A New Documentary Shows How Suge Knight’s American Dream Became His Nightmare

This September, Marion “Suge” Knight was sentenced to 28 years behind bars for the killing of music executive Terry Carter. For the Compton, California native, it was the stiffest punishment in a career that has marred by incarcerations, legal roadblocks, and a very public fall from power.

Twenty-five years ago, Knight co-founded and co-owned Death Row Records with Dr. Dre. By the end of 1993, the Beverly Hills, California-based label had the most exciting new artist in Rap, Snoop Doggy Dogg. In Dre, it also had Rap’s most revered producer, who was riding high in the pinnacle of the G-Funk sound following his solo debut, The Chronic one year earlier.

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Death Row would dominate the next five years, but not without a plethora of controversy to match its blockbuster music releases. The label embarked in feuds from its genesis, starting with Eazy-E, Uncle Luke, and Tim Dog and growing to verbal and sometimes physical warfare with Da Brat, Jermaine Dupri, plus B.G. Knoccout & Dre’sta to name a few. Upon adding Tupac Shakur to its roster in late 1995, the label warred with Biggie Smalls, Puff Daddy, Mobb Deep, Nas, JAY-Z, and a host of other artists.

Usually at the center of the circus was Suge Knight. Although Knight never rapped or controlled the knobs on the production side, the manager and media impresario was a star on his own label—with folklore about his strong-arm tactics to get business done, and make things happen as he wanted. However, that storied approach also cost Knight, in his pockets and time. Lawsuits followed Death Row, ranging from multi-million dollar settlements to Knight spending nearly five years behind bars, leaving almost all of his star-studded roster to vacate the label and find success elsewhere.

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In the last decade, Suge lost his label to bankruptcy as well as his master recordings. He had been shot, knocked out publicly, ridiculed by former artists, and reportedly black-balled by much of the industry. Still, the executive whose most recent overseen projects were panned, pushed on, using opportunities to stir the pot in the media.

On January 29, 2015, Knight was an alleged trespasser on the set of a commercial related to Straight Outta Compton. Knight has maintained that former partner Dr. Dre invited him. Upon leaving the set, Knight engaged in a dispute with film security consultant Cle “Bone” Sloan. The confrontation grew physical, prompting Knight to strike Sloan and Carter with his Ford Raptor pickup truck. The action killed Carter and seriously injured Sloan. That offense, coupled with additional charges landed Knight where he is today. Knight is expected to remain behind bars until he is in his late seventies.

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However, at the time of his incident in Compton, Knight had been working director Antoine Fuqua. This month, the director of Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest, and Southpaw is releasing the film on Showtime. American Dream/American Knightmare follows Suge, and includes some never-before-seen interview footage.

In a trailer, released today (December 7), Fuqua brings up the allegations that Knight orchestrated the 1997 murder of Biggie (aka Christopher Wallace). It also shows photographs from Knight’s football days, his 1995 Source Awards chiding of Bad Boy Records’ Puff Daddy, and various conversations with the man. The documentary airs on December 21.

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Training Day starred one of the men Knight hit with his vehicle, Cle “Bone” Sloan. The film also had roles for two former Death Row artists, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. The film was based on the Rampart Scandal, an LAPD internal investigation that implicated more than 70 officers of corruption. Several of the officers caught had also worked for Death Row, including Kevin Gaines, David Mack, and others. Gaines, who was killed in 1997, had previously lived with Knight’s ex-wife during the couple’s marriage.

Fuqua last directed another Denzel’s picture, this year’s The Equalizer 2. Before his sentencing, Knight participated in BET’s Death Row Chronicles, as well as last year’s Who Shot Biggie & Tupac with Ice-T and Soledad O’Brien.