Ruthless records turns 20 with new signings


In celebration of its 20th anniversary, legendary independent label Ruthless Records is charging into 2008 with five new acts slated for release between spring and the end of the year. The label recently re-negotiated its distribution pact with Sony/RED.

The new Ruthless roster includes R&B singer/songwriter Na'Shay, bilingual pop singer/musician/actress Agina, rapper/songwriter/producer Hopsin, party/dance trio Street Runnaz Click (comprised of the Trillest Beatz, Free Sinatra and J-Riva) and rapper Stevie Stone. All five acts were formally unveiled during Urban Network magazine's 18th annual Entertainment-Marketing Summit in Newport Beach, California (March 26-29).

"We have a good mix here that represents the next generation," Ruthless president/CEO Tomica Woods-Wright tells Billboard. "These are hard-working and focused acts who will give us a good jump to keep us going another 20 years and then some. It's not necessarily about looking for fame and stardom. It's about a team striving for the same thing: sustaining success through nurturing strong singer/songwriters, producers and business people."

Woods-Wright has been operating the label since the untimely 1995 death of her husband, N.W.A. founding member Eric "Eazy-E" Wright. Rapper/producer Wright was a native of Compton, Calif. who died of AIDS at the age of 31. He established Ruthless in 1987 with $7,000 of his own money and 5,000 12-inch records of his single "Boyz N the Hood."

The Los Angeles-based label went on to release gold- and platinum-selling records by female rap trio J.J. Fad, N.W.A. (whose members also included Dr. Dre and Ice Cube), Michel'le and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Acknowledging that it has been "a long haul" since Wright's death, Woods-Wright says the effort has been worth it. "The hardest thing about [maintaining the label] has been everyone underestimating our mission, goal and dedication," she says. "The easiest thing about keeping Eric's dream alive is being passionate about something I love doing. He taught me how to stay hands-on and focused; to not allow anybody else to tell me what I can and can't do: the hustle mentality."

Gail Mitchell is a senior correspondent for Billboard. (L.A.)