Today, hip-hop and R&B is regarded as two of the most popularized genres of music.
With the cultures of hip-hop and R&B undergoing many changes in sound production and quality, new artists such as Brent Faiyaz, Snoh Aalegra, Pop Smoke (RIP), G-Herbo, Meg Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and others make it their respective duties to attract millions of fans with their music. Today, artists connect with their fans through social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.
We also must acknowledge the pioneers and music moguls that made it possible for both genres to blow up the way it did. One music mogul, in particular, who in 1986, created a label that hosts both hip-hop and R&B acts was the late great Andre Harrell.
Harrell died this past Saturday from heart complications at his home in West Hollywood, California
As most fans would know, music icon Teddy Riley (of the R&B group Guy), in 1988, pioneered the sound “new jack swing” after the release of the group’s debut album. However, Andre Harrell was also a major contributor to the “new jack ” sound as he would later be responsible for signing acts such as Jodeci, Father MC, Jeff Redd, Al B. Sure!, Heavy D & The Boyz and others.
Born and raised in The Bronx, New York, Harrell was one half of a hip-hop duo called Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde with longtime friend Alzono Brown. Shortly after the early success of their single “Genius Rap”, Harrell went on to attend Lehman College where he majored in communications and business management. After three years, Harrell dropped out of Lehman and began to work at a local radio station.
In 1983, Harrell met Def Jam founder, Russell Simmons where Harrell would intern and eventually worked there for a few years until 1986.
By 1986, Harrell created his own label called Uptown Records, where he would sign a 19-year-old Howard University student, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs (who would later become the founder of Bad Boy Records). Harrell is also responsible for discovering Jeff Redd (most famous for his song, “You Called and Told Me” ) and a young Mary J. Blige in 1989.
Harrell would sign hip hop acts Heavy D & The Boyz and Father MC to the label. Also, breaking out new R&B acts such as Jodeci, Christopher Williams, Al B. Sure! and others.
Some of the most famous projects recorded on Uptown would include Al B. Sure’s 1988 In Effect Mode, Father MC’s 1990 Father’s Day, and Mary J. Blige’s 1992 debut What’s the 411?
Fast forward to the end of 1992 into early 1993, tensions between Harrell and intern Sean “Puffy” Combs would spiral out of control, where Harrell abruptly fired the then 24-year-old Combs from Uptown, even after Combs promised to sign rap legend The Notorious B.I.G to Uptown. As history is told, Combs then went on to launch Bad Boy Records, signing The Notorious B.I.G and rapper Craig Mack.
After Combs departure, Harrell signed Queens rap group, Lost Boyz in 1995 after their breakout hit, “Lifestyles Of The Rich & Shameless.”
While Uptown gained its notoriety for signing major hip hop and R&B acts, Harrell also is known for his work in television and film. Some of the work Harrell is credited for is the 1991 film, Strictly Business, starring actress Halle Berry and In Living Single comedian Tommy Davidson and the FOX drama series, New York Undercover.
After gaining success in the 1990s, Andre Harrell would later become the CEO of Motown Records in 1997 and in 2014, he was appointed as the vice-chairman of REVOLT, Sean Comb’s multimedia platform music network.
In 2019, BET announced that an upcoming miniseries on the history of Uptown Records is in the works, and Harrell is working on recruiting upcoming actors to play the label’s stars.
Mr Harrell, your contributions and legacy will forever live on in music. Thank you for everything. You will be forever missed and celebrated. Rest in Peace 🙏🏾.
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