Snoop Dogg is officially the new owner of Death Row Records.
To be clear, he bought the Death Row brand name for an undisclosed price. He did not buy the label's extremely valuable catalog of master recordings from artists like Dr. Dre, Tupac, Warren G and Snoop himself. The catalog will remain an asset of a company called MNRK Music Group which is a division of private equity giant The Blackstone Group. Did you get all that? Actually the history of Death Row is pretty incredible. I'll give you the top-level overview of that history in a moment. But first, here's a press statement from the Doggfather himself:
"It feels good to have ownership of the label I was part of at the beginning of my career and as one of the founding members. This is an extremely meaningful moment for me…I would like to personally thank the teams at Blackstone, MNRK and especially David Kestnbaum, who worked collaboratively with me over several months to make this exciting homecoming a reality."
Blackstone's David Kestnbaum also released a statement:
"We at Blackstone are strong supporters of the artist and creator community in our entertainment investments. We are excited to put the Death Row Records brand back in the hands of a legend like Snoop Dogg. We wish him success in the years ahead as the brand moves forward under his leadership and vision."
MNRK Music Group's president and CEO Chris Taylor says Snoop has a "30-year" plan for the label, but he seems to have plenty on his plate in the short-term too. In addition to the Death Row acquisition, he's got a new album coming out entitled "B.O.D.R." (for "Back on Death Row") as well as a new line of NFTs.
The History of Death Row
Landing under Snoop's ownership is the latest in a wild, roller coaster of an existence for Death Row Records.
Death Row was founded in 1992 by Dr. Dre, Suge Knight and The D.O.C., using $1.5 million in drug money borrowed from an incarcerated cocaine kingpin named Michael "Harry-O" Harris. Harris was in jail pending a murder and drug trafficking charges which would eventually result in a 28 year sentence. His criminal lawyer was a man named David Kenner. To manage the investment, which constituted a 50% stake in the label, Kenner created a holding company called Godfather Entertainment.
David Kenner became crucial in overseeing the business for Michael. Kenner acted as the go-between for Harris and Suge Knight. Kenner also became the label's in-house criminal defense attorney. At one point alone, Kenner was defending no fewer than SIX cases against Death Row artists and employees, including murder charges against…. Snoop Dogg.
Below is a photo of Snoop learning he was found not guilty of murder at his 1996 trial. The blurry brown head of hair to his left (on the right side of the photo) is David Kenner:
In its first four years of operation, Death Row Records generated $325 million in revenue after selling nearly 20 million records. The label would eventually generate more than $400 million during its brief existence.
Unfortunately within a few years that incarcerated drug dealer Michael Harris came calling for his 50% cut. Actually, it's a wild story. Michael's existence as Death Row's 50% owner really came to light in 2005 when his wife Lydia filed for divorce and demanded half of his half of the company. Amazingly, a judge and jury ultimately AGREED and awarded Lydia a $107 million civil court judgment against Suge Knight.
Unfortunately, by this point Suge Knight and Death Row Records were not exactly dominating the charts. So the label was forced for file for bankruptcy in 2006 to protect itself from Lydia's judgement. As a result, the Suge lost the company and its assets eventually hit the auction block.
In 2009 a company called WIDEawake acquired 100% of Death Row at auction for $18 million.
Unfortunately, WIDEawake went bankrupt in 2012.
It gets weirder.
Have you heard of Peppa Pig? The children's cartoon?
In 2013, Death Row was sold by a bankruptcy court to a new company called Entertainment One for $280 million. Entertainment One is a media conglomerate that is perhaps best-known for owning children's brand Peppa Pig.
It gets weirder.
In August 2019 Entertainment One, which by then had changed its name to eOne, was acquired by Hasbro. Yes. Hasbro. The same company that makes Mr. Potato Head and Monopoly.
In April 2021 eOne's Music division, which had now been renamed MNRK Music Group, was acquired by the private equity firm Blackstone.
So to bring this story to the present…
Snoop owns the brand name Death Row Records.
Dr. Dre is one of the richest rappers on the planet and about to headline the Super Bowl.
Suge Knight is currently serving a 28-year sentence related to a fatal hit-and-run that occurred in 2015. Who represented Suge at his 2015 trial? A much whiter-haired David Kenner:
It gets weirder.
Donald Trump's last day in The Oval Office was January 20, 2021. Before leaving the White House that day, Donald issued more than 100 pardons and commutations. One of the lucky people who got their sentence commuted? None other than Death Row's drug kingpin venture capitalist Michael "Harry-O" Harris.