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October 6, 1940 |
Gerald E. “Jerry” Heller (born October 6, 1940 in Cleveland, Ohio) is an American music manager and businessman. He is best known for managing west coast rap super-group and gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A and Eazy-E. He rose to prominence in the 1960s and '70s, 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.
Early life and education
Born to a Jewish family, Heller served in the United States Army and attended college at 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, Heller was the moving force and marketing genius behind the emergence and crossover of rap music to the record-buying U.S. 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 label included 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 pulling in in excess of $10 million per month.
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 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 Niggaz4Life (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. The JDL offered to provide bodyguards to Eazy-E when Suge Knight allegedly threatened him in the early 1990s. The presence of bodyguards 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 that 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 placement on the hit list might 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 shakedown 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 has maintained 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 criticism at Heller and Eazy in diss tracks. 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". Also, "It's a case of divide and conquer, 'cause you let a Jew break up my crew" and "house nigga gotta run and hide, yellin' Compton but you moved to Riverside."
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 the rock group, 28 North.
Heller's memoir, Ruthless: A Memoir, written with Gil Reavill, was published by Simon & Schuster/Simon Spotlight Entertainment in 2006. In the work, Heller addressed many events that he had previously remained silent on.
He denied the accusations of financial impropriety. In particular, he wrote that Ice Cube didn't understand finances, and subsequently failed to pay producers and writers on his own record label. He claimed that the 20% that he took of earnings was lower than the 25% that became standard at Lench Mob Records. Of the song No Vaseline, Heller wrote that he didn't believe that Ice Cube was genuinely anti-Semitic and was nothing but "pro-Ice Cube", but had exploited prejudices in the Afro-American community to help his career.
He claimed that the deathbed letter from Eazy-E was a forgery: "Eric would never have put out a letter that was that corny." Heller wrote that Eazy-E had eight children and not seven as the letter stated.
Of the Dee Barnes incident, in which she was beaten by Dr. Dre in the midst of the feud between Ice Cube and the remaining members of N.W.A, Heller called the incident "disgraceful" and that he was "left to clean up the mess". Heller said that Dr. Dre was generally non-violent and mild-mannered, but had drunk too much on the night.
Straight Outta Compton lawsuit
After gaining media attention, Heller filed a defamation lawsuit against the film, Straight Outta Compton. He has also filed lawsuits against rappers Dr. Dre and Ice-Cube. The lawsuit claims "the film is littered with false statements that harm the reputation of (Heller) and aim to ridicule and lower him in the opinion of the community and to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him."
In popular culture
- Heller is portrayed by actor Paul Giamatti in a 2015 biopic film about N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton.
- The Tablet: "The Story of N.W.A—and Their Jewish Manager—Hits the Big Screen" by Jas Chana August 13, 2015
- Freedland, Nat (April 27, 1974). "Jerry Heller's Agency Books Rock Acts in $alable Packages". Billboard, p 16. Archived at Google Books. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
- Borgmeyer, Jon; Lang, Holly (2006). Dr. Dre: A Biography. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 52–55. ISBN 0-313-33826-4.
- Pareles, Jon (December 8, 1991). "POP VIEW; Should Ice Cube's Voice Be Chilled?". The New York Times.
- Collis, Clark (January 4, 2007). "Jerry Heller on being hip-hop's most hated". Entertainment Weekly.
- Ruthless. Google Books. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
- Jerry Heller, Gil Reavill, 2006. Ruthless: A Memoir. p. 292. Simon Spotlight Entertainment. ISBN 1-4169-1792-6
- Jerry Heller, Gil Reavill, 2006. Ruthless: A Memoir. p. 293. Simon Spotlight Entertainment. ISBN 1-4169-1792-6
- Jerry Heller, Gil Reavill, 2006. Ruthless: A Memoir. p. 137. Simon Spotlight Entertainment. ISBN 1-4169-1792-6
- Jerry Heller, Gil Reavill, 2006. Ruthless: A Memoir. p. 299. Simon Spotlight Entertainment. ISBN 1-4169-1792-6
- Jerry Heller, Gil Reavill, 2006. Ruthless: A Memoir. p. 178. Simon Spotlight Entertainment. ISBN 1-4169-1792-6
- "‘Straight Outta Compton’ Crew & Universal Sued For $110M By Ex-N.W.A Manager". Deadline Hollywood. 30 October 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
- Coleman, Miriam (August 16, 2014). "Paul Giamatti Cast as Controversial Manager in N.W.A. Biopic". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
- Jerry Heller at the Internet Movie Database
- "Jerry Heller". Heeb. March 24, 2009
- 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)