The hip-hop community is mourning the loss of music executive Andre Harrell, after sources confirmed to Billboard that he passed away early Saturday morning (May 9). Currently, details of Harrell’s death remain unknown. He was 59.
Harrell’s impact runs deep, stemming from the success he accrued as the founder of Uptown Records in the 1980s to grooming future music mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs. At its peak, Harrell’s roster was oozing with talent, ranging from Heavy D and The Boyz to Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Guy, and at one point, even The Notorious B.I.G.
Check out the ten essential records that made Uptown Records a force in the late ’80s and early ’90s below.
Al B. Sure!, “Nite and Day” (1988)
Harrell’s Uptown Records started off with a bang in the late ’80s because of Heavy D & The Boyz and R&B upstart Al B. Sure!. The latter epitomized suave, especially with his buttery smooth single “Nite and Day.” A debonair singer with an exceptional knack for songwriting, Sure! landed a top 10 single with “Nite and Day,” peaking at No. 7 on the Hot 100.
Heavy D & The Boyz, “Somebody For Me” (1989)
Serving as Harrell’s first signed group, Heavy D & The Boyz had a strong run from the late ’80s into the early ’90s. Led by frontman, Heavy D, the group’s most successful record of the late ’80s came from their second album, Big Tyme. “Somebody for Me” was a funky groove anchored by Heavy D’s sturdy lyrics about wanting a real one.
Jodeci, “Forever My Lady” (1991)
What was initially supposed to be an interlude became a staple in Jodeci’s venerable catalog. “Forever My Lady” not only doubles as the title of the group’s debut album in 1991 but also became their first No. 1 on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The amorous tune almost didn’t see daylight because of the song’s controversial introduction (“So you’re having my baby”), but cooler heads prevailed.
Guy, “Let’s Chill” (1991)
One of Harrell’s early signees was Harlem trio Guy in the late ’80s. Led by the legendary songwriter/producer, Teddy Riley, the group struggled to make the pop charts at the start of their career, but in 1991, landed their first slam dunk of a crossover single with “Let’s Chill.” The song peaked at No. 41 on the Hot 100, and remains beloved by R&B purists. Last year, “Let’s Chill” was reimagined by Wale and Jeremih as “On Chill.” The record zoomed to No. 22 on the Hot 100.
Jodeci, “Come & Talk to Me” (1992)
The slow-burning single was one of three records to go No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for the North Carolina quartet. With Al B. Sure! and groupmate DeVante Swing teaming up to write “Come & Talk to Me,” singers K-Ci and Jojo helmed the track with their soulful croons and indelible swagger. Later, an ambitious Sean Combs injected some bounce to the record, birthing the “Come & Talk to Me (Hip-Hop Remix).”
Mary J. Blige, “Real Love” (1992)
Before she became an R&B powerhouse with My Life, Blige’s rookie campaign was a sight to see. In 1992, she landed her first top 10 record with “Real Love.” Riding a slamming beat and super-charged piano riff, and peaking at No. 7 on the Hot 100, “Real Love” became a crown jewel in Blige’s pristine catalog, as it explored the singer’s tireless search to secure true romance.
Heavy D & The Boyz, “A Buncha N—as” (1992)
This colossal posse cut was the world’s introduction to The Notorious B.I.G., who first signed to Uptown Records in 1993. Though his time at the label was short, due to joining Puffy at Bad Boy Records later that year, Biggie’s verse on “A Buncha N—as” was soaked with grit and potential, shining through a fierce lineup that also included a young Busta Rhymes and Gang Starr’s Guru.
Jodeci, “Lately” (1993)
You can’t go wrong when you decide to cover a Stevie Wonder song. In 1993, Jodeci gifted fans a velvety rendition of Wonder’s 1980 track “Lately” for Uptown’s iconic MTV Unplugged showcase special. Success was imminent, as they notched their first top-five record on the Hot 100, peaking at No. 4 and landing the group their fourth No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Mary J. Blige, “Be Happy” (1994)
In the early ’90s, a young MJB alongside a burgeoning Jodeci gave Uptown Records a head-shattering two-piece combo on the R&B front. In 1994, Blige etched together a masterful sophomore album with My Life. Her first single, “Be Happy,” highlighted Mary’s unapologetic quest to discover self-love. The song peaked at No. 29 on the Hot 100.
Soul For Real, “Candy Rain” (1994)
Though Soul For Real lacked staying power, their 1994 single “Candy Rain” was undeniable. Peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100, “Candy Rain” gave Uptown Records a much-needed boost after the departure of Sean Combs, who started Bad Boy Records in 1993. Last year, the group celebrated the record’s 25th anniversary.