Producer, record company executive
Broadening the Ruthless Roster
Tomica Woods-Wright, the owner and CEO of Ruth less Records, inherited the record company in 1995 from her husband, rap legend Eric Wright—a.k.a. Eazy-E.—after his untimely death due to A.I.D.S.-related pneumonia. The company was founded in March of 1987 and was one of the most successful independent labels in rap and hip-hop history, ushering in Cali-style Gang-sta rap with artists such as N.W.A. (which included Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E., and M.C. Ren), Bone, Thugs ‘n’ Harmony, Above the Law, Yomo & Maulkie, D.O.C., J. J. Fad, Michel’le, Kid Frost, Atban Klann (now known as the Black Eyed Peas), Jimmie Z., and solo releases by Wright’s own persona, Eazy-E. Ruthless Records was estimated to be worth $15 million at the time of Eric Wright’s death.
As a largely unknown entity, Tomica Woods-Wright faced the challenge of keeping the label on top, staving off lawsuits from others who wanted a piece of the company, and convincing artists and industry executives that she possessed the necessary business acumen to oversee the successful label. Her inheritance proved to be a baptism-by-fire, but within two years of running Ruthless Records, she restructured the label, sought a better distribution deal, expanded the label’s artist roster, and introduced new talent that would broaden the type of music the label embraced.
Woods-Wright was born in 1969 in Los Angeles, and at times lived with her mother in one town, then with her father in another, and in a foster home for a while as well. She wentto high school in the San Fernando Valley, then attended Santa Monica and West L.A. Community College before procuring a position as a secretary to Tabu Records founder Clarence Avant; Tabu handled the S.O.S. Band, Cherelle, and Alexander O’Neal. When Avant accepted a position as chairman at Motown Records in 1993, he took Woods-Wright with him. Avant told Vibe magazine’s A.J. Smith, “… She’s bright… Her family life has not been a-plus, B- or C-plus. She’s from the street, with a lot of street knowledge. But if she went to Howard or Harvard, it wouldn’t make any difference…. Tomica can see a long ways in front of her. She’s learned a lot of things that I did, and she’s put them into practice.”
Woods-Wright had a child at an early age, and worked as a single mother before inheriting Ruthless. She met Eric Wright at a Los Angeles nightclub in 1991 and was not immediately taken with him; in fact, she didn’t know who he was. Their paths continued to cross, and she told Smith, “He was very down- to-earth, sweet. We’d laugh together when I got to know him a little better. And from then on, it was just… history.” They spent four years in a relationship and had two children, a son named
For the Record…
Born Tomica Woods, in 1969, in Los Angeles, California; attended Santa Monica and West L.A. Community College; procured a position as secretary to Tabu Records founder Clarence Avant; Avant accepted a position as chairman at Motown Records in 1993 and took Woods-Wright with him; mother of three children, two fathered by Ruthless Records founder Eric Wright, a.k.a. the rapper Eazy-E.; lived with Wright for four years before marrying him in 1995; inherited Ruthless Records in 1995 from her husband after his untimely death.
Signed a distribution deal with Epic/Sony in 1997; released a 10th anniversary Ruthless compilation album, A Decade of Game, in 1998; signed new artists comedian/actor Chris Tucker, Big Chan, N.X., Big Roce, and soul trio Blulight.
Awards: Billboard’s number one Indie Label of the Year 1996;
Address: Record company —Ruthless Records, 8201 W. 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048; (213) 782-1888, Fax: (213) 782-0705.
Dominick and a daughter named Daijah, before marrying twelve days before Wright died. After Wright’s death, his will was contested by six former girlfriends and two former business partners. In regard to one particular ex-partner, she told Smith, “He basically underestimated my relationship with Eric and underestimated me…. I did have business knowledge.” Woods-Wright’s response tothose who accused her seeking an easy fortune was to tell Smith, “(Before becoming president of the label) there was a lot less stress, a lot less responsibility, a lot less burden than there was before.”
Broadening the Ruthless Roster
Woods-Wright viewed Avant as a mentor and teacher and learned much about the business of music from him but she learned the intricacies of operating an innovative corporation from her husband. While Avant represented corporate savvy, Wright represented street smarts and the art of the gamble—he achieved his early multi-platinum sales with virtually no radio or video exposure whatsoever. The court-appointed executive Ernie Singleton officially ran the company for a year while itwas decided whether or not Woods-Wright would retain sole ownership. Woods-Wright told BRE Magazine’s Steven Ivory, “I was indirectly doing things for Eric at the company. In fact, I had already given Clarence (Avant) notice that I was leaving to join Ruthless as general manager when Eric went into the hospital. But until the court made it’s ruling…. I had to move in slowly, first hired by Ernie as vice-president of Artist & Repretoire—A&R—and then ultimately, once everything was decided, as President.”
Ruthless Records was in the precarious position of redefining itself two years after Woods-Wright stepped up to the helm; with the exception of the Cleveland-based Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony, the label didn’t have a gold or platinum record between 1993 and early 1998, and the gangsta rap that defined its success was waning in popularity. Woods-Wright built a staff of about 20 employees that included three A&R people, and when she felt she had finally solidified the label’s foundation in the post-Wright era, she began to aggressively seek out new talent. She signed comedian/actor Chris Tucker, Big Chan, N.X., Big Roce, and soul trio Blulight. Woods-Wright also released a 10th anniversary Ruthless commemorative compilation record in 1998, titled Decade of Game, which featured two unreleased Eazy-E tracks, and singles by N.W.A., Above the Law, D.O.C., Michelle, and JJ Fad. Woods-Wright negotiated a distribution deal with Epic/Sony in 1997, which gave the label more corporate leverage. Woods-Wright told Ivory, “The way the deal with Sony is structured serves Ruthless well—it’s one thing to just put something out, but every record needs set-up.”
In Her Own Fashion
Woods-Wright is optimistic about the future of Ruthless Records, and told Ivory the best is yet to come. She said, “I want the company to be known as more than just a rap label; this is a home for ground-breaking new and established artists catering to the urban community. Bones success was unexpected. I don’t think even my husband expected that kind of success. But that’s what Ruthless is about, catching a fire.” She told Ann Brown of The Source, “I’m not my husband but I’m adding to his vision.” Woods-Wright confided to Ivory that when people meet her for the first time, they expect to see a “home-girl” or hip-hop parody, but when they sit down to do business with her they get a much clearer picture of who she is and what she wants.
Boyz-N-the-Hood by Eazy E., 1987.
N. W.A. and the Posse by N. W.A., 1987 (rereleased in 1989)
Supersonic by JJ Fad, 1988.
Way Out by JJ Fad, 1988.
We Want Eazy by Eazy-E., 1988.
Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A., 1988.
Express Yourself by N.W.A., 1989.
Eazy Duz It by Eazy-E., 1988.
No One Can Do It Betterby D.O.C., 1989.
It’s Funky Enough by D.O.C., 1989.
Michelle by Michel’le, 1990.
100 Miles and Runnin’by N.W.A., 1990.
EFIL4ZAGGINby N.W.A., 1991.
Something in My Heart by Michel’le, 1991.
Are You Experienced? by Yomo & Maulkie, 1991.
5150 Home 4 Tha Sick by Eazy-E., 1992.
Kizz My Black Azz by M.C. Ren, 1992.
It’s On (Dr. Dre) 187um Killa by Eazy-E., 1993.
Creepin’On Ah Come Up by Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony, 1994.
Thuggish, Ruggish Bone by Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony, 1994.
Smile Now, Die Later by Frost, 1994.
E. 1999 Eternal by Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony, 1996.
The Art of War by Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony, 1997.
Look into My eyes by Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony, 1997.
Decade of Game, Ruthless 10th Anniversary Compilation,: 1998.
BRE Magazine, March 13, 1998.
The Source, March 1998.
Vibe, June/July 1998.
Additional source material was provided by the publicity department at Ruthless Records.
—B. Kimberly Taylor
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