Ruthless Records was formed as a vehicle for releases by N.W.A, as well as member and founder Eric "Eazy-E" Wright; its first successful single was Eazy's "Boyz-n-the-Hood", followed by N.W.A's "Dopeman", "8-Ball" and Panic Zone, introductory to the group's N.W.A. and the Posse, a compilation album released under the group's name, albeit not on Ruthless. It also put out singles by underground California acts such as Frost and J.J. Fad, but the label's first full-length release was N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton, which was eventually certified multi-platinum. Immediately following this was the release of Eazy's solo debut, Eazy-Duz-It.
As the six members went on tour in support of their project, some began to voice their displeasure with the financial situation at Ruthless Records. According to group member MC Ren, it was common opinion that N.W.A Manager and Ruthless co-founder Jerry Heller was the one receiving their due:
We felt he didn’t deserve what he was getting. We deserved that shit. We were the ones making the records, traveling in vans and driving all around the place. You do all those fucking shows trying to get known, and then you come home to a fucking apartment. Then you go to his house, and this motherfucker lives in a mansion. There’s gold leaf trimmings all in the bathroom and all kinds of other shit. You’re thinking, “Man, fuck that.”
The label also experienced outside pressure due to the group. The success of their song "Fuck tha Police" led to a threatening F.B.I. letter to distributor Priority Records. After coming off tour, group member Ice Cube voiced his opinions on the group's finances. Though Heller continually claims that everything was in order, and has even offered them to open the account books to prove his innocence, the ensuing confrontation ended in Cube leaving Ruthless without signing on as a solo artist, which the remaining members proceeded to do.
1988 also saw the release of J.J. Fad's gold-certified album Supersonic, produced by founding N.W.A member Arabian Prince and in 1989, singer Michel'le's eponymous self-titled album, and The D.O.C.'s critically acclaimed No One Can Do It Better (all released through Atlantic), all produced by N.W.A beatsmiths Dr. Dre and DJ Yella; following these efforts, Dre returned to N.W.A, producing the 100 Miles and Runnin' E.P. and the group's sophomore effort, Niggaz4Life, which reached platinum status. Above the Law's Livin' Like Hustlers was also released during this period (by way of Epic Records).
In 1989, Eazy signed Hip-Hop's first white female rapper Tairrie B to Ruthless' new Comptown label subsidiary. She released her debut album "The Power of A Woman" in 1990 (through MCA Records) featuring the single & video for "Murder She Wrote" which Eazy and Philly gangster rapper Schoolly D appeared in. The album also featured guest vocals by Ruthless Records artists Dr. Dre & D.O.C. along with Rhyme Syndicate rapper Everlast (who was her boyfriend at the time) and production by Quincy (QD3) Jones III & Schoolly D.
N.W.A breakup & other Ruthless artists
Though N.W.A was highly successful, Dre was advised by The D.O.C. and the rapper's friend, Suge Knight, that he should leave the label to avoid any possible financial meddling by Heller and Eazy-E; offering to extricate Dre from his Ruthless contract, Suge became such a problem for the label-heads that at one point Eazy-E allegedly suggested killing him, a move vetoed by Heller. Eventually, Suge succeeded in procuring Dre, D.O.C. and Michel'le's contracts—through reportedly illicit means—and proceeded to set up Death Row Records with the producer.
Now short of his main producer, Eazy-E signed various other acts that would assist him in a subsequent rivalry with Death Row, and specifically Dr. Dre. Gangsta Dresta and B.G. Knocc Out were among the most vocal of these rappers, with DJ Yella and new producer Rhythum D producing. While MC Ren stayed neutral, he remained with Ruthless Records, releasing several albums. Also on the label at this time were Will 1X and the Atban Klann, a group including the future will.i.am and apl.de.ap, who would later become two parts of the trio The Black Eyed Peas after leaving the label. Eazy-E released several high-profile albums dissing Dr. Dre, including most famously It's On (
Dr. Dre) 187um Killa. Producer Big Hutch/Cold 187 um alleges that during this time period, with Ruthless switching distributors from Priority to Relativity Records, even Wright began to feel as though Heller wasn't being honest with the label's finances:
When the money started rolling and a lot of cats couldn’t come to the table and renegotiate…. Ya know, it was fucked up! That’s what was wrong. Like Eazy came to me one night and he said “Man, shit is fucked up, man.” Because he was at a point where even he was getting played by Jerry Heller.
Eazy-E's death, Tomica Wright ownership
On February 1995, Eazy-E was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS; around this time he was beginning to work on his third album Money + Sex = Eazy. He had just signed the five-member group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, whose debut 1994 E.P. Creepin on ah Come Up was certified Quadruple Platinum by the RIAA & received positive reviews from music critics, critics, fans & listeners alike. While he executive-produced their first full-length album, E 1999 Eternal, he died of AIDS-related pneumonia at 6:35PM PST on Sunday, March 26, 1995. before the album's release. Their smash 1995 single "Tha Crossroads" was dedicated to Eazy-E and helped push the album to multi-platinum success. After his death, the label was taken over by Eazy-E's wife, Tomica Wright. Due to a shift in promotions and marketing, the label's artists began leaving for other recording homes. Into 1996, only MC Ren, Kid Frost, and Bone Thugs remained, and even those acts eventually departed, though re-releases of previous projects have appeared since then. Ruthless Records is now a division of Epic Records.
The label has had several distributors simultaneously. Early Ruthless releases were distributed by Macola Records (including certain material from JJ Fad which was made prior to the completion of the Supersonic album, which were at first released on Ruthless' short-lived Dream Team Records subsidiary), but that deal was short-lived and the rights reverted to Ruthless. All of N.W.A's releases and Eazy-E's first two solo albums on Ruthless Records were distributed by Priority Records, and the rights to these releases are now held by Priority's new owner, Capitol Records. Releases by The D.O.C, Michel'le, Yomo & Maulkie and JJ Fad were marketed through Atlantic Records or its subsidiary Atco Records. These master rights are still held by Atlantic's parent company, Warner Music Group, while Above The Law's releases were marketed through Epic Records. In the early 1990s, Ruthless found more exclusive distribution through Relativity Records, formerly a heavy metal label. Relativity was later folded into its parent company, Sony Music. Currently, Lil Eazy E is signed to the label, The latest album released through Ruthless was Hopsin's Gazing at the Moonlight.
Straight Outta Compton
With the success of Notorious, New Line Cinema reps announced to Entertainment Weekly's "Hollywood Insider Blog" that N.W.A's story was in development to become a theatrical release. Filmmaker S. Leigh Savidge and radio veteran Alan Wenkus wrote the initial drafts of the screenplay, working closely with Tomica Woods-Wright. Later drafts were written by Andrea Berloff and, after New Line put the project in turnaround and it was picked up by Universal Pictures, Jonathan Herman was brought on to do the final drafts of the script. The film was produced by Tomica Woods-Wright, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Matt Alvarez, Scott Bernstein, and F. Gary Gray, who also served as director. Straight Outta Compton was released in North American theaters on August 14, 2015. Eazy-E was portrayed by actor Jason Mitchell.
- Lil Eazy E
- Derrek "E3" Wright
under the label
|Eazy-E||1987 - 1995||5|
|N.W.A||1987 - 1991||3|
|J.J. Fad||1988 - 1991||2|
|MC Ren||1989 - 1998||4|
|Dr. Dre||1989 - 1991||—|
|DJ Yella||1989 - 1994||—|
|The D.O.C.||1989 - 1991||1|
|Michel'le||1989 - 1991||1|
|Tairrie B||1989 - 1990||1|
|Above the Law||1989 - 1996||4|
|Kokane||1989 - 1996||2|
|Yomo & Maulkie||1989 - 1992||1|
|Jimmy Z||1990 - 1991||1|
|Penthouse Players Clique||1991 - 1993||1|
|Atban Klann||1992 - 1995||—|
|H.W.A.||1992 - 1995||1|
|Menajahtwa||1992 - 1994||1|
|Blood of Abraham||1993 - 1994||1|
|Dresta||1993 - 1995||—|
|B.G. Knocc Out||1993 - 1995||—|
|Rhythum D||1993 - 1995||—|
|Bone Thugs-N-Harmony||1993 - 2003||5|
|Krayzie Bone||1993 - 2003||1|
|Bizzy Bone||1993 - 2003||1|
|Layzie Bone||1993 - 2003||1|
|Flesh-n-Bone||1993 - 2003||—|
|Wish Bone||1993 - 2003||—|
|DJ U-Neek||1993 - 2003||—|
|Brownside||1994 - 1995||—|
|G.B.M.||1994 - 1995||—|
|Kid Frost||1994 - 1997||2|
|NX Nation Unknown||1997 - 2000||—|
|Hopsin||2007 - 2010||1|
- HipHopDX (11 May 2013). "Eazy-E Planned To Kill Suge Knight, According To Jerry Heller". HipHopDX. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- "Jerry Heller on being hip-hop's most hated". Entertainment Weekly's EW.com. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- "Straight Outta Compton Gold & Platinum certifications". RIAA. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
- Burgess, Omar (26 October 2008). "MC Ren: RenIncarnated". Hiphop DX. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
-  Archived January 31, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
- Ruthless (Heller/Reavill, 2007) ISBN 1-4169-1794-2
- "Supersonic Gold & Platinum RIAA certification". RIAA. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "N.W.A. Gold & Platinum RIAA certification". RIAA. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
-  Archived December 30, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Collis, Clark (2007-01-04). "Heller Fire". EW.com. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "// Erotic D Interview- Part 1 (June 2008) // West Coast News Network //". Dubcnn.com. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
-  Archived September 28, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
- "Eazy-E, 31, Founder Of 'Gangsta' Rap - Obituary". New York Times. 27 March 1995. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- Weinstein, Max (2013-12-19). "N.W.A. Biopic 'Straight Outta Compton' Brings On Writer". Vibe.