LOS ANGELES — On a film set in Leimert Park, an actor playing rap mogul Suge Knight angrily peeled out of a parking lot in a Jeep. The film, “Straight Outta Compton,” tells the origin story of N.W.A and its famed members, including Ice Cube and Dr. Dre.
The fictional re-enactment on the set late last fall took on eerie overtones this week after Suge Knight’s arrest on suspicion of homicide. Police allege he ran over two men with his truck, killing one, following an altercation Thursday in connection with the film.
Knight’s character has only a minor role in the film, with the parking lot scene depicting a pivotal, early ’90s moment in Dr. Dre’s business relationship with Knight, one of rap’s most feared players.
Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are both producers on the Universal Pictures film, but Knight was not involved, director F. Gary Gray said during the shoot in September. When asked if the former record label exec had ever visited the set as many former associates and N.W.A group members had, the otherwise talkative Gray gave one flat answer: “No.”
The history between Knight and Dr. Dre (a.k.a. Andre Romelle Young) is one of success and tragedy. Dre and Knight co-founded Death Row Records after N.W.A’s demise in the early ’90s.
The label launched such rap luminaries as Snoop and Tupac Shakur, as well as mainstream chart topper MC Hammer.
Dr. Dre became one of the most respected producers in hip hop because of much of the work he did in that time period.
But Death Row also became the center of controversy, as Knight had numerous run-ins with the law over his business tactics. In 1996, he was sent to prison for nearly five years after the brutal beating of a rival of rapper Shakur’s at a Las Vegas hotel; the beating occurred just hours before Shakur suffered fatal gunshot wounds.
Dr. Dre left Death Row in 1996, going on to break artists such as Eminem and 50 Cent, and eventually founded the multimillion-dollar headphones company Beats by Dre. Death Row Records went bankrupt, and Knight lost relevance for most in the music industry.
The film “Straight Outta Compton” takes its title from N.W.A’s breakthrough album. Shot across South Los Angeles, it chronicles how Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Eazy-E and MC Ren not only created the genre of gangsta rap but changed the face of popular music with the lyrics about street life and police brutality that they wrote in their parents’ garage.
“I actually did not want to make the movie,” said Dr. Dre, on set during the shooting of the film last fall. “I was against it 100 percent because I thought it might be a blemish on our legacy. But Cube really quarterbacked it and got the script to a place where I read it and thought it was something we could work with. Then we brought on F. Gary Gray and boy, Gary is a longtime 20-year friend of ours. Not only is he from L.A. but he’s a fan of our music. That’s when I decided to come on board.”
The film, due out in August, is made up of a mostly unknown cast aside from Paul Giamatti, who plays the band’s manager, Jerry Heller. In an odd twist, Ice Cube is played by his own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
On set, Cube’s son complained that his Jheri Curl-style wig and L.A. Raiders caps were radiating the hot sun. Other cast members were wearing leather jackets and oversized medallions as they shot scenes in lowrider cars. Onlookers from the neighborhood gathered around the fence, looking at 1991 Compton re-created.
“We wanted new faces,” said Ice Cube of the relatively unknown cast. “We didn’t want someone else bringing their own thing in here. Not to name any names, but we didn’t want people to be watching the movie and then saying hey, he was just on TMZ last night!”
But TMZ was brought into the picture, with Knight’s arrest.
Whether the arrest might affect the film’s release date could not be determined; the film’s producers could not immediately be reached for comment.
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