Welcome to Death Row (2001)

“The mainstreaming of deviance must come to an end”-Bob Dole

Welcome to Death Row is the story–or at least one of the stories–behind the most notorious label in the music business–Death Row Records. The tale of Death Row Records involves millions of dollars, secret deals, corruption, and murder, so it’s highly possible that the entire story behind Death Row Records will never be known.

Death Row Records was formed in 1992 by rapper Dr Dre and Suge Knight, a former bodyguard. The film argues that there was a third, silent partner, Michael Harris–known as Harry O–a former cocaine dealer who wanted to place some of his money into other enterprises. Mr. Harris was serving a 28-year sentence when he financed Death Row Records with 1.5 million. David Kenner, the criminal attorney for Harris also acted as a lawyer for Knight, and according to the film, he hooked up the two would-be entrepreneurs–Knight and Harris–and helped broker the deal.

Harris, who never appears, is heard in voice over comments throughout the film. Viewers should be aware that Lydia Harris, Michael’s wife acted as co-executive producer for the film, and litigation between Harris and Knight is a matter of record. It’s an incredible tale. Regardless of how Death Row Records was founded (with or without drug money), the company made millions. Death Row had the top names–including Dr Dre, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, but the situation at the record company disintegrated within a few short years. There are interviews with many artists who left the label, employees of the company, journalists, and other record company executives. Suge Knight even gives his version of events, and a fair sized portion of the film deals with the murder of Tupac Shakur (which remains unsolved at this time). Another intriguing section covers the role of C. Dolores Tucker, an activist who campaigned for censorship against the label. For anyone curious about the story behind the headlines, this film is recommended. There are several extras with this film–including additional info from Michael Harris, and scenes from the Death Row launch party in 1992, but most of these features are really quite lacklustre and anticlimactic.

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