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

Born to a Jewish family in Cleveland, Heller went on to represent big-name artists like Dr. Dre and cofound pioneering hip hop label Ruthless Records.

Music industry veteran Jerry Heller.
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.