Death Row's Former Photographer Shares the Unreal Stories Behind Her Photos

Death Row's Former Photographer Shares the Unreal Stories Behind Her Photos

Simone Green's book 'Time Served: My Days and Nights on Death Row Records' details the tumultuous years.
March 17, 2017, 6:00pm

When HBO was looking for photos to use in The Defiant Ones, a four part documentary series telling the story of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine that premieres this spring, they reached out to Death Row's former photographer, Simone Green, who wrote a book, Time Served: My Days and Nights on Death Row Records, about her experiences shooting flicks for the iconic label. The veteran photographer, who shot celebrities like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Barry White, Luther Vandross, and Stevie Wonder for Soul Train in the 80s, first met Suge Knight when he was just a gopher running around Solar Records.


But in 1991 when he formed Death Row with Dr. Dre, Suge hired Green, the seasoned professional, to document the burgeoning label in all its glory. While performing her job duties at Death Row, Green had no idea that she was taking pictures that would be so monumental and in demand 25 years later. She didn't know she was in the midst of a scene that would become part of hip-hop's mythology, documenting artists who have become part of pop culture lore. Green recently provided Noisey with commentary on some of her exclusive photos that captured the rise of West Coast gangsta rap in the form of Death Row.

Dre and Suge were ace boon coons back then. They were best friends. Dre was like, "I'm going to make this company bigger than anything." And that was what he was doing musically. But musically, what a lot of people don't know, is that Dre took credit for all the songs. He was bad with the music, but he didn't write everything. They didn't give anybody any publishing money. It was like Motown all over again. But Motown with like cayenne pepper in it because no one was getting beat down at Motown.

I worked with Dre most of the time in the middle of the night, working on video shoots. Dre paid good. When you worked for Dre you knew you were fired when you went to pick up your check and there wasn't one for you. Instead of someone calling and saying you're fired, you would go to pick up your check and their wouldn't be one. So then you know you're fired.

That was the last Jack the Rapper event in Florida, and the guys were in the kitchen at the hotel waiting for the people to set up the stage so they could do soundcheck. That was all the little Dogg Pound puppies shooting dice with Snoop that day. Snoop loved me because I was from Detroit. He might have been a gangster, but we never saw that. He was raised in the church, and he was a good guy, and he's never changed from that yet. If Snoop comes to town he's like, "find Simone. I want to see Simone." One time I was in the car and Snoop was up in the hotel and he told me to come up. He has always been very polite.

I commend Michel'le for telling her story. I just think she waited too long. She waited 23 years. I would have put that ass on blast when he whipped my ass. I can't say that I ever saw Dre put his hands on her. I never saw Dre put his hands on nobody. He was so nice to me he was like a son. He always wanted me to make him Buffalo wings. He loved my wings. Tupac was the same way. Loved the chicken wings. Michel'le was also having a relationship with Suge at the same time. I caught them at the office. The only reason that Michel'le is out there like that is because she got people that are mad at Dre to back her. They felt that Dre didn't tell this or Dre didn't tell that. They watered Straight Outta Compton down.

They were having a picnic for Death Row records. Everybody was wearing red. The grandmas, grandkids—everybody was wearing red. We get to the park, and the police have the park surrounded. There were all these different six-fours, and Suge had me take photos of them. I didn't know, but green was a color for Bloods too. If it wasn't red it was green. I had to make five copies of every photo I took and put them in these photo albums that Suge would send into his guys in prison. He would let people know what's going on with Death Row with these photo albums. He would send them in care packages. He was very loyal to those guys in prison.

You could always tell those people that were bullshitters because those were the people that were good ass kissers and they stayed on board. The ones that weren't good ass kissers either got their ass beat or they got killed. One or the other. I'm not a good ass kisser, and I'm not scared of shit. When I walked into Death Row Records I wasn't scared of Suge. That worked to my benefit because he knew I wasn't scared of him. Most people when they meet Suge they're scared of him. Because his reputation precedes him.

That was the Death Row Christmas party when we were about to sign Mary J. Blige. That was the Christmas affair. Death Row was good at throwing parties at different events. They never held back. I always tried to capture something when I shot photos. I never thought my photos would go down in history as something that was relevant. Back then if you heard Suge's coming to the party you already know that something is going down at the party. If you had a girlfriend and he was mad at you, he was the type to sleep with your girlfriend.

Everybody else in the picture is dead. That's Jake who got killed in Atlanta. The other guy, Buntry, got killed in Suge's car at the gas station. All of those guys are dead. Suge is the only one alive. Those were his cronies. Those cronies were the ones that would have been able to tell who killed Tupac and who killed Biggie. They would have been able to tell, that's why they're not here to tell.

Suge didn't smoke weed or drink at one point. He didn't start making these bad decisions until he started smoking and drinking. All he did was smoke those stank ass cigars. But once he started smoking weed it wasn't a very good look for him. He just didn't know how to decipher between the truth and bullshit. He bought all of the Death Row employees cars, but we didn't own the car. The company did. So if he got mad at you he would make your car disappear. Suge knows why he's in jail. He's not in jail for just running that guy over. He's in jail for everything he's done.

Suge was always in competition with Dre. If Dre went and got a bushel of apples, then Suge wanted a bushel of apples. And he wanted the exact same apples because he wanted to make it seem like he was equal, and really he wasn't. Because Dre was the creative mind. Suge might have been the muscle, but he wasn't a producer. He couldn't produce a record. I don't care how much he tried, he would never be able to produce a record. He could play like he produced the record, but we knew better. I respect the fact that I learned a lot at Death Row Records. I continue to earn because of Death Row Records. But if you don't know the music business you will be pimped just like a ho on the street. I kept it just like it was, he was my boss and that was how it was going to be.

When the incident happened at the Death Row offices with me I had no idea that Suge was going to have me assaulted. It happened in 1995 before the Super Bowl. He was blowing up my beeper, and by the time I got to the office I was like, "what's up?" Suge didn't like snitches, but if it was something to do with him, he wanted you to snitch and tell him. He asked me about who was in the studio one night, and I told him I didn't know. He's sneaky. He does shit and you have no idea he's doing it.

He asked me what I had in my hand and it was a pencil. He told me to give him the pencil, and when I did this girl swung on me. I fell down. Got up, kicked Suge in the nuts, and ran into the ladies bathroom. The secretary from Interscope was in the bathroom, and she was like, "oh my God!" She panicked. She could hear Suge and David Kenner banging on the bathroom door. She said, "don't say a word. When I go out I'll say nobody's in there." I hid in the bathroom and ended up sneaking down a couple of floors and taking the elevator to the parking garage so I could leave.

They had someone waiting in the garage for me to let me know I had five minutes to get off Death Row property or they were going to have me killed. I got my ass up out of there. And if my dad was still alive Suge wouldn't be in jail. He would have been dead a long time ago. I wrote the book because I didn't want to hold inside what happened to me. I knew if I held it all inside it would affect me later. My book is self-published and people in the jail system have bought that book. Its unbelievable. We get order after order from people from the prisons. The book has done very well for me.

To see more of Simone Green's work check out her website . Time Served: My Days and Nights on Death Row Records is out now.

Seth Ferranti is a writer based in St. Louis. Follow him on Twitter .