Andre Harrell, Veteran Music Exec. and Founder of Uptown Records, Dies at 59

Photo: Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan for Getty Images

Andre Harrell, a veteran music executive and the founder of Uptown Records, has died at 59.

DJ D-Nice revealed Harrell’s passing during his Club Quarantine set late Friday night. Harrell reportedly passed from a heart attack.

Harrell began his career in the industry in 1981 as a member of the rap duo Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. From there he started working on the business side of Def Jam before leaving in 1986 to found his influential label, Uptown Records.

Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Netflix

With Uptown Records, Harrell helped launched the careers of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Mary J. Blige, The Notorious B.I.G., Teddy Riley, Heavy D and the Boyz, Jodeci, Al B. Sure! and more.

In the early 90s, Uptown inked a multimedia deal with MCA allowing Harrell to produce films, TV shows and movie soundtracks such as 1991’s Strictly Business.

“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!” shared Quest Love.

He continued: “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 may not have received the flowers he deserved while living, but a project about his life and influence in the industry was already underway.

In December 2019, BET announced a three-part miniseries titled “Uptown.” The three-night event, executive produced by Jesse Collins Entertainment and Harrell, would tell the comprehensive story of Andre Harrell’s iconic NYC record label Uptown Records.

The miniseries will presumably still come out and celebrate the legend.

In his life, Harrell also briefly ran Motown Records as president and CEO overseeing the careers of artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Queen Latifah.

He also served as vice-chairman of Revolt, Combs’ multi-platform music network.

As the man who reportedly coined the phrase “Black Excellence,” Andre Harrell surely embodied it.

Rest in Peace Andre Harrell.

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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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Bryant Lydell

Bryant Lydell is creative, personable and quick-witted Howard and USC alum. He's the founder of The Top Tea, a songwriter, screenwriter and member of the casting team for Netflix's NAACP Image Award-winning hip-hop competition series Rhythm + Flow.

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