Death Row Records was one of the most successful record labels of the 1990s, with sales totaling over 125 million dollars just four years after its inception. Death Row helped to bring west-coast style gangster rap to the forefront of American musical consciousness. Death Row was founded in 1992 by Marion "Suge" Knight and Andre "Dr. Dre" Young with a combination of drug money and seed money from reputable entertainment companies. Suge found and signed the talented artists while Dr. Dre produced their albums. The tandem was responsible for break-out hits by artists such as Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tupac Shakur, and even Dr. Dre himself. Behind the scenes, however, Death Row Records was anything but a normal company. Suge, a south-central Los Angeles Bloods gang member, used violent, terrifying means to steal artists from other labels, extort money, and build the Death Row empire. The infrastructure of Death Row was full of former convicts including many childhood gang friends who would administer beatings to record executives, artists, or anyone who would not acquiesce to Suge's demands. Ultimately, Suge's numerous run-ins with the law for weapons and assault charges led to his incarceration and the downfall of the Death Row empire.
Have Gun Will Travel is a terrifying yet compelling look inside Death Row Records, and the gangsta rap industry in general. This book is not for the weak at heart, as it does contain descriptions of the violent acts carried out by Death Row associates. The period of time covered (1992-1996) could be considered the glory years of the rap industry, and Have Gun Will Travel is an excellent chronicle of events in that timeframe.
Reviewed by pk, 8/01. Other reviews by pk.