artist formerly known as the DOC. Tracy sets up a meeting with Dre and his friend, who is fresh off a spectacular sports career. Amassing a fortune in the NFL, he’s looking to invest into the music business as a means to parlay his sports earned money.Tracy: Hey Dre glad you could make it, man. I think we could really be big with this music s### man. Bigger than Def Jam, and way bigger than Eazy and them ever was!Dre: Hey, What’s up man I got this album man and it’s straight different than any s### that ever came out before man. Straight up, it’s the bomb.Friend: Hey man, glad to meet you, brother. My name is Marion…but my friends call me Suge.And this, faithful reader, is when it gets interesting.