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Death Row Records Co-Founder Michael ‘Harry-O’ Harris speaks out following Trump Pardon

Death Row Records co-founder and former drug kingpin Michael ‘Harry O’ Harris wept with remorse and pledged to devote his life to help kids avoid crime, in his first interview after Donald Trump granted his freedom.

The 59-year-old, who created the record label that launched the careers of rap legends Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and Tupac Shakur, walked free from a California federal prison last Wednesday.

He had been behind bars since 1988 until Trump’s pardon cut his sentence seven years short.In an exclusive interview with DailyMailTV, Harris said he was a ‘walking cautionary tale’, telling how desperate poverty and the lure of riches from pushing drugs corrupted him to ‘help kill my people.’

He revealed how a lobbying campaign by Snoop, MC Hammer, billionaire Chris Redlitz and justice reform activists swayed the former president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, securing his freedom in the final days of Trump’s administration.

 Death Row Records co-founder and former drug kingpin Michael ‘Harry O’ Harris wept with remorse and pledged to devote his life to help kids avoid crime, in his first interview after Donald Trump granted his freedom.

The 59-year-old, who created the record label that launched the careers of rap legends Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and Tupac Shakur, walked free from a California federal prison last Wednesday.

He had been behind bars since 1988 until Trump’s pardon cut his sentence seven years short.

In an exclusive interview with DailyMailTV, Harris said he was a ‘walking cautionary tale’, telling how desperate poverty and the lure of riches from pushing drugs corrupted him to ‘help kill my people.’

He revealed how a lobbying campaign by Snoop, MC Hammer, billionaire Chris Redlitz and justice reform activists swayed the former president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, securing his freedom in the final days of Trump’s administration.

And the former Los Angeles drug lord expressed his regrets at the fate of Death Row, which he said turned from a mouthpiece for black voices in the music industry, into a ‘money making machine’ that ‘crashed and burned’ with notorious criminal co-founder Suge Knight at its helm.

Sat in the unfamiliar comfort of a marina view suite at a Ritz Carlton hotel in Los Angeles, Harris told DailyMailTV he was still reeling from his unexpected release.


Death Row Records co-founder and former drug kingpin Michael ‘Harry O’ Harris’ voice cracked and he wept with remorse and pledged to devote his life to help kids avoid crime, in his first interview after Donald Trump granted his freedom +15
Death Row Records co-founder and former drug kingpin Michael ‘Harry O’ Harris’ voice cracked and he wept with remorse and pledged to devote his life to help kids avoid crime, in his first interview after Donald Trump granted his freedom

+15
The 59-year-old, who created the record label that launched the careers of rap legends Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and Tupac Shakur, walked free from a California federal prison last Wednesday

Harris served 23 years in state prison for attempted murder and kidnapping. Prosecutors said the kingpin suspected a distant relative and employee of his drug operation of stealing, so he and two accomplices took the man out to the desert, shot him and left him for dead +15
Harris served 23 years in state prison for attempted murder and kidnapping. Prosecutors said the kingpin suspected a distant relative and employee of his drug operation of stealing, so he and two accomplices took the man out to the desert, shot him and left him for dead

He had been behind bars since 1988 until Trump’s pardon cut his sentence seven years short. +15
He had been behind bars since 1988 until Trump’s pardon cut his sentence seven years short.

Harris thanked Trump for commuting his sentence, but would not comment on the 45th president’s motives, and said he would deal with either party to campaign for justice reform +15
Harris thanked Trump for commuting his sentence, but would not comment on the 45th president’s motives, and said he would deal with either party to campaign for justice reform

‘It was an awestruck moment,’ he said. ‘I’m riding in the car with my folks and we coming back from the prison. I just had a [peace] of mind and I said ‘I don’t feel it.’ They said ‘what?’ I said ‘I don’t feel what I just left.’

‘That does not mean I didn’t get the insight from the 33 years, the wisdom,’ he added. ‘But for that moment I felt like I had never been in prison. That’s how powerful freedom is. I have a second chance to make different choices.’

Harris thanked Trump for commuting his sentence, but would not comment on the 45th president’s motives, and said he would deal with either party to campaign for justice reform.

‘I appreciate Donald Trump, his children, his son-in-law. Whyever he did it, he did it, when so many others wouldn’t do it,’ Harris said.

‘First of all I’m grateful that God did whatever God do to get me to sit in this seat. And whatever vessel he used.

That’s how powerful freedom is. I have a second chance to make different choices.
‘I put in for clemency with Obama and it had to go through so many bureaucratic loopholes it never got to him I don’t believe. But it didn’t happen on his watch.

‘There’s not a dime of difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes down to results to me at this point. Until that change, I don’t have a dog in the fight, unless the people that’s in power deal with the people that are powerless in a respectful way.’

Harris grew up in South Central Los Angeles in the ‘low bottoms’ neighborhood, spending his school years shining shoes for ‘high-rollers and players’.

He had a musical upbringing, classically trained by his next-door neighbor, Mrs Payne, as a pianist and joined his school band playing the trombone and drums. He also went on to take classes in acting at college.

And he said that as a young boy his neighborhood, though poor, was on the up-and-up – until the drug trade took hold.

‘I remember as a young man, a community where everybody’s grass was manicured, even though it was considered a red zone or a ghetto. Everybody had jobs and everybody made sure their kids went to school,’ he said.

‘Then all of a sudden like a hurricane something happened. It was like a typhoon, and we all got swept up in it. Some of us became addicted to drugs, and some of us became addicted to selling drugs. But we all became addicted. We all had some form of sickness.

‘South Central Los Angeles, where I was raised, was hit really hard. California became this distribution center for evil, for poison.’

And the former Los Angeles drug lord expressed his regrets at the fate of Death Row, which he said turned from a mouthpiece for black voices in the music industry, into a ‘money making machine’ that ‘crashed and burned’ with notorious criminal co-founder Suge Knight at its helm. Pictured: Harris and members of his family after his release +15
And the former Los Angeles drug lord expressed his regrets at the fate of Death Row, which he said turned from a mouthpiece for black voices in the music industry, into a ‘money making machine’ that ‘crashed and burned’ with notorious criminal co-founder Suge Knight at its helm. Pictured: Harris and members of his family after his release

In the 1990s the label took off, selling 18 million albums and earning more than $325 million in its first four years alone, launching to stardom west coast rap legends including Dr. Dre, NWA, Snoop Dogg (pictured with Trump) and Tupac Shakur, and was widely credited with changing the face of hip hop +15
In the 1990s the label took off, selling 18 million albums and earning more than $325 million in its first four years alone, launching to stardom west coast rap legends including Dr. Dre, NWA, Snoop Dogg (pictured with Trump) and Tupac Shakur, and was widely credited with changing the face of hip hop

The label Death Row Records is behind music legends Dr Dre, Tupac Shakur (right) and Snoop Dogg (left,) Harris’ successful pardon campaign started on December 26, when Snoop asked for help from former music producer and federal prisoner Weldon Angelos, who was also pardoned by Trump last month +15
The label Death Row Records is behind music legends Dr Dre, Tupac Shakur (right) and Snoop Dogg (left,) Harris’ successful pardon campaign started on December 26, when Snoop asked for help from former music producer and federal prisoner Weldon Angelos, who was also pardoned by Trump last month

Age 20 he started selling crack cocaine, making close connections with both the infamous Bloods and Rollin 60s Crips gangs.

He grew a vast distribution network reaching New York, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois, supplied by Colombian drug cartels, according to the DEA.

By 26 his organization was making a reported $2 million per day – a figure he refused to confirm to DailyMailTV.

But in 1988 his empire came crashing down when he was convicted of attempted murder and drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

Harris said as a young man he saw no option but to start peddling crack to his neighbors, claiming that he made similar choices to billionaire rappers like Jay-Z; he just got caught.

But the former kingpin said that in the first few years of his sentence, his thoughts were not of justice reform and repentance, but of his interrupted plans to dominate the hip-hop industry with Death Row Records +15
But the former kingpin said that in the first few years of his sentence, his thoughts were not of justice reform and repentance, but of his interrupted plans to dominate the hip-hop industry with Death Row Records

‘I’m one of the guys who went to jail. You got some rappers now who are worth billions of dollars who say they did the same thing I did, they just did it and got out,’ he said.

‘I didn’t get out in time, but my intentions was just like theirs, whether it be Jay-Z or whoever.

‘Just imagine waking up one day and there’s a truck on your street and it has two tons of dope in it. I’m talking about in a neighborhood where everybody’s still paying their mortgage,’ he said.

‘Your stomach is about to touch your back because you ain’t had a meal in three days. That stuff parked in that truck, if you sell it you’d become rich. Are you about to tell me that you wouldn’t do it in that situation?

‘This is not justification, this is the realization of what happened. It shouldn’t have ever happened.’

But Harris, his voice cracking, said he is now consumed with regret after coming face-to-face with the consequences of his crimes in San Quentin state prison.

‘I done sit in prison with people who have been on drugs for the last 20 or 30 years. I been in prison with crack babies, their parents is people who consumed the drugs that me and so many other people sold. And I had to sit with them, I had to talk to them, I had to see the results of what we did.

‘I’m telling you man, every day, even now, I think about my participation and it makes me sick to my stomach that I let them trick me to help kill my people. That’s killing me even today.’

Harris served 23 years in state prison for attempted murder and kidnapping. Prosecutors said the kingpin suspected a distant relative and employee of his drug operation of stealing, so he and two accomplices took the man out to the desert, shot him and left him for dead.

Despite his decades behind bars at some of the country’s most notorious prisons, Harris kept an ‘exemplary’ record, re-establishing the San Quentin prison newspaper as editor, setting up programs for convicts to learn computer programming helping their rehabilitation, and teaching at-risk youths to stay on the straight and narrow +15
Despite his decades behind bars at some of the country’s most notorious prisons, Harris kept an ‘exemplary’ record, re-establishing the San Quentin prison newspaper as editor, setting up programs for convicts to learn computer programming helping their rehabilitation, and teaching at-risk youths to stay on the straight and narrow

Alongside his dealings with drug cartels, Harris ran a string of successful legitimate businesses, including a theatre company that gave actor Denzel Washington his first break +15
Alongside his dealings with drug cartels, Harris ran a string of successful legitimate businesses, including a theatre company that gave actor Denzel Washington his first break

He said: ‘I would talk to Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and the whole family, everybody that was signed to Death Row. I had an opportunity to speak with them about the vision and how their words could affect people.’ Pictured: Photo of Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre in the 1990s +15
He said: ‘I would talk to Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and the whole family, everybody that was signed to Death Row. I had an opportunity to speak with them about the vision and how their words could affect people.’ Pictured: Photo of Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre in the 1990s

He has always claimed innocence of the state crimes, and the former drug lord got a glimpse of freedom in 2011 when the alleged victim recanted their testimony at a parole hearing.

The parole board decided to end his state sentence – but Harris was simply moved to a federal prison to serve his separate drug trafficking sentence until 2028. He ended up incarcerated for a total of 33 years.

Despite his decades behind bars at some of the country’s most notorious prisons, Harris kept an ‘exemplary’ record, re-establishing the San Quentin prison newspaper as editor, setting up programs for convicts to learn computer programming helping their rehabilitation, and teaching at-risk youths to stay on the straight and narrow.

But the former kingpin said that in the first few years of his sentence, his thoughts were not of justice reform and repentance, but of his interrupted plans to dominate the hip-hop industry with Death Row Records.

‘I should have probably spent every waking hour on my case. But I put that aside to focus on this company, because I felt it would be a platform to speak to people who couldn’t see things I was seeing from behind the walls,’ he told DailyMailTV.

‘I would talk to Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and the whole family, everybody that was signed to Death Row. I had an opportunity to speak with them about the vision and how their words could affect people.

‘I had watched how the people in prison, Pelican Bay and all these notorious yards, when they would hear those songs, the pride they would have when somebody says Compton or LA or Long Beach. They ran for it, they embraced it.

‘So I expressed that to them. I said ‘Your words have power, people hang on your every word so you should take care what you say.’

‘That album we produced, the Chronic, was filled with all of that.’

The rap mogul said his record label’s name was inspired by his short stint in San Quentin’s wing for inmates facing the death penalty.

‘I saw guys younger than me, 23, 24 years old with death sentences. It tripped me out. [Crips founder] Tookie Williams was there,’ he said.

‘Being on death row is weird, it’s real quiet. I would hear when they would take guys to the chamber. I would hear them walking, saying ‘pray for me’.

‘It had a profound effect on me, it changed my life. It made me want to tell those stories. There comes the name Death Row.’

As well as regretting his criminal past, Harris said he made a fatal error picking Suge Knight, who is currently serving 28 years in prison for a hit-and-run killing, to help him run Death Row from the outside

Harris said although he provided the funding and called the shots at the new label, his incarceration kept him from being the face of the firm.

‘At the time I was in prison with a life sentence, I had a federal sentence, and I was concerned with how it would look if I told the world it was my company,’ he said. ‘I wanted the company to succeed. So I took a back seat. I didn’t want my name on the company.

‘Dr Dre actually put ‘thank you Harry O’ on the cover of the sleeve. That was as much as I was comfortable with.’

As well as regretting his criminal past, Harris said he made a fatal error picking Suge Knight, who is currently serving 28 years in prison for a hit-and-run killing, to help him run Death Row from the outside.

‘I wanted him to be the executive producer. The Suge Knight the world came to know is not the Suge Knight I first set with,’ he said.

‘A lot of people ask me ‘how can you even be in business with this guy?’ When I met him for that moment he was like a student. He listened intently, he said all the right things. I was in a situation where I needed somebody to listen.’

 

In the 1990s the label took off, selling 18 million albums and earning more than $325 million in its first four years alone, launching to stardom west coast rap legends including Dr. Dre, NWA, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, and was widely credited with changing the face of hip hop.

But with success came controversy. Knight wrestled control of the company from Harris, hired as security notorious LAPD officers embroiled in the Rampart drug trafficking scandal, and turned Death Row into a firm synonymous with contentious lawsuits and criminal prosecutions.

‘It became a money machine and people went crazy,’ said Harris. ‘I put the blueprint together, and it was destroyed. It was on steroids.

‘I’m responsible in my mind for helping to create Suge Knight. Maybe that’s why I had to suffer so much in jail. Maybe I needed to be punished for that.

‘Because so many people that I love has lost their life behind people like him, trusting in him, and trusting in people who only care about themselves.

But with success came controversy. Knight (pictured) wrestled control of the company from Harris, hired as security notorious LAPD officers embroiled in the Rampart drug trafficking scandal, and turned Death Row into a firm synonymous with contentious lawsuits and criminal prosecutions +15
But with success came controversy. Knight (pictured) wrestled control of the company from Harris, hired as security notorious LAPD officers embroiled in the Rampart drug trafficking scandal, and turned Death Row into a firm synonymous with contentious lawsuits and criminal prosecutions

One of the major turning points in the downfall of the label was Tupac’s murder in 1996 – a case which remains unsolved and a source of countless conspiracy theories +15
One of the major turning points in the downfall of the label was Tupac’s murder in 1996 – a case which remains unsolved and a source of countless conspiracy theories

‘I don’t look at the artists as slaves, I look at them as human beings, as partners. People I can work with to the benefit. Suge Knight was not that guy.

‘Based on the circumstance that I was faced with when I created the company, I put him in charge.

‘It was a moving vehicle. He wasn’t managing it, it’s just going. When you don’t have somebody at the wheel you’re going to crash and burn, and that’s what happened.’

One of the major turning points in the downfall of the label was Tupac’s murder in 1996 – a case which remains unsolved and a source of countless conspiracy theories.

Harris said he felt about Tupac’s death ‘the same way I felt when George Floyd was killed. It was painful. It’s painful to see anybody snuffed out of their life when it doesn’t have to happen.’

He added that he believed the killing would not have happened if Knight had not been in charge.

‘I saw a guy who had a future,’ he said. ‘I saw mismanagement being the reason this man lost his life. I saw people who didn’t appreciate his talent. The same way I saw pain and loss in Notorious BIG’s life and so many other young rappers who lost their lives because of jealousy or hatred or mismanagement.

‘When you’ve been put in a position to manage an artist of this caliber and you do this, you let him go into that world unprotected, you’re a bad manager. That’s what you’re talking about, it’s bad management.’

But Harris added that he did not regret ‘the fruits of Death Row’ – changing the music industry, and providing a platform for rappers from the country’s meanest streets.

And he said he hopes to use the fame of Death Row to share his experience of the horrors of prison, so he can encourage youths to not repeat his mistakes.

‘Crime is hectic. A lot of people think it’s cool, something you can do. Some people are forced into it or felt like they had no options. But you wake up every day in that world and you don’t know if you’re going to be alive at the end of that day,’ he said.

‘Everybody has an agenda and today they might just say ‘I don’t want to do business with you, I just want to kill you, take it and be done with it.

‘Yes they buy nice houses, businesses and cars. But every day they go through hell. Everything they thought it was, turns out not to be what it is.

‘A lot of people leave prison and lie about their experiences. But it’s really painful. There’s so much hate there, you can cut it with a knife.

‘If youngsters really understood how dark it was, and how evil it was, they wouldn’t be rushing in.

‘Yeah, imma make you laugh, imma make you dance, imma make you have fun. But it ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun. There’s real business behind these walls. That’s what Death Row Records was created for.’

Harris said he now plans to use his freedom and influence as a former rap mogul to push for justice reform and help for poverty and crime-ridden neighborhoods across the US.

One flagship program, The Last Mile, developed with Silicon Valley billionaire and entrepreneur Chris Redlitz, provides lessons to teach convicts to code, giving them a shot at a stable career after their release.

And the former kingpin says he wants to enlist the help of Jeff Bezos’ ex wife for more social justice programs.

‘The government is not going to be able to fix this country by itself. It’s going to need business, community leaders and people like me,’ he said.

‘I’d like to sit down with Mackenzie Scott. I see a woman on a mission. I see somebody who became one of the richest women in the world, and now she wants to help people.

‘The fact that I’m out of jail and I got a chance to help my people, and if I gotta go back to the past and talk about the past so that it’s never repeated on no level, I will do it til my dying days.’

He thanked justice campaigners Alice Johnson and Weldon Angelos, who were also pardoned by Trump, for helping secure his release.

‘It took a lot of people to make this happen,’ he said. ‘For people to stop and say Michael Harris means something, and we want to do everything we can to get him back to his family, I feel special, that’s how I feel.’

Harris said he now plans to use his freedom and influence as a former rap mogul to push for justice reform and help for poverty and crime-ridden neighborhoods across the US via his new charity, Community One World.

One flagship program, developed with Silicon Valley billionaire…

And the former Los Angeles drug lord expressed his regrets at the fate of Death Row, which he said turned from a mouthpiece for black voices in the music industry, into a ‘money making machine’ that ‘crashed and burned’ with notorious criminal co-founder Suge Knight at its helm.

Sat in the unfamiliar comfort of a marina view suite at a Ritz Carlton hotel in Los Angeles, Harris told DailyMailTV he was still reeling from his unexpected release.

 
The 59-year-old, who created the record label that launched the careers of rap legends Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre and Tupac Shakur, walked free from a California federal prison last Wednesday

 

Harris served 23 years in state prison for attempted murder and kidnapping. Prosecutors said the kingpin suspected a distant relative and employee of his drug operation of stealing, so he and two accomplices took the man out to the desert, shot him and left him for dead
Harris served 23 years in state prison for attempted murder and kidnapping. Prosecutors said the kingpin suspected a distant relative and employee of his drug operation of stealing, so he and two accomplices took the man out to the desert, shot him and left him for dead
He had been behind bars since 1988 until Trump's pardon cut his sentence seven years short.
He had been behind bars since 1988 until Trump’s pardon cut his sentence seven years short.

 

Harris thanked Trump for commuting his sentence, but would not comment on the 45th president's motives, and said he would deal with either party to campaign for justice reform
Harris thanked Trump for commuting his sentence, but would not comment on the 45th president’s motives, and said he would deal with either party to campaign for justice reform

‘It was an awestruck moment,’ he said. ‘I’m riding in the car with my folks and we coming back from the prison. I just had a [peace] of mind and I said ‘I don’t feel it.’ They said ‘what?’ I said ‘I don’t feel what I just left.’

‘That does not mean I didn’t get the insight from the 33 years, the wisdom,’ he added. ‘But for that moment I felt like I had never been in prison. That’s how powerful freedom is. I have a second chance to make different choices.’

Harris thanked Trump for commuting his sentence, but would not comment on the 45th president’s motives, and said he would deal with either party to campaign for justice reform.

‘I appreciate Donald Trump, his children, his son-in-law. Whyever he did it, he did it, when so many others wouldn’t do it,’ Harris said.

‘First of all I’m grateful that God did whatever God do to get me to sit in this seat. And whatever vessel he used.

 That’s how powerful freedom is. I have a second chance to make different choices.

‘I put in for clemency with Obama and it had to go through so many bureaucratic loopholes it never got to him I don’t believe. But it didn’t happen on his watch.

‘There’s not a dime of difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes down to results to me at this point. Until that change, I don’t have a dog in the fight, unless the people that’s in power deal with the people that are powerless in a respectful way.’

Harris grew up in South Central Los Angeles in the ‘low bottoms’ neighborhood, spending his school years shining shoes for ‘high-rollers and players’.

He had a musical upbringing, classically trained by his next-door neighbor, Mrs Payne, as a pianist and joined his school band playing the trombone and drums. He also went on to take classes in acting at college.

And he said that as a young boy his neighborhood, though poor, was on the up-and-up – until the drug trade took hold.

‘I remember as a young man, a community where everybody’s grass was manicured, even though it was considered a red zone or a ghetto. Everybody had jobs and everybody made sure their kids went to school,’ he said.

‘Then all of a sudden like a hurricane something happened. It was like a typhoon, and we all got swept up in it. Some of us became addicted to drugs, and some of us became addicted to selling drugs. But we all became addicted. We all had some form of sickness.

‘South Central Los Angeles, where I was raised, was hit really hard. California became this distribution center for evil, for poison.’

And the former Los Angeles drug lord expressed his regrets at the fate of Death Row, which he said turned from a mouthpiece for black voices in the music industry, into a 'money making machine' that 'crashed and burned' with notorious criminal co-founder Suge Knight at its helm. Pictured: Harris and members of his family after his release
And the former Los Angeles drug lord expressed his regrets at the fate of Death Row, which he said turned from a mouthpiece for black voices in the music industry, into a ‘money making machine’ that ‘crashed and burned’ with notorious criminal co-founder Suge Knight at its helm. Pictured: Harris and members of his family after his release 
In the 1990s the label took off, selling 18 million albums and earning more than 5 million in its first four years alone, launching to stardom west coast rap legends including Dr. Dre, NWA, Snoop Dogg (pictured with Trump) and Tupac Shakur, and was widely credited with changing the face of hip hop
In the 1990s the label took off, selling 18 million albums and earning more than $325 million in its first four years alone, launching to stardom west coast rap legends including Dr. Dre, NWA, Snoop Dogg (pictured with Trump) and Tupac Shakur, and was widely credited with changing the face of hip hop
The label Death Row Records is behind music legends Dr Dre, Tupac Shakur (right) and Snoop Dogg (left,) Harris' successful pardon campaign started on December 26, when Snoop asked for help from former music producer and federal prisoner Weldon Angelos, who was also pardoned by Trump last month
The label Death Row Records is behind music legends Dr Dre, Tupac Shakur (right) and Snoop Dogg (left,) Harris’ successful pardon campaign started on December 26, when Snoop asked for help from former music producer and federal prisoner Weldon Angelos, who was also pardoned by Trump last month

Age 20 he started selling crack cocaine, making close connections with both the infamous Bloods and Rollin 60s Crips gangs.

He grew a vast distribution network reaching New York, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois, supplied by Colombian drug cartels, according to the DEA.

By 26 his organization was making a reported $2 million per day – a figure he refused to confirm to DailyMailTV.

But in 1988 his empire came crashing down when he was convicted of attempted murder and drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.

Harris said as a young man he saw no option but to start peddling crack to his neighbors, claiming that he made similar choices to billionaire rappers like Jay-Z; he just got caught.

But the former kingpin said that in the first few years of his sentence, his thoughts were not of justice reform and repentance, but of his interrupted plans to dominate the hip-hop industry with Death Row Records

But the former kingpin said that in the first few years of his sentence, his thoughts were not of justice reform and repentance, but of his interrupted plans to dominate the hip-hop industry with Death Row Records

‘I’m one of the guys who went to jail. You got some rappers now who are worth billions of dollars who say they did the same thing I did, they just did it and got out,’ he said.

‘I didn’t get out in time, but my intentions was just like theirs, whether it be Jay-Z or whoever.

‘Just imagine waking up one day and there’s a truck on your street and it has two tons of dope in it. I’m talking about in a neighborhood where everybody’s still paying their mortgage,’ he said.

‘Your stomach is about to touch your back because you ain’t had a meal in three days. That stuff parked in that truck, if you sell it you’d become rich. Are you about to tell me that you wouldn’t do it in that situation?

‘This is not justification, this is the realization of what happened. It shouldn’t have ever happened.’

But Harris, his voice cracking, said he is now consumed with regret after coming face-to-face with the consequences of his crimes in San Quentin state prison.

‘I done sit in prison with people who have been on drugs for the last 20 or 30 years. I been in prison with crack babies, their parents is people who consumed the drugs that me and so many other people sold. And I had to sit with them, I had to talk to them, I had to see the results of what we did.

‘I’m telling you man, every day, even now, I think about my participation and it makes me sick to my stomach that I let them trick me to help kill my people. That’s killing me even today.’

Harris served 23 years in state prison for attempted murder and kidnapping. Prosecutors said the kingpin suspected a distant relative and employee of his drug operation of stealing, so he and two accomplices took the man out to the desert, shot him and left him for dead.

Despite his decades behind bars at some of the country's most notorious prisons, Harris kept an 'exemplary' record, re-establishing the San Quentin prison newspaper as editor, setting up programs for convicts to learn computer programming helping their rehabilitation, and teaching at-risk youths to stay on the straight and narrow
Despite his decades behind bars at some of the country’s most notorious prisons, Harris kept an ‘exemplary’ record, re-establishing the San Quentin prison newspaper as editor, setting up programs for convicts to learn computer programming helping their rehabilitation, and teaching at-risk youths to stay on the straight and narrow
Alongside his dealings with drug cartels, Harris ran a string of successful legitimate businesses, including a theatre company that gave actor Denzel Washington his first break
Alongside his dealings with drug cartels, Harris ran a string of successful legitimate businesses, including a theatre company that gave actor Denzel Washington his first break
 
He said: 'I would talk to Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and the whole family, everybody that was signed to Death Row. I had an opportunity to speak with them about the vision and how their words could affect people.' Pictured: Photo of Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre in the 1990s
He said: ‘I would talk to Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and the whole family, everybody that was signed to Death Row. I had an opportunity to speak with them about the vision and how their words could affect people.’ Pictured: Photo of Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre in the 1990s

He has always claimed innocence of the state crimes, and the former drug lord got a glimpse of freedom in 2011 when the alleged victim recanted their testimony at a parole hearing.

The parole board decided to end his state sentence – but Harris was simply moved to a federal prison to serve his separate drug trafficking sentence until 2028. He ended up incarcerated for a total of 33 years.

Despite his decades behind bars at some of the country’s most notorious prisons, Harris kept an ‘exemplary’ record, re-establishing the San Quentin prison newspaper as editor, setting up programs for convicts to learn computer programming helping their rehabilitation, and teaching at-risk youths to stay on the straight and narrow.

But the former kingpin said that in the first few years of his sentence, his thoughts were not of justice reform and repentance, but of his interrupted plans to dominate the hip-hop industry with Death Row Records.

‘I should have probably spent every waking hour on my case. But I put that aside to focus on this company, because I felt it would be a platform to speak to people who couldn’t see things I was seeing from behind the walls,’ he told DailyMailTV.

‘I would talk to Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and the whole family, everybody that was signed to Death Row. I had an opportunity to speak with them about the vision and how their words could affect people.

‘I had watched how the people in prison, Pelican Bay and all these notorious yards, when they would hear those songs, the pride they would have when somebody says Compton or LA or Long Beach. They ran for it, they embraced it.

‘So I expressed that to them. I said ‘Your words have power, people hang on your every word so you should take care what you say.’

‘That album we produced, the Chronic, was filled with all of that.’

The rap mogul said his record label’s name was inspired by his short stint in San Quentin’s wing for inmates facing the death penalty.

‘I saw guys younger than me, 23, 24 years old with death sentences. It tripped me out. [Crips founder] Tookie Williams was there,’ he said.

‘Being on death row is weird, it’s real quiet. I would hear when they would take guys to the chamber. I would hear them walking, saying ‘pray for me’.

‘It had a profound effect on me, it changed my life. It made me want to tell those stories. There comes the name Death Row.’

As well as regretting his criminal past, Harris said he made a fatal error picking Suge Knight, who is currently serving 28 years in prison for a hit-and-run killing, to help him run Death Row from the outside 

Harris said although he provided the funding and called the shots at the new label, his incarceration kept him from being the face of the firm.

‘At the time I was in prison with a life sentence, I had a federal sentence, and I was concerned with how it would look if I told the world it was my company,’ he said. ‘I wanted the company to succeed. So I took a back seat. I didn’t want my name on the company.

‘Dr Dre actually put ‘thank you Harry O’ on the cover of the sleeve. That was as much as I was comfortable with.’

As well as regretting his criminal past, Harris said he made a fatal error picking Suge Knight, who is currently serving 28 years in prison for a hit-and-run killing, to help him run Death Row from the outside.

‘I wanted him to be the executive producer. The Suge Knight the world came to know is not the Suge Knight I first set with,’ he said.

‘A lot of people ask me ‘how can you even be in business with this guy?’ When I met him for that moment he was like a student. He listened intently, he said all the right things. I was in a situation where I needed somebody to listen.’

In the 1990s the label took off, selling 18 million albums and earning more than $325 million in its first four years alone, launching to stardom west coast rap legends including Dr. Dre, NWA, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, and was widely credited with changing the face of hip hop.

But with success came controversy. Knight wrestled control of the company from Harris, hired as security notorious LAPD officers embroiled in the Rampart drug trafficking scandal, and turned Death Row into a firm synonymous with contentious lawsuits and criminal prosecutions.

‘It became a money machine and people went crazy,’ said Harris. ‘I put the blueprint together, and it was destroyed. It was on steroids.

‘I’m responsible in my mind for helping to create Suge Knight. Maybe that’s why I had to suffer so much in jail. Maybe I needed to be punished for that.

‘Because so many people that I love has lost their life behind people like him, trusting in him, and trusting in people who only care about themselves.

But with success came controversy. Knight (pictured) wrestled control of the company from Harris, hired as security notorious LAPD officers embroiled in the Rampart drug trafficking scandal, and turned Death Row into a firm synonymous with contentious lawsuits and criminal prosecutions
But with success came controversy. Knight (pictured) wrestled control of the company from Harris, hired as security notorious LAPD officers embroiled in the Rampart drug trafficking scandal, and turned Death Row into a firm synonymous with contentious lawsuits and criminal prosecutions
One of the major turning points in the downfall of the label was Tupac's murder in 1996 – a case which remains unsolved and a source of countless conspiracy theories
One of the major turning points in the downfall of the label was Tupac’s murder in 1996 – a case which remains unsolved and a source of countless conspiracy theories

‘I don’t look at the artists as slaves, I look at them as human beings, as partners. People I can work with to the benefit. Suge Knight was not that guy.

‘Based on the circumstance that I was faced with when I created the company, I put him in charge.

‘It was a moving vehicle. He wasn’t managing it, it’s just going. When you don’t have somebody at the wheel you’re going to crash and burn, and that’s what happened.’

One of the major turning points in the downfall of the label was Tupac’s murder in 1996 – a case which remains unsolved and a source of countless conspiracy theories.

Harris said he felt about Tupac’s death ‘the same way I felt when George Floyd was killed. It was painful. It’s painful to see anybody snuffed out of their life when it doesn’t have to happen.’

He added that he believed the killing would not have happened if Knight had not been in charge.

‘I saw a guy who had a future,’ he said. ‘I saw mismanagement being the reason this man lost his life. I saw people who didn’t appreciate his talent. The same way I saw pain and loss in Notorious BIG’s life and so many other young rappers who lost their lives because of jealousy or hatred or mismanagement.

‘When you’ve been put in a position to manage an artist of this caliber and you do this, you let him go into that world unprotected, you’re a bad manager. That’s what you’re talking about, it’s bad management.’

But Harris added that he did not regret ‘the fruits of Death Row’ – changing the music industry, and providing a platform for rappers from the country’s meanest streets.

And he said he hopes to use the fame of Death Row to share his experience of the horrors of prison, so he can encourage youths to not repeat his mistakes.

‘Crime is hectic. A lot of people think it’s cool, something you can do. Some people are forced into it or felt like they had no options. But you wake up every day in that world and you don’t know if you’re going to be alive at the end of that day,’ he said.

‘Everybody has an agenda and today they might just say ‘I don’t want to do business with you, I just want to kill you, take it and be done with it.

‘Yes they buy nice houses, businesses and cars. But every day they go through hell. Everything they thought it was, turns out not to be what it is.

‘A lot of people leave prison and lie about their experiences. But it’s really painful. There’s so much hate there, you can cut it with a knife.

‘If youngsters really understood how dark it was, and how evil it was, they wouldn’t be rushing in.

‘Yeah, imma make you laugh, imma make you dance, imma make you have fun. But it ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun. There’s real business behind these walls. That’s what Death Row Records was created for.’

Harris said he now plans to use his freedom and influence as a former rap mogul to push for justice reform and help for poverty and crime-ridden neighborhoods across the US.

One flagship program, The Last Mile, developed with Silicon Valley billionaire and entrepreneur Chris Redlitz, provides lessons to teach convicts to code, giving them a shot at a stable career after their release.

And the former kingpin says he wants to enlist the help of Jeff Bezos’ ex wife for more social justice programs.

‘The government is not going to be able to fix this country by itself. It’s going to need business, community leaders and people like me,’ he said.

‘I’d like to sit down with Mackenzie Scott. I see a woman on a mission. I see somebody who became one of the richest women in the world, and now she wants to help people.

‘The fact that I’m out of jail and I got a chance to help my people, and if I gotta go back to the past and talk about the past so that it’s never repeated on no level, I will do it til my dying days.’

He thanked justice campaigners Alice Johnson and Weldon Angelos, who were also pardoned by Trump, for helping secure his release.

‘It took a lot of people to make this happen,’ he said. ‘For people to stop and say Michael Harris means something, and we want to do everything we can to get him back to his family, I feel special, that’s how I feel.’

Harris said he now plans to use his freedom and influence as a former rap mogul to push for justice reform and help for poverty and crime-ridden neighborhoods across the US via his new charity, Community One World.

 

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Written by The Editor

warrior dedicated to the cause of fighting the takeover of our culture.

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