The Interesting Dallas Connection to Tupac’s Death Row Records

By John the CEO

With the Tupac aka 2Pac biopic ‘All Eyez On Me’ causing controversy among fans of the most celebrated rapper of all time, the history of West Coast hip hop has come back into view for millions. As a native L.A. boy, born and partly raised in South Central LA (Hoover Hospital baby), I was a fan of hip hop as soon as it hit Cali when I was a teenage whipper snapper. While in junior high school, I would take Jazz and Orchestra from a very talented musician signed to then CBS Records named James Benson, the cousin of famed jazz singing legend George Benson. Thus, the mix of Jazz, Classical, and Hip Hop turned me into a beat producer hobbyist that later had me involved in some of the underground hip hop scenes in LA and the Bay Area up north with a childhood friend of mine, but I’ll touch on that a bit later.

I recently saw ‘All Eyez On Me’ and then just saw the above video on YouTube, ‘Facing Suge Knight’. As much as I enjoyed the latest Tupac biopic, I think the makers of that movie should have incorporated much of what this YouTube video discussed because it had appearances by people who were absolute insider eyewitnesses to the making of Death Row Records leading up to the signing of Tupac fresh out of jail (in my Pac voice) and beyond. Some facts mentioned I had not even known, and as I mentioned earlier, I was quite active in and a fan of the evolving West Coast hip hop scene.

I had already been fans of the work of “Funky Enough” rap legend The DOC (we did a post about him on our Instagram page @affluentblacks) and Vanilla Ice – despite the hate, ‘Ice Ice Baby’ at the time (1990) was such a different sound that it swept the dance clubs across the country and brought a whole lot of white kids into hip hop, who would later buy gangsta rap by the millions. For those who don’t know, Vanilla Ice recorded that song right here in Dallas. The Dallas Observer did an excellent write up about The DOC, so I won’t repeat the details, instead letting you read for yourself.


What I do want to briefly touch on is the fact that Dallas-born The DOC and Vanilla Ice were both instrumental in the launching of Death Row Records. Both artists appeared in the YouTube video above. Long story short, Suge Knight partnered with The DOC to start a label with The DOC being the main rapper. The label was not called Death Row at first, but Futureshock, which changed names to something else, then Death Row. The DOC was to get 35% of Death Row, but was not honored. In addition to being an innovative rapper (more on that in a bit), The DOC was also the main songwriting engine behind NWA and Death Row. You might say he was a major silent partner that was key to Suge Knight’s success, and an unfortunate silence due to a car accident and the aftermath led to The DOC losing his prized voice. He later reflected on his potential as quoted in Dallas Observer:

I’m probably one of the best motherfuckers to ever pick up a microphone and spit in it,” he said in 2011. “But you’d never really know that because I never really got a chance to show you.

And I must say, as one who bumped his song “Funky Enough” in my big car sound system back in the day, that song was so different from everything else in the underground and on radio that it made people stop and ask, “who the heck is that?!” That’s when you know you made a major impact on the game. In my opinion, only a few rap vocalists made a major impact on the rap game, and The DOC is easily on my list. Rakim from Eric B and Rakim fame was another. (I heard Rakim for the first time while going to college in the Bay Area, where a female friend from New York had a brother who was a DJ in the Big Apple and he gave her a copy of a mixtape that included the unknown Rakim ‘Eric B for President” and I was blown away…it became a major hit a few weeks later). Tupac, DMX, Busta Rhymes, Biggie and Snoop Dogg are other legends who made a major impact with their vocal sounds and skills. Long story short, I totally agree with The DOC that he would have easily been in the top 3 microphone fiends, hands down, had it not been for that car accident.

Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice

Vanilla Ice also had a major impact on Death Row. As is perhaps well known, when “Ice Ice Baby” was killin’ the game and making the white Dallas rapper tons of money, Suge Knight decided to muscle in on the success after the fact. At the time, there was no Death Row, but Suge needed a hit and the money that comes with a hit to plant the seed for his own record label. One way was to “negotiate” a deal with Vanilla Ice. In the video, the rapper denies that Suge Knight held him over the edge of a high rise hotel room balcony, but he does say Suge was quite intimidating and pressured him into signing over a few points on the hit song’s royalties, which earned Suge a few millions (that’s how hugely successful the song was). Vanilla Ice said not long after that, he noticed Death Row Records started taking off, making a big splash in the music business. That’s when he realized the money Suge got from the Dallas recorded hit song was much of the seed money for Suge’s new label, which would later sign Dr Dre (friend of The DOC), Snoop Dogg and the man himself, Tupac.

Not bad for a little bit of Dallas hip hop history that is unsung (Where is TV One’s Unsung on this one? lol).

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