Unforgettable Rappers Signed To Death Row Records

It's one of the most infamous labels in Hip Hop, and we're taking a look at Death Row's most iconic stars.

BYMichael Lusigi
'Murder Was The Case' Premiere

Suge Knight, The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, and Dick Griffey founded the hip-hop record label, Death Row Records.  The label became massively successful in the '90s with the release of classic albums like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle and The Doggfather, and two albums from the late Tupac Shakur’s discography. Reports estimate that Death Row was making about $100 million a year at the peak of its success. The label was instrumental in the commercial success of gangsta rap and its eventual recognition by mainstream media.

Cracks on the massive music empire began to show when the then CEO, Suge Knight, was sentenced to nine years in prison for probation violations. This was the beginning of Suge’s tumultuous relationship with law enforcement. He was arrested for alleged acts of violence and affiliations with gang members on more than one occasion. Suge's troubles were compounded when Tupac, who had released his triple-platinum album, All Eyez on Me, was fatally shot and killed after an alleged retaliatory attack in Las Vegas. Suge was also in the vehicle during the shooting and sustained non-threatening injuries. Dr. Dre left the label shortly before Tupac’s death, and Snoop Dogg exited two years later.

Suge filed for bankruptcy in 2006, officially marking the end of the West Coast label. Death Row Records was auctioned in a bankruptcy court in 2008. WIDEawake Entertainment eventually bought the catalog. It would change hands a few times, and former artist, Snoop Dogg, purchased the label in 2022 with aspirations of reviving it. Artists who had been signed to the label include:

Tupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur and Marion Suge Knight (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Late rapper Tupac joined Death Row Records in a three-album deal after Suge Knight posted his $1.4 million bond and secured his freedom. Suge also gave Pac’s mother $15,000 to help her with house payments when the rapper was in prison. Death Row released All Eyez on Me from the deal, hip hop’s second double album, (Master P's Down South Hustlers – Bouncin & Swingin was the first). This technically meant that Pac had submitted two of the three albums he had committed to at Death Row.

The album was released in February 1996 and by April of that year, had been certified 5x platinum by the RIAA. The album was later certified diamond (10 million records sold) in 2014. All Eyez on Me won R&B/Soul or Rap Album of the Year at the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards and Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist at the American Music Awards the same year.

In 1996, Tupac was shot and killed in Las Vegas. Reports have further suggested that the drive-by shooting was retaliatory and premeditated. He had, however, finished recording the recording of his third album at Death Row. The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, popularly shortened to Makaveli, was Pac’s first posthumous album and the last released with his creative input. The album was further certified 4x platinum in 1999 after its debut in August 1996.

There have been five other solo posthumous albums from the Tupac estate and one collaborative album with his rap group, Outlawz. Themes in Pac’s music primarily revolved around social injustices in African American communities. His discography has also influenced other hip-hop artists like Nas and T.I. Pac has sold 75 million records worldwide.

Dr. Dre

Dr. (Photo by Lester Cohen) Dre poses in studio for Helter Skelter circa 1996. (Photo by Lester Cohen)

Andre "Dr. Dre" Young has continuously been touted as the most significant hip-hop producer ever. Many people forget that he is also a rapper. Dr. Dre left Ruthless Records with The D.O.C. and joined Suge Knight to establish Death Row Records. He released the cultural juggernaut album, The Chronic, in 1992. The project gave us classic singles like "Fuck Wit Dre Day," "Let Me Ride," and "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang."

The Chronic peaked at number three on the Billboard album chart. It also went on to receive a 3x platinum certification from the RIAA. Dr. Dre had left Death Row Records just before the murder of Tupac and went on to establish Aftermath Records. All his solo pursuits have been released under Aftermath ever since. The doctor has three solo albums, two soundtrack albums, and six collaborative albums—two with World Class Wreckin' Cru and four with N.W.A.

Daz Dillinger

NEW YORK, NEW YORK--AUGUST 03: Kurupt (aka Ricardo Emmanuel Brown) and Daz (aka Daz Dillinger; Delmar Drew Arnaud) when the Death Row Records label assembles at The Source Awards, held at The Paramount Theater at Madison Square Garden, on August 3, 1995 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives)

Daz Dillinger, or Daz, is a rapper and producer who signed with Death Row Records at 19. He is one half of the rap group, The Dogg Pound, together with label-mate Kurupt. Daz made production contributions to The Chronic and was featured in Doggystyle. The Dogg Pound would later release their debut, Dog Food, which received positive reviews and achieved platinum status.

Tupac’s murder led to the exodus of most artists from Death Row. The label released Daz’s debut solo album, Retaliation, Revenge and Get Back, years after he left the label. Retaliation, Revenge and Get Back peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 8 on the 200 Albums chart. Dillinger has gone on to carve out a successful rapper/producer career. He released the A.T.L.A. project with Big Gripp in 2020. Daz also has a Grammy nomination with Kurupt for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the song "What Would You Do."

Kurupt

NEW YORK, NEW YORK--AUGUST 03: Snoop Dogg, Kurupt (aka Ricardo Emmanuel Brown) and Dr. Dre (aka Andre Romelle Young) appear backstage when the Death Row Records label assembles at The Source Awards, held at The Paramount Theater at Madison Square Garden, on August 3, 1995 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives)

Kurupt, real name Ricardo Emmanuel Brown, would begin a third stint at Death Row Records after it was purchased by longtime friend Snoop Dogg in 2022. Kurupt first joined the label in 1992 when he was 19 years old. He left the label after the murder of Tupac, like many others. He released the Dog Food album as a part of the rap group, The Dogg Pound, with Daz Dillinger. This was under his first commitment with Death Row. Kurupt returned to the label in 2002, briefly becoming the vice president. He would release his oft-delayed Against The Grain album and leave the label again in 2005. Kurupt re-signed with Death Row Records in 2022 as part of Snoop’s plan to revamp the label.

The D.O.C.

ST. LOUIS- DECEMBER 1991: Rapper The D.O.C. (Tracy Lynn Curry) poses for photos backstage at The Arena in St. Louis, Missouri in December 1991. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

The D.O.C., born Tracy Lynn Curry, was regarded as the "master of the pen" during the rise and reign of gangsta rap in the '90s. He was initially at Ruthless Records before departing to join the newly formed Death Row with Dr. Dre. The D.O.C. is credited to have co-written Eazy E’s classic album Eazy-Duz-It and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. His debut album, No One Can Do It Better, was released in 1989. The album was a critical and commercial success. It spawned two number-one records and went on to achieve platinum status in 1994.

The D.O.C. was also involved in a serious car crash just months after the release of his debut. He has confessed in interviews that he was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. The accident left him with serious facial injuries that required plastic surgery. It also permanently changed his voice. He continued to work at Death Row Records as a ghostwriter contributing to Dr. Dre’s and Snoop Dogg’s albums. He would later leave Death Row after a short feud over payments with Dr. Dre. The D.O.C. founded his own label, Silverback Records, in 1997.

The Lady of Rage

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 27: Rapper The Lady of Rage performs onstage during the Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock concert during 2015 BET Experience at Staples Center on June 27, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paras Griffin/FilmMagic)

Robin Yvette Allen, The Lady of Rage, is known for her feature contributions in Snopp Dogg’s Doggystyle and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic albums. Dr. Dre is credited for discovering the talented MC after hearing the vocals she recorded for the L.A. Posse's album, They Come in All Colors, released in 1991. She released her solo debut, Necessary Roughness, in 1997 after several pushbacks. The record served as her only album on the label. Necessary Roughness peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard R&B Album chart and 32 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. She would sign with Boss Lady Entertainment in 2007.

Sam Sneed

NEW YORK, NEW YORK--AUGUST 03: K-Solo (aka Kevin Madison), Sam Sneed (aka Sam Anderson) and Daz (aka Delmar Drew Arnaud) appear backstage when the Death Row Records label assembles at The Source Awards, held at The Paramount Theater at Madison Square Garden, on August 3, 1995 in New York City. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives).

Sam signed with Death Row Records in 1993, releasing one single, Dr. Dre assisted "U Better Recognize." He is also a producer. Sam co-produced the singles "Keep Their Heads Ringin" and "Natural Born Killaz" with Dr. Dre. Sneed's brain tumor diagnosis in 1999 effectively halted his career. He, however, recovered and has had production credits on songs for G-Unit, Jay-Z, and Scarface.

Snoop Dogg

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 21: Snoop Dogg performs at The O2 Arena on March 21, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)

Snoop, or Uncle Snoop, as he is also known these days, is officially the new owner of Death Row Records. Snoop’s history with the label started in 1992. He appeared on The Chronic and his performance fueled the anticipation for his debut, Doggystyle, which was released in 1993. The album shot up the charts to occupy the No. 1 spot with over 800,000 copies sold in the first week. The debut project has also been certified 11x platinum by the RIAA for 11 million copies sold worldwide.

Snoop first left Death Row Records amidst the murder of friend and label-mate Tupac, and the alleged involvement of the then CEO, Suge Knight. The "Drop It Like Its Hot" rapper has repeatedly criticized Suge for the untimely death of Tupac. Snoop now has ownership and executive control of the label after purchasing it from MNRK Music Group.

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