On the 1996 night Tupac Shakur was killed in Las Vegas, Suge Knight was nabbed for violating his probation (for stomping a guy); he spent five years in prison. During this time, Knight's former high school classmate and head of security, Reggie Wright Jr., took over the bulk of Knight's duties at Death Row Records, the once–obscenely popular rap imprint, which was about to go downhill.
It was a bad time to be in charge for the ex–Compton police officer, and Wright spent much of his stint fighting lawsuits and dealing with an exodus of artists from the label, notably Snoop Dogg. Making matters worse, LAPD Detective Russell Poole's murder investigation implicated Wright in the 1997 murder of rapper Biggie Smalls, though he was never charged. Furthermore, former bodyguard Frank Alexander publicly blamed Wright for Tupac's death.
Wright and another former Death Row business associate, Lloyd Lake, are producing a documentary on the crimes, Justice for the Murders of Tupac and Biggie, which is in the fundraising stage.
Wright advances the claims made in LAPD Detective Greg Kading's 2011 book, Murder Rap, which blew the case wide open and was the subject of an L.A. Weekly cover story.
Murder Rap, for which a documentary of the same name is also in the works, implicates Southside Crip Orlando "Baby Lane" Anderson for the murder of Tupac, and Mob Piru gang member Wardell "Poochie" Fouse for the murder of Biggie Smalls. (Both Anderson and Fouse have since been murdered themselves.) The book fingers Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy) and Knight, respectively, for setting the deaths in motion. Combs and Knight could not be reached for comment for this story.
In a wide-ranging interview, L.A. Weekly spoke with Wright about the documentary and his time at Death Row Records.
These murders may one day be studied in criminal-justice classes. Do you think there will ever be closure of the Tupac or Biggie investigations?
I don't think so. I think too much has been done, and lost. I think closure is here. If everything that Greg Kading reported in his book is accurate, I believe law enforcement agencies on both investigations are satisfied. Both killers are dead. Puffy and Suge Knight are responsible for both of the killings, but the people that can really talk against them are no longer living.
In 2007, Suge and Puffy reportedly shared a couch at a Prince concert in L.A., which is startling, considering all of the blood supposedly spilled on their behalf.
I don't believe that Suge ever read the book by Greg Kading. So I don't think he knows everything that's out there. But I don't believe that he would do anything. Puffy's reportedly about to buy [another California home]. He wouldn't buy a house out here if he had fears.
Starting with Orlando Anderson, a lot of people — many who were close to you — have been murdered since Tupac's death. Why do you feel you've been spared in all of this?
That's a fair question. The thing about Tupac's "To Live & Die in L.A." song is that [almost] everybody that was mentioned [is either dead or in jail]. He didn't mention me. ... What I can honestly say is that every letter-government agency and local police department has put a microscope up my butt. I've been investigated by the IRS, [Death Row Records'] bankruptcy attorneys, the FBI, the ATF — all of 'em. If I was doin' somethin' wrong, trust me, I'd be incarcerated.
When Suge Knight went to prison, a lot of people came to collect, while others expressed outrage. There are stories of Lady of Rage trashing the Death Row lobby, there was the Kurupt management lawsuit, and, of course, Snoop left for No Limit. How did you deal with all of that?
It was crazy times, but we worked through it. The reason Suge is not in business today is that Suge didn't like dealing with attorneys. The Michael "Harry-O" Harris lawsuit [challenging ownership of Death Row] — we paid that off in 1996, along with Interscope. ... My point is: We just deal with stuff.
When Suge came home, he was in the black. He had a fresh start. He just refused to deal with it. He fired all the professional people that I hired, and started rehiring all the homeboys from the neighborhood.
There are a lot of different people said to have run the day-to-day operations at Death Row during Suge's incarceration: Roy Tesfay, Norris Anderson, Michel'le and you. Can you clarify?
Suge was incarcerated on Oct. 22, 1996. Norris had been given the role of general manager a little prior to that. He did that until May 1997. From '97 until I left in August of 2002, I was the general manager — I never took a title, but I was the one who ran all the day-to-day, met with bookkeepers, went to see Suge three to four times a week, was on the phone with him every hour of my life. [Laughs] As for Michel'le, we had a stamp created with her signature on it. I had the checks generated, and she stamped 'em.
Why did you leave Death Row?
I call a ball a ball and a strike a strike: It was jealousy. When he was in prison, we were like brothers. When he came home ... there were accusations, which he put out, that he fired me 'cause he found out I was stealing. That was his way of justifying it. The truth was, me and him never had a conversation about that.
What makes your film different than the other Tupac/Biggie documentaries out there?
It's finally got to the truth. You done had the Reggie and Suge theories, the Rampart scandal theories, but now I really believe that the truth is out there. Most people don't know the truth, 'cause they haven't read Murder Rap, which I really believe is accurate — 97 to 98 percent of the things in there are accurate.
Why put out the film now?
I just want to find my voice and finally be cleared. There are a couple incidents that I know of and that I've learned of over the Biggie investigation, by LAPD task force detectives: what Suge was doing behind the scenes, to try to get other people to go to the police on me, and have me incarcerated.
How have you been able to handle your former security employee Frank Alexander — as well as Russell Poole — accusing you of involvement in these murders over the years?
They're not flattering, the things that they've written. But I didn't care back then. I guess I started to care because the Internet is so powerful now. Having my kids being able to read. When you look me up, that's the only stuff that comes up: the murders of Biggie and Tupac. Neither one is true. The Biggie thing doesn't bother me, but when you have [allegations] over somebody who you would consider a friend, it hurts.
Did you and Alexander have a chance to speak before he died?
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No. Frank never reached out to me, and I never reached out to him.
What about to another Death Row security officer, Kevin Hackie, who testified against you to Russell Poole?
I did. To this day, he will tell you that he apologized, he retracted, and that he was tempted by money, and Frank.