From the Wild, Wild West to the Great White North: Canadian company buys Death Row

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TORONTO From the Wild, Wild West to the Great White North: a wealth of material from legendary rappers Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg is now the property of a Canadian company.

TORONTO From the Wild, Wild West to the Great White North: a wealth of material from legendary rappers Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg is now the property of a Canadian company.

Toronto-based WIDEawake Entertainment Group purchased infamous rap label Death Row from an L.A. auction for US$18 million last week.

Now, a company with fewer than 30 employees faces the monumental task of handling a staggering back catalogue that has already sold tens of millions of albums.

The logistics of all this are a little maddening, said CEO Lara Lavi.

Indeed, the acquisition is huge and surprising for a relatively unknown company that was bidding against a group that reportedly included Warner Music Group.

WIDEawake now owns every scrap that was Death Row, aside from some of (label founder) Suge Knights personal paraphernalia, Lavi said.

She said that includes the entire intellectual property, assets, contracts, music, back catalogue, unreleased catalogue and artwork for the label that released such blockbusters as Dr. Dres The Chronic, Snoop Doggs Doggystyle and Shakurs All Eyez on Me.

Shakur, who was shot to death in 1996, was famously prolific and a steady stream of his unreleased work has surfaced since his death. Still, Lavi says theres considerably more in the archives.

Theres actually way more stuff thats never gone to the public than (whats out there), she said.

But she asserts that the posthumous cash-ins that have been dribbling out steadily since Shakurs death are a thing of the past.

I want to make sure that whatever we do is good for the Death Row artists, she said. I want to see this Death Row brand go back to being about the artists who created its sound. And step away from the tabloid elements of its prior management.

Of course, shes referring to the sordid drama and in-fighting that eventually sunk the label.

Knight has always been an imposing figure in hip-hop. One urban legend holds that he coerced Vanilla Ice to sign over royalties from Ice Ice Baby by dangling the rapper off the balcony of a high-rise.

A series of massive hit records saw the label soar through the first half of the 90s. But Death Rows fortunes began to turn when Dr. Dre left the label in 1995 and Shakur died.

In 2006, the label filed for bankruptcy, unable to pay a $107-million settlement awarded in 2005 to Lydia Harris, who claimed to have helped found Death Row with Knight.

Lavi said she was surprised at the propertys discount price tag.

You know, you go into these things and you dont know to what degree the other parties are interested or not, she said. I assumed, probably incorrectly, that Warner would be more aggressive.

They didnt attempt to outbid us. I guess thats sort of a reflection of where the market is right now.

It could end up being a major coup for WIDEawake, which was founded in 2006. Lavi, who is American, says the company also has an office in L.A. and hopes to soon open another in London.

Now, Lavi has a few pressing tasks to address. WIDEawake is distributed by Universal in Canada but has no distribution deal in the U.S., though Lavi says the company has several offers on the table that its sorting through.

The companys other priority is Canadian soul singer Sean Jones, who begins a national tour with Divine Brown on Monday.

Organizations: Great White, WIDEawake Entertainment Group, Warner Music Group

Geographic location: Wild West, L.A., TORONTO London Canada U.S.

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