At a time when “realness” was practically everything in Hip Hop culture, one of the most infamous unions of rap music and the street was allegedly forged between Death Row Records, the label co-founded and once run by Marion “Suge” Knight, and the MOB Piru Bloods, a gang rooted in the east side of Compton, California. Rumors over the nature of the relationship between those organizations have spread over the past twenty years but few people with personal knowledge have been willing to speak about the subject on the record.
Former L.A.P.D. detective Greg Kading and documentary filmmaker Mike Dorsey are two of the people who have worked to shed light on the alleged history of Death Row and the MOB Piru. Their 2015 film, Murder Rap: Inside the Biggie and Tupac Murders, revealed much about the feud between Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. They have continued their investigation since Murder Rap’s release and recently interviewed James “MOB James” McDonald, a former MOB Piru member with intimate knowledge of what went on behind the scenes at Death Row.
James McDonald is the brother of Alton “Bountry” McDonald, a MOB Piru who was murdered on April 3, 2002 and was once one of Suge Knight’s closest friends. James knew Suge since they were teenagers, did security for Suge prior to the formation of Death Row, and is the person who introduced Suge to Alton and the rest of the MOB. According to James, Suge was never really a gang member but he used the MOB as a tool to build his fearsome reputation. The relationships between Suge, Death Row, and the MOB were symbiotic at first. MOB members lent street credibility to the label and acted as muscle for Suge and artists like Tupac at concerts and events. In exchange, Suge gave the MOB members who were closest to him the promise of a better life: the glamour of being associated with rap’s hottest label and cars, houses, jewelry, and money whenever the MOB felt like leaning on Suge for gifts. Over time, the relationships soured. The MOB was left holding the bag when Suge went to prison and, according to James, was never fairly compensated by Suge for its services. More tragically, MOB Piru infighting related to Death Row allegedly led to the deaths of Alton and others like Wardell “Poochie” Fouse, the man Greg Kading believes murdered The Notorious B.I.G.
During his interview, James also talks about Tupac’s transformation over the course of his eleven months on Death Row. The fact that the ordinary rules of MOB initiation did not apply to Tupac because of his money and fame did not stop him from acting like he was part of the gang. James was put off by Tupac’s representation of the MOB and complained to Suge about the “M.O.B.” tattoo on Tupac’s right arm. From James’ point of view, Tupac was playing a very dangerous game. He believes Tupac sealed his own fate when he decided to “prove himself” by attacking South Side Compton Crip Orlando Anderson at the MGM Grand in retaliation for Anderson’s attempted robbery of alleged MOB Piru associate Trevon Lane earlier that summer at the Lakewood Mall. James does not mince words when it comes to the role that Suge played either. He also blames Suge for not shielding Tupac from the street politics he had no business being involved in.
James also confirms a number of other allegations in the Murder Rap documentary. He recalls that the rumored bounty allegedly placed on Death Row jewelry, which precipitated the Lakewood Mall incident, escalated the rivalry between the MOB and the South Side Crips. On the night that Tupac was fatally wounded, James was posted in the parking lot of Club 662, awaiting the arrival of Suge, Tupac, the Outlawz, and various other Death Row / MOB members. James observed South Side Crips inside of a Cadillac that was briefly parked in the lot prior to the shooting of Suge’s BMW. He called his brother, Alton, who had been involved in the beat down of Orlando Anderson at the MGM, and warned him that the “Southside is up here.” For whatever reason, James’ warning was not heeded and Death Row’s entourage proceeded toward 662 apparently unconcerned by the possibility of a drive-by shooting.
James’ interview also corroborates that the MOB Piru knew that the South Side Crips were responsible for what happened. Shortly after the shooting, MOB members arrived at 662 and spread word that “the South Side dumped on us.” James explains the motivation behind the war that took place in Compton in the aftermath. Although Tupac was not a bona fide MOB Piru member, he was killed on their watch and the MOB had no choice but to retaliate in order to protect its credibility.
At the end of his interview, James confesses the regret he has for what happened to his brother. He feels responsible for introducing Alton to Suge and holds Suge responsible for the hazardous lives led by every MOB Piru who knew him.