As Death Row Records nears its eleventh hour, the label's founder, Marion "Suge" Knight, appeared at a federal bankruptcy hearing Friday to shed light on his personal finances and to answer questions about just how murky the money situation is down on the Row these days.
Knight filed for bankruptcy protection Apr. 4 to stave off a Los Angeles Superior Court order to put his label (renamed Tha Row in 2001 and at one time home to rap superstars Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur) into receivership (i.e., control taken out of Knight's hands, and placed into someone else's).
In March 2005 Knight was ordered to pay $107 million in damages to Lydia and Michael Harris, who claimed that they helped him bankroll Death Row Records.
Knight's latest financial maneuver--telling the courts he doesn't have anything left to pay the creditors barking up his tree--was prompted by his alleged inability to pay this latest financial slam against him. The bankruptcy filing has postponed the order to pay up, for the time being.
Although all of this legal wrangling could feasibly spell curtains for Death Row (more recently known simply as The Row), Knight has maintained that he's just turning over a new leaf.
"For the last few years there's been a stigma attached to Death Row," he said in a statement last month. "People like the Harrises have been coming out of the woodwork and it's been like a dark cloud hanging over me. I've decided that I'm serving Death Row its last meal. I'm setting a new table."
After leaving court today Knight said that he would try to revive his label.
"Got to play for the people," he said.
In February Knight countersued Michael Harris for fraud, conspiracy, racketeering and attempted extortion. He is asking for $106 million in damages. Harris is currently serving a 28-year sentence in San Quentin for narcotics distribution and attempted murder.
Knight testified Friday that he had settled with Lydia Harris for $1 million. She then told reporters that she had in fact received that sum from Knight, but that it surely wasn't a settlement.
"I'm telling you, I didn't do a settlement for $1 million," she said. "That's ridiculous. Let's keep it real."
Knight is not exactly known for being frank about his business dealings--in fact, the Los Angeles Times reported last year that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian awarded that $107 million judgment because Knight was so very unforthcoming about his financials, not turning over the proper documents to the plaintiffs' counsel and refusing to answer certain questions.
When he filed for Chapter 11 last month, he failed to appear at the scheduled debtor's examination and barely avoided a criminal contempt citation.
Knight wasn't very forthcoming Friday, either. According to the Associated Press, he quietly mumbled his testimony and took a pass on a number of questions. What he did reveal was that Death Row Records struggled during his several stints in jail and the $107 million he was ordered to pay tipped the financial scales in bankruptcy's favor.
According to Knight's 22-page bankruptcy filing, obtained by the New York Daily News, the music exec is down to his last bit of bling. The documents state that he owes $137.4 million in debts, including $11.3 million in federal income tax, $437,000 in state income tax, $350,000 to a law firm, $9,300 to Nextel (man, those contract cancellation fees are steep), $1,100 to Cingular Wireless and $15,000 on a credit card.
He said Friday that he's down to his last $11 in the bank, along with $25,000 worth of jewelry, $2,000 worth of furniture and $1,000 worth of clothes, leaving him decidedly in the red.
Knight's biggest asset, as listed, is $4.4 million in music publishing and copy rights, which the IRS has dibs on for the time being. Meanwhile, his assets were frozen in September.
And following his tradition of not giving out too much information, he listed the value of Death Row Records and his other companies as "unknown."
This particular courtroom controversy is the latest in a series of what have been pretty serious legal woes for Knight.
In 1987 he was given probation on attempted murder, auto theft and concealed weapon charges. The Death Row honcho was also sentenced to probation in 1992 on an assault charge and then in 1996 was sent to jail for nine years (he served five) for violating that probation. He was briefly jailed in 2002 for associating with gang members--a violation of his parole--and again in 2003 after punching a parking attendant at a Hollywood nightclub.
The bankruptcy proceedings are scheduled to resume June 23.