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Home Hip Hop News Jerry Heller, music executive who launched gangsta rappers NWA, dies at 75

Jerry Heller, music executive who launched gangsta rappers NWA, dies at 75

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September 3 at 4:46 PM
 Jerry Heller, an influential music executive who helped take gangsta rap mainstream as the manager of the group NWA and co-founder of Ruthless Records, but who was later pilloried as a caricature of the greedy, hard-hearted manager who takes advantage of young music stars, died Sept. 2 at a hospital in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He was 75.

He had a heart attack while driving and was involved in a car crash, his cousin Gary Ballen told the Associated Press. He had a history of heart problems and diabetes.

Mr. Heller had been a manager of musical acts since the 1960s, working with such major acts as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd and Elton John, but he had his greatest impact when he joined forces in the late 1980s with a group of young hip-hop artists in Los Angeles.

He worked with several groups, but the teenaged rappers who formed NWA — most notably Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E — became the first major stars of gangsta rap. Their boastful, intensely profane songs depicted a world of sex and violence, with references to guns and an overt hatred of the police.

The group’s anti-establishment point of view was reflected in its defiant name, which stood for Niggaz With Attitude. With the release of the group’s first album “Straight Outta Compton” in 1988, NWA “introduced some of the most grotesquely exciting music ever made,” according to Newsweek.

The record eventually sold 3 million copies and became immensely popular with young listeners of all backgrounds.

After a second studio album in 1991, NWA broke up amid an acrimonious dispute. Eazy-E (Eric Wright), a co-founder of Ruthless Records, stayed with Mr. Heller as a business partner, while Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson) and Dr. Dre (Andre Young) went their own way — often criticizing Mr. Heller in the harshest terms.

Ice Cube’s 1991 song “No Vaseline” burned all bridges with its violent lyrics, appearing to urge the assassination of Mr. Heller with the lines, “You let a Jew break up my crew. . . . Get rid of that devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple.”

Mr. Heller continued to manage other musical acts in later years and told his story in a 2006 memoir, “Ruthless.”

He was portrayed in a 2015 movie about the rise of NWA and gangsta rap, “Straight Outta Compton,” by actor Paul Giamatti. Mr. Heller sued the producers of the film for defamation, saying the depiction of him was untruthful.

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