Drug Dealer Says He Funded Death Row

Drug Dealer Says He Funded Death Row

by Marcus Errico
Sep 2, 1997, 6:30 PM for Eonline

The news keeps getting worse for Death Row Records. In recent months, the controversial label–the undisputed, but crumbling home of West Coast hip-hop–has been the subject of an ongoing federal criminal probe, its CEO has been sent to jail on a probation violation, and it is on the verge of losing its distribution partners. Now, a convicted crack peddler says in a newspaper interview that his drug money helped launch the label.

Michael “Harry O” Harris says in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he cut the deal with Death Row co-founder Suge Knight from his prison cell.

The 35-year-old Harris, currently serving a 28-year sentence for dealing crack and attempted murder, has emerged as the key figure in the federal racketeering investigation of the Row, according to the Times. The feds, who are trying to link the label to street gangs, drug trafficking, money laundering and general mayhem, have been interviewing Los Angeles music executives about Harris and his purported role as a financier of Death Row, sources told the Times.

Harris tells the paper that he put up $1.5 million in 1991 to form an entertainment company–with Death Row as the music branch. Harris claims to have financed the company because Knight had promised that super-producer Andre “Dr. Dre” Young would oversee the music.

Harris says he spoke frequently by phone in late 1991 to Knight and Young as they were recording Young’s Chronic album, the label’s debut. Records indicate that Knight visited Harris at a state prison nearly two dozen times over the next 18 months, the Times reports.

But by the end of 1992, Knight and Young had cut a deal with Interscope Records, which released The Chronic and subsequent Death Row albums. Harris says the deal was struck behind his back and he’s entitled to half the label’s profits. Death Row has accounted for more than $300 million in sales. “I was betrayed,” Harris tells the Times.

For his part, Knight denies that Harris financed Death Row. He swears the label was launched with millions of dollars from deals cut with Sony, Interscope and Time Warner. “You have to realize what kind of guy this is….Michael Harris makes things up to try to get out of jail,” Knight wrote in a letter to the Times.

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