In the days before he drove to where a commercial for the movie “Straight Outta Compton” was being shot, onetime rap mogul Marion “Suge” Knight was said by an investigator to be so broke he could not afford to replace the teeth that were knocked out in a brawl.
“There’s no temporary bridge money,” says an investigator, who has followed Knight’s rise and fall.
By contrast, Knight’s former partner, producer, and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, has become a billionaire.
That divergence in their fortunes could have only rankled as Suge arrived on set in his red Ford truck on Thursday afternoon, where the commercial was being shot for a movie telling the story of N.W.A., the seminal rap group that launched Dre’s career.
According to one report citing “a source close to Suge,” Knight was seeking to make peace with Dre two decades after a falling out.
If so, Suge certainly would have been stepping out of character.
Whatever the actual reason for his appearance, Suge's very presence would serve as a reminder that Dre felt he had been cheated out of his fair share of N.W.A’s proceeds back at the start of the 1990s.
It all goes back to the early 1990s when after Suge allegedly got Dre out of his contract with Eazy-E, the N.W.A. member who also headed the group’s label, Ruthless Records, by calling a meeting and bringing along several hulking thugs brandishing lead pipes.
Suge and Dre then became partners at Death Row Records, which was founded with $1.5 million from an imprisoned drug dealer named Michael “Harry-O” Harris.
Death Row was soon making more than $100 million annually with such artists at Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, whom Suge bailed out of prison in exchange for a recording contract.
But after four years, Dre had tired of Suge’s gangsta ways and set off on his own, taking only his genius.
“You put out negative energy, it’s going to come back to you,” Dre said.
Suge had scoffed.
“Break up with Death Row and get zero for it,” he said. “That’s a great move for Suge Knight. That’s a bad move for Dr. Dre. No way in the world I’d leave a multimillion dollar company to start another company and don’t at least walk away with $50 million.”
But Dre’s prediction held true. Suge was grazed in the head when Tupac was fatally wounded in 1996.
Suge was then sent to prison for five years for violating probation on an assault case. He was freed in 2001 only to land back behind bars for another two years after he assaulted a parking lot attendant.
In 2005, Suge was shot in the leg at a party. His bigger worry that week, however, was a $107 million default judgment against him awarded to the still incarcerated drug dealer Harris and Harris’ now ex-wife, Lynda.
Suge had repeatedly failed to appear in court after Harris and Lynda filed a suit claiming they should have received half of Death Row’s proceeds.
When the judgment was handed down, Suge was already broker than broke, listing debts in a bankruptcy petition that included $11.5 million in taxes.
He sold his mansion in Malibu and fell so far behind on his bill at a storage facility that his things were sold at an auction featured in the reality TV show “Storage Wars.”
The 30-minute sale brought in only $4,500.
And the negativity continued when Suge got shot six times at Chris Brown’s Video Music Awards Party last summer.
But Suge survived. An investigator says he might even have earned a little dental money in recent days with some low level Armenian hustlers.
Suge still owed some $120 million when he arrived on the set for the “Straight Outta of Compton” commercial. The film is about local kids made good by rapping about the hood.
Eazy-E had since died of AIDS.
Ice Cube had gone on to become a big shot actor and was now a producer on the film.
So was Dre, the billionaire.
Dre had proven at N.W.A., at Death Row, then at Aftermath Records and Beats by Dre with producer Jimmy Iovine that his genius was the most valuable asset wherever he was, whoever was his partner.
Suge is also from Compton, but he now returned as a neighborhood kid made bad. His childhood hopes and sense of entitlement must have made his adult reality that much harder to bear.
“He was spoiled,” his mother, Maxine Knight, was quoted in The New York Times back 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.’”
The filming for the commercial on Thursday was already done for the day at that location when Suge appeared. Ice Cube and Dre had reportedly left. But Dre’s axiom about negativity once again held true.
The “source close to Suge” says that he was barred from the set by Dre’s security team and that some off-duty cops ordered him to leave.
By the source's account, Suge was on his way to the freeway when he got a call from a 55-year-old man named Terry Carter, who had once been in business with Ice Cube.
Carter supposedly told Suge to come by Tam’s Burgers so they could then proceed to the next filming location and see Dre.
But according to the police, Suge got into an argument with Carter and another man. Police say Suge followed Carter and the two men as they went to nearby Tam’s Burgers.
There, Surge allegedly ended the argument by backing his two-ton truck up over Carter. He is said to have run him over a second time as he drove forward and fled the scene.
Carter was pronounced dead with a crushed skull. The second man was also struck by Suge’s truck, but suffered lesser injuries.
Suge’s lawyer, James Blatt, has told reporters after Suge turned himself in to police that his client was attacked by four men when he arrived at Tam’s and that Carter had actually been coming to Suge’s aid. The lawyer says that Carter and Suge knew each other.
The lawyer further asserts that Suge had been seeking to save himself as he backed up and then drove away. Suge allegedly was not even aware he had run somebody over.
The lawyer insists that Suge committed no crime and that cell phone records will support his client’s version.
But the police say that witnesses support a murder charge.
“The act appears to be intentional,” Captain John Corina of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told reporters. “He intended to run those people over.”
If that is so, Suge was likely acting out a fury that extends at least as far back as the days of N.W.A.
“Straight Outta Compton” is said to include a scene where an actor playing Suge Knight hops behind the wheel in a rage and tears out of a parking lot.
After Thursday’s real life tragedy, a grief stricken relative of Carter described Suge to a reporter as “the most evil person in the world.”
Suge was ordered held on $2 million bail.
And that is straight outta reach for a guy said to have no temporary bridge money.