ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The founder of Death Row Records has been charged with murder. Suge Knight was arrested after a fatal hit-and-run car accident yesterday. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has more on the former hip-hop mogul whose life has paralleled some of the gangster rap he's produced.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Suge Knight is, himself, straight out of Compton. He was born there 49 years ago. And yesterday, it was in Compton that the LA County Sheriff's Department says he ran over two men with his truck. They say it was after an argument on the set of the upcoming moving, "Straight Out Of Compton." Knight's attorney told the LA Times he'd been running for his life after a group of people attacked and threatened to kill him, even dragging him outside of his vehicle.
(SOUNDBITE OF SNOOP DOGGY DOGG SONG, "MURDER WAS THE CASE")
DEL BARCO: Knight was an architect of West Coast ganger rap in the 1990s, and his career has included a series of arrests, prison terms and legal problems.
DAN CHARNESS: Suge Knight was known to partners as tenacious and smart. And to people who weren't on his side, he was imposing, frightening, bully.
DEL BARCO: Dan Charness is the author of "The Big Payback: The History Of The Business Of Hip-Hop." He describes how the 300 lb-plus former football player and bodyguard muscled his way into becoming a force in the music industry in the 1990s, first by signing a lucrative rapper known as Vanilla Ice and then partnering with Andre Young, known as Dr. Dre, arguably the best hip-hop producer at the time. Their company, Death Row Records, produced such artists as Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIN AND JUICE")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) Rolling down the street, smoking (bleep), sipping on gin and juice.
SNOOP DOGGY DOGG: (Singing) Laid back.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) With my mind on my money and my money on my mind.
DEL BARCO: Charness says there are many stories about Knight, some of which may not be true, but added to his mythology, such as holding rapper Eazy E at gunpoint. On stage at The Source Awards, Knight taunt Sean Puffy Combs, igniting the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feuds in the 1990s. Casualties of this included rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down in Suge Knight's car.
CHARNESS: I place most of the blame of that silly and ultimately deadly conflict - I lay that at Suge's feet.
DEL BARCO: Last year, Knight was shot six times during an MTV Music Videos Award pre-party. He's been in and out of prison since the 1990s. As for this latest incident, Charness says...
CHARNESS: It didn't surprise me. I mean, you know, karma.
DEL BARCO: Suge Knight is being held on $2 million in bail for murder. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.