Without question, Jerry Heller was one of the most important and influential figures in the rise of West Coast gangsta rap — and, eventually, would become one of the most reviled. But regardless of how many people felt his business practices leaned too far into the shady side of things, his accomplishments in guiding the early careers of N.W.A and, most famously, his work with Eazy-E and Ruthless Records, helped create a California hip-hop scene that could rival its East Coast colleagues.
From Eazy, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Michel’le and The D.O.C., among others, Heller’s influence in the late-1980s to mid-1990s West Coast hip-hop universe was widespread, to say the least. After his death of a heart attack at the age of 75 today, several of those who knew him took to social media or spoke to Billboard to express their thoughts about the complicated legacy of one of hip-hop’s greatest, and most controversial, managers.
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“It’s always sad when we lose somebody that has played a major role in hip-hop, mainly West Coast hip-hop. No matter how Jerry Heller was made to look, or whatever picture was painted about him, let us not forget he was a part of a huge legacy. That can never be forgotten. R.I.P.” — Krayzie Bone of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
“I’m completely saddened and heartbroken by the news of Jerry’s passing. He was not only my manager and mentor, he was my friend. I’m grateful that, just a few months ago I was able to let him know how much I appreciated what he did for us. We were just kids with ideas when we started and he opened up the whole world for us. He was the business force behind the creation of an entirely new genre of music. There was no such thing as Gangster Rap before N.W.A and there would be no N.W.A or Ruthless Records without Jerry’s guidance. It was his idea for me to sing Pop R&B over rap beats, and it changed my entire life. The lessons he taught Eazy, Dre, Ice Cube and myself have allowed us to have 30+ year careers and I’ll be forever thankful.” — Michel’le, one of Heller’s management clients and an artist on Ruthless Records
“Eric “Lil Eazy E” Wright, Jr and the family of Eric “Eazy E” Wright are deeply saddened over the homecoming of Mr. Jerry Heller. Jerry Heller gave the world Eazy-E and N.W.A, and for that, we are forever grateful. Condolences to his family and all his friends. Please respect his family and all the families of the N.W.A members during this time so all may grieve in peace.” — Representative for Lil Eazy E and family
“In order to win a battle it takes brains and muscle. Jerry was the mental muscle of the N.W.A. musical movement. Shrewd to a fault. Rest in peace.” — Alonzo Williams, club owner and DJ for World Class Wreckin’ Cru, who introduced Heller to Eazy-E
?”In 1988 I get a call from Jerry who asks if he can come by with Eazy-E to play me two new artists for their new company Ruthless Records. I signed them both and JJ Fad and Michel’le sold over a million. Jerry loved music and artists and always fought hard for them. He was a great friend and music guy. He will be missed.” — Jerry Greenberg, former president of Atlantic Records
?”I was at the first meeting with Eazy and Jerry Heller at Macola Records and stayed down with Jerry in the good times and bad times. [I] spoke to him on Wednesday [and] was supposed to drive out to his home on Sunday… He taught me the music industry from TOP to bottom. He will be missed.” — Doug Young, promoter for N.W.A
?”We are truly saddened by the loss of our manager Jerry Heller. He was always very good to us, and took 3 teenagers with stars in their eyes under his wing and told us to reach for the stars! Thank you Jerry, you will be truly missed.” — JJ Fad
Condolences to his family. https://t.co/Dpr8qtr6PC
— D.O.C (@WESTCOASTDOC) September 3, 2016
R.I.P. Jerry Heller, U were always good 2 us! Thanks 4 looking out for 3 teenagers who just wanted to be rap stars! pic.twitter.com/WtTWwfbkVE
— J J FAD (@jjfad) September 3, 2016
Just heard Jerry Heller died.. I was just watching Straight Outta Compton too that’s crazy man.. He’s definitely cemented in Hip Hop History
— KXNG CROOKED (@CrookedIntriago) September 3, 2016
— King T (@kingtla) September 3, 2016
RIP Jerry Heller. We know him as the bad guy behind NWA but he has history thru Macola w/ Egyptian Lover and Arabian Prince. #SoLong
— carl craig (@carlcraignet) September 3, 2016
Without Jerry Heller you get no Snoop, no Em, no 50, no Suge, no Bone, no Friday
Like him or not he changed the course of history
— Andrew Barber (@fakeshoredrive) September 3, 2016