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Motown

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Andre Harrell picAndre 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.

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082709_SPOTCOVERI was very sad to hear of another old school icon’s death this week, this time of music legend Nickolas Ashford (70) from the famed husband and wife singing/songwriting duo Ashford and Simpson. Nick passed away from throat cancer on Monday night.

Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson were signed to Motown back in 1966 and proceeded to pen some of the stable’s best known hits, including their own biggest hit 1984′s Solid as a Rock. However, it is undoubtedly the songs they wrote for others that Nick will be most remembered for, such as Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman.

I for one wasn’t even aware of ALL the smashes they wrote, and was pleasantly surprised that these included some of best loved tunes in music history.

Take a look at some of these gems below (R.I.P Nick Ashford):

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the-five-heartbeats-originalSo, I didn’t stay up to the early hours to watch the BET Awards live this year. I must be getting old in my ‘young’ age. But when I did finally catch up with all the shenanigans a few days later, I was excited to see BET pay homage to one of my favourite old school movies The Five Heartbeats (1991).

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ElDebarge_2010BETWARDSI was real sad to read this week that El DeBarge was back in rehab, especially since his recent comeback, which kicked off to much fanfare at last June’s BET Awards was going so well. Both media and fans have been very excited and supportive of the return of the 80s r&b icon.

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teena1Legendary soul singer Teena Marie (real name Mary Christine Brockert) passed away this Christmas weekend in her sleep. The former Motown artist and protege of Rick James was found by her 19 year-old daughter, Alia Rose, on Boxing Day, and reportedly died of natural causes. She was just 54.

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El DebargeA week and a day after this year’s BET Awards, and I am still smiling hard about one particular performance. And no, I’m not talking about Chris Brown’s MJ Tribute.

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MB_richmond_va_9-6-09croppedWhen 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.

Craig_DavidIt’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!

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