By Terrence McCoy
© 2015, The Washington Post.
Rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight has been arrested for murder in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office announced.
A spokesman said late Thursday that it appeared Knight had run over two men after an argument. One was killed. The other was injured. Neither have yet been named by police. “Looks like he drove backwards and struck the victims and drove forwards and struck them again,” sheriff’s office spokesman Lt. John Corina told reporters. “The people we talked to say it looked like it was an intentional act.”
Authorities said he left the scene following the afternoon incident, but turned himself early Friday morning. He’s being held on $2 million bail.
The incident reportedly occurred on the set of a biopic called “Straight Outta Compton,” about the rise and fall of pioneering rap group N.W.A., which included Dr Dre and Ice Cube
Earlier, Knight’s attorney acknowledged that he ran over two people while driving a red pickup truck in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Compton, California, but said it was an accident. “He was in the process of being physically assaulted by two men and in an effort to escape he unfortunately hit two (other) individuals,” attorney James Blatt told the Associated Press. “He was in this car trying to escape. … We are confident that once the investigation is completed, he will be totally exonerated.”
Whatever occurred on Thursday afternoon, for Knight it marks another episode of violence in a life teeming with them. Violence has always been with him: through his days as a college football player, his ascent to the highest reaches of the recording industry and his plunge into millions of dollars worth of debt. And today, violence defines him more than music ever did.
He’s fatalistic about it. After all, he’s been shot several times. In August, he took at least one bullet at a party in West Hollywood hosted by Chris Brown. “You’re born to die,” he once told a New York Times reporter when declining to discuss the killing of a Death Row employee. “Ain’t nobody gonna leave here alive. Everybody is born and everybody’s going to die. Period. That’s the way it’s played. Can’t nobody change that.”
That’s true. But Knight has long courted the violent trappings of gang life – both when he had the means to abandon the troubles of the community where he came from, and when he didn’t.
Despite the gangster persona he cultivated – he wore a medallion that said “M.O.B.” – his origins were different. Though raised in the troubled streets of Compton, his reported sweetness earned him his nickname – to his mom, he was “sugar.” “He was spoiled,” mom Maxine Knight told the New York Times in 1996. “I would always do anything for him. He could get anything he wanted. Suge always liked gold, and he was careful about his appearance, and he always said, ‘Mom, one day I’m going to live in a house with a second floor and I'll have a lot of cars.’”
His first path to wealth was sport. Knight, a hulking man who stands 6-foot-2 and once weighed more than 300 pounds, was a talented football player. So much so that he earned a ticket onto the Los Angeles Rams for part of a season. But according to what he told The Washington Post in 2007, that career hit the skids when he was a hit with a charge for attempted murder in 1987. He was 22, pleaded no contest and didn’t do any time. “It went to misdemeanor,” he said. And what about the victim? “I shot him with his own gun.”
That aggression, even off the field, made him valuable. He was soon a bodyguard for singer Bobby Brown, where he got schooled on how the music industry works. He witnessed how rappers weren’t making the money that was their due, so he set out to change that – and make himself some money, too.
The Los Angeles Times’ Chuck Philips, an authority on the L.A. rap scene’s underbelly, wrote how Knight muscled his way in. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright – member of iconic gangsta rap group N.W.A. – was threatened by Shug with baseball bats and lead pipes, according to courtroom allegations. Vanilla Ice claimed Knight dangled him out of a Beverly Hills hotel to exact a payment. Knight also “pistol-whipped” a couple of ambitious rappers, court records reported by the L.A. Times said.
As he rose – attracting Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre and Tupac – Knight couldn’t leave his violent past behind. “At the height of his fame, Knight embraced more than the imagery of gang violence,” Philips wrote. “He surrounded himself with gang members and tried to become a player in their world.” And then, Philips found, he became a target of assassination himself.
But what ultimately got him, instead, was debt. Dr. Dre fled the label. So did Snoop. Tupac was killed. And the gang members on the Death Row payroll started feuding. Knight soon ended up in jail on charges he violated the terms of his parole stemming from an assault case. That’s when the bills starting piling higher and higher.
You have to make a lot of money to end up owing a lot. And Knight made quite a bit. “In court filings, Knight claims to be $137 million in debt, with $12 million in IRS liens, $51,000 in monthly expenses – and $11 in his checking account,” reported The Post in 2007.
So it didn’t help matters when, in November of last year – just months after he was shot at Chris Brown’s party – Knight was back in court. This time, it was on charges of robbery after he allegedly stole a paparazzo’s camera. According to TMZ, the judge set bail at $500,000.
And now, again, he’s run afoul of the police.