The Hit List is an original Project Astral series that explores deaths in the hip hop universe.
Death Row Records employees and artists symbolized gangsta rap throughout the 1990s and instilled fear into anyone who crossed their path. Death Row’s connections to street gangs such as the Bloods (Piru) and Crips allowed them to extort and sustain dominion in Los Angeles. Hidden beneath the hardened antics were a string of incidents that made Death Row Records infamous and eventually caused their downfall.
Tha Dogg Pound
The Lady of Rage
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
TIMELINE OF VIOLENCE
Suge Knight threatened N.W.A. manager Jerry Heller to release Dr. Dre, The D.O.C. and R&B artist Michel’le from their contracts with him. Jerry Heller obliged.
Suge Knight, Dr. Dre & The D.O.C. started Death Row Records with an investment from drug kingpin Michael “Harry-O” Harris.
Dr. Dre assaulted rapper Dee Barnes. He stated to Rolling Stone Magazine in a 1991 interview
“I just did it, you know. Ain’t nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain’t no big thing — I just threw her through a door.”
(Dr. Dre and Dee Barnes)
Suge Knight assaulted rappers and brothers George and Lynwood Stanley. Suge allegedly pistol whipped, instructed the two brothers to strip naked and then fired a shot at them. This resulted in the F.B.I. raiding Death Row Records and arresting Suge.
Suge Knight & entourage allegedly beat a security guard (Roderick Lockett) to the brink of death at Prince’s Los Angeles nightclub Glam Slam.
(1990’s advertisements for Glam Slam West)
Snoop Dogg was charged with 1st-degree murder after his bodyguard Mckinley “Malik” Lee killed a rival gang member during an altercation.
(Snoop Dogg’s mugshot)
After not revealing Sean “Puffy” Comb’s personal address, Suge Knight forces record producer Mark Anthony Bell to drink his urine after beating him with a champagne bottle.
Happy Walters, a prominent music manager whose clients included RZA, Cypress Hill, House of Pain, is allegedly kidnapped on Suge’s orders and abused repeatedly. Walter’s later releases all his clients from their contracts.
(Happy Walters in middle)
Suge Knight allegedly forced accountant Steven Cantrock to his knees to sign a contract confessing to mishandling the funds of Death Row Records.
Suge Knight, Tupac Shakur, and their entourage assaulted known gang member Orlando “Baby Lane” Anderson at the MGM Grand Hotel. Tupac Shakur got shot multiple times shortly after and died from his injuries.
(Tupac at MGM)
THE HIT LIST
We’ve explored the violence and that leads us to “THE HIT LIST” consisting of suspicious deaths connected to Death Row Records.
On August 25, 1993, Philip Woldemariam, a 20-year-old Ethiopian immigrant rode in the back of a car along with several gang members and engaged in a situation with Snoop Dogg associate Sean Abrams near where Snoop Dogg resided. The men drove off when confronted by McKinley “Malik” Lee – one of Snoop’s bodyguards. Later that day Snoop Dogg, McKinley Lee and another bodyguard encountered Philip Woldemariam again; an altercation ensued and McKinley Lee shot Woldemariam in the back/butt, killing him.
Snoop Dogg famously went to trail defended by famed OJ Simpson lawyer Johnny Cochran and was acquitted in 1995 on all charges (murder, assault, and accessory charges; mistrial on voluntary manslaughter charges.) There have been a variety of stories surrounding the murder case – with many believing that Snoop Dogg actually shot Woldemariam to help sell records and expand his gangsta persona. Truth-be-told, the Los Angeles Police Department is mostly to blame for the acquittal as they misplaced key evidence in the case.
(Philip Woldemariam 2 months before his death)
(Philip Woldemariam’s autopsy report)
(McKinley Lee and Snoop Dogg at the murder trial)
(Snoop Dogg at acquittal)
Eazy-E was one of the founding members of the gangsta rap group N.W.A. and the CEO of Ruthless Records. Rumors have swirled since the untimely death of Eazy-E from complications due to AIDS. Death Row Records over Ruthless Records’ contracts of Dr. Dre, The D.O.C. and R&B artist Michel’le caused a rift that altered the course of hip hop.
There was even a time Eazy-E’s manager Jerry Heller had to talk the rapper out of killing Suge Knight.
Eazy-E announced in February of 1995 that he had AIDS and passed away one month later on March 26, 1995 – the quick progression of the disease plus a statement from Suge Knight has fueled conspiracy theories. Suge Knight stated in a 2003 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!:
“Technology is so high. If you shoot somebody, you go to jail forever. You don’t want to go to jail forever…They have a new thing out. They have this stuff they called…they get blood from somebody with AIDS and they shoot you with it. That’s [a] slow death. The Eazy-E thing, you know what I mean?“
WAS EAZY-E MURDERED BY DEATH ROW RECORDS?
Ruthless Records associate Frost claimed in an interview that Eazy-E was in an ATV accident and went for an acupuncture session – this opening the door to the “tainted” needle theory on how Eazy-E was injected.
Tupac Shakur was a poet, musician, actor and revolutionary leader of a movement (THUG LIFE) that captivated millions of people across the world. In 2009, the Vatican selected Tupac’s “Changes” as an official song on their Myspace Playlist – demonstrating the reach and impact of his music. He has recently been inducted into the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and shows no sign of slowing down posthumously.
Tupac’s life and death are filled with conspiracy theories and cryptic quotes such as “Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real.” and “I been shot and murdered, can tell you how it happened word for word”. The first attack on his life took place at Quad Recording Studios on November 29th, 1994. Tupac was robbed at gunpoint and shot five times in the studio lobby. This would be his inspiration for the album “All Eyez On Me” and for the single “Hit ‘Em Up,” a vicious diss song aimed towards the Notorious B.I.G., Bad Boy Records and their affiliates.
The west coast/east coast rap beef was at its height and tensions were boiling from both sides already when Tupac was released on bail from Prison in October 1995; the bail was submitted by Suge Knight in exchange for three albums from Tupac. Before his death on September 7th, 1996 – Tupac set up a record/film company “Euphanasia Records” since his three-album contract with Death Row had been fulfilled and he planned on focusing attention to projects away from music. Tupac was gunned down while leaving the MGM Grand after the Mike Tyson vs Bruce Seldon fight. He passed away on September 13th from his wounds. His legacy lives on. You can find out more about the conspiracy theories surrounding his death here.
(the last photo of Tupac alive)
The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G. captivated the world with the release of his debut album “Ready to Die” – paving the way for future of hip hop artists. His friendship and eventual feud with Tupac Shakur would spark a hip hop war that would cost them both their lives. The Notorious B.I.G.’s death on March 9, 1997, is still an unsolved crime. New clues and evidence have surfaced that adds to the theory that his murder could be tied to Death Row Records.
(Actual footage of the Notorious B.I.G. shooting)
While leaving an after-party in Los Angeles, CA at the Petersen Automotive Museum – a black Chevy Impala stopped alongside the GMC Suburban Sean “Puffy” Combs and B.I.G. were riding in. An African-American male, wearing a blue suit and bowtie fired a 9mm into the GMC – resulting in 4 shots hitting and killing the hip hop artist known as the Notorious B.I.G., Frank White, Biggie, Big Poppa, etc.
Johnny “J” produced more Tupac tracks (100+) than any other producer and was a well-known staple in the underground DJ scene in the early ’90s.
A few Tupac tracks produced by Johnny “J”
- Death Around The Corner
- Life Goes On
- How Do You Want It
- All Eyez On Me
- Picture Me Rollin
- Pour Out A Little Liquor
- Thug Passion
Most of Tupac’s posthumous albums replaced Johnny “J” productions with more mainstream producers. You can still find the OG’s on youtube.
Johnny “J” was arrested on his third DUI charge on July 27, 2008, and received a 3-year sentence (reduced as he was to be released December 2008) to be served at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, CA. October 3, 2008, Johnny jumped from the roof of the jail at 6:45 pm and was found around 7:30 pm.
“Johnny was the only inmate working on the second tier on the afternoon of October 3, 2008. He asked a supervisor for permission to make a phone call from a prisoner personnel office. This is reportedly when Johnny called Capucine and told her he was going to kill himself. She called the prison to warn someone, she says. After Johnny hung up, two custody assistants witnessed him leave the office, walk to the balcony, climb the metal rails and jump.”
There are rumors that Johnny “J” wanted compensation due to him from his Death Row Records royalties and confronted Suge Knight about it – resulting in gang members killing Johnny on a street hit from Suge. Others include Mexican gang members killing him in retaliation of his connections to black gang members.
(Johnny “J”& Outlaw member Napoleon tribute to Tupac)
Russell Poole was a Los Angeles Police Detective and the OG investigator into the murders of The Notorious B.I.G. & Tupac Shakur. He was removed from the case for misconduct and pursued the investigations via various avenues while retired.
Initially, Russell Poole pinned the murder of The Notorious B.I.G. on LAPD Officer David Mack and associate Amir Muhammad, on orders from Suge Knights; he later recanted his theory and had an apology prepared for Suge Knight before his death.
Russell Poole claimed that Reggie Wright JR and Suge’s ex-wife Sharitha Knight orchestrated the attack on September 7, 1996, in Las Vegas.
Russell Poole arrived at the Los Angeles Police Department August 19, 2015, to discuss new details into the Tupac & B.I.G. murders when he suddenly fell dead. His cause of death was later determined to be from a heart attack. Theories immediately flooded the web, did Suge Knight have his goons kill Russell, did the LAPD kill him to cover-up accusations of misconduct during the murder investigations, or did the stress and longevity of the cases get to him? A movie starring Johnny Depp as Poole was under production as “City of Lies” but got blacklisted due to alleged threats from “police associates“.
This is an official PROJECT ASTRAL article.
– Color Pessoa
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT OUR ARTICLE “THE BAD BOY RECORDS HIT LIST”