By Rahul Lal
Andre Harrell is the founder of Uptown Records, the label that helped launch the careers of legendary artists such as Diddy, Mary J. Blige, Heavy D, Jodeci, Al B. Sure and many more. Yesterday, he sat down with Elliott Wilson and Brian “B-Dot” Miller on Play.it‘s Rap Radar to talk about his long history in the music industry. Diddy, one of the most famous music moguls of all time, Diddy, learned a lot from Harrell while developing and transitioning from artist to jack-of-all-trades under his watch.
“Me and Puff always had a great working relationship,” he explained. “We always loved what we were doing and we were always trying to get it right, get it exactly right the image, the sound, so forth.”
Before Diddy became the founder of Bad Boy Records, he began his rise as an unpaid intern for Harrell’s Uptown Records and worked his way to being an A&R executive at the urban label. Uptown prided itself on representing the tough New York City vibe that Harrell was raised in. Diddy was a major part in creating this brand and revolutionizing an entire era of music as an employee.
“Puff came with the sound. He came with the hip-hop and Mary came with the soul. That was the hip-hop soul,” Harrell commented as he explained the direction of the label. “Attitude plus style plus talent was really what Uptown Records was about. We really wouldn’t sign the person who had talent but didn’t have style or attitude. You really had to have the whole package.”
While Diddy played a large role in helping to groom the culture around the label, he was eventually fired from his position. Harrell explains that he knew Diddy was capable of so much more than his position allowed him to do at Uptown.
“Puff was so big it was time for him to do his own thing,” he admitted. “It was time for Puff to get another opportunity that MCA wouldn’t allow me to give him… I looked over his contracts, I was like go get the best deal. I taught you a lot of culture and lifestyle.”
There were no hard feelings between the successful duo. Harrell recalled Diddy moving in with him just after the decision to terminate Diddy from the Uptown staff and even kept him on payroll working to finish Blige’s classic album My Life.
“I said listen, you gonna stay on payroll, I’m gonna pay you to do the Mary J. Blige album and you’re gonna get rich. He understood that pretty quickly.”
Diddy’s career progressed very quickly. While Diddy gets a lot of recognition for being a music mogul, Harrell believed that he isn’t fully recognized for all of his talents today.
“Puff probably doesn’t get the props for being the artist that he really is. When you look at his body of work, it’s not just the records he made, it’s the visuals he made like his video[s],” said Harrell. “Puff’s video game is hard to match, he doesn’t get all the artistic credit for what he deserves. In terms as a marketeer, a visual creative, in terms of knowing what fits, Puff has shown a particular excellence.”
Harrell went on to talk about personal stories with late legends like Heavy D and his favorite rapper, Notorious B.I.G., in addition to the discovery of super groups like Jodeci and the creative process to Mary J. Blige’s My Life. To hear the full interview, listen to the latest episode of Rap Radar.