The horror stories about Suge Knight's alleged penchant for using his physical prowess to resolve every obstacle he encountered during his reign as the head of Death Row Records have abounded in the Hip Hop community for 20 years, with rarely anyone coming to the defense of Rap music's equivalent to the sinister Big Red from The Five Heartbeats.
But now one of the last people anyone who has seen the documentary film Welcome to Death Row could have imagined defending Suge Knight is doing just that - to an extent - in her forthcoming memoir Time Served (My Days and Nights on Death Row Records).
Simone Green, the onetime in-house photographer for Death Row, and the visibly bruised beating victim shown in the aforementioned documentary, is documenting both the good and the bad times she shared with her former "friend," Suge Knight, as well as her experiences with Tupac Shakur, Yo-Yo, Jewell, and all the other artists she captured with her camera lens.
As she prepares for the January 13th release of her book, Simone spoke to HipHopDX about the intriguing content that comprises her writings, including her relationship with Tupac, (who she fondly recalls enjoying her chicken wings "as much as he liked other stuff"), her rare witnessing of the remorseful side of Suge Knight, and the incident she witnessed involving Jewell that she guarantees will incur the ire of the former Death Row songstress.
HipHopDX: Going back to the beginning, how did you become the Chief of Photography for Death Row Records?
Simone Green: My ex-husband, [Tony Green of The Dramatics], was one of the bass players that they hired, from Detroit. He brought that Detroit sound to Death Row [Records]. And he went on and hooked me up with a job over there. He set it up for me to work with [Dr.] Dre, and then once you start working with Dre, Suge [Knight] kinda - he saw me somewhere and let me know that he wanted me to come and see him. When I came to see him, that day, he told me - He hadn't looked at my work or nothing; he didn't know what I could do. And he [immediately] introduced me to his staff like, "This is the new Chief Photographer for Death Row Records." And I looked at him kinda crazy like, "Well, thanks for letting me know." And that's how it all started.
DX: What years did you work for Death Row?
Simone Green: I started in 1992. In late '92 I started with a [company] picnic, and then went on from '92 to '94. I was gone by '95.
DX: So you weren't around for the Tupac era ?
Simone Green: No, but I knew Tupac, so... He was one of the first people I met when I came back to California, because when I first came back I ended up working for Yo-Yo, and they were real good friends.
DX: What did you do for Yo-Yo, just album cover shoots and stuff?
Simone Green: No, quiet as kept, I was Yo-Yo's road manager.
DX: So are those stories of being on the road with Yo-Yo in the book?
Simone Green: Yeah, it's a few things in there with her. And she's coming to an event that we're having in New York [on January 13th at Hue-Man Books in Harlem], because we ended up bonding real close.
DX: And I know she was close with Tupac. Is that time with Tupac documented in the book?
Simone Green: A little bit. Not as much as me and his - how we hit it off. And then [with him and] Yo-Yo, I kinda kept those stories separate, because me and Yo-Yo are like family now. From that day to this day we talk every day. So, it's like, her business is her business, and so I kinda didn't tap on that too much.
DX: You wanna speak on your business with Tupac, or you wanna save that for the book?
Simone Green: Well, you know, we kinda hit it off. When I first met him it was because a friend of mine, [singer] Val Young, was having a potluck at her house. She had an apartment, but she could pack that joint like it was a concert 'cause everybody in that apartment was famous: from Darryl Strawberry to the Mary Jane Girls to Tupac Shakur, Yo-Yo, Bell Biv Devoe, everybody was there. They came for the food. And, I moved in that building and she asked me to make some buffalo wings. And I made the buffalo wings, and I tell you Tupac snatched them wings up and snuck into a corner and ate 'em all. He loved the wings to the point where that's what made us become friends. He [would say], "Oh, yo, can you make some more of those wings." [Says slyly] I moved right around the corner. And he literally had moved on our same street but on the other side, in North Hollywood. So he invited me and Val and her daughter over. And, I went over and I took my wings over there as [needed]. He was addicted to the wings. I think he liked the wings as much as he liked other stuff.
Simone Green: You know what I'm talking about. It was like, wow, those wings are the bomb. [Laughs] He always used to tell me how good he liked my wings, so that was how we hit it off.
DX: Now, bringing the timeline forward, and back to the Death Row stuff, when and why did you leave Death Row?
Simone Green: I left on January 25, 1994. And the why is in the book. That part I don't wanna let out, what happened. But it was an incident that occurred, and I had no control over it.
DX: Well, I do have to tack on a question to that . The scene in the Welcome to Death Row documentary when you detail the time Suge Knight assisted in assaulting you is a powerful one. So I was surprised to hear you speaking in the promo video for the book of the couple "cool" convos you've had with Suge since. I have to ask, why would you sit down and talk with someone who had done that to you?
Simone Green: Well, I'ma be honest with you, I was tired of looking over my shoulder. And I wanted to know why. I had some questions myself, and I wanted to know, "Why did you do this to me?" Because I thought we were much cooler than that. So, when he came to Atlanta to Left Eye's funeral and I ran into Kurupt at the funeral, it was like - Kurupt immediately went back and told him, "Man, you know Simone lives here?" This is the first time in all my years that I let my guards down for a hot second and Kurupt said, "What's your digits?" And I gave 'em to him. I wasn't thinking; I swear I wasn't thinking. And sure enough, he called me about three hours later and said, "Yo, Simon wants to holla at you." And I was like, [Says hesitantly] "Why?" And he was like, "He wanna talk to you for a minute."
So, [Suge Knight] got on the phone and he was like, "You know, I wanna talk to you." And I was like, "Yeah, but I'm not coming." And he was like, "Simone, everything is cool." I said, "I'm not coming!" When I got off my job that night, I got off at 11 o'clock. Now, you know I must've been crazy because I went straight to that hotel. It was The Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead. Now, don't ask me why I did that, but I wanted to know. In my mind for [eight] years I had puzzled around with it, trying to figure out, "Why did he do this to me?" And so that's when he told me. And he apologized.
DX: Oh, he did apologize?
Simone Green: Oh yeah. He apologized, and told me that day - I don't know if it was because he was saddened by Lisa's death and just was feeling bad, but he told me that, "Anything I can do to help you in whatever [you're doing just let me know]." He said, "I heard you got a book coming out?" And I said, "I do." He said, "Well, just do me one favor: make money." He said, "Make money, because those people in that movie, that did that movie that you did, they didn't make no money. So I need to know, how much did you make?" And all I said was, "I made about 20-times-$300, and some." And he said, "My girl." And I was able to walk up out of that room with his blessings for the book." He said, "Just tell the truth."
And I'm telling the truth in the book, regardless to who it hurts: ex-husbands, Suge Knight, whoever. I'm telling the truth in the book.
DX: In that Welcome to Death Row documentary you said that you weren't "the only woman he beat up. So do you detail Suge's long-rumored acts of violence during the Death Row era in the book?
Simone Green: Well, we interviewed other people from Death Row Records like one of his kid's mother's, and she talks about situations that she had and how they played out with her and Suge. [So] I definitely wasn't the only one, but I'm the only one that I'm speaking on, because I can speak for me. Can't nobody speak for anything else but you can speak for yourself. And that's how I feel, I just wanna talk about me and what I went through, and how I feel that we can help other people in the long run.
DX: So, I have to ask, are there any other revelations about other artists, or just what was going on at the time at Death Row, that the HipHopDX readers are gonna learn about from reading Time Served?
Simone Green: Well, they're gonna find out that everybody that Suge called a friend, they might've not really been his friend. 'Cause I thought I was his friend, and if I got that for being his friend what did some of his other friends get? I have a picture that I took of all of the guys - one night we were doing a video shoot... and it was Suge and all of his henchmen. And all the henchmen are dead today. Every one of 'em is dead; Suge is the only one alive. So those were his friends. And if you really think about it you'll be like, Hmmm, that's kinda weird.
DX: Speaking of Jewell, just for the record, you're not writing about Dr. Dre's sexuality or other tawdry topics the way she is in her new book?
Simone Green: No. Like I said, this is about me. Hopefully Jewell will talk about her own sexuality and the things that she has [done] while she's telling on Dre.
DX: Yeah, I interviewed her recently and I was very surprised to hear a grown woman talking the way she was.
Simone Green: Oh, yeah. And, I think it's a little bitterness with her and her situation. But, all of the girls at Death Row were... The whole thing was ran like a little gang. And if you didn't do what one said I talk about Jewell now. She fin to be mad at me, 'cause I'm putting it out there on her. So, while she wanna talk about Dre, we gonna talk about her. So I do talk about her. And it's not a bad thing, but it's just an incident that occurred with her while we were out of town and some things that she did. But it just happens to be her.
DX: I wanna wrap this quick Q&A up by asking the most obvious question: Why did you wait 15 years to document your time at Death Row?
Simone Green: Because the first time... Really, I been working on this since I left Death Row Records. And the first time I did a manuscript, it got kicked back by the [publisher]. Then someone walked it in to Simon & Schuster, and Suge had got a book deal at Simon & Schuster and they said, "Eh, he didn't sell no books so you probably won't sell any either. But we do like this story." So they told me what I should do, and I did what they told me to do and I went out and I hired someone to help me and we put it together in the proper kind of way and we did everything right and they told me, "Simone, if this book starts to sell don't forget us, 'cause we might come back and ask you can we buy it." So, now that it's coming the way it's coming, I think that it might blow and they'll come back and wanna buy it. But it took 15 years 'cause I wanted it done right.
And I really had to think about the people that I was pulling into this situation, because there's a few people that might be mad at me afterwards. And they're not Suge Knight. But, the truth is the truth.
Time Served (My Days and Nights on Death Row Records) is available for pre-order.