Andre Harrell Recounts the “Ghetto Fabulous” History of Uptown Records (Video)
The name Andre Harrell might not be as well-known as Russell Simmons, Master P, Birdman or Puff Daddy, but he is responsible for one of the most important record labels in Hip-Hop and Soul history. Uptown Records was the home to Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Heavy D, Al B. Sure, Guy, Christopher Williams and, for a short stint, The Notorious B.I.G. and Craig Mack via the intern-turned-Uptown executive named Sean “Puffy” Combs. In its heyday, Uptown was the envy of the entire music business, with a slew of hits that dominated the sales and airplay charts. The company even had a culture that was known to the world as “Ghetto Fabulous.” Harrell, who founded and ran Uptown, sat down with The Breakfast club for an extended walk through Uptown’s illustrious history.
The interview began with a discussion of the mega-talented producer Teddy Riley (Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Blackstreet) who got his start at Uptown as part of the group Guy (2:00). Andre spoke of how quickly Riley was able to construct beats, saying that Teddy made the track for Today’s “Him or Me” in six minutes. The conversation then turned to how Harrell got his start in entertainment, and he spoke about being a member of Profile Records recording artist Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (3:00). As Dr. Jekyll, Harrell handled many of the group’s business affairs and it was that training that prepared him to run Uptown.
Harrell’s first artist was the late Heavy D, and he spoke in-depth about Heavy’s persistence in getting what he wanted, his charisma, and his effect on the ladies (5:30). Hev played a big role in Andre’s development of his “hustle.” Harrell also shared a funny anecdote about predicting how Janet Jackson was going to react to the Overweight Lover and then watching it all unfold (7:15). Heavy was not the only sex symbol on Uptown, Harrell also recalled the impact Al B. Sure had and said there has not been an artist since who could cause such a stir, citing an incident where he and Al B. were chased though the streets of NYC (9:15).
Talk of Al B. Sure lead to a conversation about Jodeci, and Harrell revealed that Al play a substantial role in shaping the sound of the North Carolina crooners (10:45). Fans know it was at Uptown that Mary J. Blige and K-Ci from Jodeci would spark a volatile romance. While there was no discussion of their relationship, Harrell did talk in detail about Mary, noting that early in her career, he told her one day she was going to be singing with arena Rock stars (14:05).
It was during the conversation about Blige that Harrell began to discuss his most well-known understudy: Puff Daddy. As many know, Puffy was an intern working for Uptown, commuting all the way from Washington, D.C. to New York (17:00). Harrell detailed Puff’s role at Uptown and the evolution of their relationship. He said Puff’s biggest contributions while at the label were creating the look for Jodeci and shaping both the look and sound for Mary J. Blige (18:20). He also clarified that Bad Boy actually started as an imprint under Uptown, and that he met with both Puff and Biggie to discuss Biggie’s future with Bad Boy/Uptown (21:00). As Heads know, Biggie first release “Party & Bullshit” was actually on Uptown, as part of the Who’s the Man soundtrack. Ultimately, Harrell and Puffy parted ways (though they’ve reunited at Revolt) because Puff reached a point where he needed his own space and to be his own man. Combs, the young gun, was doing things like walking around the office without a shirt on and would only answer to Harrell, despite the fact that there were many more senior executives over him (23:25). Even at that time, however, Puff was still so dedicated to Uptown that he once joined a conference call…from jail (25:45). Harrell also noted that the split was always amicable and that he even helped Puff find and negotiate his record deal for Bad Boy with Arista.
This is a fascinating walk down memory lane with one of Hip-Hop & Soul music’s often unsung legends.