Andre Harrell, Uptown Records Founder and Sean Combs’ Mentor, Dies at 59

Harrell got his start as half of the ’80s hip-hop duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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Andre Harrell, the longtime music executive who founded the hip-hop label Uptown Records and mentored Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, died Friday at age 59, DJ D-Nice announced on his Instagram Live.

Although the cause of death was not immediately known, according to The New York Times, “His ex-wife, Wendy Credle, said that the cause was heart failure and that Mr. Harrell had had heart problems for some time.”

The Bronx native got his start as an artist, teaming with Alonzo Brown for the hip-hop duo Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that charted with the 1982 song “Genius Rap.” After meeting with Russell Simmons, he moved into the executive ranks of Def Jam before launching his own label, Uptown Records.

That label became a major force in late 1980s hip-hop thanks to artists like Heavy D & The Boyz and Al B. Sure! as well as producer Teddy Riley. Harrell also hired an intern named Sean Combs, whom he groomed to become a talent director who helped develop R&B superstars such as Mary J. Blige and Jodeci.

Harrell fired Combs in 1993, leading the rapper-mogul to launch the Bad Boy empire that would dominate much of the mid-’90s hip-hop scene. Uptown’s fortunes soon sank, leading Harrell to take over Motown in 1995 as CEO. Harrell and Combs (now known as “Diddy”) later reconciled, with Harrell becoming vice-chair of his former intern’s multiplatform music network Revolt.

BET’s three-part miniseries about the record label Harrell founded will be proceeding as planned, BET president Scott Mills said in a statement.

“Andre was tremendously excited about sharing the origin story of Uptown Records, and its pivotal role in the urban music landscape,” Mills said. “With his tragic passing, BET is committed to ensuring that the Uptown limited series event tells both the Uptown story and Andre’s story — that of the incredible music innovator, man and friend to so many.”

Tributes have poured in for the executive.

“My heart is breaking and I can’t stop crying,” Mariah Carey tweeted. “He was an amazing friend and I will miss him forever.”

He gave you the best soundtracks of your life man and you didn’t even know it,” Questlove wrote.

“Saluting Andre Harrell,” director Ava DuVernary tweeted. “The architect of so much music, so much culture.”