An Insider Reveals How Suge & Death Row Got Those Unlikely Guest Appearances (Video)

When Death Row Records launched in the early 1990s, they used Hollywood’s SOLAR Records Studios to lay their tracks. After making “Deep Cover” for the SOLAR’s soundtrack of the same name, Dr. Dre recorded and mixed The Chronic with some of the very same consoles and equipment used to make hits for Shalamar, The Whispers, The Sylvers, and Babyface. This was the same studio where

Founded by Dick Griffey in 1977 as an offshoot of Soul Train Records, Virgil Roberts was the label’s president from 1982-1996. Roberts, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked closely with Death Row from its inception. While Suge Knight and Dr. Dre’s label would eventually break from the SOLAR facilities and acquire their own studio Can-Am space, Virgil says he visited Knight during his incarceration in the late ’90s and early 2000s and remained observant to the label.

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During that period, Death Row was mired in controversy. Tupac Shakur died. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Nate Dogg had exited, not without at least a verbal attack from remaining artists. Much of the industry distanced itself from the notorious imprint. However, artists including JAY-Z, Ja Rule, Ashanti, The LOX, Juvenile, and Young Buck appeared on Death Row material in the early 2000s, despite having been dissed or close to people attacked by the label. Death Row used its higher profile guests to promote and advertise swan song compilations such as Too Gangsta For Radio and the Dysfunktional Family soundtrack. While Suge Knight been silent about this issue, Roberts reveals another one of Tha Row’s strong-arm tactics, while detailing its storied vault of masters.

“Tupac went into the studio, and all he did until he died was record,” begins Virgil Roberts just after 9:00. Believing that Death Row had Tupac signed to a 3-album contract in 1995, the attorney says Shakur filled reels of his music. “By the way, while Suge was out there [at Death Row’s Can-Am Studios], he had—what I think—was an incredible library. Because once Suge had developed his [intimidating] reputation, when people came to town, his tax was, ‘You gotta come out and record a song for me. Otherwise, you’re gonna have problems with me.'” He then gets specific. “So [artists recorded]. So the Death Row library had…you think of an artist: JAY-Z, Mary J. Blige, he’s got tracks by all these artists that had come out and cut something for him. When he went into bankruptcy, he some like 10,000 masters that were in storage. A lot of them were unreleased [tracks]. Things like with TLC and Left-Eye…everybody that’d come to town, they’d record something. It’s an incredible library of stuff that was recorded. Now you still have the issues of whether you have the right to release it. That’s another issue. But the fact was, they got all this stuff recorded.”

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Last year, Ja Rule—who appeared on “I was in L.A. recording the joint,” Ja told N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. “Suge [Knight] calls the studio that we in over there. He’s like, ‘Yeah, I wanna speak to Rule.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, who’s this?’ He’s like, ‘It’s Suge.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, sh*t. What up, big homie. What’s happenin? Welcome home, ni**a, whatever-whatever.’ So this is, Suge’s a funny ni**a…this nigga says, ‘Where you at right now?’ I said, ‘Ni**a, you called me, ni**a. You know where I’m at, ni**a. I’m over at the studio. Come over here.’” Ja goes on to say that upon his arrival, Knight and Murder Inc. CEO Irv Gotti had a closed door meeting.

Ja and Ashanti both appeared on Death Row compilations in the 2000s. Additionally, the label’s Crooked I (nka Kxng Crooked) appeared on Ashanti’s “Baby (Remix)” video single.

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Death Row’s masters are now owned by eOne. Since the ownership of the label has shifted, it has released some material from those vaults in compilations and artist albums.