Death Row Records was a record label founded in 1991 and was based in Los Angeles. The label focused on releasing rap music from the west coast, particularly the G-Funk subgenre of Gangsta Rap. It also had high profile feuds with the east coast hip hop label Bad Boy Records and fellow west coast rap label Ruthless Records.
The label was founded by former N.W.A member Dr. Dre along with Suge Knight, The D.O.C and Dick Griffey. After convincing Interscope Records to give them a distribution deal, Death Row released its first album: Dr. Dre's The Chronic, which is credited with popularizing G-Funk and was commercially and critically acclaimed, having since been certified 3xPlatinum in the United States. Many of the tracks featured Dre’s protégé Snoop Doggy Dogg who would release his debut album Doggystyle in 1993. The album was another success for Death Row, and even outsold The Chronic. Death Row also released four multi-platinum selling film soundtracks, which included Above the Rim (which included the hit single "Regulate" by Warren G and Nate Dogg), and Murder was the Case. They also released Tha Dogg Pound's debut album Dogg Food which also went multi-platinum. By this point, Suge Knight had also set up a "West Coast Management" firm for east coast artists, the two most notable signees being R&B acts Mary J. Blige and Jodeci.
During this early period, Death Row and Ruthless Records were beefing over Dr. Dre's involvement with Death Row. Dre, like his ex-bandmate Ice Cube, had jumped ship from both Ruthless and NWA over royalty issues. Dre then proceeded to release "Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" as a diss record to Ruthless CEO and NWA leader Eazy-E, and band manager Jerry Heller. Eazy would respond with several diss tracks of his own in 1993, including the Platinum selling "Real Muthaphukkin' G's", and won a lawsuit that would give him a percentage of anything Dre made for the next several years. When Eazy was diagnosed with AIDS in 1995, Dre made peace with Eazy on his deathbed.
In 1995, Tupac Shakur was signed to the label as a part of an agreement to get him bailed out of jail. During his time on the label, Tupac had beef with a number of East Coast rappers, particularly The Notorious B.I.G. and his manager Puff Daddy, whom he accused were responsible for a shooting and robbery against him in 1994. This would help flame the West Coast-East Coast Rivalry in which Death Row artists became very active in. D.O.C and Dre got fed up with the increasingly violent direction of the label and left in 1996. Griffey also left due to money disputes with Knight. That same year, Tupac would release his double album All Eyez on Me, which remains as one of the most well received and most commercially successful rap albums of all time. Tupac was killed as a result of a drive by shooting in 1996. His second album on Death Row, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory was released posthumously that November, a week before Snoop Dogg's second album The Doggfather. Both reached number 1 on the Billboard 200 and have been certified 4xPlatinum and 2xPlatinum respectively. Early 90s rap megastar MC Hammer also signed with Death Row during this period and recorded an album, but left immediately after the murder of Tupac, causing his album to be shelved.
Following these releases, Death Row would begin to collapse. Knight was convicted of assault and was incarcerated from September 1996 to August 2001, which prompted Interscope to end their distribution partnership. Snoop Dogg, who was featured on many Death Row projects, left Death Row around this time. The label then began to largely rely on re-releases of past works to stay afloat, as well as compilations of unreleased Tupac material, until Tupac's mother, Afeni Shakur, gained the rights to all of his recordings in 1997 and formed Amaru Entertainment with Interscope to release them. Death Row would declare bankruptcy in 2006, with the label itself sold in 2008, and its remaining properties sold off in 2009. Death Row's catalogue was acquired by Entertainment One in 2013, which was then acquired by Hasbro in 2019. It changed hands a couple of times until 2022 when former signee Snoop Dogg purchased Death Row with the intent of reviving it. As a result, Death Row's catalog was pulled from all digital retailers worldwide to focus on a streaming service using that name.
Death Row Records performers with TV Tropes pages:
- DJ Quiknote
- Dr. Dre
- The Chronic (1992)
- MC Hammer
- Snoop Dogg
- Tupac Shakur
- All Eyez on Me (1996)
- The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)