He's 60 years old, married to a former Baywatch babe, and has a new book on the shelves
One of the critical figures behind making gangsta rap a national cultural force was an old-school Jewish guy from Shaker Heights, Jerry Heller
. Heller returned home to speak at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
(link: ) Wednesday, plugging his new book, Ruthless
, which recounts his stellar run in the music business, in which he worked with Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elton John, Pink Floyd, and N.W.A., to name a few.
Partnering with drug-dealer-turned-rapper Eazy-E, Heller was the business end of Ruthless Records
. The California label changed the face of the music industry by introducing the world to N.W.A., the anti-authority Compton crew that spat hard rap with titles like "Fuck the Police" and "Gangsta Gangsta." Members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre went on to level public charges that Eazy and Heller had signed the group to "draconian" contracts and embezzled royalties.
Dre savagely lampooned Heller and Eazy in the "F* Wit' Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" video
. But the team continued, and Ruthless reestablished itself with Cleveland's Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and later signed the Black Eyed Peas. Heller said he wrote the book to "one, give Eazy-E the credit that he deserved and never really got, and two, to rehabilitate my image."
Now in his 60s, he's married to a former Baywatch babe. Heller discussed his career, and dropped opinions about some of the historical musical figures his rubbed elbows and butted heads with.
On legendary promoter Bill Graham:
"Before Bill Graham, we were all just a bunch of hippies. Bill Graham knew how to make money. We all just copied Bill Graham."
On Michel'le, a charter Ruthless female artist:
"Dr. Dre introduced me to Michel'le backstage at a Salt N Pepa concert. And she opened her purse, and all she had it was a .38."
On N.W.A. lyricist Ice Cube
, the first member of the posse to defect: "Ice Cube was just a little punk, and none of us really cared what he had to say."
On Dr. Dre:
"I still see Dr. Dre. He lives by me. He's been the single greatest creative force in hip-hop. He's been at the top of his game for 20 years now."
On Suge Knight,
the former employee who muscled Dr. Dre out of his Ruthless contract and stole Heller's Corvette: "He's a thug. He's one of the worst people on the planet. He's just a bad guy."
On Bone Thugs:
"Most artists are very challenging... None more difficult than Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. They weren't hard to work with — they were hard to control."
The Ruthless book has been adapted to a screen play, and Heller says Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis are interested in playing him. He is also launching a new record company, and is accepting demo submissions
. — D.X. Ferris