Ruthless Records re-defined the boundaries of rap music, making them the 7th most important hip-hop record label of all time. Click here to read more about Ruthless and to hear a playlist of some of its key artists: NWA, Eazy-E, The D.O.C., Bone Thugs N Harmony and more.

#7 Ruthless Records

Ruthless Records, founded by Eric “Eazy-E” Wright and Jerry Heller, in 1987 re-defined rap music in several ways. The label was the first to put the West Coast on the map as a force to be respected in hip-hop. Before Ruthless, there were outliers like Ice-T, but Ruthless established the West Coast as a consistent voice with multiple artists. Ruthless also completely upended the Billboard chart with the debut of NWA’s second album, Efil4zaggin (Niggaz4life) at #2. The album had had virtually no radio airplay previously and was propelled solely through word of mouth. Previously, the typical trajectory of an album was that it would debut low on the chart and gradually work its way up as it gained popularity. NWA’s album made it clear that the Billboard chart, which had just changed from being calculated based on albums shipped to an automated system based on actual album sales called Soundscan (today’s industry standard), would never be the same. Equally ground-breaking was Eazy-E who was one of the very first self-proclaimed “street entrepreneurs” to cash in his chips and go legit by entering the music business. He would serve as an example to hustlers like Birdman and Slim and Jay-Z going-forward. Perhaps the biggest sign of how much Ruthless changed the cultural landscape was the fact that they were actually contacted by the FBI and cited as a threat by then Vice President Dan Quayle due to the incisive lyrics in NWA’s Fuck Tha Police. Sadly, the last way in which Ruthless Records broke the boundaries in hip-hop was that it gave rap music its first major AIDS casualty with the death of Eazy-E in 1995. His legacy lives on in the music of Ruthless Records. Here’s a playlist of music from Ruthless artists: Eazy-E, NWA, The D.O.C. and Bone Thugs N Harmony.

Previously: #20 Rakwus Records, #19 Loud Records, #18 Select Records and #17 Fresh Records, #16 Rap-A-Lot Records, #15 Ruffhouse Records, #14 Uptown Records, #13 Cold Chillin’ Records, #12 No Limit Records, #11 Jive Records, #10 Aftermath Entertainment, #9 Roc-A-Fella Records, #8 Cash Money Records