Jamal Ahmad: "Andre Harrell was the perfect conduit"

Harrell JS636272.jpg
By Shuttershock - Shuttershock, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

The now legendary Uptown Records logo is not only synonymous with Andre Harrell, but also with the sound of youthful sophistication. Uptown Records represented a sonic hybrid that saw the worlds of hip-hop and R&B collide and that big bang would spawn a genre that still exists to this day. Andre Harrell was the perfect conduit to bring this auditory fusion, which was developed in the latter part of the 20th century, to the masses.

The now legendary Uptown Records logo is not only synonymous with Andre Harrell, but also with the sound of youthful sophistication. Uptown Records represented a sonic hybrid that saw the worlds of hip-hop and R&B collide and that big bang would spawn a genre that still exists to this day. Andre Harrell was the perfect conduit to bring this auditory fusion, which was developed in the latter part of the 20th century, to the masses.

Born in Harlem but raised in the Bronx, Harrell's very existence represented the ethos that would drive this new genre. Harlem, NY has been the home to black cultural elegance since the 1920's and served as the hub for the Black Renaissance. The Bronx, New York, who's history is not as refined as Harlem's, was the breeding ground for a musical movement that would turn the world on its head. That movement of course being hip-hop. Harrell personified both of them. He had the street swagger of a typical b-boy but he was also that guy who could walk into a corporate board room, rocking his signature clean look, and eloquently state his case.

When he formed Uptown Records in the mid-80's, after a stint as a vice president at Def Jam Records under the direction of Russell Simmons, his vision was clear. He recruited forward thinking Gen Xers like Heavy D & The Boyz, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Teddy Riley & Guy, Al B. Sure!, Mary J. Blige, Eddie F., Dave Hall, Jodeci, Father M.C. and so many others, to assist in propelling the Uptown brand into the platinum stratosphere of the public consciousness. They all represented the next level of class for my generation.

I remember being 13 and hearing Al B. Sure! "Nite & Day" on the radio and losing my mind. I can vividly remember the summer of '88 and my mother putting on her newly purchased Guy tape in her brand new Cadillac. As a budding producer, my world was changed forever and I begged her to get me a keyboard so I could become the next Teddy Riley. I can distinctly remember seeing Jodeci on Video Soul with Donnie Simpson and saying "those guys are going to be huge." And as a freshman in college, I clearly recall hearing Mary J. Blige's "What's The 411" and Intro's debut album and knowing I was hearing the future.

I am a lifelong devotee of the Uptown sound. I'm a soulboy at heart. Hip-hop lover second. Hearing those beautiful, Stevie Wonder style chords over classic hip-hop breakbeats/samples, surprised and delighted many of us. Andre Harrell was speaking to people like me. People who wanted some musicality in their hip-hop inspired sounds. And for that, Andre Harrell will always be remembered. Rest well brotha. You've left a sound legacy that's still affecting the youth and making the world a much more soulful place. 

Jamal Ahmad

 

Jamal Ahmad is an award winning radio host currently hosting "The S.O.U.L Of Jazz" on Jazz 91.9fm WCLK in Atlanta, KPVU 91.3fm in Houston weekday afternoons and syndicated around the country via the African American Public Radio Consortium. He is also 1/2 of the Atlanta-based modern soul duo, The Dangerfeel Newbies, who's debut "Hariet" was featured in SoulTracks’ Top 25 releases of 2014. 

 

Leave a comment!