By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
We were sitting close to the stage at Suge Knight’s (Somewhat) Annual Death Row Records Single Mother’s Day Brunch, held in regal splendor at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Maxine is not single — her longtime husband (and Suge’s daddy), Marion, was by her side — but she never misses the brunch. And her son always gives her a spectacular gift after the show.
“He buys me anything I want,” she said. Sometimes it’s a car. One year it was the Chiclet-size diamonds in her ears. “I said since my son wears a big diamond, I want mine half the size of his. I never take them out, only to clean them.”
Maxine Knight pointed to her daughters — Suge’s older sisters — and their children, who were seated at the next table. And she said her newest grandchild, Bailey — Suge’s baby — was asleep upstairs. “We’re a lucky family,” she said. “We are blessed.” No mention of a Mrs. Suge Knight, though perhaps the child’s mother was mingling with the nearly 600 single moms and 300 children who found their way to the free brunch.
Dressed in their Sunday best, these women, whose lives consist of juggling work and kids with little money and less companionship, took advantage of the chance, just for a day, to play the part of ladies who lunch. Never mind the screeching children, beeping Gameboys and chirping cell phones. They scooted their chairs up to the white tablecloths, sipped champagne and relished the four-course menu that began with mushroom ravioli and ended with an apple tarte tatin in chocolate sauce.
How did they get word of the brunch? Robin heard about it from Nieche who heard about it from Dalasini who heard about it from Kaylene. Kaylene is a teacher at Creative Kids, an after-school program in Tarzana. She was invited to the brunch by one of the moms, Catrice.
“Oh, look,” Kaylene said, turning carefully so as not to spill her mimosa. “There’s Catrice now.” She pointed to an extremely thin woman in a white halter dress, clear-heeled princess sandals, diamond hoop earrings and a large diamond heart pendant. The word queenwas tattooed in cursive around her left biceps.
“Don’t call me Catrice,” said Catrice, tipping her glass of champagne toward her mouth. “That’s my name but I don’t go by that. I go by my stage name, Virginya Slim. That’s with a ‘Y.’” She was talking fast, amped on bubbly and the energy of the event, which she helped coordinate. “I work as a receptionist, and I also do marketing and promotion,” she said. “I have a single too. On Dysfunktional Family. I sing with Crooked I. It’s called ‘Still Tha Row.’ I’m the assistant show coordinator and, I hate to say it, but I believe I get more out of this event than anyone here. I am a single mother myself, and I put so much into it that I go home with a utopia feeling.” She paused for the first time and looked at me, hard. “I’ve worked on this event all along, except when Mr. Knight was gone.”
Knight was “gone” for nearly five years, doing prison time for violating parole on an earlier assault conviction. That violation, caught on videotape, showed Knight and his number-one artist, Tupac Shakur, thumping a Crip in Las Vegas the night in 1996 that Shakur was later shot to death in a drive-by.
Shakur’s death marked the end of an era for Death Row — and for the Single Mother’s Day brunch. “Ninety-seven was our best year,” Slim said. “We had Tupac and Snoop and everybody here.” But those days — and the artists — are long gone. When Knight got out nearly two years ago, Tha Row, as it’s now called, was running on the fumes of Shakur’s posthumous releases. Since then, Knight has built up a stable of new talent, though he was sidetracked earlier this year by a two-month prison term for another parole violation. The label’s first release, the soundtrack to the movie Dysfunktional Family, remains true to the hardcore rap form that Knight first brought to many a suburban white boy’s bedroom 10 years ago, with cuts like “Who Wants To Fuck Tonight,” “We Ballin’” and “Tha’ Row (Y’all Hoes).”
But nary a “ho” was uttered from the stage on Sunday, as Suge and his rappers paid loving homage to their mothers, the (single) mothers of their children and to the mothers of everybody else’s children.
Suge appeared onstage, turned out in dark glasses, gold suit, white shirt and gold tie. His bald head and full beard made him look strangely Hasidic. “I’d like to thank God for all we do here,” he said. “And I’d like to take a little time out, everybody, to turn to their mother and say, ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’”