For Danny, the chance to finally release his Death Row debut album is bittersweet. “I would never go back to Death Row as an artist,” says the vocalist, who was one of the last artists to remain by Suge Knight’s side following its successful ‘90s run. “There were so many good things that came from that situation, but there was also so much pain. Suge was like a father to me, but he also treated me dirty. I understand the business, and I knew that Wideawake was a catalogue company that has control over a lot of my material. So I thought it would be a great business move to put myself in position to do business with them.”
But while Wideawake/Death Row is open to do business with other former Death Row artists, Payne says that there’s one individual you won’t see working with the imprint: Suge Knight. The once feared music mogul has experienced a litany of legal drama, personal issues and public embarrassments including a 2002 prison conviction for violating parole, a 2006 bankruptcy and a 2009 beatdown he suffered during a 2009 NBA All-Star party.
“Suge has no connection to the label whatsoever,” Payne adamantly maintains. “It’s out of bankruptcy…it’s not his label. He has no influence and he cannot tell us what to do. But I did personally speak to him a few weeks ago after hearing about all the stuff that’s been going on in his life. We were friends a long time ago in the beginning. He called me and we just chatted. I wish the guy well.”
While it’s not clear if Wideawake/Death Row will find future chart success, the label is swinging for the fences with some of its upcoming releases. In addition to Danny Boy, an unreleased June album featuring Long Beach, California rapper and Slaughterhouse member Crooked I will hit the shelves. There’s also the much-talked about unreleased debut from former Dr. Dre protégé and producer Sam Sneed, who found success with his 1994 hit “U Better Recognize” and co-produced such Dre classics as “Keep Their Heads Ringin,’” and “Natural Born Killaz.” But the company is really banking on a posthumous project from late music icon 2Pac set for this Christmas.
“This is unreleased 2Pac…no remastering or remixing,” Payne says of the set. “The songs are from a collection of tracks that were recorded during his Death Row days around All Eyez On Me. I believe that these songs could have been 2Pac’s next record if he were still alive.” —Keith Murphy