Have Gun, Will Travel by Ronin Ro: Bio of Death Row President ‘Suge’ Knight’s Fascinating Career

Written by Ronin Ro, Have Gun, Will Travel is a biography about the life of Marion “Suge” Knight and his music enterprise. Suge was the forceful President of Death Row Records, a West Coast rap label. His main conflict throughout the book was to keep the police off his back while trying to run a multi-million dollar label. Authorities were suspicious of Suge’s association with a gang, the bloods; when Suge purchased a new home, he painted it red, with red house numbers and a red swimming pool, but denied that his actions were in affiliation with any gang.

Growing up, Suge experienced a rough family life, and the book divulges into his past romances (he was always a dominant figure in them), his college football days (he briefly played for an NFL team), and his professional music career. As president of Death Row, Suge was the man in the spotlight, and everybody wanted to know the knitty gritty details of his life and business. Once, Suge was approached by a reporter from the New Yorker, who questioned him about the label.

The black reporter said, “C’mon man, you know that answer is bull&$*@,” to which Suge violently yanked him out of his chair and shoved his face into a piranha tank. “Do you want this fish to eat your f&%$*# face?” Suge asked. This and other shady business tactics were not among Suge’s advantages in trying to stay out of law enforcement’s radar.

Doing security for Bobby Brown and soon making connections with West Coast rapper/producer Dr. Dre and the DOC, Suge entered the music business looking for muli-million dollar success. Other artists he worked with included Tupac Shakur, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Nate Dogg, Dr. Dre, The Dogg Pound, and Warren G.

Though the media attacked their genre of gansta rap, the artists claimed that the music “was another manifestation of America’s longtime fascination with outlaws, a form of ‘letting off steam.’ ” They said it was “the truth” that black inner city youth really wanted to hear, and they defended that the songs were no more violent than the latest Hollywood action movie.

Suge broke in the business by starting his own management company and working with acts under Funky Enough Records. One of Suge’s first acts, Chocolate, felt wronged after rapper Vanilla Ice sailed high on music charts with hit single “Ice, Ice Baby,” which Chocalate claimed he had written. Because Chocolate did not think the song would go anywhere, he freely shared it with a nightclub owner who had shared the hit song with Ice. Enraged, Chocolate said he’d written seven of the songs on Ice’s album, and, though he received songwriting credit, he got no cash.

But, as was often the case, Suge was unable to fully focus on his artists concerns, because he was so busy dealing with his own criminal charges. He was arrested in Beverly Hills at this time for assault with a deadly weapon/great bodily force against some old friends who dealt drugs. Funky Enough folded; Suge and company moved on to new efforts.

The real turning point in Suge’s career that led to the downfall of Death Row involved the Crips and a gang members suspected murder of Tupac Shakur in 1996. A 1994 shooting left the rapper with a destroyed testicle, frequent headaches, and nightmares. When Tupac was convicted and imprisoned for one of many charges in the years following that shooting, Suge bailed him out of jail. In 1996, however, he was shot again, and this time it was fatal.

Tupac had been a key player in the success of the record label, his contributions nearly as substantial as Snoop Dogg’s in winning the label fortune and fame. His death sparked controversy that was only matched by the chaos surrounding the murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls).

Amidst these deaths, Suge Knight was dubbed the “most dangerous man in music” by the media; he was a once convicted felon with his own record company.

In the fall of 1996, Suge was involved in the trials investigating the murder of rapper Tupak Shakur. The verdict revealed that this man would serve 9 years in prison for his involvement in the gang attacks that led to Tupac’s murder. Though Suge’s artists still made music amidst the controversy (Snoop Dogg released “The Doggfather” and the Death Row “Greatest Hits” album was released), gansta rap was given a solemn image that forecasted the ultimate fate of Death Row Records.

The book ends after Suge’s sentencing. Author Ronin Ro had great inside details on the fallout of Death Row’s legal battles and gang fights. I am glad to have read this book because it offered a new perspective on the genre of gansta rap. Because I am not a consumer of this genre, I did not fully understand the murders of Tupac and Biggie Smalls and why their label president was such a key player in the gang bloodbath. I also did not know much about the Bloods and the Crips or the unethical business practices that can happen in the music business behind closed doors.

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