The Death Row Records Launch Party in 1992 Was Off the Chain
[Editor's note: A 2001 documentary from Santa Monica-based production company Xenon Pictures, called Welcome to Death Row, tells the story of Suge Knight's infamous imprint, and Xenon's producers are publishing interviews conducted for the film in a book next year. With their blessing, we're excerpting some of that material, including our cover story on the making of The Chronic and a dissection of the legend of Suge Knight dangling Vanilla Ice off a balcony.]
Suge Knight at the Chasen's launch party
Today we revisit the launch party for Death Row, held on February 25, 1992 at erstwhile West Hollywood restaurant Chasen's, a swanky eatery that once hosted Oscar parties. Though he was not able to attend because he was locked up, the money man behind Death Row, Michael "Harry O" Harris, received shout-outs throughout the night from performers like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Intended to introduce and legitimatize the fledgling label (an arm of Harris' Godfather Entertainment), the party was ultra lavish.
JOHN PAYNE: Godfather Entertainment is Michael Harris' company. Look at the Deep Cover soundtrack. It says "Godfather Entertainment."
Former Death Row attorney David Kenner, second from left, and publicist Norman Winter, far right
LYDIA HARRIS (Harris' wife): [Harris] would call Suge and wake him up. Because Suge would get up late in the morning and Mike would say, "To handle business, you got to get up early." Suge would get up in the morning and we would handle business. Mike would say "Go do this, go do that." And he'd do it. Mike would get on the phone with Dre and talk to him about what the people wanted to hear: the music, the lyrics and what he knew would sell. Because the guys listened to it all day in jail.
DAN O'DOWD (cinematographer): So, [Death Row publicist] Norman Winter came up with the brilliant idea to have the kick-off [party] for Death Row at Chasen's and everyone would get "served" with subpoenas as an invitation. And we'd go into [this fancy neighborhood] and rub it in everybody's nose that Death Row is coming out. So, everyone got subpoenas -- the biggest names in the record business. And they always show up for Chasen's. Everyone showed up. It was a mad house...Snoop was there. The whole ensemble was there.
NORMAN WINTER: The invitation was printed on a one-sheet, folded to look like a subpoena. "You are hereby ordered to appear before the honorable Dr. Dre and the offices of [Godfather] Entertainment as a guest of the court, witnessing the springing of Death Row Records." We had it delivered by two large security gentlemen who walked in on people and handed them a summons that looked real. [Attorney] Dave Kenner helped me write the text.
Chasen's was the place in Los Angeles in 1992. All the superstars and every president up 'til Reagan was at that place constantly. Presidents. Society. When you're unknown, you pick the best venue you can get. Even if they don't come to see your act, they come to see and be seen. And sometimes they come back with an earful and eyeful...Not only did [everyone] have a good time, they could not believe the abilities of these performers. The service was impeccable and there were great camera opportunities out front when you arrived. We wanted metal detectors out front, but [Chasen's] thought it could hurt their business.