Andre Harrell, founder of Uptown Records, and one-half of the rap duo Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde died on May 8, 2020. He was 59.
The announcement made by DJ D-Nice during his live Club Quarantine set on Instagram Friday night and online users were all shocked to learn of the music mogul’s passing. Sources confirmed to AllHipHop News that Harrell died suddenly, but a cause of death was not immediately revealed.
Harrell founded Uptown Records in 1986 and is responsible for launching the careers of Mary J. Blige, Heavy D & The Boyz, Teddy Riley, Jodeci, and Diddy. In 1995, as the CEO of Motown Records, he managed the careers of superstars such as Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder.
Harell is survived by his 25-year-old son, Gianni Harrell, whom Diddy refers to as his godson. Gianni’s mother is entertainment lawyer Wendy Credle.
Here’s what you need to know about Andre Harrell:
1. Uptown Records Was a Pioneer In Mixing Rap Music With Lifestyle Branding
As for why he believed Uptown Records produced so many legendary artists, Harrell told the Grio that the key was in mixing hip hop music with the lifestyle.
Harrell, who received a Cultural Excellence Award from the National Action Network and BET’s Culture Creators Award said, “Like Motown Records, [it] was a lifestyle label, where the artists not only made songs that resonated with the community but they also had fashion and attitude that people wanted to emulate. And to be that kind of cool that they saw in like a Mary J. Blige video, where she came out with the bubble coat, the Timbo boots, and the ram earrings.”
As for the accolades he received for propelling Diddy into the mega mogul he is today, Harrell remained modest. He said, “What we were doing at Uptown Records was a lifestyle. We were representing like an urban chic, which we called ‘ghetto fabulous,’ and [Diddy] loved it. He loved it so much he would be walking around in the office with no shirt on, Timberland boots, and jewelry… He was art imitating life.”
“Diddy learned how to produce. And then he always had style. He was able to take his style and give it to the other artists, shape and mold them, especially Jodeci. He came up with the sagging pants and boots. He also did the first hip-hop soul remix; the “Come and Talk to Me” remix was really important at that time. He did that.”
2. Heavy D’s Talent Is What Inspired Harrell To Create Uptown Records
Born on September 26, 1960, in the Bronx, New York. He studied at Lehman College where he majored in communications and business management but dropped out after three years to work at WINS, a local radio station. Soon after meeting Russell Simmons, the creator of Def Jam Records, he went to go work for the music label, and quickly worked his way up to general manager.
After meeting Dwight Myers, better known as rapper Heavy D, Harrell was eager to sign him to Def Jam Records, but couldn’t receive approval. However, Harrell believed so strongly in Heavy D’s talent that he founded Uptown Records in order to release the rapper’s first album. In 1987, Heady D’s freshman album, Living Large, went gold, but in 1989, with hit songs such as “Somebody for Me,” and “We Got Our Own Thing,” his Big Tyme record went certified platinum.
3. The Upcoming BET Series ‘Uptown’ Was Based On Harrell’s Legacy
Uptown, set to be released in 2020, BET Networks president Scott Mills said in a statement of the three-part scripted mini-series: “We are proud to bring the story of Uptown Records to life and celebrate the indelible imprint the label has made on the industry, transforming the sound, face, and business of hip-hop and R&B. We look forward to partnering with music industry titan Andre Harrell and powerhouse producer Jesse Collins on the Uptown miniseries, bringing viewers premium content that reflects and celebrates Black excellence.”
Harrell was equally excited about the series. He wrote on Instagram, “I am thrilled to partner with BET Networks and Jesse Collins Entertainment to share my story, the rise of Uptown Records and successful black entrepreneurship, and the management and cultivation of some of the most iconic artists to come out of the late 80s and 90s hip hop, R&B, and soul music era.”
4. Harrell Served As Executive Producer On Numerous TV & Film Productions
Harrell’s talent was not just limited to music production. As a film producer, he was attached to 1991’s Strictly Business, Jessica Alba’s 2003 cult classic, Honey.
As for TV, he was a co-executive producer on the drama series, New York Undercover, which aired from 1995 to 1997. Most recently, he served as producer on the talk show State of Culture.
5. Viola Davis, Mariah Carey & More Posted Heartfelt Tributes To The Music Mogul On Social Media
Reggie Hudlin wrote on Facebook,” Andre Harrell was a friend, a mentor and an innovator. He gave me one of my first big breaks. I still can’t believe it. #RIP” Rapper Swiss Beatz commented on Harrell’s last Instagram post writing, “Damn, King.”