As Knight’s fortunes have crumbled, he’s gotten closer to the streets, according to prosecutors. In a motion arguing for the high bail (which would later be reduced to $10 million), the L.A. District Attorney’s office alleged a recent scheme by Knight to “tax” out-of-town rappers for as much as $30,000 just to work in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Last year, Knight called out Rick Ross in a video interview: “You know you owe that bread, titty man,” Knight said. “I’m gonna beat the dog shit out of you.” His targets aren’t limited to big fish — in 2014 he was caught on surveillance punching a worker at an L.A. medical-marijuana dispensary after being refused service for lacking documentation.
Knight hasn’t been charged for any of the above episodes; his current lawyer Thomas Mesereau says, “He never threatened Vanilla Ice,” and that all the claims of extortion are based on “a lot of gossip and innuendo.” But former associates struggle to understand why such an undeniably talented businessman can’t escape this kind of small-time drama and thuggery. “I watched Suge decline the last 10 years,” says Cash Jones, a.k.a. Wack 100, a former Death Row “foot soldier” who now manages Ray J and the Game. Knight already has two prior violent felonies on his record: If any of his current charges stick, under California’s Three Strikes law, he could be going to jail for the rest of his life.
“Suge lost focus of the business, and who he is,” says Jones. “He could’ve been a lot of things, but he chose not to.”
Knight’s most recent troubles apparently began like many Suge Knight stories: with him thinking that somebody owed him money. The upcoming N.W.A biopic, Straight Outta Compton — co-produced by Dre and Ice Cube, and due out in August — was getting attention after a teaser leaked in December. “People working on the set were calling and telling Suge, ‘Hey, man, this movie is really [becoming] a Death Row movie,’ with a Suge look-alike in the movie beating up people in the studio and all that,” says Reggie Wright, a childhood friend of Knight’s who worked at Death Row from 1994 to 2002. “Suge felt like they were using his likeness in this movie without consulting him.”
On the afternoon of January 29th, Knight drove up to the production’s base camp in his red Ford Raptor pickup, breezing past the film’s security. Dre’s bodyguards would not move him while Knight was on the premises, leaving producers in a panic. Cle “Bone” Sloan – a “nonactive” gang member who was working as a technical adviser to the movie – stepped in, confronting Knight. Sloan said later that he had heard there was a “problem” between “[Knight] and Dre or somebody.” The confrontation turned into a shouting match. Sloan said he told Knight, “Why don’t you leave so we can move forward? You got the white folks scared!” Eventually, Knight left the set.