BY GERRICK D. KENNEDY
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
LOS ANGELES — Suge Jacob Knight wants to sell you a house — at least he hopes he can.
Standing in the entryway of a modern three-bedroom home at the edge of Baldwin Vista, Knight nervously fidgets with his phone as he reads over his hastily taken notes on the $1.5-million pocket listing he will show to prospective buyers.
He takes a deep breath, introduces himself and starts his rehearsed spiel before freezing up the moment he reaches the living room.
“Let me start over,” he pleads, racing past his boss, Tai Savet, and their colleagues to grab a bottle of water.
“Make sure you mention the porcelain floors,” Savet sternly whispers.
Knight is still getting the hang of showing properties, he tells me while pointing out the highlights of his client’s home — the panoramic views of the city, a lavish movie theater, the wraparound deck and two garages. He forgot about the porcelain floors, though.
Catching Knight unsteady on his feet is a strange sight considering his father, Marion “Suge” Knight, ruled hip-hop a generation ago with unwavering arrogance and a by-any-means-necessary attitude that made his Death Row Records notorious.
And there lies Knight’s biggest challenge. Selling multimillion-dollar houses in this economy is hard enough on its own, but the 23-year-old is trying to do so while breaking out of the shadow of an infamous namesake who was once feared and reviled.
Knight’s foray into L.A.’s real estate scene is a focus of “Love & Listings,” VH1’s frothy new docuseries.
The show offers a peek into the lives of several young, ambitious real estate agents and their celebrity clientele. Between shots of glamorous properties, there’s plenty of hooking up and backstabbing — think “Love & Hip-Hop” meets “Million Dollar Listing.”
Viewers will see Knight training under Savet after financial issues forced him to drop out of college. But what will surely keep them watching is Knight’s struggles to maintain his relationship with his controversial father, currently in prison for manslaughter, as he works to become a licensed agent.
“Jacob has to lose the ego if he’s going to make it in this business,” said Savet, also one of the series’ producers. “He grew up around rappers, so there’s a lot of cockiness. He wasn’t taught any differently. To be good, he has to be a chameleon. Real estate isn’t hip-hop, and he has a lot of growing up to do.”
FATHER ‘WAS LOVED’
Over lunch, away from the watch of colleagues grooming him for real estate greatness, it’s quite clear that Knight has inherited his father’s confidence, especially when it comes to the famous name he bears, which he’s certain will boost his odds for success no matter what he tries.
“My father made the greatest record label on the West Coast, and now I’m trying to do the same thing in my own way,” he says between bites of a burger. “You put the name Suge Knight anywhere and the whole world will look … everybody loved my father.”
Was it love or fear, I ask — noting the reputation of violence and mischief that has followed his father for three decades.
“It was love,” Knight asserts incredulously. “Not everybody’s a fan of my father. I know that. People just see him as a bully, but he wasn’t. He just likes things to go his way. But he was loved. And then, you know, certain incidents happened. Some rumors.” Those rumors? That his dad intentionally killed a man and injured another in 2015 during a hit-and-run.
The incident was a tragic entry in a long list of troubles for the elder Suge and is likely the 54-year-old’s final chapter after taking a plea deal last year that saw him sentenced to 28 years in state prison amid a wealth of health issues including diabetes, blood clots and impaired vision.
“He calls me all the time,” Knight says. “He’s doing good (in there). He’s a strong man. God works in mysterious ways, because we talk more now than we ever did.”
LIFE AS A KNIGHT
Because of this, the younger Suge admits he mostly goes by Jacob when doing business and not the moniker that was passed down to him.
One of five kids born to the Death Row Records impresario, Knight was 5 when his father was released from prison in 2001 for violating the terms of his probation from an assault case.
He watched as the elder Suge tried to restore the glory Death Row lost after the 1996 departure of its co-founder and sonic architect Dr. Dre and the murder of label star Tupac Shakur that same year.
“Death Row was a fun place. I know people say it was crazy, but it was fun,” he recalls. “My father was running L.A. This was his city.”
When the younger Knight was growing up, his father was in near constant legal trouble and, admittedly, not often present in his life. After that 2001 release, Suge went back to prison in 2003 for hitting a parking attendant.
He filed for bankruptcy and sold his Malibu home in 2006 and was again arrested in Las Vegas for assault and drug possession in 2008 and again in 2012 and again in 2014.
‘POWER IN MY VOICE’
While Suge was at the center of brawls and shootouts, Knight was taking after his father by pursuing football aspirations — as a senior running back at Crenshaw High School he caught the attention of Harvard University — but ultimately opted to study coding at Fisk University.
“I wanted to use my brain,” he says, before noting he dropped out amid his dad’s manslaughter case. (“Most of the (family) finances had to go to lawyers.”)
Even though Knight says he’s trying to step out of the shadow of his father, he certainly revels in courting controversy the way his dad always did. It’s the only way to explain why he posted on social media last year that Shakur was alive and living in Malaysia.
He refused to address those controversial statements during the interview but promised it will be explained on the new series, all but confirming it was a stunt for TV. “People will call me a ‘clout chaser,’ but I’m not,” he says earnestly. “I realize there’s power in my voice, and I want to be seen as a leader.”
While it’s yet to be seen if Knight will actually make it in this town as an agent, he’s already earned the trust of clients who aren’t worried about his infamous upbringing.
“This is the thing about his dad. We’ve all heard the stories. But a lot of it is hearsay,” says Grammy-nominated songwriter Walter Millsap III. “When you meet Suge, you don’t get that energy. What we know of his dad is word of mouth. But he’s not trying to sell records, he’s selling houses.”
Like many kids, Knight is just looking to make his dad proud and he believes the show will give him a platform to empower other children of incarcerated parents trying to do good in the world.
“I measure success by how I inspire people,” he says. “Look, my dad went to jail for most of his life. I carry his name, and I don’t want anybody to tell my story but me. So I’m doing all of this for the kids who have parents in jail and are trying to make a name for themselves.”