Tuesday, Sept. 10, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
Three former UNLV football coaches praise their former defensive end, Marion "Suge" Knight, who has come to personify all that is controversial about gangsta rap.
The three men -- a New Orleans Saints coach, a sports radio personality and a junior college instructor -- see the goodness in the top producer of music that critics say corrupts the minds of children, degrades women and glamorizes violence.
Life imitated art Saturday when Suge (pronounced shug, as in Sugar Bear, his childhood nickname) Knight and rapper Tupac Shakur were gunned down on a crowded Las Vegas street following the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight.
Knight, who was driving the BMW, was grazed by a bullet. Shakur was hit in the chest with four bullets and remains hospitalized in critical condition.
"I don't think this gangsta rap has anything to do with Suge," said Don Weems, now a Los Angeles college instructor. "It was just a way to make money."
The youngest of three and the only boy, Knight was always looking to get ahead, his mother, Maxine Knight told the New York Times Magazine.
"Suge always liked gold, and he was careful about his appearance, and he always said, 'Mom, one day I'm going to live in a house with a second floor and I'll have a lot of cars," Maxine Knight said in the January issue.
Knight caught the UNLV recruiter's eye while playing at El Camino (Calif.) Junior College in 1984. The young man's 6-foot-4 frame and his talent outweighed any concerns university officials may have had about Knight's affiliation with the Bloods, which controlled Knight's neighborhood in the LA suburb of Compton.
"He wasn't a problem guy at all," said Wayne Nunnely, UNLV head coach in 1986 and now with the NFL's Saints. "You didn't really see that street roughness about him."
Knight played for UNLV in 1985 and 1986, lettering both years, and later played part of a season with the Los Angeles Rams.
After football, Knight worked as a bodyguard for rhythm-and-blues singer Bobby Brown. He began promoting shows in Los Angeles in 1990. In 1992, he and rap producer Andre "Dr. Dre" Young started Death Row Records.
They have sold more than 15 million records and grossed more than $100 million. By 1995, Death Row was the biggest rap label in the world. Knight reportedly dreams of making the label the Motown of the 1990s.
Death Row Records has been likened to a gang with Knight as the kingpin, to be feared by some, respected by others. He stands by his artists, even when they break the law.
Shakur knows this firsthand. The 25-year-old rapper has been convicted of sexually abusing a fan and has served prison time. Knight told the New York Times Magazine that Shakur is "good people" who got a "bad deal."
Knight and his entourage are frequent visitors to Las Vegas, especially during boxing weekends. He owns a house in Las Vegas and he and his musicians are frequently spotted at Club 662 on East Flamingo Road.
Red is the color of the Bloods, for Death Row and Knight's new house in Las Vegas, used in the filming of the movie "Casino."
Knight bought the gated home in May to be neighbors with Mike Tyson. The southeast Las Vegas residence was used to film the home-scene shots of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, a former casino exec and mob associate played by Robert DeNiro.
"The guy wears a seven-carat diamond in his ear and I thought, 'Oh my God, is he for real?'" a real estate source said. "He and his entourage come in once a month and throw huge parties."
Since purchasing the house, the rap producer has been "redecorating like crazy," the source said.
One of the first changes was to paint the inside of the pool red -- which promptly turned orange from chlorine chemical exposure and the sun. The deck is red, the master bedroom carpet is red and more will follow.
The fame and respect Knight now commands means little to former UNLV football coach Harvey Hyde.
"It's been 11 years and I really don't know much (about Knight's life) after" football, the sports radio personality said. "He played for me and he gave me 100 percent, and that's the thing I judge a man by."
Marion 'Suge' Knight