Tupac Shakur’s mom sues label for recordings

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

In an escalating fight over Tupac Shakur’s estate, the slain rap star’s mother filed a lawsuit contending that Death Row Records and its owner, Marion “Suge” Knight, ran a criminal enterprise that bilked her son out of millions of dollars.

The 46-page complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Friday, seeks to place 152 of Shakur’s unreleased recordings into a court-appointed receivership and to invalidate an unconventional, handwritten three-page recording contract that Shakur signed from a prison cell.

Two weeks ago, Death Row logged a $7.1-million claim against Shakur’s estate demanding reimbursement for funds allegedly advanced to the rapper for cars, houses, jewelry and other expenditures, including recording and video costs. In addition, Knight is seeking 20% of Shakur’s earnings over the last 18 months as part of a management fee provision delineated in the contract.


“It takes incredible chutzpah to charge somebody a management fee predicated on the money that you stole from them,” said New York attorney Richard Fischbein, who, with Shakur’s mother, Afeni, is co-administrator of the rap star’s estate. “We were reluctant to file this lawsuit, but based on Death Row’s actions, we had no choice.”

The lawsuit contends that Death Row is in dire financial straights and that Knight commingled funds and treated his company’s assets and income as if they were his own. The suit contends that Knight spent millions on jewelry and a collection of 20 classic cars, while allegedly failing to pay royalties to other Death Row artists, including Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre.

Knight, who turns 32 today, is serving a nine-year state prison term for violating probation on a 1992 assault. He is currently being held in Delano Prison and could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit names Death Row attorney David Kenner as a defendant, accusing him of malpractice and contending that his representation of Shakur was in conflict with his personal financial interests and obligations to Knight and Death Row.

Kenner said on Friday that he, Knight and Death Row did not violate any law or mishandle Shakur’s account, blaming the rapper’s debts on his extravagant spending habits.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal blows for Knight, who is prohibited by law from running Death Row from prison.


Death Row, launched in 1991 by Knight--who built it into the most successful rap label in the music business, is already having significant cash flow problems. The company is also under investigation by the federal government, which is probing the company for alleged links to street gangs, drug trafficking, extortion and tax violations, sources said.

Shakur, who sold more than $60 million worth of albums last year, was slain Sept. 7 near the Las Vegas Strip in a drive-by shooting that also injured Knight. Almost immediately after his death, Shakur’s mother was informed that the rapper owed Death Row nearly $5 million.

In October, Shakur’s mother threatened to bar the release of her son’s posthumous “Makaveli: The Don Killuminati” album. Death Row distributor Interscope Records worked out a deal in November to pay an immediate $3-million advance to Shakur’s estate and has since paid her an additional $2 million in advances.

But Fischbein said Knight has repeatedly denied requests for the necessary books that would allow the estate to conduct an independent audit. Fischbein says that Knight has also refused to turn over Shakur’s unreleased songs to the estate because he contends those recordings are the property of Death Row under the terms of the handwritten contract that Death Row struck with Shakur in the Clinton Correctional Institute in Danamora, N.Y., on Sept. 16, 1995.

That contract is invalid, according to the lawsuit. The estate contends that Shakur did not have proper representation and signed the agreement primarily because he was unhappy and had been incarcerated for months on a sex abuse charge before Knight showed up with a promise to bail him out.

In addition, the lawsuit contends, there is no language in Shakur’s contract to support Knight’s claim for a 20% management fee, which is twice what an artist of Shakur’s stature would typically be charged.


Two weeks ago, Knight’s $7-million claim against the estate contained a 200-page list of itemized expenses allegedly incurred by Shakur, including $2,700 in child support paid on behalf of another Death Row artist and $100,000 for jewelry that Death Row purchased from B.L. Diamonds, a company that is now suing the estate for the money.