Ruthless: A Memoir By Jerry Heller

[My article this week at Return of Kings is about my impressions from reading Jerry Heller’s 2006 book Ruthless: A Memoir.  It’s a fascinating journey into the world of N.W.A., the seminal rap group that became a sensation in the late 1980s and early 1990s.]

I still remember the time I first listened to N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton. I was in college, and a friend of mine had dubbed a tape for me and said, “Man, you need to check this out.” So I brought it back to my dorm room and let it rip. I couldn’t believe they were saying the things they were saying; no one had ever cursed like that on a record before, or spun such violent fantasies.

The attraction of the music for white kids like me with no experiences in the inner city was this: it was angry, rebellious, and somehow bizarrely life-affirming in its exuberance. In 2015, this type of music is no big deal any more. But in 1988, it was incendiary.

When I heard last month that a movie was being made about the formation of N.W.A., I decided to read Jerry Heller’s 2006 book Ruthless: A Memoir. Heller was the co-founder and producer of Ruthless Records (N.W.A.’s label), and I had been dimly aware of the various back-and-forth accusations that had been tied to the drama of N.W.A.’s breakup. What were the roles of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube? Who had screwed over whom? Where did the blame properly lie?

[To read the rest of the article, click here].

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