Business Class: Andre Harrell Talks Atlantic Deal, Diddy’s Management Moves, Hip-Hop’s New Hero

Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell has decades in the music industry and like the Energizer Bunny—or, well, Diddy—the seasoned vet keeps on going. Here, he talks shop with VIBE about his new endeavors, including his search for the next big star

VIBE: Can you give us an idea what you’re working on? Are you going through a rebirth of sorts?

Andre Harrell: I have a new deal with Atlantic Records called Harrell Entertainment and I’m starting off by looking for the next superstar soul singer. It’s a six-city contest that I’m holding on the Internet in conjunction with Radio One and Atlantic Records where people can upload their audition performance and get voted on by people on the site. And then when I come to Philadelphia, Washington, Houston, Detroit, Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, I see the top vote getters and I pick two people who I then go online and let the people vote for the one they want to represent their city.

All the finalists will be flown to Atlanta plus one national wild card. Say if you don’t live near any of the cities I’m visiting the person who’s the national big vote getter he’ll be flown into Atlanta so there will be seven different people. The Super Star Soul Search. The contest runs, in terms of uploading your auditions, from June 1 to June 23 and then I start traveling to those cities starting July 9 and I have a listing of the cities I’m going to and what days on my site. The finals are in Atlanta on July 29 and then the winner wins $10,000 and a record deal with Harrell Entertainment under Atlantic.

Tell me about the Atlantic deal and what you’re expecting this time around?

I’m expecting to sign great singers. I’m going to keep doing what I’m known to do. I’m going to keep signing singers hopefully on the level of Jodeci, Mary J. Blige, Robin Thicke.

Is there anything you’re thinking about differently based on how the industry is right now, the way it’s structured?

I’m still looking for great singers to sing great songs. Simple as that. That’s where it starts.

Are there any new artists that you’re excited about that you’ve had your eye on?

No new artists that I’ve had my eye on. More established artists that I like—I like Brandy, I like Tyrese. The artists that I’m looking at now are artists on that level. Great singers.

What do you think of Puffy’s recent moves reportedly managing Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj?

To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet, so I don’t know how it’s set up, if he’s really actively involved in the management or not. The best I can say is that he has tremendous resources available to him to help him out in his career. 

People have doubted his ability to manage artists, though, citing the Bad Boy artists who’ve sat on the shelves.

Because he’s so busy managing himself? What I will go down saying is, I think that if an artist has a point of view already established of who they are, I think he’s in a position to take them to the next level.

Do you think artists make good managers because they’ve been in that position?

Well, I was an artist. And as a president of a boutique label you kind of manage everything around you, especially the artist brand. So does he have the wherewithal to be focused to do that? Yeah, he does.

Any advice you would give him?

Hire a great president for the management company, someone who knows how to develop stars. Somebody to oversee everything.

There was a rumor about Diddy replacing Simon Cowell on American Idol.

Oh, I think Puff is the perfect replacement for Simon on American Idol, there’s no doubt about that. Puff’s main thing is to tell you something brash, isn’t it? That wouldn’t be out of his character. Puff plays the bad guy on his reality show, giving people a hard time. I think there’s no better replacement for Simon than Puff.

The biggest sensation of the year has been Drake. Any thoughts on his album, Thank Me Later?

I haven’t heard it yet, but I think Drake is very talented. He’s a songwriter, he’s an actor, he’s a rapper, he’s a singer. He’s not a triple threat, he’s a quadruple threat. We haven’t seen a rapper like that yet. I like the first single that Kanye [West] produced. I think that people have high expectations of Drake and I think the younger generation is looking for a new hero and I think Drake is set up to be that next new hero.

Any other big projects you’re working on?

I’m working on a TV show with me and Mary J. Blige. It’s an idea that her husband Kendu brought to me about me and Mary discovering and developing new talent and that’s as far as we’ve gotten. It’s in the development stage.