Big Daddy Kane Turned Down A $1 Million Death Row Deal

In the mid-1990s, Big Daddy Kane was a free agent. After nearly a decade releasing music through Cold Chillin’ Records and its Warner Bros. distributor, the Brooklyn, New York lyricist was a talent for hire. In 1994, he had released a sole MCA Records LP, Daddy’s Home, featuring involvement with JAY-Z, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, DJ Premier, and Easy Mo Bee.

Shortly after Daddy’s Home, Kane was approached by one of the top labels of the era, Death Row Records. He recently revealed that he was offered a seven-figure contract with the label led by Suge Knight.

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At 2:20:00 in his second Drink Champs appearance, BDK recalled the 1993 Budweiser Superfest concert where he performed with The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Shyheim, and Scoob. At 2:23:00, N.O.R.E. asks his guest if Eric B. attempted to sign him to Death Row East. Kane confirms the business courtship. The short-lived offshoot label had reportedly attempted to ink former Bad Boy Records star Craig Mack, among other artists. Kane had spent years being managed by Eric’s brother, the late Ant Live.

“[Eric B.] called and said, ‘Yo, Suge [Knight] is trying to build a Death Row East, and I think it might be a good look for you. He’s ready to cut a check. Are you willing to meet with him?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ So I went out [to California]; we had a meeting. Then he was like, ‘Yo, we goin’ to Vegas tomorrow. Do you want to roll?'” Kane says he agreed to join the Death Row entourage to attend what is believed to be Mike Tyson vs. Frank Bruno’s March 1996 rematch in Nevada. “We went and Suge was talking about working with Death Row artists, and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ Then Pac came over and he was like, ‘Yo, I’d love to work with Kane.'”

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Tupac insisted on bringing words to action. “He was like, ‘Well, s__t, let’s stop talkin’ about it, make it happen. So we leave Vegas—and we just got there—we leave Vegas, and take a flight back to L.A. that night, and go to Death Row’s studios.” At Can-Am Studios, Kane and Tupac recorded a song—believed to be the unreleased “Wherever U Are” (embedded below). “Me and Pac went in the studio and did a song together.” Kane also recalls Tha Outlawz showing up with word of Tupac being dissed by Mobb Deep and The Fugees, prompting one of Tupac’s several vitriolic diss tracks of the era. “So then Pac went in the studio and started writing some s__t to [them],” Kane describes. “While he was in there writing that s__t, I wrote a song for Hammer,” he shares. In 1996, M.C. Hammer had signed to Death Row following his time at Capitol and Giant Records, respectively.

Kane continues, “Then they was like, ‘Yo, Suge [is] ready to meet with you.’ And we sat, and we had a meeting. And like, when I walked in, this two big-ass rottweilers came running and were sniffing around me and stuff. And then Suge, he comes out the back [room], sits down with his cigar, sits his cigar down, and does this [claps], and both of the dogs ran and sat down next to him. So I’m [thinking], okay, this is one of them meetings.” Kane holds his face in frustration. The guest continues, “And then we talked. And he said, ‘Well, what you want?’ Keep in mind: this is back then, and I’m not sure where his head is at [as far as] how relevant he sees me.” Daddy’s Home peaked at #155, over 100 spots below 1993’s Looks Like A Job For…

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According to Big Daddy Kane, Suge Knight saw great relevance in the Juice Crew legend. “To play it safe, [I said], ‘Listen man, why don’t we just do a one-album deal with a one-year option, and say like a $400,000 advance?’ He’s like, ‘That’s an odd number. Why ain’t you just simply say $500,000?’ I said, ‘Well, $500,000 it is then.’ [Suge Knight said], ‘Man, you’re Big Daddy Kane, man. I can’t see myself signing you for less than a million. I gotta give you a million.’ He said, ‘You’re already a household name.’ And then he said something that was so appealing. He said, ‘Because you see, Pac became a household name. Snoop became a household name. And that’s what I be tryin’ to tell Tha Dogg Pound. They got to make themselves a household name, but [Daz Dillinger and Kurupt] don’t want to identify as individuals; they just want to keep screaming Dogg Pound, and that’s why them mothaf___as only sold two million.” Tha Dogg Pound’s debut, Dogg Food, released in late 1995, was certified double platinum in early 1996. Kane, who has never had a platinum release, was impressed. “I’m like, ‘Two million is a low number?’ I’m like, ‘My man.’ That was appealing to me, when he said that.”

However, Knight’s persistence ultimately gave BDK pause. “But then he was like, ‘Look, I don’t know how you’re doing financially. But if you want, I can probably just give you $100,000 in the morning.’ That’s when I knew it was time to go. I was like, ‘You’re just gonna give me $100,000?’ Nah, no go. I owe somebody $100,000? With no agreement? No.” However, Kane did not tell Knight his thoughts. “I was like, ‘I’ll let you know tomorrow.’ And then I went and switched my flights to a 6am joint, got the f__k up out of L.A., and hit Eric and was like, ‘Yeah, nah; I’m good. I’ma chill, man.'” He explains, “Suge showed mad love. It’s like… to me, that’s like the start of debt. And it just wasn’t a good [idea]; I didn’t feel it.”

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Big Daddy Kane would eventually sign with Mercury Records for 1998’s Veteranz Day, his most recent solo album. Last year, Kane reunited with Kool G Rap for “Fly Til I Die” and also partnered with Busta Rhymes and Conway The Machine for “Slap.”

#BonusBeat: Tupac and Big Daddy Kane’s “Wherever U Are:”