Even the self-serving nature of Knight’s monologue, however, helps illustrate the swagger that guided his success, informed by a desire to warn rivals that he was someone not to be trifled with — as he puts it, “a serious beast.”
As Death Row prospered in the early 1990s, the label became an enormous cultural force. Beyond the feuds and interpersonal dynamics, that includes its role in articulating anger toward the police and providing the de facto soundtrack for the civil unrest that erupted in Los Angeles after Rodney King beating not-guilty verdicts.
“As men from the ghetto, we all failed,” Knight says at one point, an assertion filled with irony, given the massive amounts of money that Knight and his contemporaries, including Dr. Dre, generated.
In the press notes, Fuqua describes Knight’s story as “a cautionary tale,” and there are certainly aspects of that in his almost Shakespearean rise and fall. Yet “American Dream/American Knightmare” perhaps functions best as a snapshot of a moment in time — one as stubbornly opaque, in some respects, as the dark glasses that Knight insists on wearing.
“American Dream/American Knightmare” premieres Dec. 21 at 8:30 p.m. on Showtime.