Death Row Records was the most feared record label in the music industry. They are the 2nd most important hip-hop record label of all time. For the full scoop on Death Row and a video playlist of its classics, click here.

#2 Death Row Records

The history of Death Row Records reads like a season of The Sopranos. Suge Knight was the Godfather figure who rose to power as quickly as anyone ever in entertainment, and he ruled with an iron fist once he got to the top. The label was populated with an odd mix of gang members and off-duty cops and, not surprisingly, was rife with conflict. Death Row infamously handled inter-office disagreements by sending people to the “beat down closet” to work it out. As everyone knows, Death Row started a conflict with Bad Boy Records that escalated to a full-fledged war between the East and West Coasts of the hip-hop nation. And, as with all wars, it came with many casualties. As dramatic as all of this was, none of it would have mattered had Death Row not been one of the most important record labels in all of music. Founded in 1991 by Dr. Dre, Suge Knight and Michael “Harry-O” Harris, Death Row was the second of 3 labels built around the prodigious talents of Dr. Dre. While Dre had had tremendous impact at Ruthless Records, the music was primarily embraced by hardcore rap fans. At Death Row, Dre was able to completely re-define POP music (not just hip-hop). His patented G-funk sound (combining the samples and sounds of Parliament/Funkadelic with gangsta rhymes) took the nation by storm and dominated the airwaves and Billboard charts. In fact, in little more than 3 years, Death Row sold nearly 30 million albums. At the apex of its popularity (ironically, shortly after Dr. Dre left the label, penniless, to start Aftermath Entertainment), Death Row had penetrated the mainstream cultural consciousness so deeply that the label and its key participants were the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story. As important as that cover was as a symbol that hip-hop culture was now pop culture, it was also a symbol of the beginning of the end for Death Row Records. As mentioned, Dre had recently left the label and 8 months later Tupac was shot and eventually succumbed to the fatal wounds. One by one the label’s key artists left and Suge Knight was eventually imprisoned for one beat down too many. Contrary to its name, however, the music of Death Row Records will live on forever. Here’s a playlist of some Death Row classics:

Previously: #20 Rakwus Records, #19 Loud Records, #18 Select Records and #17 Fresh Records, #16 Rap-A-Lot Records, #15 Ruffhouse Records, #14 Uptown Records, #13 Cold Chillin’ Records, #12 No Limit Records, #11 Jive Records, #10 Aftermath Entertainment, #9 Roc-A-Fella Records, #8 Cash Money Records, #7 Ruthless Records, #6 Profile Records, #5 Tommy Boy Records, #4 Sugar Hill Records, #3 Bad Boy Records