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The world is suffering a great loss with the passing of legendary music executive Andre Harrell. The 59-year-old took his last breath on Thursday (May 8) in his West Hollywood home due to heart failure, according to his ex-wife Wendy Credle.
Before black excellence was a coined term settled within the American lexicon, there was Harrell and his label Uptown Records. This was where the former Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde rap member laid out the blueprint for future hip hop moguls to be and where Sean “Diddy” Combs first got his start as a hungry intern.
Though the REVOLT Media & TV vice chairman has passed away in the physical, his spirit lives on. It rushes through the veins of American pop culture due to his ingenious vision to revitalize soul music into hip hop soul. The fearless fusion between rap and R&B in the late 1980s started with his innovation unapologetically catering to the tastes of Black America. New Jack Swing was then born and in tow came a fresh aesthetic of which echoed the reality and style of black people, who at the time, were recovering from President Nixon’s War on Drugs.
Growing up and waking up to the sounds of Jodeci’s “Come And Talk To Me” or Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” on a Saturday morning — if it wasn’t gospel — has become black people’s unspoken love language. The artists Harrell had a hand in developing has provided the soundtrack for black familial moments such as cookouts, Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, and any other kind of celebration.
Naturally, today’s music has also been greatly inspired by the artists and New Jack Swing sound Harrell put on. Showcasing Black America’s undeniable swag through music, the late mogul shot a taste of the culture into the pulse of Americans everywhere and the world has been addicted ever since.
“My goal is to bring real Black America — just as it is, not watered down — to people everywhere through music, through films, through everything we do,” Harrell told the Los Angeles Times of his vision in 1992. “When you have something that is really great, it can appeal to all cultures, not just subcultures.”
It’s safe to say that Harrell accomplished his mission, plus more, while spending his time here on earth. We are truly grateful and proud of the legacy he’s left behind.
In celebration of the music mogul’s life and influence, here are 11 artists we have today because of the great luminary Andre Harrell. May he rest in peace.
1. Sean “Diddy” Combs
Everyone mostly knows the story about how Diddy got his start at Uptown Records as a business intern where he rose to obtain an A&R position and was appointed to executive produce Mary J. Blige’s What’s The 411, later got fired by Harrell, and then started the iconic label Bad Boy Records.
Taking what he learned under his former boss, Diddy elevated his vision and began to create a heralded roster of legendary artists of his own. As Puff Daddy, the multi-platinum record producer discovered hip hop icon The Notorious B.I.G. He would later give us memorable pop culture moments with MTV show “Making The Band” before taking it upon himself to put black media in black hands with the launch of REVOLT in 2013, where Harrell served as vice chairman.
The Grammy award-winning entrepreneur witnessed how Harrell made moves in music and TV, and saw that anything was possible in the name of black excellence.
2. Heavy D & The Boyz
The first group Andre Harrell ever signed to Uptown Records was Heavy D & The Boyz. Heavy D was the star of the group, DJ Eddie F was the producer; and the other two members, Glenn “G-Wiz” Parrish and the late Troy “T. Roy” Dixon, shined as background dancers.
They released five albums including their 1989 No. 1 album, Big Tyme. Their house cover of “Now That We Found Love” off their third album, Peaceful Journey, remains their biggest hit and has been made use for musical color in blockbuster films and commercials.
Eddie F is credited for helping to shape the sound of New Jack Swing along with Teddy Riley. In 1990, T. Roy lost his life from a fall and in 2011, Heavy D passed away at the age of 44.
Heavy D’s legacy includes the fact that he was mover and shaker in the music business himself. While unleashing a slew of solo albums, he eventually served as the president of Uptown Records before becoming vice president at Universal Music Group. The ambitious artist also took his talents to the big screen, appearing in shows such “Living Single” as well as 1999 Academy Award-winning film The Cider House Rules.
Word has it, Heavy D also had a role in convincing Harrell to hire Diddy as an intern.
3. Mary J. Blige
A demo tape of Mary J. Blige singing Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” recorded in 1988 made it to Harrell’s desk a year after it was made and immediately caught his attention. The burgeoning soul singer became the label’s youngest, first female solo act and was enlisted as a background vocalist for Father MC.
Harrell also ingeniously paired Blige up with Diddy to executive produce her 1992 platinum-selling debut album, What’s The 411, and tapped him in as a producer for her No. 1 album My Life, which was nominated for Best R&B Album at the 38th Grammy Awards.
Blige was able to tell her story of pain, depression, love, addiction through her music; making her a relatable voice for black women across the nation with songs such as “Love No Limit” and “You Remind Me.”
Throughout her career, the star has gone on to secure nine Grammy awards and for her acting chops, won three Golden Globe Awards for her role the 2017 film Mudbound, which was also nominated for an Academy award.
There’s no mentioning R&B without mentioning the great influence of one of the greatest rhythm and blues group ever: Jodeci.
In the early 90s, DeVanté Swing, Mr. Dalvin, K-Ci, and JoJo made their way to New York City with plans on signing to Uptown Records, where they eventually finessed their way into performing “Come And Talk To Me” for Harrell in person. The moment was overheard by Heavy D, who consequently urged the boss to sign the group.
Under a young Puffy and creative direction of DeVanté; Jodeci was developed as a fly, sexy bad boy R&B act with incredible singing power.
Their 1991 debut album, Forever My Lady, was such a hit it entered No. 1 on the R&B Album charts upon its release and includes timeless R&B classics “Forever My Lady,” and “Come And Talk To Me,” the song that got them signed. They are the epitome of late-night bedroom music and their music is certainly a staple in black households.
The group’s tenure eventually came to a close in 1996, which resulted in the glorious emergence of K-Ci & JoJo as a Grammy Award-winning duo.
DeVanté Swing, himself, is also responsible for the careers of Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Ginuwine, Stevie J, and Static Major, who have all made an advance on the musical aesthetic jumpstarted by Harrell’s Uptown Records.
The beginning of the New Jack Swing era begins with Guy, a platinum-selling trio originally comprising of Teddy Riley, Aaron Hall, and Timmy Gatling.
The group was quickly signed to Uptown Records, where they released their 1988 self-titled debut album a year after inking their record deal. A year after that, the project went platinum.
Though “I Like” was the only single from the album to go No. 1, songs such as “Piece Of My Love” and off their sophomore effort, The Future, “Let’s Chill” continue to live as definitive R&B classics. Gatling left the group after the first album and was replaced by Aaron’s younger brother Damion Hall.
Guy; as Teddy, Aaron, and Damion, also made an appearance in the 1991 hood classic New Jack City with their song of the same time. The song was used in the iconic scene where Nino Brown (played by Wesley Snipes) was in a sharp red jacket and eye-flirting with a woman whom his best friend Gee Money (played by Allen Payne) had previously had relations with.
Essentially, New Jack Swing provided for the soundscape of the entire film as well as many other films during that era including House Party, Poetic Justice, Juice, Bebe’s Kids, and Boomerang.
Teddy Riley got his first start under Harrell, and blossomed into one of the most legendary producers in R&B and hip hop. He even gave award-winning Pharrell Williams his first start in the industry.
Riley created New Jack Swing and injected the sound into his works with Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Keith Sweat, and of course his other group, Blackstreet.
His historic Verzuz battle with Babyface, which filtered in over 500,000 viewers, proved to be a great reminder as to how much of an impact Riley has had on the culture and it all began with Harrell giving his group Guy a chance.
6. Al B. Sure!
Al B. Sure! was introduced to Harrell through a mutual friend and, as a result, ended up singing background vocals on Heavy D. & The Boyz’s 1987 debut, Living Large. Through Uptown Records and Warner Bros. Records, Sure! released his No. 1 debut album, In Effect Mode.
The release of the project’s first single, “Nite and Day,” also happened to be the first song recorded for the album, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart (before the name change) and No. 7 on the Hot 100. The song was also Grammy-nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. In Effect Mode also saw chart-topping success with the album cut “Off on Your Own (Girl).” Additionally, Riley had a subtle hand in the making of the project and produced the track “If I’m Not Your Lover.”
Proving his ability to make baby-making slow jams, Sure! has gracefully lent his vocals and songwriting talents to many throughout his career. Among them include Jodeci’s hit song “Forever My Lady,” which was written upon finding out his girlfriend at the time, late model Kim Porter, was pregnant with his son Quincy, who was later adopted by Diddy.
Much like Harrell, the singer ventured into the media space. He served as co-executive producer of an HBO comedy special starring Jamie Foxx and last year, he became the new host of Urban One’s slow jams program “Love and R&B.”
7. Soul For Real
By the time Soul For Real signed to Uptown Records in 1994 and released their debut album, Candy Rain, in March of 1995, things at the label were shaking up following the abrupt exit of Puff.
Brought on by Heavy D., the group comprising of brothers Christopher “Choc” Sherman, Jason “Jase” Oliver, Andre “Dre” Lamont, Brian “Bri” Augustus Dalyrimple; procured a No. 1 hit with “Candy Rain” and subsequent chart-topping singles with “Every Little Thing I Do” and “If You Want It.”
By the fall, Andre left Uptown to become the president at Motown Records. Despite the odd timing of their deal, “Every Little Thing I Do” and “Candy Rain” continue to be two R&B classics.
8. Christopher Williams
It wasn’t until Christopher Williams signed to Uptown and released his 1992 sophomore effort, Changes, that the baritone singer earned his first No. 1 hit with the song “I’m Dreamin.’”
The popular song also lived on the New Jack City soundtrack and is one of the songs that immediately comes to mind when reminiscing about the cult classic.
Like most acts signed to Uptown, Williams entered into the acting world with his performance of the film’s character Kareem Akbar, a bank teller turned gang member of the Cash Money Brothers.
Due to the success of “I’m Dreamin,’” Williams enjoyed the success of subsequent singles “Every Little Thing U Do” and “All I See,” which was co-written by Harrell alongside DeVanté Swing.
9. Lost Boyz
Hailing from South Jamaica, Queens came MC Mr. Cheeks, Freaky Tah (RIP) Pretty Lou and DJ Spigg Nice of the Lost Boyz, who signed to Harrell’s label in 1995 following the success of their classic debut single “Lifestyles Of The Rich & Shameless” from their Legal Drug Money album.
Lost Boyz delivered multiple hits including “Renee,” “Music Makes Me High” and “Get Up.” Their 1995 single “Jeeps, Lex Coups, Bimaz & Benz” also proved to be popular and was even sampled years later on Lil Kim’s La Bella Mafia Billboard hit “The Jump Off,” which includes a feature Lost Boyz member Mr. Cheeks.
Under Uptown, the group released their gold album Love, Peace & Nappiness, which presented “Me & My Crazy World” as another hit along with the insanely popular “Beasts From The East” with Redman and Canibus.
Under the direction and production of Heavy D., Monifah released her debut album in 1996, Moods...Moments, under Uptown Records, which featured popular R&B tracks “I Miss You (Come Back Home)” with Heavy and bouncy feel-good slow jam “You.”
Two years later, her platinum-selling follow-up album Mo’hogany experienced mega-success with her No. 1 worldwide hit “Touch It.”
In 2012, Monifah starred on TV One’s reality show “R&B Divas: Atlanta” alongside Syleena Johnson, Faith Evans, KeKe Wyatt, Xscape member LaTocha Scott, Angie Stone, and Nicci Gilbert.
11. Father MC
A definite cookout banger titled “I’ll Do For You” belongs to Father MC and features the soulful vocals of Mary J. Blige on the hook. Released in 1990 off the rapper’s debut album, Father’s Day, it charted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles chart.
The album itself made an appearance on the Billboard 200 chart and included a feature from fellow Uptown signees Jodeci on the track “Lisa Baby.” The group and Father MC came together again for his sophomore album, Close To You, cut “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
Diddy can actually be spotted as a background dancer in Father MC’s 1990 music video for “Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated.” It’s a testament to the role that both Puff and Harrell played in the success of Uptown’s artists and the label as a whole.