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Jerry Heller and Ruthless Records' Chart Legacy: N.W.A, Eazy-E & More
Jerry Heller, N.W.A’s controversial early manager and a prolific industry veteran who died at age 75 on Friday (Sept. 2), emerged as a key figure in rap music in his late 40's after partnering with rapper Eazy-E and his record label, Ruthless Records.
As N.W.A. -- whose lineup included Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella – and their brand of gangsta rap erupted into commercial success, Ruthless Records scored multiple hits on several Billboard charts. In addition, the label’s roster, with signees such as JJ Fad, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Michel’le, continued to rack up hit songs and top-selling albums through the 1990s. Here’s a look back at some of Ruthless Records’ biggest records and achievements on several Billboard charts from label's inception through the end of 1995, the year of founder Eazy-E’s death.
Billboard 200 -- Ruthless Records earned 11 top 40 albums on the Billboard 200 chart between its first top 40 set, The D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better, in 1989 (No. 20 peak) and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s E. 1999 Eternal in 1995.
Among those top 40 visits, the label claimed a pair of No. 1 albums: N.W.A.’s Efil4zaggin (released through Ruthless/Priority Records), which reigned for one week in 1991, and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s E. 1999 Eternal, which debuted in the top slot in 1995 and held the rank for two weeks.
Billboard Hot 100 -- The label earned six top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hits between 1988 and 1995. JJ Fad gave Ruthless Records its first taste of top 40 success, with “Supersonic” rallying to No. 30 in April 1988. The next year, R&B singer Michel’le delivered the label’s first top 10 hit with “No More Lies,” which peaked at No. 7.
And while Ruthless Records never claimed a Hot 100 No. 1 during Eazy-E’s lifetime, a track dedicated to the rap pioneer, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s “Tha Crossroads,” secured the honor for the imprint not long after his death in March 1995. “Crossroads” led the Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks in 1996, won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a duo or group and finished as the year’s seventh-biggest Hot 100 hit.
Hot Rap Songs -- Ruthless Records claimed 23 top 40 hits on the Hot Rap Songs chart in the six-year span of 1989-1995, with 17 of those entries rising to the top 10.
Both N.W.A. and Eazy-E appeared on the inaugural Hot Rap Songs chart ranking, dated March 11, 1989 -- the former with “Gangsta, Gangsta” and the latter with “We Want Eazy.” N.W.A’s track ultimately peaked at No. 11, while Eazy-E scored the label’s first top 10 on Hot Rap Songs, with “Eazy” reaching No. 7 four weeks later.
Ruthless added three additional top 10 hits in 1989, including its first two chart-toppers, both by The D.O.C. The rapper’s “It’s Funky Enough” reigned for four weeks in September of that year, while “The D.O.C. & The Doctor” spread its three-week command between December 1989 and January 1990.
The label added its final two No. 1s in 1990 -- Above the Law’s “Murder Rap” (two weeks) and “Untouchable” (one week).
Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums -- Ruthless Records also owns 20 top 40 albums on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart from 1988 through 1995. JJ Fad’s Supersonic -- The Album kicked off the label’s top 40-charting success, breaking into the tier in August 1988 on its way to a No. 20 peak that October.
Of Ruthless’ 20 top 40 albums on the chart, 11 reached the top 10. The run began with N.W.A’s landmark Straight Outta Compton, which blazed to No. 9 in May 1989. Later that year, The D.O.C. claimed Ruthless’ first leader on the list, with No One Can Do It Better logging two weeks at the summit.
Ruthless Records went on to claim three more No. 1 sets on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart: Eazy-E’s It’s On (Dr. Dre 187um) Killa EP, MC Ren’s Shock of the Hour (both one week at No. 1 each in 1993) and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s E. 1999 Eternal (three weeks in 1995).