Priority, Relativity (U.S.)
Hip hop, R&B
Country of origin
United States of America
Los Angeles, California
Ruthless Records is an American record label, founded by American rapper Eric "Eazy-E" Wright and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller in Wright's hometown of Compton, California in late 1986. It was formed as a vehicle for releases by N.W.A, as well as records released by member and founder Eazy-E. The label's first full-length release was N.W.A's 1988 album Straight Outta Compton, followed by Eazy-E's solo album, Eazy-Duz-It.
Ruthless was formed as a vehicle for releases by N.W.A, as well as member and co-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 1st full-length release was N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton, which was eventually certified Triple Platinum by the RIAA. 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. According to group member MC Ren, it was a 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.”
Jerry Heller, in his 2006 memoir Ruthless, disputes any allegations of financial misconduct.
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 Ice 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 beat-smiths 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 and video for "Murder She Wrote" which Eazy and Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D appeared in. The album also featured guest vocals by Dr. Dre, D.O.C. and future House of Pain frontman Everlast, and production by QDIII.
N.W.A breakup & other Ruthless artists
Though N.W.A was highly successful, Dr. 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, offering to extricate Dr. Dre from his Ruthless contract. 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 with Dr. Dre.
Now short of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E signed various other acts that would assist him in a subsequent rivalry with Death Row. Gangsta Dresta and B.G. Knocc Out were among the most vocal of these rappers, with DJ Yella,187um and new producer Rhythum D producing. While MC Ren and DJ Yella stayed neutral, they remained with Ruthless, releasing several LPs. Eazy-E released several high-profile LPs 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 and Epic, 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.
However he added, "... I can’t knock Jerry Heller... because Jerry Heller gave us all an opportunity. He took us to the people to get massive exposure. We couldn’t have walked through the doors as brothers like that. We needed a guy like Jerry Heller to do that. You need that face, you need that voice, you need that guy with a connect like that. Without him, there wouldn’t have been none of that..."
Eazy-E allegedly fired Jerry Heller in 1994.
On March 1, 1995, Eazy-E was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS; around this time he was beginning to work on his 3rd LP. He had just signed the Cleveland, Ohio-based group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, whose 1994 extended play Creepin on ah Come Up was well received by critics and fans. Eazy-E executive produced Bone Thugs' first full-length album, E 1999 Eternal, which was released shortly after his death on March 26, 1995, of HIV/AIDS in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Their smash 1996 single "Tha Crossroads" was dedicated to Eazy-E and helped push the album to multi-platinum success.
The label has had several distributors simultaneously. Early Ruthless releases were distributed by Macola (including certain material from JJ Fad which was made prior to the completion of the Supersonic album, which was at first released on Ruthless' short-lived Dream Team subsidiary), but that deal was short-lived and the rights reverted to Ruthless. All of N.W.A's releases and Eazy-E's debut solo album on Ruthless Records were distributed by Priority, and the rights to these releases are now held by Priority's new owner, Capitol. Releases by The D.O.C, Michel'le, Yomo & Maulkie, and JJ Fad were marketed through Atlantic or its subsidiary Atco. These master rights are still held by Atlantic's parent company, Warner, while Above The Law's releases were marketed through EPic and Giant. In 1994, Ruthless found exclusive distribution through Relativity, a former heavy metal label. Relativity was later folded into its parent company, Sony. Currently, Lil Eazy-E is signed to the label. The most recent album released through Ruthless was Hopsin's Gazing at the Moonlight.
- Eazy-E (Founder; until death in 1995)
- Above the Law (1989-1996)
- Arabian Prince (1986-1988)
- Atban Klann (1992-1995)
- B.G. Knocc Out (1993-1995)
- Blood of Abraham (1993-1994)
- Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (1993-2003)
- Krayzie Bone (1993-2003)
- Bizzy Bone (1993-2003)
- Layzie Bone (1993-2003)
- Wish Bone (1993-2003)
- Brownside (1994-1995)
- DJ U-Neek (1993-2003)
- DJ Yella (1986-1995)
- Dr. Dre (1986-1991)
- Dresta (1993-1995)
- G.B.M. (1994-1995)
- H.W.A. (1992-1995)
- Ice Cube (1986-1989)
- J.J. Fad (1987-1991)
- Jimmy Z (1990-1991)
- Kid Frost (1994-1997)
- Kokane (1989-1996)
- MC Ren (1987-1998)
- Menajahtwa (1992-1994)
- Michel'le (1988-1991)
- N.W.A (1986-1991)
- Penthouse Players Clique (1991-1993)
- Rhythum D (1993-1995)
- Stevie Stone (2007-2010)
- Tairrie B (1989-1995)
- The D.O.C. (1988-1991)
- Yomo & Maulkie (1989-1992)
- Hopsin (2007-2010)
- NX Nation Unknown (1997-2000)