July 26, 2018 / 10:01 AM / 8 months ago

The Beat Goes On: Life Lessons with music producer Andre Harrell

 (The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
    By Chris Taylor
    NEW YORK, July 26 (Reuters) - In any history of hip-hop, one
name keeps popping up over and over again: Andre Harrell.
    From working alongside Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons to
founding his own label Uptown Records, Bronx-born Harrell seems
to be everywhere at once and, at 57, is not slowing down.
    His current projects include the Revolt cable channel and
music conference, the reality TV music competition "The Four,"
and the Global Spin Awards for rap artists and DJs.
    For the latest in Reuters' Life Lessons series, Harrell
talked about riding a pop-culture wave that took over the world.
    Q: Growing up in the Bronx, what did your parents teach you
about money and work?
    A: Do something that makes you feel happy, so it doesn't
feel like working. My dad worked hard at the produce market in
the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, but he didn't love it so
he was unhappy. That experience made me move towards something I
really wanted to do, because otherwise I would feel trapped like
him. Sometimes negative experiences can lead you in a positive
    Q: Even as a kid did you have entrepreneurial spirit?
    A: I remember I wanted to take a girl out from school, so I
needed to make some money. I went to school in Manhattan's West
Village, and every day after taking the subway I would walk by a
messenger service that needed help. So at 15, I became a
messenger, just so I could be able to pay for a date.
    I also used to sell candy for junior high school drives, and
once I sold so much candy that I won a bike. I sold about $500
worth back in 1972, so in today's dollars something like $3,000.
It was at that moment I knew I had the gift of gab.
    Q: At what point did you meet Russell Simmons?
    A: I was working by day as an account executive in radio,
and by night as a rapper in a group called Dr. Jeckyll and Mr.
Hyde. At that point I met Russell and became VP of Rush
    I was only making $200 a week, and when I hired Lyor Cohen
(now YouTube's global head of music), I decided to split my
salary with him. We used to share a desk, and I could see his
potential: He used to talk all day about hip-hop in his Israeli
accent. I thought, "This dude's going to be big, because he's so
in love with this stuff."
    Q: How did you handle the financial success that eventually
came along?
    A: As a young black guy in the inner city, the only other
person of color I knew making any money was Russell. All the
lawyers and everybody else were white. In the business they
often extend to credit to young artists, so they just go out and
buy anything they want. But that doesn't help you understand
money in the right way. You have to get through that early
period, and get to the next level, which is when you can get
serious about building wealth.
    Q: You are famous for discovering Sean Combs. What was it
you saw in him?
    A: He was my intern, introduced to me by Heavy D. For two
years, he went to Howard University and then commuted up to work
with us. Everyone has different things that make them a star,
and with Puff it was that he had tremendous drive and style.
When he came into the studio and started working with excellent
producers, he learned about all different aspects of the music
business, and got to understand the tremendous power of culture.
    Q: You are now vice chair of the cable channel Revolt, so
what has that launch been like?
    A: It is very exciting, because it feels like the final page
of taking black culture into the mainstream. With music videos
you might have four minutes to tell a story, but with a cable
channel you can have documentaries that are an hour or two long.
This year we went to 100 percent hip-hop and R&B programming, so
it feels like the culmination of my life's work.
    Q: What life lessons do you pass along to your own son?
    A: Right now Gianni is my No. 1 project. I try to tell him
that youth is for doing it, and doing it right now. So figure
out what you love, and then get to work. Then, when you are my
age, you can sit back and call the shots.

 (Editing by Beth Pinsker and Richard Chang)
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