"I feel I was taught a lesson. One minute I’m running a multimillion-dollar business, the next I was in prison and my artists weren’t my artists anymore."


An Exclusive Conversation With Suge Knight

By Roy Trakin

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Suge stiffens when I bring up the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.—two killings that many have insinuated he had something to do with.

"All I remember is getting a bullet in my head," he says of the Tupac murder. "It's like my grandmother said, ‘Whatever hand you're dealt, that's what you have to deal with.' You can't justify what goes on in life."

As for telling NBC's Brian Ross he wouldn't help the police even if he knew the killer, he remains adamant: "I've never tried to be a detective. We're not in heaven—this is the real world. Whoever did this, they know who they are and they have to live with themselves. I would never be a snitch. We have to forgive, not punish. Jesus died for our sins. Who are we to judge? I try to go by society's rules as best as I can, but I don't like rats."

He denies any involvement with Biggie's March '97 shooting death as well, insisting, rightfully, that he was in prison at the time. The police have tried to link him to the crime through a car that allegedly was on the scene and was owned by Suge but have come up with no conclusive proof. "They were ready to let me out of prison until Biggie was shot, then they put the judgment on hold," he said. "I was never accused of having anything to do with it…but I'm still stuck in jail."

He goes on to claim his deals with Tupac, Snoop and Dr. Dre were more than fair, and that he's since come to terms with Afeni Shakur to release a massive, four-CD box set on the rapper he's dubbed "The Safe" because it will come in the shape of one.

Clearly, Suge Knight prefers to look ahead. "I don't want to talk about the past because we can't change it. We have to move forward and give these new kids the opportunity to reach their own goals. I want to enlighten them and make them entrepreneurs. I may not be much of a rapper, but I'm a good businessman."

Suge will soon follow up his best-selling home video with an accompanying audio CD, "Too Gangsta For Radio." When I suggest he sign hebe-hoppers M.O.T., he laughs, jokes of a jailhouse conversion ("I'm now a little Jewish myself") and suggests renaming them Hamen after the Purim villain.

When pressed, he'll talk about his prison experience, writing for the first time since college, getting into shape when he first spotted his fat stomach "hanging out over this little bitty bunk," which prompts him to poke me in the belly and urge me to lose weight.

"It makes you appreciate what you don't have—a refrigerator, gourmet food. It's going to be wonderful just to have a lobster and a steak. Prison is a place nobody wants to be… I view this as God making me a man, testing me, having me survive in the jungle, making the lions and tigers my friends."

While insisting he doesn't consider himself rehabilitated because he's done nothing wrong, he still admits: "If you are mortal, you make mistakes. But when someone puts a period behind something, why put a question mark? I look at it like this: Whatever I needed to learn, I've learned. I know I'm wiser, smarter, more disciplined, stronger and more spiritual. I've grown for the better. I don't stay the same; I don't thrive on the negative.

"I feel real safe here because I know my environment—I know what I'm dealing with. It's like the devil you know is better than the one you don't."

On the seeming current calm in the gang wars, Knight says: "There's always going to be a fascination with what's going on in the ghetto. People might not hang out like they used to, but when I get home they'll come around because they're still out there."

As for the current N.W.A. reunion, Knight reiterates he holds the rights to the band name but says about the current "Up In Smoke" tour: "It's good, but they should have kept it more in the community. And they're using the same props as we did in '92—the skull, the low-rider car…"

He says happiness is now the most important thing in his life. "I'd rather have an artist sell a million records and appreciate me than sell five million and have them be unhappy with me.

"The next generation is key. I owe them a chance so they don't end up in jail like me. I would never bring harm to kids. Society paints their own vision; they believe what they want to believe.

"I feel I was taught a lesson. One minute I'm running a multimillion-dollar business, the next I was in prison and my artists weren't my artists anymore. People have to ask themselves if they've been fair to me. If somebody is your friend, they should be loyal, especially for someone who did so much good for them.

"But I've paid my debt. I won't give anyone the satisfaction of admitting defeat. I'm a better man. I needed to sit back and watch for a while...take a break from the fast lane. I have prayed for the best and prepared for the worst. I'm not counting the days or months until I'm out, because that's hard time. If your friends love and respect you, that's all you can expect."

Knight gets up to leave, slowly lifting himself out of his chair with his cane.

"I'm the only one left," he says. "Everyone else has sold out. Death Row is the last of the U.S.-only labels. I'm living the American dream."

With that, prisoner #K43480 walks back to his jail cell.

Go Back To Part One

Spotify and Apple Music are speaking a new language. (8/10a)
UMG jazz label has a new chief. (8/10a)
The stars of tomorrow—and one star of the moment (8/11a)
It's neck and neck at the turn. (8/11a)
Available online for the first time (8/3a)
How they're reshuffling the biz deck.
Thoughts on a changing landscape.
It's everywhere.
Another stunning return.

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