Death Row Records was the most feared record label in the music industry. They are the 2nd most important hip-hop record label of all time.

Before record labels were considered “the enemy” their brands actually meant something.  Artists dreamed of being on the same label as the MCs they grew up idolizing and some labels had such credibility fans would buy the record just because it was on that label.

Over the next several days we will look at the 20 most important hip-hop record labels of all time as determined by a host of factors including credibility, sales, enduring legacy and cultural impact.  And, the labels are:

#2 Death Row Records

The history of Death Row Records reads like a season of The Sopranos.  Suge Knight was the Godfather figure who rose to power as quickly as anyone ever in entertainment, and he ruled with an iron fist once he got to the top.  The label was populated with an odd mix of gang members and off-duty cops and, not surprisingly, was rife with conflict.  Death Row infamously handled inter-office disagreements by sending people to the “beat down closet” to work it out.  During Death Row’s reign, key artists on the label faced murder charges (Snoop Doggy Dogg) and were murdered (Tupac Amaru Shakur, R.I.P.).  Also, as everyone knows, Death Row started a conflict with Bad Boy Records that escalated to a full-fledged war between the East and West Coasts of the hip-hop nation.  And, as with all wars, it came with many casualties.  As dramatic as all of this was, none of it would have mattered had Death Row not been one of the most important record labels in all of music.  Founded in 1991 by Dr. Dre, Suge Knight and Michael “Harry-O” Harris, Death Row was the second of 3 labels built around the prodigious talents of Dr. Dre.  While Dre had had tremendous impact at Ruthless Records, the music was primarily only embraced by hardcore rap fans.   At Death Row, Dre was able to completely re-define POP music (not just hip-hop).  His patented G-funk sound (combining the samples and sounds of Parliament/Funkadelic with gangsta rhymes) took the nation by storm and dominated the airwaves and Billboard charts.  In fact, in little more than 3 years, Death Row sold nearly 30 million albums.  At the apex of its popularity (ironically, shortly after Dr. Dre left the label, penniless, to start Aftermath Records), Death Row had penetrated the mainstream cultural consciousness so deeply that the label and its key participants were the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story.  As important as that cover was as a symbol that hip-hop culture was now pop culture, it was also a symbol of the beginning of the end for Death Row Records.  As mentioned, Dre had recently left the label and 8 months later Tupac was shot and eventually succumbed to the fatal wounds.  One by one the label’s key artists left and Suge Knight was eventually imprisoned for one beat down too many.  Contrary to its name, however, the music of Death Row Records will live on forever.

Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang – Dr. Dre

Let Me Ride – Dr. Dre

Dre Day – Dr. Dre

Gin and Juice – Snoop Doggy Dogg

Doggy Dogg World – Snoop Doggy Dogg

Murder Was the Case – Snoop Doggy Dogg

Regulate – Warren G

Afro Puffs – The Lady of Rage

What Would You Do – Tha Dogg Pound

U Better Recognize – Sam Sneed

New York, New York – Tha Dogg Pound

Let’s Play House – Tha Dogg Pound

California Love – 2Pac

2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted – 2Pac

How Do U Want It – 2Pac

Hail Mary – Makaveli

To Live and Die in L.A. – 2Pac

Previously:  #20 Rakwus Records, #19 Loud Records, #18 Select Records, #17 Rap-A-Lot Records, #16 No Limit Records, #15 Sleeping Bag Records, #14 Uptown Records, #13 Ruffhouse Records, #12 Cold Chillin’ Records, #11 Jive Records, #10 Aftermath Records, #9 Cash Money Records, #8 Roc-A-Fella Records, #7 Ruthless Records, #6 Profile Records, #5 Tommy Boy Records, #4 Sugar Hill Records, #3 Bad Boy Records


2 Responses to Death Row Records was the most feared record label in the music industry. They are the 2nd most important hip-hop record label of all time.

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  2. Pingback: Was there ever any question that Def Jam Recordings would be the #1 most important hip-hop record label of all time??? « Ambrosia For Heads

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