The Influence of Andre Harrell and Uptown Records was a trailblazer movement that still reigns supreme now over the culture. Style, fashion, and soul have become vital ingredients as the art itself to Hip Hop stardom. The legacy of the Ghetto Fabulous lifestyle is its evolution from subgenre to mainstream pop culture.
Amongst all of Andre Harrell’s contributions, the most famous is the firing of his protégé Sean “Puff” Combs from Uptown Records. Harrell notice that young Puff was out of control, so he felt the need to let him go so that he can become his own man. Despite no longer being an employee at Uptown, Harrell kept Combs on payroll while helping negotiate a deal with Arista Records for his (Puff) label called Bad Boy.
Bad Boy Records would mirror the Uptown blueprint by signing both Hip Hop and R&B artist with a roster that was almost identical to its predecessor. R&B group 112 would pick up where Jodeci left off by being dressed in street attire racer jackets as they sang in harmony riding in a hummer truck in Times Square, NY. Carl Thomas was a singer/songwriter, same as Al B. Sure and Faith Evans, who was the label’s First Lady whose vocals fueled from the same emotional energy used from Mary J. Blige. Puff would take the style and flair of Heavy D to transform the black hoodie rough-edged Brooklyn MC Biggie Smalls into a suave, sophisticated all-white suit don named The Notorious B.I.G. Combs borrowed from his mentor Andre Harrell’s early days as one half of the rap duo Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and debut the commercially successful album No Way Out that would make him as Puff Daddy, a global superstar. Uptown’s style would live on through Puff’s clothing line Sean John which would become popular urban gear and win multiple fashion awards. Bad Boy would grow the first fruit of the Uptown tree that would showcase Andre Harrell’s genius.
Jodeci member DeVante Swing was the group’s songwriter and producer under his own Swing Mob production company would feature Missy Elliot and Timbaland. All were under the influence of Teddy Riley, the super-producer who started at Uptown records. Missy would become a high demand songwriter whose reputation for making other artist hit records would convey to her career transcending to stardom. Missy’s innovative trash bag outfit as she danced off-beat and on-beat in her debut The Rain video captivated audiences showing the importance of imagery in the culture. Missy multi-talented ability in rapping, singing, and dancing while wearing the finger-wave hairstyle that was the same as the young girls who became her fans. Timbaland became known as a versatile producer whose sound could be performed by any rap, r&b, rock, or pop artist. His (Timbaland) Cry Me A River with Justin Timberlake is just as classic as his Dirt Off Your Shoulder collaboration with Jay-Z. Like Riley, both Missy Elliot and Timbaland changed the culture. They became not only producers’ fans wanted to hear, but superstars they wanted to see and live the lifestyle just as Andre Harrell had envisioned.
Andre Harrell’s vision that Mary J Blige would be an inspiration for young girls became a reality as her influence heard in the next generation of artists such as Keyshia Cole. Cole’s emotional singing notes were from the school of Blige as she often credited her in several interviews as inspiration. Keyshia channeling of her inner Mary in the video Let It Go from the same musical blueprint as the Blige classic Real Love. Singer K. Michelle followed the same recipe of both Blige and Cole by using heartbreak vocals over Hip Hop beats. Years later, Mary J. Blige still reigns as queen as her multiple guest appearances on Hip Hop songs are considered anointments in the culture, and the respect gained from peers and lifetime fanbase is proven to be limitless.
The influence of Uptown records can be seen in record labels such as Young Money who’s two stars Drake and Nicki Minaj merged both the ingredients of the Ghetto Fabulous lifestyle and Hip Hop soul to become living entities. For almost a decade, both Drake and Nicki are liable to approach a song as an MC and singer with the same soulful blueprint created by Andre Harrell. Minaj’s early career fashion choices consisted of Beethoven wings and bright big colorful dresses. At the same time, Drake (whose IG name is Champagne Papi) is always enjoying the champagne lifestyle of celebrity in every famous club on every popular social media platform.
Andre Harrell’s innovative idea of the inner-city artist living the rags-to-riches life is all too common today. The contemporary artist has become more focused on song making in melody by blending their rapping abilities with a more harmonic sound. While most old-school fans criticize the new school for placing more effort into their look than the art, Harrell always believed that once one stops listening to the youth, they stop evolving and don’t grow. At the time of his passing, BET networks were working on an Uptown mini-series based on his life, which is a testament that the legacy of Andre Harrell genius will continue to exist forever and a day.