Music Executive Andre Harrell, the Uptown Records founder who shaped the sound of hip-hop and R&B in the late ’80s and ’90s with acts such as Mary J. Blige and Heavy D and also launched the career of mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, has died. He was 59.
Diddy’s REVOLT company confirmed the death Saturday but no other details were immediately available. Harrell was the vice chairman at REVOLT.
“We can confirm the passing of Andre Harrell,” Roma Khanna, the CEO of REVOLT Media & TV, 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, the culture and on all of us personally has been immeasurable and profound. May he Rest In Peace.”
Harrell launched his New York City-based label in 1986, eventually dominating the urban music scene with multiple hit songs and platinum-selling albums.
He first found success in the late ’80s with debut albums from Heavy D & the Boyz, Al B. Sure! and Guy, the R&B trio that also included megaproducer Teddy Riley, the leader of the New Jack Swing movement.
In 1990, Diddy enters Harrell’s office. He received an internship at Uptown and quickly rose the ranks after finding success with just-signed acts including R&B group Jodeci and Blige, who was dubbed the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul with the release of her 1992 debut, “What’s the 411?” Uptown also released Notorious B.I.G.’s first single, 1993’s “Party and Bull—-,” which was featured on a film soundtrack.
Diddy often credits Harrell with giving him the tools to find success in music and life, even saying Harrell was like a father figure to him.
“Andre Harrell influenced me the most and I don’t know if that will ever change,” Diddy said in an interview with HipHollywood.
In 1993, though, Harrell let Diddy go from Uptown. Harrell said one of the reasons he fired Diddy was because MCA Records — the label’s distributor — didn’t want to release B.I.G.’s debut album because of its raw and rough subject matter about street life.
“I didn’t want to sit there and be the one confining Puff because the corporation was telling me to do that. I’m not built that way,” Harrell said in an interview with Wall Street Journal in 2014. “I told Puff he needs to go and create his own opportunity: ‘You’re red-hot right now. I’m really letting you go so you can get rich.’”
Diddy quickly launched Bad Boy Records, taking B.I.G. with him and releasing his classic album “Ready to Die” in 1994.
“And Biggie Smalls ended up becoming my favorite rapper,” Harrell told WSJ.