Death Row Records blasted onto the 90’s Hip-Hop scene with some of the most talented rappers in the country. With Dre, Snoop, and of course Tupac helmed under their emblem, the label transformed into a West Coast icon. Under the scrutiny of Suge Knight, the company maintained its powerhouse stature until slowly but surely, it began to crumble. As the Death Row imprint began to slowly fade to black, its financial issues were exposed to the world after Suge took to an L.A. court room and filed for bankruptcy.
Now after a multi-million dollar purchase by Wide Awake Entertainment, the label is set to correct the ‘sins of its father’ and is reaching out to Death Row artists old and new to mend ties and reclaim its rightful place in Hip-Hop. A headliner in the fight to resurrect the label is Senior Vice President, John Payne. An old co-worker of Suge, John sat down with HipHopWired to discuss the label’s new direction, their new artists and exactly how he plans to breathe life back into Death.
HipHopWired: Tell me about what you guys have going on right now. Are you working with any previous Death Row artists?
John Payne: Actually as you know, we’re doing some re-releases of The Chronic. We’ve mastered it, added a DVD with videos, an interview with Dre. We added seven songs from that era which include some Snoop, CPO and some others. We put out Snoop From The Vault, which is all unreleased Snoop, stuff with Snoop and George Clinton from P Funk, some KC and JoJo with Snoop on there but it’s all unreleased. Right now what’s going on is, people don’t realize we’ve only had the company less than a year. There’s still a lot of paper work and documentation that we have to verify before we actually start getting into working with the actual artists.
There’s a few artists I don’t know if you know their names: Jewell, I was actually on the phone with her this morning. There’s another guy, I don’t know if you know Chris ‘The Glove’ Taylor, who was instrumental in helping with the production and engineering of the Chronic, he’s also in a group called Poor, Broke and Lonely from the original family.
Some of the other artists, the major ones, we’re now just going through the legalities of where we stand with them and their music before we can commit to anything, There are talks going on and once some of that stuff has been cleared up I think in the future, probably late next year we can actually start doing some things with the actual artists’ complete involvement.
HipHopWired: So you’ve gotten a pretty positive response from the old Death Row artists?
John Payne: We’ve gotten a positive response from most of them, some not so much. Again, they don’t know what’s going on, they’ve been through a hard time with Death Row, by not being paid. It’s a case now of us earning their trust and also seeing that we’re honorable. It’s a process and it’s something that’s to be expected, I really don’t blame some of them at all.
HipHopWired: So you guys are going to go back and pay them some royalties?
John Payne: Starting with us there was no debt, so whatever we make from day one they get paid. We can’t pay them prior to our purchase because that would fall upon the prior owners but if there was any way that we had knowledge to where the money may be, I’m sure we would share that. At this point we’re still trying figuring out what’s going on all around the world.
HipHopWired: Snoop’s album, you said it’s all brand new material? All previously unreleased?
John Payne: Unreleased material, came out last Wednesday it’s getting really good reviews and it’s doing well.
HipHopWired: I heard you guys were working on a soundtrack to a movie. Is that true?
John Payne: At this time, no, we’re not working on a soundtrack, that may come late in the year. What we have coming up next is a box set next month. It has three discs of music, one disc of the greatest hits that have been re-mastered and two discs of unreleased material from the artists that most people are familiar with, as well as, a lot of the other unnamed Deathrow artists that people didn’t have any idea existed.
We got the LBC Crew, we got Danny Boy, Six Feet Deep, OFTB, some Warren G, Jewell, a lot of people that been on the roster a while. The people that have been on Death Row from its inception in 92 up to 2006. So we’re giving you a sample of some of the things that we have in the vault and some of the things that will be coming up in the future.
HipHopWired: Have you spoken at all with Suge? Do you guys maintain a relationship with him at all?
John Payne: Actually, no. We don’t really have to because we bought the catalog out of bankruptcy. Actually, when Death Row first started……I was actually with the label then as well, so I know Suge and he and I never had a problem.
HipHopWired: But after he did declare bankruptcy, it came out that he had some old Death Row material hidden, do you guys have the right to go back and get that from him?
John Payne: Anything that is part of the Death Row catalog would belong to us… There’s’ some stuff that was reclaimed last December, anything that comes up if it was made under Death Row’s banner, it belongs to us. A lot of people may think differently and claim that it’s their’s, but legally that would be considered Death Row’s.
HipHopWired: With Suge, I know he put out a bunch of greatest hits, do you think he over saturated the market with all the old Death Row products?
John Payne: The market was over saturated…fortunately the stuff that we’re putting out has never been out. A lot of times with the case of Death Row they stuck to the basic Dre, Snoop and Tupac and at Death Row there’s a lot more than that. We’re going to feature every artist that helped make those records popular as well. It’s a far more versatile catalog than what has been displayed. They focused more on the negative side, we’re going to focus on the artistic side of the artists in the catalog.
HipHopWired: So you guys did The Chronic with Dre, what’s the next thing with Dre, do you have anything else coming up with him?
John Payne: Maybe in the future, but there is some stipulations with his agreement when he left Death Row, we’re still ironing out. Which comes with when you buy a catalog or you have to buy anything out of bankruptcy. You have to see what you actually have and what needs to be negotiated.
HipHopWired: What’s the latest news with the label? What’s the next big artist you guys are really going to push for?
John Payne: That could be answered better in 6 months to a year. The box set may create a demand for a Danny Boy or Jewell. The box set comes out next month, it’s a four disc compilation of greatest hits as well as a DVD and two discs of various unreleased artists.
For more info on the new Death Row, log on to http://www.deathrowmusic.com.