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Remembering Andre Harrell — One of the Last True Record Men

Remembering Andre Harrell — One of the Last True Record Men

Photo Credit: Jayson Jackson for Okayplayer.com

Jayson Jackson spent the summer of 1993 taking weekly trips from Harlem to the Hamptons sharing lodging with fellow hungry music industry peers. At the time, Jackson was a 23-year-old intern at Columbia Records.

These Hamptons trips were more than just a reprise from the city, it afforded him the opportunity to seek wisdom from self-made entrepreneurs. It was here where Jackson would meet legendary Record Man Andre Harrell.

The two quickly established a relationship — one that would evolve from mentorship to a friendship that would last more than 27 years.

On May 7, 2020, Harrell, 59, passed away due to heart failure. Jayson, who was once the CEO of Okayplayer, wanted the chance to honor his mentor and friend of 27 years, Andre Harrell — a man Jackson says was one of the “most charismatic charming and talented moguls in all of entertainment.”

Read his testimony below.

They will say he was a rapper, one half of the duo Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. “AM/PM” was their big record.

They will say he started a label — a distinctively Black label — at a time when that was not the norm.

They will say he ushered a brand new sound into popular culture called New Jack Swing.

His label and artists represented a version of young Black America that many were not used to seeing: brash, confident, cocky, and stylish. A talented new breed of young Black America and the movement was called Ghetto Fabulous.

His enduring legacy will be the discovery and recordings of Black America’s Queen of Hip-Hop Soul Mary J Blige; Guy and the birth of New Jack Swing; bad boy crooners Jodeci; and the blue-eyed soul of Robin Thicke.

They will say he was a son of a southern family that migrated North, a father to a young man that earned his degree in Paris.

There will no doubt be a memorial that will include testimonials from the biggest stars of yesteryear and today. They will all speak of his influence.

And all of them will be correct.

What I will say is that he was one of the most generous men I knew.

Not the generosity traditionally associated with the grand gestures of traditional Record Men but more akin to the neighborhood griot.

He was generous with his spirit.

He was generous with his insight.

He was generous with his information at a time when everyone was just looking to win.

He fostered a community when we all felt separated.

Andre Harrell Puff Daddy sitting at a table
Andre Harrell and Sean “Puffy” Combs were true Record Men. Photo Credit: Catherine McGann/Getty Images

Andre Harrell was the bridge from one generation to the next. Had he never been an artist or a Record Man you must understand that he still would have been a bridge.

There are many successful people in this thing of ours but few who are aligned.

Dre was doing exactly what he was meant to be doing, day in and day out. Complete alignment.

Who else do you know would start the day by having breakfast with Clarence Avant, argue with Diddy over lunch, and tell you the difference between DaBaby and Roddy Rich by sundown?

This was his alchemy.

Imagine walking into a room filled with your favorite singers, rappers, actors, and the most recognizable models. Imagine the scores of interesting conversations you could have in that room.

The year was 1993 and the Hamptons had not quite become the destination of young Black entertainment folks yet. Save Sag Harbor, the Hamptons were white. Very white. This was the Hamptons long before Puff Daddy got there — he deemed it too bougie at the time.

But there were three Black houses this summer: the “young boys,” which housed up-and-coming music industry talent; the investment bankers, who were brilliant black masters of the universe that ran top Wall Street firms; and the main house that was shared by Russell Simmons, model Veronica Webb, and Andre Harrell.

Now imagine walking into that same room and finding the least known person there, a 23-year-old intern making $250 every two weeks, who knicked an invitation to see how the other half lives. And imagine Andre Harrell finding that person to be the most interesting one in the room.

“How’d you get here?”

“Who do you know?”

“Where you from?”

“Who you work for?”

“You know Puff?”

“What you listening to?”

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This is the Andre most of us know. Most of us are not famous but he made us feel heard, he made us feel seen, he made us feel connected to our community, connected to our ancestors whether we were famous or not. He was the glue.

He was a true Record Man

Record Men are a rare and valuable breed. At their worst, they can discover, nurture, and deliver the songs and stars that define the moments of our lives.

At their best, Record Men can see a star hiding behind an instrument, can spot an urban philosopher tucked into a book at the cookout, and literally pull them into their power.

The beautiful thing about our traditional Record Men is that they are really alchemists. They see value in what most walk by daily, beauty in the things most discard. How else could one boldly call a young girl from the projects of Yonkers the Queen of Hip-Hop before she even put out a record?

True Record Men live so deep in their purpose that finding hidden jewels in every aspect of their lives becomes their spiritual job.

If you ever spent more than 30 minutes around Andre he would ask you three questions and then begin to tell you about yourself. It was a form of ancestral therapy, knowing where your parents came from, what they did, how you were brought up, and the schools you attended was all he needed to know and he could give you a path.

If you were an artist, a music executive, a journalist, a director, a dancer, an actor, a banker, a stripper, a stick-up man, the weed dealer, Andre was interested in your story and how you came to be. His generosity of spirit was huge, if you knew him you knew this.

Who encourages young people of color in a world that either exploits our talents, monetizes our pain, profits from our deaths, and laments our very existence in between it all? Andre did.

Andre always spoke to the best in all of us, even when he was struggling to be better for himself.

People may remember the things he did and accomplished in life but I will always remember how he was in life, always living large in the moment and always putting the culture first.

And, always, the most generous man in the room.

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Jayson Jackson is a veteran music executive, theatre producer, award-winning documentary film producer, and culture chemist.

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