NEW YORK (AP) – Andre Harrell, the Uptown Records founder who shaped the sound of hip-hop and R&B in the late â€™80s and â€™90s with acts such as Mary J. Blige and Heavy D and also launched the career of mogul Sean â€œDiddyâ€ Combs, has died. He was 59.
Diddyâ€™s REVOLT company confirmed the death Saturday but no other details were immediately available. Harrell was the vice chairman at REVOLT.
â€œWe can confirm the passing of Andre Harrell,â€ Roma Khanna, the CEO of REVOLT Media & TV, said in a statement. â€œEveryone in the REVOLT family is devastated by the loss of our friend, mentor and Vice Chairman. Andreâ€™s impact on Hip Hop, the culture and on all of us personally has been immeasurable and profound. May he Rest In Peace.â€
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 â€™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 Harrellâ€™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, â€œWhatâ€™s the 411?â€ Uptown also released Notorious B.I.G.â€™s first single, 1993â€™s â€œParty and Bull—-,â€ 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.
â€œAndre Harrell influenced me the most and I donâ€™t know if that will ever change,â€ 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 labelâ€™s distributor – didnâ€™t want to release B.I.G.â€™s debut album because of its raw and rough subject matter about street life.
â€œI didnâ€™t want to sit there and be the one confining Puff because the corporation was telling me to do that. Iâ€™m not built that way,â€ Harrell said in an interview with Wall Street Journal in 2014. â€œI told Puff he needs to go and create his own opportunity: â€˜Youâ€™re red-hot right now. Iâ€™m really letting you go so you can get rich.â€™â€
Diddy quickly launched Bad Boy Records, taking B.I.G. with him and releasing his classic album â€œReady to Dieâ€ in 1994.
â€œAnd Biggie Smalls ended up becoming my favorite rapper,â€ Harrell told WSJ.
Harrell was born in the Harlem borough of New York on Sept. 26, 1960. He was part of the rap duo Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, releasing several songs before dropping their debut album, â€œThe Champagne of Rap,â€ in 1985.
Harrell began working for Russell Simmons at Def Jam in the â€™80s, quickly becoming an executive and helping build the careers for acts such as Run-DMC and LL Cool J.
â€œSo many can say they are successful because Andre Harrell gave them their start. He was so beloved because he made his living uplifting others,â€ Simmons posted Saturday on Instagram. â€œWe celebrate him in his passing because we were so blessed for his presence… He gave everything he had. God makes the best plans R.I.P @andreharrell.â€
Harrell left to launch Uptown, where he also had success with Soul for Real, Lost Boyz, Christopher Williams, Monifah and Father MC. Harrellâ€™s talent even extended to television and movies. He executive produced the hit â€™90s police TV drama â€œNew York Undercover,â€ which ran for four seasons. He also produced the 1992 Halle Berry comedy â€œStrictly Businessâ€ and 2003â€™s â€œHoney,â€ starring Jessica Alba.
Several members of the entertainment community mourned Harrellâ€™s death on social media, including Swizz Beatz, Erykah Badu, L.A. Reid, D-Nice and Lena Waithe. Usher called Harrell a â€œKINGâ€ in his post.
â€œMy heart is breaking and I canâ€™t stop crying. He was an amazing friend and I will miss him forever,â€ Mariah Carey tweeted.
Questlove of The Roots wrote an emotional post, calling Harrellâ€™s death â€œa staggering loss.â€
â€œHe gave you the best soundtracks of your life man and you didnâ€™t even know it. We never gave him his flowers,â€ he continued. â€œHe redefined the party!â€
Harrell became president and CEO of Motown Records from 1995 to 1997.
BET announced it was producing a three-part television series about Harrell and Uptown Records. It will premiere sometime this year.