Andre Harrell has always been a trailblazer. Be it as one half of early 80s rap duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where the pair rocked sharp suits as opposed to the obligatory jeans, sports jerseys and baseball caps. And then in the mid 80s-mid-90s as president of Uptown Records, an imprint on MCA, which kick started the whole ‘ghetto fabulous’ movement and assisted in ushering in the mainstream’s unapologetic love affair with black culture as we currently know it, from the music, the fashion, the lifestyle and the swag.
The label also changed the music industry forever by introducing acts such as Mary J Blige, Jodeci, Guy, Heavy D and the Boys and Al B Sure, who, aside from becoming a success in their own right and carving their place in music history, became a blueprint for countless acts who followed. Uptown was also where Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing sound first began to thrive. Andre is also responsible for giving Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs his start in the music industry when he hired him as an intern at Uptown Records in 1993. And contrary to urban myth he didn’t fire him, that was Uptown’s then General Manager Mark Siegel – but that’s another story for another time.
But back to Andre, who also bought us blue-eyed soul crooner Robin Thicke, and his most recent carnation as CEO of the relatively new Harrell Records, where acts include r&b male quintet Hamilton Park.
The primary reason for doing this interview is he is currently on the look out for some more acts to add to his stable. Which is why he has embarked on a fantastic and innovative global talent search project with Blazetrak, a web platform that provides direct video access to the world’s top professionals.From now through to November 30th, 2011 Andre will be accepting auditions via Blazetrak.com from artists and aspiring producer/songwriters. He will personally review each and every submission, and all entrants are guaranteed a video response/critique directly from Andre himself. Then, after reviewing all the entries, on 10 January, 2012 he will announce the winning recipient of a record deal or production/publishing deal. Already, the talent search is gaining some serious buzz, with multiple tweets going out from Diddy, Mary J. Blige, Jermaine Dupri, Russell Simmons and Robin Thicke on Twitter. Here’s what Andre had to say about the project, his history and impact in the music industry and the many artists and figures whose careers he is responsible for kick-starting.
Nate Walka is a producer/songwriter/rapper from Memphis Tennessee. He is responsible for writing hits for Jamie Foxx (Blame It), Trey Songz, (Say Aah), and Alesha Dixon (Drummer Boy). Nate hails from Memphis Tennessee, and is gearing up for the release of his first mixtape. We caught up with him when he popped over to the UK to premiere some of his music at an exclusive listening party. His music can best be described as Electro hip pop with an 80s vibe, and kept the specially invited crowd entertained.
As we do with all our interviews,we asked him about his favourite memories from the 80s and 90s and I even got in on the act myself with a joint rendition of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Theme tune! We don’t sound half bad, maybe he will write or produce something for me next!
I can’t believe that Toni Braxton has been in the music industry now for nearly 20 years! My, how time flies. I still remember her first single Breathe Again, and the short do she sported in the video. Short hair was to become her signature look in her early career and it suited her. Signed to LaFace Records in 1993, Toni certainly benefited from having legendary award-winning songwriting/music-making duo Babyface and L.A Reid executive producing her debut album. And gems featured on the set included aforementioned Breathe Again, Another Sad Love Song and How Many Ways.
When I was growing up New Edition was one of my favourite groups in the whole wide world. And nearly three decades since they burst onto the scene in 1983, I am still a huge fan of the group and all the splinter projects it has spawned.
Founding member Michael Bivins has managed to keep himself relevant in front of, and behind the camera, as an artist, executive, cultivator of talent and trendsetter. And his bench marks have been frequently imitated but rarely credited in my humble opinion.
People give props to the likes of Diddy, which is much deserved. But before Diddy and Bad Boy, there was a Michael Bivins and a label called Biv 10 paving the way. And as well as being a member of New Edition since he was about 10 years-old, and a member of hit 90s act Bell Biv Devoe (Poison, Do Me, When Will I See You Smile Again), his now defunct label Biv 10 was responsible for launching platinum acts such as Boys II Men, ABC (Another Bad Creation) and 702 back in the early 90s.
Sabrina Washington, 31, is the former lead vocalist for now defunct British girl band Mis-Teeq. The girls racked up a number of top ten hits and a couple of platinum albums from 1999- 2005, but now after a few years out of the spotlight and recent memorable stint on ITV reality TV show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Sabrina is pursuing her career as a solo artist.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since British singer/songwriter Craig David released his debut album Born To Do It. To me, that album is still one of the best UK albums of the last ten years, if not the best. It really set the bar when it came to fresh new ‘urban’ artists making music from the heart, and not trying to fit into the generic pop formula. Gems such as Fill Me In, 7 Days, Walking Away and Rendezvous sound just as invigorating as when they first came out, with the videos just as memorable!
Musical Youth were a group like no other when they came on the scene in 1982. I was only six at the time, but remember it like it was yesterday.
Originally from Birmingham the group was made up of two sets of brothers, Kelvin and Michael Grant and Junior and Patrick Waite, and lead singer Dennis Seaton. They were also all very young, I think the oldest member was about 16 and the youngest about 11!
A ‘reggae pop group’, they played instruments and were pretty adorable-looking, in their trademark denim, and trilby and beret hats. Also their songs, as catchy as they were, often had a bit of a social message to them. e.g. Youth of Today.
One of the most memorable hip hop tunes of the 1980s for me (and I’m sure many others) was Bust A Move by Young MC. In the late 80s that tune was hotter-than-hot and could be heard all over radio stations and the TV, including my favourite episode of Doogie Howser M.D!
Although Young MC grew up in Hollis, Queens, the rapper was actually born in Neasden, north west London, and moved to the US with his family as a three-year-old.
Bust A Move (1989) was the debut single from his first album Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989) and was responsible for landing him the second ever Best Rap Recording Grammy, back in 1990.
Initially signed to Delicious Vinyl (Brand New Heavies, The Pharcyde), the now 42-year-old was also responsible for penning fellow 80s hits Wild Thing and Funky Cold Medina for label mate Tone Loc.
The former teen idol and r&b singer/actor talks about his sexuality, drugs and the HUGE compliment that Michael Jackson paid him.
Tevin Campbell was the quintessential teen idol. He burst onto the music scene at the tender age of 11, under the guidance of legendary producer Quincy Jones. He was as cute as a button with his high top fade and wide grin, while his velvety-toned, perfectly pitched voice was reminiscent of a young Michael Jackson.
The first single he appeared on was Tomorrow (from the Quincy Jones album Back on the Block), which shot straight to the top of Billboards r&b chart in 1989. This was followed by several other hits including Can We Talk, Tell Me What You Want Me To Do and Goodbye, which all featured puppy love tales and even cuter video storylines. He even made an appearance on hit TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, playing the love-interest of pre-teen character Ashley Banks.
However behind the music and fluffy TV cameos things weren’t as sweet. Tevin was involved in under-aged drinking and drugs, and his life was spiralling out of control. Things came to a head in 1999 when he was arrested and charged for Lewd Conduct, after soliciting oral sex from an undercover male police officer in an L.A park. Shortly after this he withdrew from the public eye and hasn’t released any new music since.