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The scene behind the scenes of gangsta rap

Published September 6, 2006

NEW YORK - When Jerry Heller met Eric "Eazy-E" Wright on March 3, 1987, he knew that the diminutive, Jheri-curled dude with a roll of cash stuffed into his sock would change the music world.

Eazy was the founder of Ruthless Records and creator of the prototype gangsta rap group, N.W.A. Heller was a music industry veteran who had represented artists from Elton John to Marvin Gaye. With Eazy running the "show" and Heller handling the "business," N.W.A. - and gangsta rap - exploded into a global force.

Now, 11 years after Eazy died of AIDS, Heller, 65, has written Ruthless, a memoir detailing how Eazy, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and MC Ren formed N.W.A., and how an ambitious security guard named Suge Knight broke up the platinum-selling crew.

What kind of person was Eazy-E?

Eazy was an exceptional human being. He was a visionary. He was very Machiavellian; he understood power and how to use it. He was a good-hearted guy, a good father, just an exemplary human being. I couldn't be any prouder of him than if he had been my blood son. It's amazing that we could have this relationship because we're so different. He told me I was the first white person he ever met not in a police uniform or collecting rent. I miss him very much.

With all the bad stuff Eazy boasted about in his music, how can you say he was a good person?

I have no proof that he was ever a drug dealer. I'm not sure if he was or he wasn't. I know that it was good for the Ruthless image, the Ruthless persona, so maybe that's why he adopted that.

C'mon, man . . .

He certainly never (dealt drugs) at Ruthless. It wasn't a part of our lives. Now, if you want to talk about how somebody who espoused this kind of brutal misogynistic music could be a good person, well, this was the voice of our inner cities that most white people had never come across. To the guys in Ruthless, this was the reality of their way of life. This is the way they grew up, the way things were.

What did you think that day you first met Eazy and he played you his song Boyz-n-the-Hood?

It just totally blew me away. It was a combination of the Last Poets, Black Panthers, Gil Scott Heron and the Rolling Stones. If I wasn't so old, I would have been able to relate to it. I thought: This is the most important music I've heard since the beginning of rock 'n' roll.

[Last modified September 6, 2006, 05:54:45]

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