Death Row Records Photographer Simone Green Has the Last Laugh
By Jesse Serwer
At the height of Death Row Records' notoriety, Simone Green's job was to document daily activity at the label. Naturally, then, she was able to fill a book with the details.
"The last time I'd seen bullying that went on like it did at Death Row, I was in elementary school," says Green, who chronicles her days as the famously Bloods-staffed L.A. rap label's chief photographer in her just-released memoir, Time Served (My Days and Nights on Death Row Records). "If you didn't do something the way somebody liked, they're going to go tell the teacher. Well, Suge [Knight] was the teacher. ... It was something just waiting to explode."
Green, who now lives in Columbia, Md., has mostly kind words for the label's talent, particularly Snoop Dogg, whom she first knew as her mailman's McDonald's-employed son, and Tupac Shakur, who became enamored with Green's hot wings after moving onto her street in North Hollywood. And she says Knight treated her respectfully from the time of her hiring in 1992 until early 1995, when, she alleges, the imposing former defensive lineman held her down while another woman beat her, amidst a dispute between him and Green's ex-husband, Tony "T-Money" Green.
She learned camera basics as a Buffalo-raised kid, from her photographer father. But it was a fortuitous encounter with Melvin Franklin of the Temptations at Flipper's Roller Disco in West Hollywood that set her career in motion. Turns out they were second cousins, and he began hiring her to document events and introducing her to people from Motown. But her photography business was only nominally lucrative until she was hired by Death Row on the recommendation of her aforementioned ex-husband, a Death Row bandleader and the bassist on key label hits like Snoop's "Who Am I (What's My Name?)."
"Tony didn't want to pay no spousal support," Green recalls. "But he figured, 'If I get her a job, she won't bother me about no money.' "
Green's Death Row duties included documenting video shoots and public appearances by the label's talent -- Dre, Snoop, Nate Dogg, Lady of Rage -- and creating care packages for Knight's incarcerated associates. "If we went somewhere and Suge was getting out of the car, I had to get pictures of Suge getting out of the car," Green recalls. "I'd have to make books putting all the photos together, telling a story from the beginning to the end. I couldn't figure out why, until one day I went up to the office, and there [were] boxes with these goodies in it, like tuna fish and popcorn and socks, and my [photo albums]. Anytime he sent his homies a box, he'd have a book with my photographs, so they could see what was going on."
Green hadn't seen Knight since the 1995 beating, when she shared the shocking details of the incident in the 2001 documentary Welcome to Death Row. But she says they more or less reconciled soon afterward, when Knight visited Atlanta, where the photographer had taken up residence, for the funeral of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes.
Meanwhile, years after the label's decline and eventual dissolution, Green's work with Death Row continues to pay dividends for her. Media such as VH1 regularly license her photos of Snoop, 'Pac and Dre. An exhibition of her work, including her images from Death Row, is currently featured at a hotel in Harlem. The best part? She gets to keep all of the money.
"One thing about Suge is he was smart but he wasn't smart enough, because he never did a contract with me," Green says. "I own all of the rights to my photographs."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.