Jerry Heller, the manager of gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. who brought mainstream audiences to the controversial group before a still-bitter falling-out, has died, his record label said Saturday. He was 75.
Heller, who was active in public in recent months and last year filed a lawsuit over the N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” died Friday of undisclosed causes, a representative for Ruthless Records, which Heller co-founded, said in a statement.
A Cleveland, Ohio native, Heller moved to Los Angeles and handled a wide range of artists, including Elton John on an early US tour, before his career fell into a rut.
In 1987, Heller met young rapper Eazy-E and started working to market his group N.W.A., which would shock white America with their brutally frank tales of street life.
N.W.A., which stood for Niggaz Wit Attitude and spawned the solo careers of rap legends Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, became best-known for “Fuck tha Police,” an anthem denouncing law enforcement’s treatment of young African Americans.
“I think that they (N.W.A.) did more for race relations in this country than any other entity in history,” Heller last year told the blog Grantland.
But Heller became embroiled in a dispute with Eazy-E’s bandmates who accused him of sowing division in N.W.A. so he could maximize his own profit.
Ice Cube vented in a 1991 diss track, “No Vaseline,” in which one lyric said in reference to Heller: “You let a Jew break up my crew.”
Heller, who endured anti-Semitic bullying as a child, voiced outrage at the song. In an unlikely intervention in the gangsta rap scene, the far-right Jewish Defense League provided bodyguards to Heller and Eazy-E, who died in 1995 of complications of AIDS.
“Straight Outta Compton,” last year’s box office-topping biopic, renewed the band’s allegations against Heller, who was played by Paul Giamatti.
Heller has insisted that he took a 20 percent cut from N.W.A. in line with industry practice and filed a defamation lawsuit over the film, which was financed largely by Dr. Dre, now a multimillionaire executive at Apple.
Heller told Rolling Stone magazine that his portrayal in the film was “very hurtful” and that he was “always a champion of the minority, of the underdog.”
“It was just incredible, the success that we had. So for them to call me a thief is just terrible,” he said.
Heller’s lawyer in October said that the former manager was seeking $110 million, which includes damages as well as profits from the film.