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The Endless Fall of Suge Knight

He sold America on a West Coast gangster fantasy — and embodied it. Then the bills came due.

He sold America on a West Coast gangster fantasy — and embodied it. Then the bills came due.

On March 20th, inside the high-security wing of Los Angeles’ Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, the man once called “the most feared man in hip-hop” is looking more like the 50-year-old with chronic health issues that he is. Suge Knight sits in shackles, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and chunky glasses, his beard flecked with gray, listening impassively. It’s the end of the day’s proceedings, and Judge Ronald S. Coen is announcing the bail for Knight, who is facing charges of murder, attempted murder and hit-and-run: “In this court’s opinion, $25 million is reasonable, and it is so set.” A gasp erupts from Knight’s row of supporters — some of whom sport red clothing or accessories, a color associated with the Bloods and Piru street gangs. The most shocked are Knight’s family, who have attended nearly all of his court dates: his parents, along with his fiancee, Toilin Kelly, and sister Karen Anderson. “He’s never had a bail like that before!” Anderson exclaims.

As attendees exit and Knight is escorted out by the bailiffs, Knight’s attorney Matthew Fletcher pleads with Coen to reconsider. Fletcher points out that Knight has been held in solitary confinement for nearly three months, with next to no contact with family or friends. (“They wouldn’t allow this at Guantánamo Bay,” Fletcher says.) The lawyer goes on to complain about Knight’s treatment in jail for his numerous medical ailments, which include diabetes, blood clots and impaired vision.

The judge is unswayed, especially by Fletcher’s pleas about Knight’s poor health. “He was offered food and refused it,” says Coen. At that moment, as if on cue, Knight re-enters the courtroom, and suddenly collapses, his 300-pound-plus frame tumbling forward onto the padded chair he was just sitting in minutes earlier. Outside, Knight’s supporters have started a protest. “This is a public lynching!” shouts a woman in a red dress and blond Afro. “Black lives matter!” The painful irony is that Knight is being prosecuted for murdering a black man — a man he once called his friend — and seriously injuring another.

This could finally be the end of the road for the record-label head who, a generation ago, helped bring the West Coast gangsta rap of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur to the mainstream, pushing aside the pop rap of artists such as MC Hammer and Tone-Loc and putting low-riders and gang signs into heavy rotation on MTV. In the process, Knight established himself as a legendary music-biz tough guy. His exploits — some mythic, some real — during the heyday of Death Row Records have become part of hip-hop lore: In the early Nineties, he allegedly shook down Vanilla Ice into handing over publishing profits, walking the rapper out to a hotel-room balcony to show him how far his fall would be. (“I needed to wear a diaper that day,” Ice said later.) In his memoir, former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller alleged that Knight and his cohorts, bearing baseball bats, intimidated Eazy-E into releasing Dre from his Ruthless Records contract. (The claims have never been substantiated.) Knight was sitting next to Tupac when he was gunned down in 1996 in Las Vegas; his participation in a fight on the night of the shooting would land him in prison for five years on a probation violation.

As Knight’s fortunes have crumbled, he’s gotten closer to the streets, according to prosecutors. In a motion arguing for the high bail (which would later be reduced to $10 million), the L.A. District Attorney’s office alleged a recent scheme by Knight to “tax” out-of-town rappers for as much as $30,000 just to work in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Last year, Knight called out Rick Ross in a video interview: “You know you owe that bread, titty man,” Knight said. “I’m gonna beat the dog shit out of you.” His targets aren’t limited to big fish — in 2014 he was caught on surveillance punching a worker at an L.A. medical-marijuana dispensary after being refused service for lacking documentation.

Knight hasn’t been charged for any of the above episodes; his current lawyer Thomas Mesereau says, “He never threatened Vanilla Ice,” and that all the claims of extortion are based on “a lot of gossip and innuendo.” But former associates struggle to understand why such an undeniably talented businessman can’t escape this kind of small-time drama and thuggery. “I watched Suge decline the last 10 years,” says Cash Jones, a.k.a. Wack 100, a former Death Row “foot soldier” who now manages Ray J and the Game. Knight already has two prior violent felonies on his record: If any of his current charges stick, under California’s Three Strikes law, he could be going to jail for the rest of his life.

“Suge lost focus of the business, and who he is,” says Jones. “He could’ve been a lot of things, but he chose not to.” 

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Michael O’Neil/Corbis Outline

Knight’s most recent troubles apparently began like many Suge Knight stories: with him thinking that somebody owed him money. The upcoming N.W.A biopic, Straight Outta Compton — co-produced by Dre and Ice Cube, and due out in August — was getting attention after a teaser leaked in December. “People working on the set were calling and telling Suge, ‘Hey, man, this movie is really [becoming] a Death Row movie,’ with a Suge look-alike in the movie beating up people in the studio and all that,” says Reggie Wright, a childhood friend of Knight’s who worked at Death Row from 1994 to 2002. “Suge felt like they were using his likeness in this movie without consulting him.”

Related: Watch Intense, Violent ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Trailer

On the afternoon of January 29th, Knight drove up to the production’s base camp in his red Ford Raptor pickup, breezing past the film’s security. Dre’s bodyguards would not move him while Knight was on the premises, leaving producers in a panic. Cle “Bone” Sloan – a “nonactive” gang member who was working as a technical adviser to the movie – stepped in, confronting Knight. Sloan said later that he had heard there was a “problem” between “[Knight] and Dre or somebody.” The confrontation turned into a shouting match. Sloan said he told Knight, “Why don’t you leave so we can move forward? You got the white folks scared!” Eventually, Knight left the set.

Shortly after clearing out, Knight received a call from a respected South Central entrepreneur named Terry Carter who was at the shoot that day and was perhaps hoping to mediate the dispute. Carter, 55, was a self-made man who, after losing his mother and brother in the space of a year when he was 18, had built businesses in music, cars and real estate — most notably co-founding Heavyweight Records with Ice Cube in 1998. “Ice Cube and Dre would come by the house like it was nothing,” says Carter’s daughter Nekaya about her childhood. Carter was a family man, with three children; he had also taken in his sister-in-law’s five kids when she couldn’t care for them. People who knew Carter call him a “peacemaker.”

There are different accounts of Knight’s relationship with Carter. His daughters say that he and Knight had done little more than “cross paths,” but Knight’s friend and bail bonds agent Jane Un says that Carter and Knight were “friends” and had even “explored going into business together.” Carter was now requesting Knight’s presence at a Compton burger joint, Tam’s, a few miles from the movie’s base camp.

Minutes later, Knight pulled up outside the Tam’s parking lot, where Carter and at least one other man had already gathered. According to Sloan’s interview with police, Knight started bad-mouthing Sloan — just as, unbeknownst to Knight, he pulled up. “He was talking shit,” Sloan recounted, “and I just popped out like a jack-in-the-box.” Sloan came at Knight saying, “Let’s do it!” and began throwing punches at Knight through the Raptor’s window. 

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The car Knight was driving on January 29th, when he ran over Cle “Bone” Sloan and local businessman Terry Carter, who died from his injuries. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office/Los Angeles County Superior Court/AP

Knight’s vehicle lurched into reverse, knocking down Sloan. Then he put it into drive, running over Sloan and crushing his ankles. Knight’s pickup kept surging forward, plowing into a fleeing Carter, killing him. (The entire gruesome, abrupt series of events was captured on a grainy, soundless surveillance video, which was obtained by TMZ.com.) 

“Every day, I try to forget it,” Sloan said later. “I screwed up, and Terry’s dead.” Knight turned himself in to police about 12 hours later, around three in the morning. Knight’s initial counsel in the case, James Blatt, told the Los Angeles Times that Knight was “heartbroken” over Carter’s death. A subsequent lawyer, Fletcher, has suggested that Carter helped lure Knight into a deathtrap. Carter’s friends and family are still deep in mourning. “It was a tragedy,” says Lydia Harris, an early Death Row partner. Nearly 2,000 people attended Carter’s funeral.

Knight’s strategy will almost certainly be self-defense. But even if he wins, he is facing another case, which has received less media attention, but may prove harder to beat. Last September, Knight and comedian Katt Williams were leaving a Beverly Hills studio when they encountered celebrity photographer Leslie Redden. Believing Redden had photographed Knight’s son without permission, Knight is alleged to have told her he had a “bitch” who was going to beat her “motherfucking ass,” and to have shown Redden his waistband. Redden fled, but was stopped by Williams and an unknown woman, who allegedly knocked the photographer to the ground and took her camera. In addition to criminal charges against Knight and Williams (who have both pleaded not guilty), Redden has also filed a civil suit against Knight, alleging severe injuries to her back, head and neck.

“It don’t matter if it’s $100 or $100,000,” says Cash Jones, “when you take somebody’s property and harm them in the process, it’s robbery” — a felony charge that could also put Knight away for years. “Suge was already out on bail for that case, and now he has this hit-and-run situation — and there’s video of it that’s not in his favor. He’s over with.” 

“He was always the same guy,” says Wright, “boisterous, a bully.” Marion Hugh Knight Jr. grew up on the east side of Compton, in what was, by all accounts, a strong, loving family. “The irony is that you would think this guy comes from a broken home,” says former Death Row publicist Jonathan Wolfson, “but his parents have been married to this day, and they are the nicest.”

“Suge’s daddy was lovely!” says Knight’s ex-girlfriend, the R&B singer Michel’le, talking about Marion Knight Sr. and mother Maxine. “Oh, he’s just a dream. His mother is nice too, but she has a mouth on her like Suge: She’d curse you out one minute and then go, ‘Well, you know, baby, it’s OK’ the next. Suge is a mama’s boy, definitely.” Many who have dealt with Knight cite his keen natural intelligence. “Suge had huge potential,” says Wolfson. “He could’ve done anything — he was a force.”

A charismatic, gifted athlete, Knight wanted more than his parents’ two-bedroom home. “As soon as I was old enough,” he told The Guardian in 2001, “I told myself that I’d never live or end up dying in a place like that. I made up my mind that I wanted everything, and nothing would stop me.” Knight started playing on the Lynwood High football team; he was fast as well as strong. “I remember our coach chastising me because Suge beat me in a race, and I was a running back, and he was a lineman,” says Wright. Knight said that he would shake down wealthy white kids outside their Hollywood high schools, but he was more of an alpha-male football player than a hoodlum as a teenager. “He had twin cousins, Ronald and Donald,” says Wright, “and they pretty much ran Lynwood High School.” His neighborhood was a Piru Bloods zone — Knight has said he sometimes saw bodies in the alleys on the way to school — but “gangbangers didn’t mess with the athletes,” says Wright.

Knight had two impressive seasons at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and a short-lived NFL career, going undrafted but making it onto the Los Angeles Rams as a replacement player for two games during the strike season of 1987. That same year, he shot a man in Las Vegas while allegedly trying to steal his car, and was arrested for attempted murder. Knight pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was put on probation, but his pro football career was over.

Interestingly, Wright attributes some of Knight’s unpredictability and rage to diabetes, which has shadowed him throughout his life. “A lot of people don’t know Suge has diabetes real bad,” Wright says. “He doesn’t have the correct medication to treat it, or go to the doctor to get it controlled correctly. So a lot of the times when he gets angry, it’s because his sugar is up.” 

With the door to the NFL closed, Knight used his size to get into the music business, working as a bodyguard for Bobby Brown. Knight began moving in the same circles as rapper the D.O.C., as well as Dre, Eazy-E, Cube — and a young MC named Mario Johnson, who complained that he’d written much of Vanilla Ice’s To the Extreme. Knight saw his opportunity, which supposedly led to the notorious hotel-room confrontation with the white Florida rapper. Ice settled with Knight for an unspecified amount. It was his first big payday.

The next breakthrough came when D.O.C., Dre and Knight hatched a plan to get the rappers out of their contracts with Heller’s Ruthless Records. Death Row was founded in 1991, and the next few years were gilded with hits: Dre’s 1992 classic The Chronic went triple-platinum, followed by Snoop Dogg’s quadruple-platinum Doggystyle. In the space of a few years, Knight had inserted himself into the heart of West Coast hip-hop and taken over.

Michel’le, who was signed to Ruthless and then Death Row, says that things began to sour between Knight and Dre when Tupac came into the picture in 1995. Knight felt that Dre didn’t have Tupac’s gung-ho work ethic; Shakur would become both Death Row’s commercial focal point and Knight’s close friend in a way Dre never was. At the same time, Knight began to feel disrespected by the superstar producer. “Dre did not want to listen to Suge, and that bothered him,” Michel’le says. “Suge was like, ‘You were getting two cents a record [with Eazy-E and Heller], but I helped you make real money.’ ”

But Wright says the break came when Knight began a relationship with Michel’le — Dre’s former fiancee and mother to his son Marcel — in the mid-Nineties. “Dre was over Michel’le — he had another woman, but that’s still his baby mama,” Wright says. “I think at first, Michel’le was Suge’s spy, telling him what was going on between Jimmy [Iovine] and Dre, but he grew to love her.” Knight and Michel’le would have a daughter, Bailei, in 2002.

In 1996, Dre split with Knight, forming his own label, Aftermath — like Death Row, under the umbrella of Iovine’s Interscope Records. Knight was relentless in trying to get back master recordings that he believed belonged to Death Row. According to Randall Sullivan’s Labyrinth, Knight talked his way onto Dre’s property claiming to be Iovine: “When he opened the door, Dre said, ‘In comes Suge with eight or nine niggas,’ ” demanding the tapes.

Jones points to that time as a crossroads for both Dre and Knight. “You know what Dre did? He kept chasing success,” says Jones. “The fact remains that right now, today, Suge sits in prison facing murder charges, and Dre is a billionaire.”

This fact is not lost on Knight, who still feels entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars from Dre. According to a New York Times article, “Knight told investigators he expected a 10 percent share of the proceeds from last year’s $3 billion sale by [Dre] of Beats to Apple.”

Both friends and foes agree that Knight never quite recovered from his five-year prison bid, which started in 1996. He tried to keep his hands on the reins of Death Row — which was still a commercial force — from Mule Creek, a medium-security prison in a small Northern California town, where he’d been placed in the general population.Wright, who was now managing Death Row’s day-to-day operations, would visit Mule Creek from Thursday to Sunday each week to keep Knight abreast of label activities, while Death Row’s new publicist, Wolfson — a New Yorker who had recently started his own PR company – found himself adapting to the unique work conditions. “I was this Jewish kid from Rockland County – I’d never even been to a jail before,” recalls Wolfson, who would work with Knight for six years. “I was instructed to bring $30 in single dollar bills to use in vending machines. I’d put this mountain of food on the table for him to eat. They had this prisoner walking around with a Polaroid camera. For $2 he would take a picture with you and your imprisoned loved one in front of this backdrop with clouds and a skyline. That’s actually where we did a few of our press shots.” 

“When I went up to the penitentiary to see Suge for the first time, it was a real trippy experience,” notes Kxng Crooked, a rapper who was signed to Death Row under the name Crooked I from 1999 to 2004. “I went there to talk about my record deal, and we were negotiating on napkins! He’d ask me what I wanted, and I’d write it on the napkin and slide it over: ‘Ah, that’s doable. . . .’ It was crazy. Suge was like, ‘I can get you Grammys, I can put your name up on billboards. . . . I can do all this.’ ”

When Knight got out of prison in 2001, “He was different,” Wright says. “And he was more notorious than ever.” Knight quickly returned to the high-roller lifestyle he’d enjoyed in the Nineties. “There was a lot of partying — in New York, Houston, Chicago, Malibu, staying at the Four Seasons in Hawaii,” says Crooked. “We took Suge’s yacht out a couple of times and got DJs and caterers on there, called up some well-known strippers. We spent a lot of time just enjoying life.”

There were signs that the party was going to end. Death Row had split with distributor Interscope in 1998, which meant less of a financial safety net. But in Knight’s absence, the label had some success with posthumous Tupac releases and a greatest-hits compilation, and soon assembled a promising new roster featuring rappers such as Crooked and Kurupt of Tha Dogg Pound — and briefly, before her death in a 2002 car crash, TLC’s Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes. “I loved Left-Eye — she brought so much peace to the label, bro,” says Crooked. “She would make sure the guys were eating well, and make you herbal tea to clear up your cold. She was just a warm spirit, bringing balance inside that crazy world.”

According to multiple sources, Left-Eye was also getting warm with Knight. The two started an affair, which created its own drama. When she discovered a love nest in the Death Row offices where he’d seduce other women, Wright says, Lopes threw bleach all over the furniture — causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. (Knight has sired at least seven children with various women. Michel’le recalls discovering 17 lingerie-stuffed Victoria’s Secret bags during a work trip to the Bahamas with Knight before they were an item — each bag apparently intended for a different woman Knight was involved with.)

Knight’s dreams of restoring Death Row to its former glory soon fizzled. Not long after he got out, “He said, ‘Let’s go to New York — we’ve got to let the world know that we’re back!’ ” says Crooked. “So we hit the media trail very hard — went to all the main stations, all the magazines, everything. It just felt like, ‘OK, it’s about to pop off.’ ”

It never did. “Crooked was one of the hardest rappers on the West Coast back then — lyrically, he could stand with anybody,” says Jones. “But he had no distribution — and, ultimately, no album on Death Row.” Nearly all of the label’s projects from that era suffered similar fates.

“A lot of people didn’t want to see Suge succeed,” Crooked says. “People were intimidated by him. The ball would start moving, and then it would just stop dead.”

“No one wanted to do business with him,” says Jones. “He had no artists, radio showed him no favors, his office building was in foreclosure, and there were all kinds of tax liens and lawsuits. He had to revert back to what he knew — which was the block.”

“We were getting into brawls, and our CEO was throwing punches too,” Crooked says. Comic relief at the Death Row headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard was provided by a pet parrot squawking curse words. Upon entering the office foyer, guests were greeted by a painting depicting Dre being sodomized by a muscular blond man, as Diddy, sporting a ballet tutu, and a piglike Notorious B.I.G. look on. Gangbangers roamed the halls, sometimes walking pit bulls on chains. “People on the street looked at Death Row as a gang more than a record label,” adds Crooked. “I bought myself a vest, and an arsenal — a .357 Magnum and a P89 Ruger. That’s how real it was. I don’t think it will ever be like that again, and I don’t want it to be.”

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Suge Knight leaving his midtown hotel to promote Death Row Records in New York City on October 15th, 2004. Arnaldo Magnani/Getty

At the 2004 Vibe Awards ceremony in Santa Monica, Knight allegedly paid an associate to punch Dre as he prepared to accept a lifetime achievement award — after which Dre’s attacker was stabbed, apparently in retaliation, by G-Unit rapper Young Buck. (Buck was sentenced to three years’ probation; his victim suffered a collapsed lung; Knight was investigated but never charged.) “We were at the Vibe Awards for one reason and one reason only: for a problem,” admits Jones, who attended the event alongside Knight.

The authorities, meanwhile, were keeping an eye on Knight and Death Row. “There was pressure from the police,” Crooked remembers. “If you were on Death Row, your car and house were definitely marked. A cop would just knock on your door and say, ‘We’re just checking on you. We know you Death Row rappers, we know how you all like to live.’ ” One day in 2002, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department stormed the label’s office in a morning raid involving a gang-related homicide. “They made everyone get on the ground,” Crooked says. “Then they cut up the ceiling and took all the computers.” Crooked had enough: “I’m an artist. I got tired of living this lifestyle and not putting out music.” (Crooked is currently signed to Eminem’s Shady Records as a member of rap supergroup Slaughterhouse, and also performs as a solo artist.)

The final blow for Death Row came in 2005, when Lydia Harris was awarded a staggering $107 million damages judgment. Death Row had been started with money from Harris’ then-husband, imprisoned drug dealer Michael “Harry O” Harris. But her reasons for suing Knight were personal as well as financial. “Years had gone by, and then Suge got on national TV, saying that I slept with so many guys,” says Harris, who was also awarded damages for defamation of character as part of the larger lawsuit.

The following year, Death Row declared bankruptcy, and the label’s assets were eventually liquidated and sold. “They auctioned off everything,” Crooked claims. “They even sold Suge’s boxer briefs that they found in the penthouse suite on top of the Death Row building! Here was one of the only African-American men to own a major building on Wilshire Boulevard, and they sold the man’s fucking drawers. That either inspires you to get up and create something even bigger — or you crumble up inside and become bitter.”

Knight’s finances have never fully recuperated. He was recently in negotiations to sell his life rights for film, TV and technology projects to a company called Everlert. Its president, Mark Blankenship — a Yale-educated former attorney and one-time Republican congressional candidate who sports a long braid down his back — says that, thanks to Knight’s latest ordeal, those life rights are becoming “more and more valuable every day.” But in the meantime, Blankenship says that Everlert had to help pay the school tuition for Knight’s young son Legend.

According to Wright, the bankruptcy “broke the man down.” Knight was busted for marijuana possession in 2005 (the charge was later dropped), and in 2008 he was arrested for beating his then-girlfriend Melissa Isaac while in possession of Ecstasy and hydrocodone. (Knight pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery, was charged a $340 fine and ordered to undergo counseling.) “Suge didn’t do drugs back in the old days — he didn’t smoke marijuana, or anything,” Michel’le claims. “All he’d do was have a glass of champagne to toast with at celebrations. That was it.”

In 2005, at a party thrown by Kanye West at Miami Beach’s Shore Club before the MTV Video Music Awards, Knight was shot in the leg. The shooter — according to federal documents obtained by the Smoking Gun — was allegedly paid $10,000 to do so by Jimmy “Henchman” Rosemond, a now-imprisoned cocaine trafficker and former manager of rapper the Game. “I talked to Suge from the hospital, and he told me he accidentally shot himself, which never made sense to me,” says Lloyd “TaTa” Lake, a former friend and business associate. “I discovered that was a lie when a friend of mine told me about a phone conversation he’d hooked up between Suge and Jimmy Henchman. He quoted Jimmy as telling Suge, ‘Keep my motherfucking name out your mouth, or next time I’m gonna pay my shooter [another] 10 grand to raise the barrel.’ ” (Audaciously, Knight sued West for having inadequate security and the loss of a $135,000 diamond earring; they settled out of court.) And just last year, Knight was shot six times by an unknown assailant at a party thrown by Chris Brown at West Hollywood hot spot 1 Oak the night before the Video Music Awards; Knight recovered but has reportedly suffered from blood clots since the shooting. 

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Kanye West and Suge Knight at Kanye’s pre-VMAs party on August 27th, 2005. Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty

The once-untouchable Knight seemed diminished and vulnerable. “You couldn’t have paid nobody back in the day to even look at the dude wrong,” says Jones. With Death Row gone, “he lost his entourage,” says Wright.

Knight’s ongoing embrace of the thug life may have destroyed any remaining credibility he had as a businessman. “When it comes to the Piru shit, he should’ve stepped away a long time ago,” says Jones. “Instead, he got neck-deep into it.” With proceeds from Dre’s chart-topping hits a distant memory, and no new breakthrough artists to profit from, Knight has apparently had to find alternative sources of income. “Suge had to go back and adapt to what he knew: going around and getting money from people that he felt owed him,” Wright says. In 2007, when a reporter for The Washington Post asked Knight how he still had money, he preferred to evade the answer rather than lie. “I don’t lie,” said Knight. “The only people I lie to are the police.”

(One former Knight associate, however, believes the Death Row boss had unusually close ties with law enforcement. “I always [thought Knight was] an informant,” says Lake. “The FBI knows the hip-hop industry, entertainment and drugs on the streets are all intertwined, so you can’t find a better informant for the government than Suge Knight – he can infiltrate almost any camp.” Knight’s lawyer Mesereau calls Lake’s assertion “absolute nonsense,” and Jones also disputes the idea: “There’s a code in the streets. If you don’t have real proof, don’t call nobody a rat.”)

Knight does have a giving side that friends say is genuine, even if it sometimes resembles a scene from a Hollywood gangster movie. Crooked recalls Knight spontaneously spending $30,000 at a Toys R Us and distributing the spoils at a local children’s hospital; on Father’s Day, he’d hire a bus to bring children to visit their incarcerated dads. Passing out turkeys in the hood on Thanksgiving became an annual Death Row tradition, as did Knight’s “Single Mother’s Day” event — where he’d rent out ballrooms in a fancy Beverly Hills hotel for a five-star celebration for single mothers, who would come in from all over greater Los Angeles. And despite conflicts over child support, Michel’le claims Knight is a loving dad to their 12-year-old daughter. “He’s a great father to all his kids,” she says.

He also still inspires loyalty in some former associates. “Quite frankly, with all the headaches that I had with Suge through the years, the good outweighed the bad,” says Wolfson, who now manages Hall and Oates. “I truly owe him a debt of gratitude for actually allowing me to make decisions at the highest level.”

“There were not a lot of people in the music industry hiring guys who’d had brushes with the law back in the day,” says Wright. “He did that. He gave them jobs, he gave them a chance when no one else would. And that’s why he has so much anger — because he feels he’s helped a lot of people. Now all these people have turned their backs on him.”

Meanwhile, Knight’s former circle is debating the outcome of his current situation. “The lowest I can see him getting, realistically, is 20 to 30 years,” says Jones. “Worst-case scenario, he’ll get life. Either way, he’s out of business.”

After hiring and firing a number of lawyers in rapid succession — including Fletcher and, for a brief reunion, Death Row’s infamous legal consigliere in the Nineties, David Kenner — Knight has recently retained the powerful Mesereau, who successfully defended Michael Jackson in his 2005 child-molestation case and has represented controversial figures ranging from Mike Tyson to actor Robert Blake. “I am convinced of Knight’s innocence, and I am convinced these cases should not have been filed. I look forward to defending him,” Mesereau told Rolling Stone. “All I am going to say at this point is that he was defending himself at all times, and should not be facing any charge of murder, attempted murder or hit-and-run. If I had been driving the truck, I would not even have been charged with a misdemeanor. And as far as his robbery case goes, it’s utterly ridiculous.”

As many of his associates have noted, Knight has gotten out of seemingly impossible situations before. “I still consider Suge a friend, but I can’t deal with that nigga — he’s crazy,” says Wright. “He’s been knocked out three or four times, and he’s still walking and talking like he’s the baddest brother around. He’s got some wiggle room, though. Don’t count him out yet.”

“The Suge Knight story has twists and turns, don’t it?” Crooked says. “We don’t have any clue how it will end. He seems to think that he’ll be back on the streets.”

Crooked goes on to relate a story about the day that Knight turned himself in to police.

“He was smoking a cigar, and he put it up in a tree,” says Crooked. “Then he said, ‘I’ll get back to that.’ ”

From issue #766 (September, 2015), available now. Top illustration by Sean McCabe.