EXCLUSIVE SUGE KNIGHT INTERVIEW
By Andrew Vontz
*An abbreviated version of this interview first appeared in the June 2006 issue of Mean Magazine.
Long before Suge Knight shocked the world by turning his gangland/music rivals into human speed bumps, he sat down with me for an exclusive interview for Mean magazine at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills in the spring of 2006. This story ran in the June/July 2006 issue of the mag. Much to my surprise, when I read back over the raw transcript, I had asked him about whether he would run over a wounded animal with his car. If you’re ready for 4,000+words that will blow your mind and forever change how you think about Suge Knight and Mykat, the pet bobcat he once owned, read on.
SUGE’S SWEET WISDOM
Suge Knight has spent a good chunk of his professional career hanging ten on Peahi-sized waves of controversy. As founder of the gangsta-rap (does anyone really use this phrase anymore?) label Death Row Records, Mr. Knight (no relation to legendary basketball coach, Bobby, in case you’re wondering) has fought plus-sized legal, financial, and personnel problems. He’s spent time in the cooler. His name has been dropped in more than one sentence about Vanilla Ice’s career. Now Suge is bankrupt.
Let the conspiracy theorists figure out how to pull those knots apart. When we sat down with Mr. Knight at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, we were more interested in the Big Questions. Like, did Kriss Kross make Mr. Knight want to jump?
SUGE ON. . .STYLE
Sometimes outrageous flair really heightens a man’s persona—take Flav-o-Flav and his clock for instance. But sometimes it’s sartorial suicide. What’s the lamest style you’ve seen someone try to pull off in the hip hop game?
SUGE KNIGHT: Fake jewelry. I think that some kids miss the message. You get a lot of well known people, celebrities and rappers. If they’re going and buying fake jewelery, you get these little kids taking their last and trying do all they can to get that chain. Fake jewelry takes the value down of a person’s morals.
Can you spot fake jewelry?
SUGE KNIGHT: It ain’t that serious to me. I pretty much don’t judge how people dress. Some people, that’s their personality. You shouldn’t be scared to express your personality. I was just saying fake jewelry because of the kids. Anyway you do it is best.
Did Kriss Kross and their backwards pants make you want to jump?
SUGE KNIGHT: No. I wasn’t into the backwards stuff. I think it was good for the kids. I have kids. They wasn’t born at that time. Kriss Kross was a group for young kids. There’s nothing wrong with kids following that trend. But I’m a grown man. I wouldn’t want to see a grown man dressed like a 4-year-old. Then there was TLC and they wore the baggy clothes. If little kids wore it, that was okay. If you see a guy dressed like that, it’s a problem.
Why didn’t the Digital Underground Groucho Marx nose catch on?
SUGE KNIGHT: That was a gimmick. I don’t think people really like gimmicks. It was a big gimmick for him and everybody was happy with it but that came and went. Nowadays kids is way smarter than kids was in my time and before that. We were probably more wise and street smart, but with the access kids have to what’s going on, you can’t fool them. They don’t want to deal with no fakes. They like the real deal.
People like to do the Humpty Dance, though.
SUGE KNIGHT: Yeah.
SUGE KNIGHT: Definitely. I mean, I think it was a great thing. Those types of things for the kids changes. Our generation can still appreciate it and might do the Humpty Dance, but the younger generation is onto something totally different.
While the hip hop world continues to progress, the white music and fashion arenas are stuck in the early 80’s. How do you feel about that?
SUGE KNIGHT: It’s a way to express yourself. As far as in hip-hop, rap is basically from the inner city. You have to find other things to entertain and express yourself because you didn’t grow up with millions of dollars. The inner city is always going to be more creative. They can’t afford to go on a shopping spree and spend $10,000 a trip. They’re going to go to a swap meet and be creative so they can keep themselves looking nice and presentable. The heart of the party crowd is always going to be that fad and clothing style from the inner cities.
I lived through the 80’s once and I’m ready for it to be 2006.
SUGE KNIGHT: I don’t see any of the kids in the inner city dressing like it’s the 80’s. Run DMC, that was a great rap group. People liked the Adidas but it was something totally different. Guys wore their clothes tight back then. You can’t go out wearing no tight ass pants or no tight ass shirt nowadays. Kids wear their clothes baggy.
And kids have realized that if you don’t put laces in your shoes—they might fall off. In LA, it never was to the point where we ran around with no laces in our shoes. Two things: you might get in a fight and you might run from the police.
When does someone qualify for a bro hug instead of a handshake?
SUGE KNIGHT: When they get that level of respect. There’s a difference now. There used to be a time when everybody would embrace most people. Now you’ve got guys that run around, their past is not good. Nobody in our society wants to be hugging on a rat. Or a child molester. So before you embrace someone nowadays you want to pretty much know who you’re embracing.
Plus if you’re hugging everybody, what does a hug with your mom mean?
SUGE KNIGHT: Exactly.
Figuring out whether to shake, give a pound, or a bro hug can be really confusing. How do you decide?
SUGE KNIGHT: To me if it’s somebody in my family or one of my homeboys or somebody I’ve known all my life, it’s always a pleasure to see them. We don’t take shit for granted. So when you see them you embrace them. Same thing with a special woman in your life. The way someone moves up is to be themselves. Once you know somebody and have rapport with them, it’s just time. Patience is everything. You can’t buy trust, you can’t buy loyalty. You’ve gotta earn it. That’s one thing you’ve still got to earn today.
You look like the kind of guy that would be an animal lover. My girlfriend’s kitten has a terminal disease. Would it be more compassionate to let it live and die a painful death of natural causes or to just put it down?
SUGE KNIGHT: If something’s suffering, if it’s in bad pain and it can’t get no better, I’d say put it down. You can live around certain residence and if you’re driving home and you see a deer that got hit by a car, all his legs is broke and messed up suffering, you know it’s going to die any minute. It might take five minutes, it might take an hour, but he’s not going to make it. So do you let the dear sit there and suffer or do you come back and put it down as we say?
Maybe you could just swerve and run over it.
SUGE KNIGHT: Right.
Give it a little bit extra. Attack dogs like Mastiffs, bulldogs, and pitbulls have real cachet on the streets. But it takes a man who’s very comfortable with his masculinity to love a kitten. What kind of kitten has the most street cred?
SUGE KNIGHT: I used to own a cat. It was a bobcat. I like cats.
What did you feed it?
SUGE KNIGHT: Chicken.
Did you cook it?
SUGE KNIGHT: Sometimes I gave it to him damn near raw. But sometimes you’d come in and the bobcat be sittin’ on one of the beams on top of the ceiling. You’d be looking for the cat and you can’t find him. I’m an animal lover. I’ve got cats, parrots, pirannahs, snakes, dogs, you know.
What was your bobcat’s name?
SUGE KNIGHT: Mykat.
Paris Hilton and all these starlets carry around tiny dogs that are dressed up all cute. If you have a bobcat how should you dress it?
SUGE KNIGHT: I just put a nice collar on her and let her do what she do. The appearance of that bobcat speaks for itself.
Nature gave her the perfect coat. What do you think about people who dress up their cats. Does that give them more credibility or less?
SUGE KNIGHT: My thing is, if you get a dog you’re basically getting a dog for yourself. And if you dress your dog up, you dress your dog up for yourself. So if the dog is hot and uncomfortable because you put this crazy-ass jacket on him, I think you crazy as a motherfucker. If that’s what you choose to do, that’s what you do. Just give me a collar and a chain and I’m alright with my pets. I don’t really like chains. I like to let my animals roam around as much as possible. You don’t want to take an animal and put him in a cage like they’re in prison.
Carrying around small dogs has become popular. But shouldn’t bigger people carry around bigger dogs?
SUGE KNIGHT: Shit, if that’s what they like. . . I think it’s their choice. Nowadays I see women with guys shorter than them. Where the man is actually looking up to the woman.
Don’t you think the guys should get lifts in their shoes so they’re taller than their girl?
SUGE KNIGHT: They should do something. Or get a shorter girlfriend.
Is it tough to look cool if your girlfriend’s taller than you?
SUGE KNIGHT: If your girlfriend’s taller than you, it seems like she in control and you her little girl—or little brother or something.
SUGE ON. . .TOOTH CARE
The widespread of availability of low cost grills at malls across America has put a faux-gold smile within the grasp of the masses. But it’s also caused a plague of premature tooth decay. What advice do you have for would-be grill buyers?
SUGE KNIGHT: Your teeth is probably one of the most important things in the body beside your heart. If you have a toothache, that affects the whole body. When you have a toothache it means you have a headache, an earache. I don’t believe going backwards. There were times when our ancestors way before our time had the rotten teeth, the messed up teeth and the rest of those things. Now we have dentists and they’re pretty much white and clean and they don’t hurt. I’m not into the grill type of thing. That’s a down south thing. But I’ve got a little brother on my label and he do the grill thing. I got a lot of guys from down south that I’m really good friends with and they all have grills. But you can never clean nothin’ 100%. With that metal down there. . .
Three weeks later you’re pulling out a wad of Cheetos. How many times do you floss a day?
SUGE KNIGHT: I usually brush a couple of times a day.
Your teeth look great. Do you use an electric toothbrush?
SUGE KNIGHT: Yeah. I got it from Sharper Image.
When you roll out of bed in the morning are you reaching for your brush right away?
SUGE KNIGHT: No. The first thing I reach for is getting out of bed. I brush my teeth before I go to sleep. I get rid of the food so that it’s not sitting there the next morning and all through the night. I think your teeth is one of the most important things you have. We didn’t always know any better so we didn’t always go through all of the proper procedures for taking care of their teeth. If they get a fake grill that’s rotting all their teeth out, then they need to do their homework, get on the internet and do some research.
SUGE ON. . .BUSINESS
What are the most important qualities of a good business person?
SUGE KNIGHT: You’ve gotta be a good listener and see things that people don’t believe and you’ve gotta be dedicated. You’ve gotta really believe in what you believe in. To be a great businessperson there comes a time when you can’t put a price on it, you can’t put a label on it, and you’ve gotta gamble. Some people might start a company and be successful and in time somebody wants to buy it and sell it. Some people know they’ll lose money in the long run but they’ll stay involved in it because they want to leave it the way it is. They want the name to be the right name it should be. If it means losing money, losing a lot of things, at least they keep their pride and what they believe in. That’s pretty much how I look at it. You’ve gotta have great people, though.
How can you find great people and how can you tell if they can be trusted?
SUGE KNIGHT: That’s one of the hardest parts. It’s not hard to find them. But people change. I think women is way more better business partners and business people than men are. The reason I say that is because of ego. You can get a guy that can be your VP or your assistant or he could just be your receptionist. Pretty soon some girl will get in his ear and say, hey, you just a receptionist and you do all these great things? One thing about a guy’s ego is that the guy who’s the receptionist, he’s not going to have to go home and tell his girl, hey I answer the phones and I patch the calls through. He’s not going to be at the club trying to pick up the girl and say, hey, I’m the gopher. I go get the water, I do the run ins. They’re not gonna say that. So they going to be the point where they sayin’ they either the marketing or they make the record or they own it or they design the clothes. All the ideas and creative control that you came up with, there’ll be a guy who’s the receptionist taking all the credit. And that’s no big deal. But after a while that guy’ll start believin’ his own lie. So his girlfriend will tell him, you doin’ all this type of stuff so you should make more money or you should start your own. This be a guy who’s tryin’ to steal from you because of his work ethics. Women is more loyal. Women like to get stuff done. That even applies to artists. Women are serious about their work. You take Beyoncee, this is a young girl and you can tell her mother did a great job and still does a great job with her. She’s in the business and hasn’t gotten sidetracked. She knows what she wants to accomplish and accomplished it. Women is better business people than men.
What’s the best test to put someone through to see if they’d make a good business partner? Should you go paintballing with them?
SUGE KNIGHT: No. Make sure it ain’t a groupie. The thing you don’t want. You got guy groupies and female groupies. You don’t want to be doin’ business with a guy who’s a straightforward guy and some guy comes in who plays sports or somethin’ and this guy wants to all grab him on the ass and be a groupie. And vise versa with women. You want a person to be able to respect on people on a level to earn their respect. There’s nothing more disrespectful to a person who comes in to meet with somebody on a dinner and they turn around and invite ten people who brung baseballs to get their baseballs autographed.
Has that ever happened to you?
SUGE KNIGHT: No. It really ain’t a problem with me. I’m the type of man that I’m straightforward.
SUGE KNIGHT: I’ll tell you exactly like it is.
SUGE ON. . .SEX, LOVE, AND ROMANCE
How do you know when you love a lady?
SUGE KNIGHT: Two things. The touch. You can look at a woman and she can touch you and she can make you feeling real good about things, not just your private parts but your heart, too. That’s the best test of all. A lot of people don’t want to agree with this but it’s true. Take the woman that you love and talk about her to your mother. Now if your mother don’t get jealous of her then you must not love her. But if you love her you’re assured, even if you say you don’t love her, your mother see that you care about her enough that she feels that’s her competition and has to let her know that momma comes first.
How long should you date a girl before you tell her you love her?
SUGE KNIGHT: It ain’t a time period. You could date somebody for ten years but never love them. You could never love them because you couldn’t tell. Then you could date somebody for a week and really be in love with them. You might not be in love with everything about them because you really don’t know them well enough, but you love them. I don’t think there’s no time limit.
How do you know a lady should just be a slam piece?
SUGE KNIGHT: I’m a bad person to ask that because I don’t do slam pieces. In this day and age if a man going to turn around and risk his safety on a woman, she better be more than a slam piece as far as I’m concerned. The stakes are so much higher now, so much riskier. Even if you use protection, the rubber can burst, anything can go wrong. Nowadays you can’t go get a shot to clear it up. They got stuff to kill ya. I ain’t into the slam pieces.
What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done?
SUGE KNIGHT: Romantic things is on different levels. When my grandmother was still alive I gave her a Bible with her own name. I thought that was romantic. I’ve bought my mother a car, sent her things. I just gave my daughter a 13-year-old birthday party at the Palm’s hotel this weekend. There was like over 100 kids there and there were performances. As far as women, um. . .
Skywriting? Hot air balloon ride? Body shots?
SUGE KNIGHT: (laughs) Now back in the day, in the past, I filled a whole house full of roses. It was something ridiculous to the point where there were so many dozens of roses that every room was filled so the whole place smelled like roses. I think overall, just being a good man by listening to her and being there for her. I’m a simple kind of guy—a candle, a nice bath.
SUGE ON. . .GLOBAL ISSUES
What country most deserves to be bombed?
SUGE KNIGHT: No country.
Who should the US start a war with next?
SUGE KNIGHT: If there’s no problem, why have a war?
If you were President, how would you handle the terrorism problem?
SUGE KNIGHT: I don’t care what group it is, terrorists or whatever, everybody’s got leaders, everybody’s got guidelines. I’d sit down with the person who was running the terrorists who was the main person. I would see what was on his mind, he could see what was on my mind. We could have a man to man sitdown. If we could resolve it right there we’d come to an understanding. Or as two leaders we’d deal with the situation one on one.
If you could have five minutes in the ring with Osama Bin Laden would you try to talk it out?
SUGE KNIGHT: Well, one of the things is that this is a known fact that this guy was blowin’ up and killin’ little kids or somethin’, naturally their ain’t nothin’ to talk about. Remember the guy, McVey, he was involved in the bombing and they put him to death right away, he waived his appeal rites? When I ended up paroling and had to go to the County, I ended up in Sacramento County and he had just left. The staff was taking pictures of him like he was a hero, this dude who blew up and killed all those little kids. Now that’s more reality if you can ask me if I’d ended up in a cell by him, I’d probably still be going to court. That’s one person, I’d kick his ass.
The farmers have Dave Matthews and Willie Nelson throwing Farm AID. AID’s victims have Elton John and Live AID. Tibetan monks have the Beastie Boys. Would you consider putting together an Ice AID with hip hop artists to draw attention to global warming?
SUGE KNIGHT: I believe in taking care of your backyard first. I believe, let’s put something together to help the schools out and support education. If you look at the schools, they ran down, they beat up. The teachers are probably more at the club than the kids at the club. People be talkin’ about all these other countries and all these other states. What about our kids? Any time you go to these schools you see how a child needs to be comfortable when he’s learnin’ and he’s sittin’ in these schools that is like a prison. That’s the sad part. Let’s do something about that first.
That is sad. But if the polar ice cap continues melting at its current alarming rate, we’re not going to have schools. We’re going to have swimming classes. The ocean is right here. Does that concern you at all?
SUGE KNIGHT: It don’t concern me because it don’t surprise me. We shouldn’t be surprised. When you read the Bible, the Bible talks about before the world comes to an end you ain’t going to be able to tell summer from winter some days. Some days on a winter day it’s hot. Some days on a summer day it’s cold. They say mothers and parents and kids will go against each other. We’re doin’ it now. Marvin Gay’s dad killed his son. Then you go to the Bible when the scripture talks about a sexual disease with no cure—that’s AIDs. All these signs that was said and told to us way beforehand has come. So therefore there’s no use trying to change history, to change the future, things that’s just supposed to naturally happen. I think we just supposed to believe in what we believe in and enjoy life and be the best mothers and fathers you can be for your kids and just enjoy it.
SUGE ON. . .PARENTING
What are three facts about life that every 6-year-old girl should know?
SUGE KNIGHT: Even at a young age they should know that beauty only lasts so long and smart lasts forever. That’s important.
Number two: don’t get a grill, it will rot your teeth. When should a parent resort to spanking?
SUGE KNIGHT: Never. I’ve never wooped any of my kids. I think you’ve gotta give a child discipline, but you don’t gotta woop them to give them discipline.
In your experience, is putting kids in time-out an effective punitive measure for bad behavior?
SUGE KNIGHT: It depends on what kind of timeout you give them.
What kind of timeout do you like to give? Are we talking Abu Graib, or go play Nintendo in your room?
SUGE KNIGHT: I’m an easy going dad. I’ve never wooped any of my kids, I never put my kids in timeout. I think if you truly, unconditionally love a child, that’s enough if they know that they upset you or disappointed you. You could look at them like, I can’t believe you done it and that’s enough.
Everyone has had the experience of standing next to a screaming kid who wants his mom to buy him something at a store. When is it okay for a stranger to say something to someone else’s kid?
SUGE KNIGHT: Never.
Never. Why not?
SUGE KNIGHT: That’s how that parent’s raising their child. If they come out and it might be annoying to you that he’s talking loud or saying what he’s saying but that’s the way they allowed their child to be raised and brought up. My heart nor your heart nor anybody’s else’s heart is pure enough to judge but God. So therefore if I don’t like it and you don’t like it, we have choices. We should go sit somewhere else because they have their rights. When it comes to a kid, nobody can compare to the parent but the parent.
The poststructuralists tell us that humans are desiring machines and that no matter what we do, we will always want to want because desire is by its very nature unresolvable. What’s a simple way to convey this to a kid who wants a toy?
SUGE KNIGHT: What’s wrong with havin’ a toy?