They called him “Sugar Bear.” With his round face, gentle giant demeanor, and lyrical, high-pitched voice, Marion Hugh Knight Jr. was a well-liked kid navigating the mean streets of Compton, California, where he was born and raised. Knight grew into a 6-foot-4 football star, eventually earning an athletic scholarship to UNLV. “He wasn’t a problem guy at all,” said Wayne Nunnely, Knight’s UNLV head coach. “You didn’t really see that street roughness about him.”
Nowadays, the name Suge Knight is laced with irony, conjuring up the image of a bald, bearded, and intimidating 315-pound colossus wielding an unlit cigar, seven-carat diamond in his ear, and a diamond-encrusted pinkie ring bearing the letters MOB—allegedly standing for “Member of the Bloods.” It’s also synonymous with a long history of violence, starting with a 1987 assault charge on his then-girlfriend—after grabbing her and sawing off her ponytail—to several shootings, orchestrated hits, and gun charges, to the notorious rumor that Knight played a role in the murder of Tupac Shakur. Knight is currently behind bars on murder charges stemming from a fatal hit-and-run—all caught on video—at a Compton burger joint during a promo shoot for the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton.
Knight looms large in Universal’s Compton, which includes a scene wherein Dr. Dre and The D.O.C. are anxious to be released from N.W.A and their label, Ruthless Records, run by N.W.A founder Eazy-E. So Knight and his crew first intimidate Eazy with bats and a pit bull before beating him to a pulp. Dre was freed from his contract and started the gangsta rap label Death Row Records with Knight in 1991.
In early 2003, shortly after being released from prison, Knight made an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where the hip-hop mogul made an off-color remark about the passing of Eazy-E, who died from AIDS complications in 1995. “See, technology is so high, right? So if you shoot somebody, you’re going to jail forever,” he said. “So they got stuff where they get blood from somebody with AIDS, and they shoot you with it. So that’s a slow death—that Eazy-E thing.” And just this week, Yung Eazy, Eazy-E’s third son, posted the Kimmel clip to Instagram accompanied by a message insinuating that Knight killed his father in this very fashion.
The Yung Eazy claim comes on the heels of VladTV’s interview with the members of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, who were close friends of Eazy’s and signed to his Ruthless Records just one year prior to his death, where the group said they agreed with Eazy’s sons’ theory that their father was injected with AIDS. “I mean, me personally, I [agree with that theory] as well. Even to this day, none of his kids, none of his baby mamas, his mistresses, nobody has come up with HIV or nothing like that. So just rationally thinking, something had to go on.”
“When you’re about to die from full-blown AIDS, you look like you’re gonna die from AIDS,” they continued. “I’ve seen people that have died from AIDS and they look like they have AIDS. Eazy didn’t look like that at all when he passed away. At all.”
But the odd Kimmel appearance aside, the craziest Knight interview ever occurred one year prior when Knight, again fresh out of jail, sat down on the couch with Howard Stern for a rollercoaster ride of a 45-minute interview rife with wild accusations. And it’s here we should note that Knight is an unstable character prone to embellishment, so these remembrances should all be taken with a grain of salt.
Much of Knight’s ire was aimed at Dr. Dre, who, as depicted in Straight Outta Compton, left Death Row Records to start his own label, Aftermath Entertainment, after becoming fed up with Knight’s oft-violent business tactics. During the interview, Knight even alluded to Dre’s domestic violence conviction after he assaulted veejay Dee Barnes.
“When Dre—Andre—went to jail, he never even went to county jail. He had a situation where he beat up a girl, and they were tired of him beating up girls, so he was going to county jail, he broke down and folded up like a lawn chair,” Knight told Stern.
Knight, who seemed to be fired up about Dre allegedly “snitching” on him to his PO, resulting in a restraining order being added to his parole conditions, then opened up about the large number of “closet cases” on the Death Row label, and alleged that Dre was one of them—even claiming that Dre pal and fellow Death Row artist Tupac confronted Dre about his sexuality during a label meeting:
“I’m saying he’s gay because there’s a guy named Bruce and they’ve been sleeping together for years,” Knight said. “We had these meetings in the Red Room, and once we had these meetings, you had to put everything on the table. Everybody has some drinks, and wouldn’t nobody lie, because if anybody got caught lyin’, there was always a consequence. So Tupac stood up and said, ‘I’m tired of this! I’m tired of this! Dre, you’s a faggot.’ Dre said, ‘First of all, I’m not a faggot.’ Then [Tupac] said, ‘OK, then you’re a homosexual.’ [Dre] said, ‘I’m not a homosexual. I’m bisexual.’ So [Tupac] said, ‘You’re bisexual? See, that’s another thing I don’t wanna do, I don’t wanna be in the studio doing no songs with a guy who’s pounding other guys in the butt.’ Then Dre said, ‘Pac, I thought you were smart. You still dumb. If I want to pound some butt, I could do a woman. I’m a bisexual because I like to get my cheekbones blown out. I like to get pounded in the butt.’”
The genesis of N.W.A surrounded the song “Boyz-n-the-Hood,” which was written by Ice Cube and produced by Dre as a single for the Ruthless Records group HBO, but when they rejected it, became the solo debut for Eazy and N.W.A, and was included on the 1987 compilation mixtape N.W.A and the Posse. Knight shared a story with Stern alleging that HBO assaulted Dre years later over the song, which led to one of Knight’s numerous prison stints.
“Two guys came in and Andre had done this song ‘Boyz-n-the-Hood,’ but they didn’t want the song ‘Boyz-n-the-Hood’ because they thought it was too West Coast, so [Dre] gave it to Eazy,” claimed Knight. “Now the song blew up and years later, these guys felt [Dre] owed them a song. So they show up to the studio and pimp-slap one of my producers, which is Andre—bitch-slapped him—and said they were going to take one of his songs.” Knight claims he showed up and saved the day.
Knight also laid into Snoop Dogg, who left Death Row not long after Dre. He said Snoop, who often sported the color red—which is the color of the Bloods—had to pay his way into various Long Beach Crips (LBC) gangs, and was really a “nice kid” who wasn’t much of a gangster.“There’s only one person that paid money to be involved in the gang, and that’s Snoop. He paid to be in the gang. He’s still not in the gang,” said Knight. “This guy was a really, really nice kid. We gave him an image, true enough… If you look back in the early days, [Snoop] was wearing the red shirts and the burgundy shirts, and one time at the Soul Train Awards he had the whole red flag on Aunt Jemima-style.”He continued: “I talked to Snoop and I said, ‘Listen, you can’t keep goin’ around and being something that’s totally different from the neighborhood you from. You from Long Beach, right? So what do they have in Long Beach? They’ve got 20s, Insanes, they got 19th Streets, they don’t have no Bloods, so you can’t be a Blood, so pick one. I didn’t know he was going to pick all three! He went from Insanes to 20s to 19th Street back to 20s.”“If Snoop would’ve been on a different record company, he would’ve been doing a different kind of music,” added Knight, “but gangster rap is a whole different thing.”