You Don’t Know Me
You might think you know Jerry Heller, but he begs to differ. Since co-founding Ruthless Records with Eazy-E and piloting N.W.A. straight into mainstream America, this 65-year-old Jewish man has had nothing but dirt thrown on his name. “You let a Jew break up my crew,” Ice Cube famously said to Eazy on 1991's “No Vaseline.” If you judged Jerry by the songs and videos where Dr. Dre and Cube have taken aim at him throughout the years, you would think he was nothing but a lying, thieving White devil. And while many hip-hop fans continue to judge Jerry by those accounts, his new book paints a clear picture that could make many question their assumptions.
Hoping to finally tell his side of the story and solidify Eazy’s legacy as the true visionary behind gangsta rap, Jerry recently released his first book, Ruthless, a personal memoir. It tells the amazing story of a seasoned music business veteran who helps nurture underground West Coast hip-hop, transforming it from a local swap meet attraction into a worldwide force. Today, Jerry is no longer affiliated with Ruthless, the company he built from the ground up, but he lives in California with his wife Gayle, where he’s planning his full-time return to the music business. He hopes to put a cap on his career by helping to give Latino hip-hop as big of a voice as he once gave to the “Boyz-N-The-Hood.” You can quote him, boy, ’cause he’s about to say some shit.
Why did you wait so long to respond to criticisms from Dre and Cube?
I’ve always felt that it wasn’t my place to speak on it. Also, I don’t know if it was naiveté on my part, or arrogance, or a combination of both, but I said, “People can’t really believe what Ice Cube is saying.” I mean, it’s so ridiculous, that nobody could believe that. What Dre said was a little more believable, but once again incorrect and Eazy’s not there to fight back. It’s not like I can go write a diss song and publish it and fight back, so this was just the opportunity to rehabilitate my reputation for what can be considered the twilight of my career, I guess. Also, [I wanted] to clear Eazy’s legacy. I felt a great responsibility to do that.
In the book, you make a point to describe everybody in N.W.A. as you saw them, which was more or less just regular kids, not some crazy career criminals. You also debunked the whole myth about Ruthless being started with drug money. What do you want people to take away from these descriptions?
When I wrote this book, here was my philosophy: I’m just going to tell it like it is, and let everybody make their own decision. And it is objective. I stand by what I say in that book, the fact that Ice Cube grew up in Los Angeles in a very good family—both his parents were intelligent, bright, working people—and the fact that he went to an upper-middle class white, Jewish high school. I mean, sorry, man—that’s what he did. Dre is what he is. Ren is what he is. I just talk about what they are.
Eazy was a street guy. And he was a tough, tough little dude. And he was very Machiavellian. He was one of the brightest guys I ever met, and I think part of that awareness and brightness came from the fact that he either was a drug dealer when barely into his teens or he was around them. One or the other. To be honest with you, from the day I met him, March the 3rd of 1987, I never saw him do anything suspect, as far as dealing drugs. I certainly saw him smoke pot. I saw him give away pot. I never saw him do anything that could even remotely be considered being a drug deal. When he saw the enormous potential of N.W.A and the possibilities of the record business, which I brought into play, I think he might have said, “Whatever I used to do before is ridiculous, man.” I explained to him about RICO: “Do you want to buy your mom a beautiful house and have some federal guy come there one day and take it away because you did something wrong?” I explained things to him, as I explain to all my other clients. Some take the advice, some don’t take it, some listen, some laugh, whatever. But this guy was an exceptionally bright guy and he always said, which I agreed with, that he conceptualized, Dre musicalized, Cube verbalized and Jerry financialized. And that was Ruthless Records.
Another interesting thing in the book was you seemed skeptical that Eazy’s supposed “final words,” which his lawyer Ron Sweeney read at a press conference, were really written by Eazy. How do you think he would have preferred to be remembered?
Well if you remember, Eazy always said, “I’m not a fuckin’ role model.” And he certainly wouldn’t have misquoted the number of children and baby’s mothers that he had. I’m not saying Ron Sweeney wrote this, but I know that Ron Sweeney read it. But when I heard it, I said, “Eazy didn’t write that,” because it was corny. It wasn’t like Eazy. He was a straight-ahead, hardcore, enormously successful young man. I know at the time of his death, he had to be thinking, Why the fuck me? Why me, man? This isn’t right. I can’t see himself all of the sudden putting himself up as a role model. He was very philanthropic, but he was a very private, personal kind of guy. Every year he took 500 kids to the Black rodeo. He just did great things. He did great things and he did them quietly and inauspiciously. He did them because they were good things to do, not because he wanted some kind of fucking acclaim from people in the industry or people outside the industry.
Is the Eazy biopic movie still in the works?
It is, and I’ve moved along quite significantly to the point now where the financing is basically in place. We’re starting to talk to actors and actresses. We have a director who’s committed to it, although we haven’t finalized our deal with him. His name is George Hickenlooper and he just finished Factory Girl and he did Mayor of the Sunset Strip and Dogtown. He’s a good director and even though he’s not extremely knowledgeable regarding rap, he has the sensitivity to deal with Eazy’s persona. We’re talking about starting filming on January 1st.
Who have you been looking at to play Eazy?
We’re talking to Larenz [Tate], who I think is magnificent. I just look in his eyes and I see Eazy-E in there. This guy is a magnificent actor and he’s underrated, I think. We’ve sort of reached out to Terrance Howard about playing Dr. Dre. We want either The Game or Ving Rhames or Michael Clarke Duncan to play Suge.
How did The Game’s name come into the discussion?
I met him by accident probably six months ago. We had a several hour-long conversation at the Starbucks in the Galleria in Sherman Oaks.
You met him at a Starbucks?
He was walking by and he sort of recognized me and walked back.
Did you ask him about the line “So if a nigga every try to Jerry Heller me/Tell Dre put up a mill', cause that's what my bail'll be” from “No More Fun and Games”?
Absolutely. I didn’t ask him about it immediately, but I asked him about it. I said, “Look, we’re sitting here having this very cordial conversation, obviously we feel the same about Compton, N.W.A, and Ruthless Records and Eazy-E.” I mean, the guy has a picture of [Eazy] tattooed on his forearm. So he said, “Oh, I thought it was a compliment.” I just let it go at that.
How could that be a compliment?
Yeah, you know, whatever…Obviously, to me, it didn’t seem like a compliment, but he’s so pro-Compton, N.W.A, Eazy-E, Ruthless. I weigh all the good things he’s done for Eazy’s legacy against this one thing that maybe is or maybe isn’t a compliment. And I like him.
How do you feel about him as an actor?
I saw him in Waist Deep, and even though he had a small part, he was very powerful. I thought he was very good. I didn’t love the movie, but I liked the acting. Larenz was great. That lady Meagan Good was terrific. I thought that Game, for the small scope of his part, was very believable. He’s a big guy, 6’5”, probably 240, so if he goes up to 270 or whatever, I could see him overpowering the screen with the force of his intensity.
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