Jerry Heller, Jewish Gangsta-rap Impresario Behind N.W.A., Dies at 75

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Music industry veteran Jerry Heller.
Music industry veteran Jerry Heller.Credit: Jim Cooper, AP

Music manager and hip hop industry veteran Jerry Heller died on Friday at the age of 75.

Heller died of a heart attack Friday night at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, family members confirmed to Billboard.

Heller was best-known for his pioneering work in West Coast hip hop music and his partnerships with the the N.W.A. hip hop group and with rapper Eazy-E, which launched the gangsta-rap movement in the late 80s. 

Born to a Jewish family in Cleveland in 1940, Heller reportedly suffered from anti-Semitism while growing up. After serving in the U.S. Army and attending the University of Southern Carolina, Heller began his way in the music industry, going on to represent big-name artists such as The Who, Marvin Gaye and Van Morrison. In the 1980s he forayed into the L.A.-based hip hop scene, managing Dr. Dre and cofounding Ruthless Records with Eazy-E.

As a result of a spat following Dr. Dre's departure from Ruthless Records, Heller was said to have used the services of the extremist Jewish Defense League to protect him. 

In 2006, Heller published a book, Ruthless: A Memoir, in which he described his time in the music industry. In 2015, he filed a suit against the makers of the Straight Outta Compton biopic over his negative portrayal in it.

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