A rap music smackdown looms in a federal courtroom between oft-troubled impresario Marion "Suge" Knight and controversial star Kanye West over a shooting at a star-studded Miami Beach party.
Knight, founder of Death Row Records and promoter of some of rap's biggest acts, was shot in the right leg in August 2005 by a still-unknown assailant at the ultra-trendy Shore Club. West was hosting the party before the MTV Video Music Awards held that year in Miami.
No one has ever been arrested, and like many other shootings in the rap world, police found few witnesses although the club was packed with partygoers, including celebrities Jessica Alba, Eddie Murphy, The Black Eyed Peas and Paris Hilton. At least six shots were fired, police said.
More than four years later, Knight is claiming in a lawsuit that West and the Shore Club's owners failed to provide security necessary to keep out people with weapons. Knight's attorney, Marc Brumer, said Tuesday that Knight had $200,000 in medical bills from a gunshot that shattered his femur and will seek total damages of well over $1 million.
"He's an icon in the music industry. He walks in a room and he lights it up," Brumer said. "He had an expectation of security there. How someone came with a gun into a very VIP party, that just doesn't meet the smell test in life."
U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz has scheduled a Dec. 6 trial date in Miami.
West's attorney did not immediately return a telephone call Tuesday seeking comment. In court papers, West and the Shore Club ownership have denied Knight's claims of negligence.
The damages total includes a 15-carat diamond earring valued at $135,000 that Knight said came loose during the shooting chaos and was picked up by an employee who promised to return it. Knight doesn't know the identity of the employee but has never seen the earring since, according to court papers.
Knight claims in his lawsuit that it should have been obvious to West and the Shore Club that the party could produce a "dangerous environment" because of well-known feuds between East and West Coast rap figures that have triggered a lot of violence.
One of Knight's biggest stars, Tupac Shakur, was shot and killed in 1996 while riding in Knight's car. At the time, Knight was feuding with Sean Combs' Bad Boy label, and Bad Boy's top artist, the Notorious B.I.G., was gunned down months later in Los Angeles. Relatives of B.I.G. have accused Knight of involvement, but police have never named him a suspect.
"Prior to the party, defendants knew that it was critical to screen guests, employees and others entering the party premises for weapons," Knight's lawsuit says.
In fact, Knight said in the lawsuit that he and his entourage were patted down by security personnel before they went inside, leading him to assume that was true for all guests.
The burly Knight, nicknamed "Suge" for Sugar Bear, was one of the most powerful music figures of the 1990s. With superstar rappers like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Shakur in his stable, plus Bloods gang members on his payroll, he made millions and enemies in equal abundance.
West, meanwhile, is a multiple Grammy winner and one of today's biggest stars, but is prone to boorish behavior in public. These stunts include a 2005 comment that former President George W. Bush "doesn't care about black people" because of the slow government response to Hurricane Katrina and West's heavily criticized decision to grab the microphone from singer Taylor Swift during last year's MTV awards. West has previously lashed out at awards shows when he didn't win.
The lawsuit was originally brought in Los Angeles as part of Knight's 2006 filing for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws, which resulted in an auction of Death Row Records assets and sale of Knight's mansion in Malibu.
The Shore Club's owners, Philips South Beach LLC and Morgans Hotel Group Management LLC, successfully petitioned to have the lawsuit moved into federal court and transferred from Los Angeles to Miami.
If Knight wins, he'll have to share damages with the bankruptcy trustee and the Internal Revenue Service.
Photo Credit: Kanye West at the Vanity Fair kickoff party for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Photographer : David Shankbone