When Suge Knight got out of jail in 2001 he was on a mission to revamp his shattered label Death Row Records and wage war on his former artists Dr. Dre and Snoop who had long since left for greener pastures. Suge signed a young MC from Long Beach known as Crooked I.
The fiery young rhymer had a strong buzz and a level of lyricism that was rare at the time for the West Coast. Suge wanted Crooked I to go after Dre and Snoop, but Crook, whose real name is Dominick Wickliffe made a decision not to embroil himself in a war that wasn’t his and he made his stance public during a radio interview which he would later learn helped secure his future as an artist.
“One thing that I always did on Death Row, I always stayed myself and therefore just being myself, not knowing who’s listening, I did a radio interview. Death Row and Murder Inc. were real close and I still fuck with Irv Gotti and Ja, still got love for them dudes, but we did a radio interview out here in LA on I think Power 106 or something like that, and they were like ‘Yo, are you gonna jump in that beef?’ Crooked I who now goes by KXNG Crooked told HipHopDX in an exclusive conversation. “I was like ‘You know with all due respect to all parties involved that’s not really my beef. I don’t know, I don’t just, I’m not a toy soldier you know what I’m saying? And I was like, you know, I like Dr. Dre, I think he’s one of the greatest producers of all time.’ I said, ‘I don’t know 50 personally, but Em is one of my favorite artists of all time.’ I’m on Death Row at the time that I’m doing this interview and Dr. Dre and Em were listening. I had no clue ’til one day I was in Fat Beats, the record store that they used to have and I get a call and I’m like ‘Who’s this?’ And he’s like ‘It’s Dr. Dre.’ I said, “Oh, what’s up dude?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah man, I heard you on the radio. I like the way that you handled yourself. I appreciate you not trying to drag my name in the mud just because you’re on Death Row.’ So I think things like that were [one] of the reasons that when it came time to sign with Shady, they didn’t have a problem signing me. To go from there to Shady still is one of my biggest accomplishments to me because, you know, they were kinda pitted against each other because of the Dr. Dre, Suge thing, you know, Shady didn’t have to fuck with me if they didn’t want to.”
Despite the tension, KXNG Crooked, who is collaborating with Jonathan Hay and Sabrina Hill on a project called Urban Hitchcock in addition to working on the next Slaughterhouse album and a project with Statik Selektah, says Suge was supportive of his move and the embattled CEO even called him out of the blue just before his most recent legal troubles to reaffirm his support.
“A few days before [Suge] went to the set [of Straight Outta Compton] I was in Atlanta, he just basically called me out of nowhere and I was like ‘Who’s this?’ He says, ‘It’s Suge.’ I replied, ‘What’s up?’ He’s like ‘Yeah man, I just wanna tell you I’m glad you’re over there with Em.’ He was like, ‘You know, he’s always been a lyricist, and you’re a lyricist and that’s a good fit for you and you know, I wish you the best of luck. Don’t ever think I’ma trip or get in your way. I don’t care what you do over there, how much you sell whatever.’ He’s like ‘I’m just letting you know that that’s a good look for you.’”
The Slaughterhouse MC’s relationship with Eminem and Dre continued to grow over the years and according to him Dre even called him to work on what would eventually become the soundtrack of the year, but he was already on the road.
“I just missed that Compton project,” said Crook. “I was in there working with Dre on a couple things and then I went on a tour with Rittz from Strange Music. And when I went on a tour one of his producers hit me with, ‘Yo, we’re about to start working on this shit.’ I had to reply, ‘Dawg I’m on the road.’ So I missed out on that. But it came out dope. Socially it inspired producers. Producers were hittin’ me like ‘Yo you hear the high hat on that shit? You hear the snare?’ It was like a producer’s wet dream. The wave he created with that album and the movie, I think it really shook up Hip Hop enough to wake some people up.”
Crooked recently released an ode to the super producer titled “If I Was Dr. Dre.” It was an idea that he said came to him the second he heard the beat drop.
“DJ Silk brought over a beat to my lab and when he played it I was like ‘Yo, this shit is crazy.’ He was like ‘I want you to do something to this shit.’ I was like ‘I just keep hearing Dre on this shit. You might just wanna send that to Dre, dog,’” Crook remembered. “I was thinking this is a big beat, it sounds dope. I just keep hearing Dre’s voice for some reason, but he wanted me to fuck with it, so I went into the booth and I decided to approach it from the standpoint of, ‘What if I was Dr. Dre? What would I say on here?’ It is kind of a tribute because when you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes you really have to dig deep and think about their accomplishments and the things that they do and what they might say. So it was just something fun to do and I just winged it and it came out dope. A lot of the blog sites fucked with it. He’s amazing. He had three empires. A lot of dudes can claim one. He had empires at Ruthless, Death Row, Aftermath, and now even Apple. He got all the rings.”