Andre Harrell, Founder of Uptown Records, Vice Chairman of REVOLT, and former VP/GM of Def Jam and President of Motown Records, died Friday, May 8 at the age of 59. DJ D-Nice initially delivered the news of Harrell’s passing late Friday evening while he was spinning on Instagram Live for his popular Club Quarantine series. Harrell’s ex-wife, Wendy Credle, said that the cause of death was heart failure and that he had been experiencing heart problems for some time.
As reported by Variety, Harrell broke into the music business as half of the rap duo Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, who had a minor hit in 1981 with “Genius Rap.” Two years later he teamed up with Def Jam Recordings’ founder Russell Simmons, rising to VP and later, GM of the label. In 1986 he left to start his own label, Uptown Records, playing a key role in the development of the “New Jack Swing” style of R&B, courtesy of acts like Guy (featuring influential producer-performer Teddy Riley), Al B. Sure! and Jodeci, along with Heavy D and the Boyz and Father MC. In the late ’80s Harrell signed a teenaged Mary J. Blige, although her career didn’t fully take off until the early ’90s, with help from Harrell’s enterprising former intern, Sean “Puffy” Combs, who was quickly elevated to an A&R position at Uptown. Combs’ A&R gig led to him discovering the demo tape for a rapper named Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. “The Notorious B.I.G.” As the story goes, Combs was fired from Uptown in 1993 after which he launched Bad Boy Records and promptly signed Wallace to a deal with his own label.
Harrell later housed Uptown at MCA where he simultaneously developed multiple projects in film and television, including the movie and soundtrack for Strictly Business. From 1995-97 he served as President & CEO of Motown Records. More recently he was Executive Producer of the series New York Undercover.
Harrell and Combs remained longtime friends and business associates — since 2013 Harrell had served as Vice Chairman of REVOLT, Combs’ multi-platform music and television network. REVOLT.tv has also posted a tribute to Harrell.