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Heller in 2013.
Gerald E. Heller
|Occupation||Music manager, businessman, writer|
Gerald E. "Jerry" Heller (born October 6, 1940) is an American music manager, businessman, and writer. He is best known for managing west coast rap super-group and gangster rap pioneers N.W.A and Eazy E. He rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70's, importing Elton John and Pink Floyd for their first major American tours, and representing Journey, Marvin Gaye, Joan Armatrading, Van Morrison, War, Average White Band, ELO, Eric Burdon, Crosby Stills and Nash, Ike & Tina Turner, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Otis Redding, The Who, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Four Tops, Dr. John, Jose Feliciano, The Grass Roots, and The Standells, among many others.
Heller played a role in the emergence of West Coast rap music when he cofounded Ruthless Records with Eazy-E and discovered, signed, or managed the likes of N.W.A., The Black Eyed Peas, Above the Law, The D.O.C., and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. He lives in Calabasas, California.
Having served in the United States Army and attended college at Ohio University and graduate business school at the University of Southern California, Heller started working in the agency business in 1963. After working at Coast Artists, Associated Booking and the Chartwell, he opened the Heller-Fischel Agency in Beverly Hills, California which grossed $1.9 million during its first year, $3.7 million the second, $5.8 the third, and over $7 million its fourth year of operation representing rock stars The Who, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, and Black Oak Arkansas as well as writers at the time Carly Simon, Van Morrison, and Cat Stevens. He later bought out partner Don Fischel who went on to package independent TV productions. Heller believed that a key factor in keeping acts working between or after a hit record was to not be greedy and package his own clients together, but tour them in salable packages with other headline acts that were clients of other agencies.
Starting in the mid-1980s, Jerry Heller was the moving force and marketing genius behind the emergence and crossover of rap music to the record buying public. His work with Ruthless Records and with Eazy-E formed the foundation for the successes of Priority Records and Interscope Records. To date, Ruthless Records has sold in excess of 110 million records, not counting singles. The artists and producers such as Dr. Dre whose careers Heller helped establish sold millions of records for Interscope, Priority, Atlantic Records, MCA Records, and Sony Records. At the time of Eazy-E's death and Heller's departure from Ruthless Records the company was earning in excess of $10 million per month. Jerry Heller is arguably dollar-for-dollar the most successful record company executive of the entire Rap Era. He started Ruthless Records with $250,000 of his own money along with another $2.25 million contribution from Sony when the P&D deal was struck.
Managing the Rise of West Coast Rap
In the 1980s, Heller began managing acts on the nascent Los Angeles hip hop scene, many of whom recorded for the now defunct Macola Records in Hollywood. He managed both C.I.A., which Ice Cube was a member of, and the World Class Wreckin' Cru, which included Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. On March 3, 1987, he met the Compton, California rapper Eazy-E and the two became Co-Founders of Ruthless Records.
Heller managed N.W.A.. Under the direction of Heller and Eazy, Ruthless Records had six platinum releases in three years: Supersonic (J. J. Fad), Eazy-Duz-It (Eazy-E), Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A), No One Can Do It Better (The D.O.C.), Michel'le's self-titled debut, and Efil4zaggin (N.W.A.).
Death Row Records and Jewish Defense League
During Dr. Dre’s departure from Ruthless Records, Heller and Ruthless director of business affairs Mike Klein sought assistance from the Jewish Defense League. Said Klein: "The Defense League offered to provide bodyguards to Eazy-E when [Suge] Knight allegedly threatened him in the early 1990s." This provided Ruthless Records with muscle to enter into negotiations with Knight over Dr. Dre’s departure. The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a money laundering investigation, assuming that the JDL was extorting money from Ruthless Records. JDL spokesperson Irv Rubin issued a press release stating "There was nothing but a close, tight relationship" between Eazy-E and the League".
Heller explained JDL’s involvement with Ruthless was for more reasons than the FBI investigation. Heller claimed Eazy-E received death threats and it was discovered that he was on a Nazi skinhead hit list. Heller speculated that it may have been because of N.W.A.'s song Fuck tha Police. Heller said "It was no secret that in the aftermath of the Suge Knight shake down incident where Eazy was forced to sign over Dr. Dre, Michel'le, and The D.O.C., that Ruthless was protected by Israeli trained/connected security forces." Heller maintains that Eazy-E admired the JDL for their slogan "Never Again" and that he had plans to do a movie about the group.
N.W.A. broke up in 1991, with Ice Cube and Dre departing and aiming diss raps at Heller and Eazy. Both Ice Cube and Dre accused Heller of breaking up N.W.A with the way he managed the group. Dr. Dre later recalled: "The split came when Jerry Heller got involved. He played the divide and conquer game. Instead of taking care of everybody, he picked one nigga to take care of and that was Eazy. And Eazy was like, 'I'm taken care of, so fuck it'." Ice Cube, in his diss track "No Vaseline", accused Eazy of being too much under Heller's influence and both of them exploiting the rest of the group: "Eazy E-turned-faggot/With your manager, fella/fuckin' MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and Yella" and "It's a case of divide and conquer, 'cause you let a Jew break up my crew".
Ruthless went on to release Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's hits of the mid-1990s. Heller continued to work in rap, managing Hispanic hip-hop acts at Hit-a-Lick Records. He now manages rock group 28 North signed with Sony Records.
His memoir, Ruthless: A Memoir, written with Gil Reavill, was published by Simon & Schuster/Simon Spotlight Entertainment in 2006. An updated and enhanced deluxe version of Ruthless: A Memoir is scheduled to be released late 2013.
“He never liked me. So I never liked him. A long time ago I made a decision that made things a lot simpler for me: I wasn't going to like someone who didn't like me. If someone had a problem with me, I wouldn't argue with him or try to change his mind. If he demonstrated he didn't like me, I came to the conclusion that life was too short, so fuck him. This included quite a few people I ran across in the music business, as well as my own brother and the whole nation of France. I wasn't going to turn into Sally Field ("You like me! You really like me!"), but I wasn't going to waste my time with assholes, either.” ― Jerry Heller, Ruthless: A Memoir
- IMDb entry
- KCAL9 (Co-Founder Of Ruthless Records Jerry Heller Discusses New Memoir)
- Ruthless A Memoir (Simon & Schuster)
- Hip Hop & Politics (Interview with Jerry Heller)
- XXL Magazine (Ruthless Records Co-Founder Jerry Heller Claims Eazy E Had Plans To Kill Suge Knight)
- Vibe Magazine (13 Hip-Hop Conspiracy Theories)
- HipHop DX (Jerry Heller Claims He & Eazy-E Put "The Source" Magazine "In Business")
- Rolling Stone Magazine (The 10 Wildest Rap Beefs Of All Time)
- AntiMusic.com (N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton Turns 25)