Marion “Suge” Knight wasn’t much more than a bodyguard with showbiz aspirations when he befriended N.W.A. Producer Andre “Dr. Dre” Young. But Knight was able in a short amount of time to win the disgruntled Dre’s trust and—through intrigue and intimidation—induce the holder of Dre’s contract, Eazy-E, to sign a form releasing Dre from his obligations to Eazy’s Ruthless Records.

Eazy and his partner/manager Jerry Heller did not go quietly, though, threatening to sue any record company that tried to ink a deal with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight’s new Death Row Records. But one record executive wasn’t scared to wade into the treacherous waters between the hostile parties. Jimmy Iovine, the co-owner of an aggressive new label called Interscope, understood the stakes, and the motivations of the stakeholders.

To Ruthless, Iovine promised a solution that would allow Dre to go free and Ruthless to earn a share despite his departure: an ongoing percentage of Dre’s record royalties. To Priority, which had signed the N.W.A. members to a performance contract, Iovine offered the opportunity to distribute Dre’s first solo album. As a result, Death Row Records first release, The Chronic, was born. The episode was evidence that brute force, on its own, was not enough to succeed in the hip-hop world. Even muscle needed a massage, and Jimmy Iovine’s deft handiwork would end up building both the hip-hop fortunes of Death Row and its parent company Interscope for years to come.