Former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight stands 6-foot-3 and weighs in around 320 pounds, according to a 2008 Las Vegas Metropolitan Police arrest report. And during Death Row’s 1990s success, when it was home to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and grossed more than $100 million (according to a 1996 Lynn Hirschberg New York Times Magazine article), Knight was known to use his size and general Compton persona to intimidate. It was Knight, after all, who basically called out Sean “Puffy” Combs at the 1995 Source Awards, arguably the first shot across the bow of the ’90s East Coast vs. West Coast rap wars.
And while these days Knight certainly doesn’t truck the financial clout or muscle he once did (see: a 2007 Washington Post profile that reported Knight was “hopping aboard the positivity train”), the man and his label certainly cut a formidable profile in the popular imagination. Which makes local independent journalist John Potash’s claim that Death Row was a U.S. intelligence front against black activism both initially hard to believe and absolutely unnerving. “I believe that Death Row Records, which included dozens and dozens of police officers at all levels, according to a high-level police officer that investigated them, was a front company and was trying to continue penal coercion and mess up [Tupac Shakur’s] head,” Potash says during a weekday morning phone interview. “Death Row, of course, published the most negative songs he ever produced.”
It’s a theory he develops rigorously in his self-published book The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders: U.S. Intelligence’s Murderous Targeting of Tupac, MLK, Malcolm, Panthers, Hendrix, Marley, Rappers & Linked Ethnic Leftists and its accompanying self-produced documentary of the same name that screens June 16 at Cyclops Books and Music. Potash’s Death Row argument stems from research linking CIA/Contra/crack-entangled drug trafficker Freeway Rick Ross to Death Row business partner Michael “Harry-O” Harris, as documented in the investigative journalism of Gary Webb (1998’s Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion), Ronin Ro (1998’s Have Gun Will Travel: The Spectacular Rise and Violent Fall of Death Row Records), Craig Unger (2004’s House of Bush, House of Saud), and New Yorker articles, as detailed in a few of the 1,014 endnotes that annotate The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders. The book-length argument involves a pattern of similar attacks and discrediting campaigns against black leaders and musicians that run throughout Shakur’s career. [read more]