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Andre Harrell, Founder of Uptown Records, Dead at 59

“He gave you the best soundtracks of your life man and you didn’t even know it,” Questlove writes of music exec who helped launch Sean Combs’ career

Andre Harrell, the music executive who founded the influential Uptown Records, has died at the age of 59.

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Andre Harrell, the music executive who founded the influential Uptown Records, has died at the age of 59.

“We can confirm the passing of Andre Harrell,” Revolt network, where Harrell served as vice chairman, said in a statement. “Everyone in the REVOLT family is devastated by the loss of our friend, mentor and Vice-Chairman. Andre’s impact on Hip Hop and the culture and on us has been immeasurable and profound. May he Rest In Peace.”

Harrell’s ex-wife, Wendy Credle, told The New York Times that the cause of death was heart failure.

The Bronx-born Harrell entered the music business as one-half of the hip-hop duo Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. The group scored some minor hits (including “Genius Rap“) before Harrell began exploring the business side of music.

In 1983, Harrell began working under Russell Simmons and that music mogul’s Def Jam Records. Three years later, Harrell founded his own label, Uptown Records.

“So many can say they are successful because Andre Harrell gave them their start,” Simmons wrote in a tribute following news of Harrell’s death Friday. “He was so beloved because he made his living uplifting others… We celebrate him in his passing because we were so blessed for his presence… He gave everything he had.”

Under Harrell’s stewardship, Uptown Records helped launch the careers of Heavy D and the Boyz, Guy (featuring producer Teddy Riley), Jodeci, Al B. Sure and Mary J. Blige, who as a teenager signed with Harrell’s label. In 1992, Uptown partnered with MCA on a multimedia deal that allowed Harrell to produce films, TV shows and movie soundtracks, including the 1991 comedy Strictly Business and TV series New York Undercover.

“He gave you the best soundtracks of your life man and you didn’t even know it. We never gave him his flowers. He redefined the party,” Questlove wrote of Harrell Friday. “Def Jam was the artform. Bad Boy was the attitude. Death Row was the muscle. But without even knowing it? Uptown was ALWAYS the party.”

Harrell’s onetime intern Sean “Puffy” Combs would later step into an A&R role at Uptown during the label’s most successful years in the early Nineties. However, tensions rose between Harrell and Combs and the latter, after being fired from Uptown, quickly formed Bad Boy Records, taking the recently discovered the Notorious B.I.G. with him.

Combs’ exit signaled Uptown’s decline, and in 1995, Harrell himself would leave the label he founded to become CEO of Motown Records, although that stint was short-lived. Two decade later, Combs would hire his old boss Harrell to serve as vice chairman of the rapper/producer’s Revolt music network.

Earlier this year, BET announced plans for a miniseries based on Uptown Records’ rise, with Harrell in a producer role. In a statement at the time, Harrell said the miniseries would “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.”

“We are mourning the loss of a cultural icon, Andre Harrell, a chief architect of the modern hip-hop and R&B sound,” BET President Scott Mills said in a statement. “Andre was tremendously excited about sharing the origin story of Uptown Records, and its pivotal role in the urban music landscape. With his tragic passing, BET is committed to ensuring that the Uptown limited series event tells both the Uptown story and Andre’s story – that of the incredible music innovator, man and friend to so many.”

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Another sad day😔🙏🏽 We've lost one of the greatest mentors in my life. I'm so happy I got to tell you 1 hour before the versus Battle, how much I respect and love you, as my big brother and mentor! The pep talk that you've giving me right before, felt like the same pep talks that you've given me the beginning of Uptown records, sleeping on the couch at your office (Brownstone) in BK. You chose me out of all the kids that you could have picked to work with you. I can replay IT in my head, all of the moments that I've taken the train and when I got my first car driving to Brooklyn, skipping school, and becoming that sponge just to learn and get my hands on that mixing board at Chung King Studios. I will never forget, all of these cherished moments and I will never forget you!!! 🙏🏽 🙏🏽 🙏🏽 I salute you…King of New Jack Swing👑👑👑 My condolences to the Harrell family & to my Uptown family 4life!!! #rip #greatest #legend #legacy #newjackswing #king

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Dude. #AndreHarrell man. He gave you the best soundtracks of your life man and you didn’t even know it. We never gave him his flowers. He redefined the party! Def Jam was the artform. Bad Boy was the attitude Death Row was the muscle But without even knowing it? Uptown was ALWAYS the party. I’m sitting here going through my crates STUNNED at the amount of six degree to Andre records I’ve spun weekly on a regular basis for the last 35 years yo. The is a staggering loss. We never gave Andre Harrell his flowers. Name em: Al B Sure/Heavy D & The Boyz/Guy/. I mean mentoring Diddy alone brings in Jodeci/BIG/Mary J/Father MC/Christopher Williams—-and even in those names the success with THOSE artists come Missy/Timb/Neptune’s But let’s not stop there: first time we really paid attention to Halle Berry was in a Harrell film called Strictly Business Let’s throw “Candy Rain” in there or Lil Shawn’s “I Made Love”—-I may be dating myself but man Mgruff’s “Before We Start” got MUCH play round my way. Jeff Redd (who brought Blidge to the label) had a banger with “You Called And Told Me”—-“Touch It” from Monifah STILL bangs to this day. & back to Diddy, I’m absolutely w/o a doubt certain that he feels his success is also Harrell’s success so in a round about way there is no Bad Boy w/o Harrell. (Lemme also remember Daryl Chill Mitchell’s “Hip Hop’s Here To Stay” another classic uptown jawn. Horace Brown too….. Too Many Classics Let’s not forget NY Undercover & all the clever music moments in each ep. We never gave him his flowers. This isn’t even half of his achievements nor does this even bring to light the people’s lives he changed or his loved ones left behind. He literally introduced a new sound to the world (the first new jack swing projects were on Uptown)—-wait hold that——his label changed music TWICE because hip hop soul’s music picked up where New Jack left off and on the same label. Such a short time to paradigm shift music TWICE!!!!!!!! Damn man. We never gave him his flowers man. 😣

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