2pac's and Dr Dre's Catalog Is Not Included In Snoop Dogg's Death Row Deal
Upon announcement of the deal for Death Row on Feb. 9 - just days before Snoop Dogg's Super Bowl halftime performance with Dr. Dre - a source told Billboard that the deal would close soon. A deal for the label's catalog is still being negotiated almost two weeks after it was first reported. MNRK Music and Blackstone, the company that acquired the eOne Music label in April 2021 (eOne changed its name to MNRK last September) still own the Death Row recordings.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, 2Pac's two 1996 Death Row albums, All Eyez On Me and The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory - the latter serving as the rapper's first posthumous release under the alias "Makavelli" - will no longer be available through Death Row. In 2021, those two albums generated respectively 393,000 and 66,000 album consumption units, while All Eyez On Me was the label's biggest seller - ahead of 15 Years On Death Row by some 9,000 units. Death Row's total activity was accounted for by 25 to 40 percent by 2Pac's recordings.
Based on metadata from various digital music services, both of those albums appear to be on Interscope Records. MNRK declined to disclose whether ownership over these albums changed and refused to confirm what albums it still controls through the Death Row label. A request for comment was not responded to by Blackstone or Snoop Dogg's representatives.
In the past two decades, Death Row has changed owners several times. As a result of Suge Knight's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2006, WideAwake Entertainment acquired the label. After WideAwake Entertainment also filed for bankruptcy, eOne Music, which had distributed the label for many years, acquired the catalog.
A June 11, 2018, ruling on a lawsuit between MNRK and the estate favors eOne Music despite MNRK appearing to have given the 2Pac albums back to the late rapper's estate. AMARU Entertainment, 2Pac's estate, laid out eight causes of action in that lawsuit, and for some of them asked Judge Stephanie Bowick to make declarations, which the judge denied. They requested declarations asserting that they owned the 2Pac albums' copyrights and that eOne did not own the 2Pac recordings, but instead held them and any unreleased masters as a trust, which eOne was required to identify and turn over to the estate.
In addition to that particular case, there has also been a long trail of expensive litigation surrounding the 2Pac recordings, and eOne Music executives more than once considered returning 2Pac's music to the estate if the right deal could be struck. It was also reported that eOne executives discussed the Dr. Dre recordings.
In addition to The Chronic, Dr. Dre's The Chronic may also return as early as 2023, Billboard has been told by multiple sources. The album, along with Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, is the catalog's top seller, excluding compilations, with each earning nearly 169,000 sales units in 2021.
Upon the return of the Dr. Dre album, Snoop Dogg will be the best-selling artist on the Death Row label. Snoop Dogg appears to have two other albums on Death Row besides Doggystyle: 1996's Doggfather, which generated 8,000 album consumption units in 2021, and his latest album BODR, which was released a few days before he performed at the Super Bowl on Feb. 11. During its debut week, Back on Death Row has collected 10,000 album consumption units.
In addition to Snoop Dogg, Death Row's catalog includes film soundtracks like Above The Rim and Gridlock'd, compilation albums like Christmas on Death Row, and albums by Lady of Rage, Daz Dillinger, and Kurupt.
More than 50% of Death Row's catalog's activity is disappearing - and this could affect the label's compilation albums as well.
In 2021, Death Row's Greatest Hits generated 264,000 album consumption units, while 15 Years on Death Row accounted for 384,000 units, according to MRC Data - though those figures likely include streams and track downloads from songs on other Death Row albums. As a result, the two compilation albums might not be sustainable as a collective without 2Pac and Dre tracks, which means another chunk of sales and streaming activity could dwindle.
According to Billboard, Death Row, including two 2Pac albums and Dr. Dre's The Chronic, generated $15 million in revenue for MNRK in 2021. According to Billboard, the remaining catalog generates about $6 million a year in revenue, of which $2 million to $3 million comes from Snoop Dogg's albums.
Death Row's new ownership by Snoop Dogg is sure to add new cultural cachet to the iconic brand, whatever the acquisition actually includes. eOne executives were aware of this. One of the previous strategies for the brand, sources claim, was to sell to Snoop Dogg under the corporate umbrella, possibly holding a minority stake in the catalog and tying the sale to a distribution agreement.
Almost immediately after Snoop Dogg purchased the brand earlier this month, one thing changed on the Death Row website: The CD and vinyl album pages disappeared and have not resurfaced, indicating the deal over the catalog acquisition is not yet finalized.