The Twitterverse is in mourning after reports legendary music executive Andre Harrell was found dead today in his Los Angeles apartment. The Bronx native was one half of the rap duo Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. In the early 1980s, Harrell joined Russell Simmons at Def Jam Records, eventually becoming Vice President and General Manager. In 1986, Harrell left Def Jam Records to start his own label, Uptown Records at MCA, which became the sound of 1990s Hip-Hop Soul.
At Uptown, Harrell signed Heavy D and the Boyz, Marly Marl, Al B. Sure, and Guy among others. It is at Uptown Records where Harrell famously discovered future music mogul Sean “P Diddy” Combs, who started at the company as an intern and rose to the ranks of a Vice-President of A&R signing such acts as Mary J. Blige, Jodeci and Father MC. Harrell also served as an Executive Producer for the FOX television hit New York Undercover (1994-1989). Harrell fired Combs, who left to form Bad Boy Records bringing Hip-Hop legend Notorious B.I.G. with him and signing Total, Faith Evans, 112, Craig Mack, and a host of other artists. Despite the breakup, Combs and Harrell remained lifelong friends.
After Combs’ departure, Mary J. Blige and Jodeci also left the label, leaving Uptown with declining sales. In 1995, Harrell left Uptown Records to join iconic record company Motown Records with Heavy D becoming CEO of Uptown. Harrell, who had been paid $20 million to sign with Motown, was fired two years later in 1997, taking a $5 million payout with him.
In 2014, Andre Harrell and Combs reunited, with Harrell becoming Vice-Chairman of Revolt TV & Media, Combs’ multi-platform music network. Harrell was also a producer on Revolt‘s wildly popular show “State of the Culture.” At REVOLT, Harrell oversaw the REVOLT Music Conference (RMC) and produced and hosted the show, “Music Talks” where he interviewed music legends like L.A. Reid, Babyface, Nas, Queen Latifah and Sean Combs. At the time of his death, the entertainment powerhouse was working on a 3-part-series about Uptown Records for BET Networks. A pioneer of Hip-Hop Soul and a major figure in black R&B music and television soundtracks, Harrell was 59.
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This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.