My man Dre'll fuck you up in a minute
With a right left, right left, you toothless
And then you say: 'Goddamn, they Ruthless!'"
Widely known as the home and foundation of the N.W.A. collective, Ruthless Records is a record label founded in 1986, based out of Compton, California. Founded by former drug dealer-turned-rapper/executive Eazy-E and manager Jerry Heller, It's cited as the main label that shot west coast hip hop into international prominence, and laid the groundwork for the careers of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
Originally distributed by Macola Records, and later Priority and Relativity Records, the label first started by releasing singles by N.W.A. and other underground west coast rappers, before hitting the ground running with N.W.A.'s debut LP,Straight Outta Compton; which was followed up almost two months later with Eazy's solo debut Eazy-Duz-It in 1988. Despite the lack of radio airplay and pressure from Moral Guardians (culminating in a threatening letter from the FBI), both albums were extremely successful, going 2x Platinum. Other successful releases from this early period were The D.O.C.'s No One Can Do It Better, Michel'le's self-titled debut, and J.J. Fad's Supersonic. Ruthless had also signed Tarrie B, widely cited as the first white female rapper, to the label.
However, as the 1990s approached, the first signs of dissent within N.W.A., and by extension, Ruthless, began to show. Many of the group's members were voicing their displeasure with both Ruthless' financial situation, and manager Jerry Heller. In particular, Ice Cube, having been the principal writer of Straight Outta Compton and several other songs by various Ruthless acts, felt he wasn't getting his fair share of royalties. Not helping things was D.O.C.'s car accident around the same time, which nearly destroyed his vocal chords, and Dr. Dre beating up Tarrie B at the 1990 Grammys. Despite Heller maintaining that everything was in order, Ice Cube jumped ship at the end of 1989, and signed a solo deal with Priority. Ice Cube soon linked up with Public Enemy on the east coast, and released AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted the next year to critical acclaim.
Despite losing their main writer, Ruthless continued to see success in 1990. N.W.A.'s 1990 anti-Ice Cube EP 100 Miles And Running went Platinum, and Above the Law made their debut with Livin' Like Hustlers that same year. However, things began to go sideways in 1991. In January that year, Dr. Dre's reputation as a woman beater became widely publicized after he was caught beating the ever-loving crap out of Dee Barnes after he felt she skewed the perception of N.W.A.'s beef with Ice Cube on her show Pump It Up!. Later that year, after more verbal attacks from N.W.A. on Niggas 4 Life, Ice Cube finally unleashed his scathing response to the group: "No Vaseline," on which he publicly aired his grievances with Jerry Heller and Eazy, and accused them of robbing the group. Dr. Dre, under the advice of Suge Knight, left N.W.A., citing a lack of monetary compensation, and formed rival record label Death Row Records, with Michel'le and D.O.C. following him.
While Ruthless was kept afloat from successful releases from MC Ren and Eazy, N.W.A. dissolved after "No Vaseline", 3 of it's most successful artists formed a rival company, and even Ren himself made it clear He lost all his love for Eazy, and was only staying on Ruthless to honor his contract. Eazy himself became embroiled in a bitter feud with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight over the former's contract, and eventually won a lawsuit that would give Ruthless 20% of anything Dre produced for the next six years. Dre and Eazy would verbally spar over their acrimonious split with the respective albums The Chronic and It's On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa.
The mid-90s saw a revival of sorts for Ruthless in the form of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, who released their debut EP Creepin on ah Come Up in 1994, and their sophomore LP E. 1999 Eternal to multi-platinum success. These two releases were the last Eazy-E oversaw as an executive producer, having died from AIDS 4 months before E. 1999 Eternal hit the shelves. Eazy's first posthumous album, Str8 Off Tha Streetz of Muthaphukkin' Compton was released in late 1995.
Come the 2000s, Ruthless would be folded into Sony Music, and more or less became regulated to reissuing past albums. Bone stayed with Ruthless until 2001's Thug World Order, while two latter-day attempts at releasing new material with Stevie Stone and Hopsin, both in 2009, were severely mishandled.