Lydia Harris May Have Been Married To The Game, But She Doesn’t Play Them: Death Row Records Co-Founder Launches Own Label

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Lydia Harris, former business partner of disgraced Hip-Hop mogul Suge Knight, may have been married to the game, but she’s now running her own plays. And there is perhaps no better way to describe Harris than by her nickname–Lady Boss.

Harris has already lived to tell it in her memoir, ”Married to the Game: A Story of Love and Waiting,” which has sparked talks of a bio-pic. Even before the memoir, Harris’s life was long under the microscope. Industry insiders and outsiders have been fascinated with her story. In fact, she’s been called the real-life inspiration for the fierce and fabulous Cookie on the TV series “Empire.”

Now Harris, who co-founded of Death Row Records with her husband, Michael “Harry O” Harris, and Knight, has re-emerged with a newly formed entertainment company called Lydia Harris Entertainment (LHE). And she has lots going on. Besides still promoting her memoir, she’s working on an upcoming reality series, “Judgment Day.” She’s releasing a compilation CD, Judgment Day featuring various artists from all over the country with a variety of genres– R&B, Hip Hop and mainstream. “I know that so many great artists don’t have a platform. We are providing that through the Judgment Day Contests and Reality TV Series,” Harris tells Parlé Magazine. “Exposure and relationship is crucial in this business. I have both and want to share that with young men and women around the world. Example would be our first Judgment Day 2015 Contest Winners, Da Nomads. They are a young duo from New York that won a single distribution deal and are featured on the highly anticipated Judgment Day CD compilation that has artists like Snoop Dogg, Ieshia, Frenchie, Mercy of DC and my new group Da Nomads!”


Harris is trying to put the drama of the past behind her. And there was plenty of drama. Harris met her husband Harry O in 1985 and later they married while he was serving a 28-year sentence on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder.  Initially Harris, did not know Harry O was a cocaine drug kingpin, but when he was imprisoned she stood by his side and had a daughter. He helped Harris co-found Death Row Records and even became the first African-American produce a Broadway hit show, a comedy called Checkmates that starred Denzel Washington and Vanessa Williams.  Even while in prison Harry O was making a name for himself and making money.


Eventually the Death Row and Suge meltdown led to a lawsuit by the Harrises against Knight in 2005 which the by-then-divorced Michael and Lydia Harris were awarded in 2008 $107 million, which they agreed to split. The judgment found that Harris did in fact co-found Death Row Records with $1.5 million seed money provided by her Harry O.


Harry O and Harris got an initial payment of $1 million from Knight, and so far that has been it. Unfortunately, earlier Knight had filed bankruptcy, and in 2009 Death Row’s assets were liquidated and auctioned off for just $18 million. A far cry from what Death Row was worth in its heyday. The label sold 18 million albums and racked in more than $325 million in its first four years alone.


But life goes on and Harris is not looking back in regret. She’s looking forward.


Harris says she’s launched Lydia Harris Entertainment to basically show artists how they should be treated respectfully in this business–which is a tall order considering the entertainment business as a whole.  “I really want the artists to learn the value of ‘loyalty before everything’,” says Harris. “We at LHE really believe in providing opportunities. We all started somewhere…right?” She laughs put adds seriously, “To tell you the truth I truly see how lost this generation is. My goal is to be able to provide quality guidance through low cost ($5,000) national distribution deals in partnership with Universal.”


Harris seems to be conquering the world on several fronts these days, but was it easy to get it up and going, especially after all the hardships, drama, and letdowns she has been through? For Harris, guiding new talent and sharing her experiences is key. “Life experiences,” she says. “You know life can hand you some real bad cards, but you have to play the hand you’re dealt.”


Survival and growing stronger also led Harris to become a certified life coach. Think Iyanla Vanzant, only more real life.


If you didn’t know that about Harris, there’s more. When asked: “What do you think people don’t know about you?” She answers, “That I love people genuinely and that I love to cook and have graduated from Culinary Arts School and that I have strong belief in Women’s empowerment which is very dear to me and yet it would surprise a lot of people.”


On the food tip, Harris actually has big plans. Harris, who owns a restaurant in Texas, wants to develop a culinary arts school with one of the main objectives being to give ex-felons job opportunities. For this venture Harris has already sealed several partnerships to get it up and running in the coming year.


For the moment, however, Harris’ focus is on the entertainment company. And she has had to overcome a few challenges. “Getting the word out that we are not your traditional music company,” says Harris of one challenges.  “Another  challenge is locating good loyal interns that want to grow with the company.”


And she already is working on her goals for 2016. “My goals for 2016 include to do what I did behind the scenes at Death Row Records with artists like Snoop Dre and 2Pac,” she shares. “Make eternal celebrities and great music. Build, Develop, Expand and Conquer the industry without harm a single man or woman along the way. Lydia Harris Entertainment is that type of company with the best team ever! I know God has my back and I trust Him to deliver on His promises.”


Through it all, Harris says there have been a few lessons. In regards to business, she says the most important lesson has been to “Pay attention and maintain healthy relationships. Real talk,”  she says. And as far as life, she reveals: “The biggest life lesson has been that family is so important. Proud to be the daughter of awesome parents Margaret and Burley Robinson with my beautiful daughter La Dasha. And we may be divorced, but… shout out to her dad, Mr. Michael Harris.”


Although Harris has been pretty open and straightforward with her life and experiences, there are a few misconceptions people have about her.  “That this music business can be viewed as a game, but I don’t play games,” says Harris. “These are people’s lives and I value that 100%.”

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