Friday, September 17, 2010

*Notes On A Revolution*-Excerpt From Unpublished Andre Harrell Memoir

(Excerpt from the unpublished Andre Harrell memoir that I worked on, tentatively titled, "Notes On An Uptown Revolution: Andre Harrell and the Nu American Dream"; the last draft from December 2007.)

Chapter 1: Notes On A REVOLUTION

Revolution.

1. An overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government, social structure, or political system by the people governed. A radical and pervasive change made suddenly and often accompanied by force.

2. A sudden, complete and marked change in something.
  
My name is Andre Harrell.
  
And I am a revolutionary.

The revolution has not been defined by warring factions using bombs or guns. No Weapons Of Mass Destruction. This revolution is one of culture. Music, movies, advertising. Guns in the form of digital cameras, bullets in the form of images and information, blood the color of green droplets shaped like dollar signs. Walls of racial separation torn down cinderblock by dirty cinderblock until Mary J. Blige, a girl from the ghetto in Yonkers shares the stage with U2, a group of boys from the warn torn streets of Dublin who became global rock stars. 

Cinderblocks of ignorance crushed until a fatherless boy from Harlem named Sean Combs transforms his relentless work ethic into global music-media-couture mega-stardom, as the relentless entity known as Diddy. That same cinderblocks pulverized into social obsolescence, as a skinny corner boy named Shawn Carter from the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, becomes Jay-Z, not only one of the greatest rappers of all time, but a multi-millionaire CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Cinderblocks of stereotyping smashed to powder until a pudgy rich kid from Los Angeles named Robin Thicke transforms into a modern-day, leading man handsome crooner who sings like The Ghost Of Marvin Past.

The same revolution that nurtured an Obama, an Oprah, a Will, a Sean John, and even an Andre, too. A revolution powered by the strongest force in the world, a revolution energized by love.

This is the new revolution. The revolution of Nu America.

I can’t write like Capote, Baldwin, or Wright, so my life has to articulate the eloquence of my actions. I can’t paint like Picasso or Basquiat, so the content of my character has to brush stroke the color within the fine lines of my integrity. The Last Poets once said the revolution would not be televised, but of course, they were being sarcastic. It was televised March 6th, 1965 when Martin Luther King locked arms with the people on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, and therefore he locked arms with all of us, including a freshman attending Georgetown University named Bill Clinton, and a young bi-racial kid growing up in Indonesia named Barack Obama. The revolution of love and truth on that bridge knocked down the hoses, dogs, batons and boot-heels trying so desperately to crush it.

The Revolution was televised in the January 1961 inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy, who urged us to “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, Ask What You Can Do For Your Country.” 

The Revolution was televised in 1967 when Senator Robert Kennedy went to that beaten-down homestead in Mississippi, shocked by an America so neglected it looked like a poor third world nation. While trying to comfort a poverty stricken two-year-old brown baby--stomach swollen from hunger and limp in the arms for the Senator from New York--as tears filled his own eyes and heart, RFK said, “I’ve never seen anything like this anywhere in the United States.” 

These events were a call to arms, to join the revolution of a Nu America, a Nu America conceived by--as Fitzgerald once said--hours of profound human change. A change created every moment one of us looks in the mirror and confronts the person staring right back. This is how I began my life as a Nu American Revolutionary, looking at that guy staring back at me in the mirror, and wondering what his purpose was in this life.

“Music is the heartbeat of society. If you make good music--not just hit records, but good music--then you have touched the soul of a nation. I believe Uptown Records was the beginning of a new pulse for a Nu America.”
  Andre Harrell, Winter, 2007.
As a Nu American Revolutionary, I have been fashioned as a man who wears many hats: ringnaster, wattage dispenser, movie-music-mogul-tutor, global-ghetto guru. True, a few cultural observers have acknowledged--many after I was inducted into VH-1’s 2007 Hip Hop Hall Of Fame last October--that I am responsible for titlting some major tipping points in the world of entertainment: Robin Thicke, Mary J. Blige, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Teddy Riley, Jodeci, Heavy D, Al B. Sure!, New Jack Swing, and Hip Hop Soul. In the world of cinema, I produced Strictly Business, which was the first major role for Oscar winning actress Halle Berry, and hip hop’s first family film in 2003, Honey, starring Jessica Alba and Mekhi Phifer. I don’t list those credits like I am bragging, but sometimes I still can’t believe everything I have accomplished as a kid who grew up in the Bronxville Projects. 

But even as a kid coming out of one of the most devastated areas of the South Bronx in the Seventies, I never felt limited, or insignificant. Just the opposite. As a roly-poly boy with glasses who walked with a pronounced limp after a car knocked me down, ran over me and crushed my femur bone, I STILL believed I was going to change the world. Why? Because my parents said I could, JFK said I should, and MLK knew I would. 

Uptown Records was a dream of achieving the best that life had to offer, and being able to share that success with others. I was surrounded by talent: Mary J. Blige, Teddy Riley and Guy, Jodeci, Heavy D., Al B. Sure!, Jeff Redd, and Father MC. I had a hard working staff of young execs--Sean “Puffy” Combs, Kurt Woodley, and George Harrell (no relation), to name a few--who I constantly challenged to think outside of the box, and who never failed to deliver. 

We saw Uptown Records as a lifestyle company, and we were selling a lifestyle of Black Excellence, and better yet, Young Adult Excellence, because it wasn’t just Young Black kids in high school and college who would run out to buy gold shrimp earrings and tennis skirts and dye their hair blonde when they saw Mary J. on BET, or cop a pair of Doc Maartins, baggy jeans, and hoodies when they saw Jodeci on MTV. It was hip young white, Latino and Asian kids, too. Cutting edge music videos by Hype Williams and Matthew Rolston, and another young filmmaker by the name of Reggie Hudlin (now known as Reginald Hudlin, the president of entertainment at BET), extended Uptown’s reach from the Billboard charts to the pages of Advertising Age and Madison Avenue. 

Videos became a true marketing tool, not only selling the music of Uptown Records but the lifestyle of Uptown, too. Mary J. on a mountaintop in Big Sur, California, in a Tommy Hilfiger silver-bubble goose down jacket, singing “All I really want/is to be happy.” Teddy Riley, Aaron and Damien Hall decked out in Armani gabardine slacks and Bennis-Edwards slip-ons beckoning to the starlet-sexy women with “Groove me/baby/tonight!” Jodeci bare-chested with saggy Versace jeans revealing upscale Versace boxers in the middle of the Mohave belting out hip hop soul renovation of Stevie Wonder’s classic, “Lately”. Jeff Redd under a waterfall in Port Antonio, Jamaica with a caramel colored cutie, singing “Love High”. Tommy Hilfiger’s sales went up, as did Armani, Versace, as well as Port Antonio being the new sexy destination for a hush-hush romantic getaway. 

Like Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin had proven with Run-DMC’s “My Addidas” almost a decade earlier, hip hop was impacting the market place. Now it was New Jack Swing/Hip Hop Soul becoming a interpreter of taste on the television and at the cash registers beyond the record stores. 

Twenty years later, Mary J. Blige’s hair influenced almost two generations of young black women to go out and buy Dark and Lovely, Clairol and other hair products. Mary’s look of blonde ambition and the painful clarity of her around-the-way-girl-blues influenced Britney Spears, Keyshia Cole, Christina Aguliera, and Beyonce Knowles. Jodeci’s secular soulfulness influenced The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, which trickled down to Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke. 

Teddy Riley and Guy’s Harlem fueled gangster glamour influenced Puffy, who shaped the style of Biggie Smalls, who influenced the style of both Tupac and Jay-Z, and the latest generation, Kanye West, Pharrell, 50 Cent, Timbaland, and Lil‘ Wayne. Cristal champagne, Mercedes Benz, BMW, and even Bentley motor cars would not have the success, visibility, and saturation into the urban/youth/hip hop market, had it not been for Teddy’s “Groove Me.“ And no, not one of those cars were explicitly shown in that video, but the power of their luxury was implicit in the style of Teddy’s message. 

It was the St. Nick Projects, it was Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, it was Frank Lucas, it was kick of a 909 drum machine, it was big keyboard orchestration, it was a heretofore untouchable American Gangster revamped as a New Harlem Renaissance. These were the crib notes of the Nu Revolution, where students like Puff, Jay, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Ice Cube, Jermaine Dupri, Kanye, Pharrell, Nelly, Damon Dash, 50 Cent, Kanye, Birdman and Weezy studied for the essay part of exquisite hustle, and all passed the test because they wrote the same answer: The World Is Mine. A Nu American world which saw close to 4 billion dollars the sale of music, movies, fashion, automobiles, ringtones, and ancillary merchandising, in 2006.

Twenty years later, Nu America is getting stronger even in the midst of an economic downturn. Megastar actor Will Smith--a product of hip hop--scored a major hit in December 2007 with the film “I Am Legend”, which broke box office records with almost 90 million dollars of receipts in two days. Will was a rapper, who became a television icon, who became the biggest box office star in the world, alongside Tom Cruise. Will--as the Fresh Prince along with his childhood friend “Jazzy” Jeff Townes--once opened for Teddy Riley and Guy at the Apollo, back in 1987. Two decades later, he’s getting 25 million dollars before the cameras begin to roll. Will Smith is the proof that the Nu American Revolution has not only been televised, its cultural succession has been ratified on a scale that boggles the mind. These are my notes on that revolution, a revolution I enlisted for because I wanted to know what my purpose was in this life, and how I could use that purpose to help others. 

I have been influenced by a lot of great people: my parents, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, JFK and RFK, Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey. I have been influenced by great friends like Sean Combs, Russell Simmons, Alonzo Brown, Spike Lee, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, the love of my life and the mother of my son, Wendy Credle, and the light of my life, my son, Gianni. I’m influenced by Mary J. Blige, inspired by Teddy Riley, awed by Robin Thicke. Wendy Credle. I’m humbled by those who have had the hardest roads of self discovery, and the courage to navigate it, and the perseverance to overcome the obstacles on the course. I’m emboldened by those whom Sly Stone brilliantly called “Everyday People”: who get up in the morning, go to work and school, do the best they can. Come home and love their families, and get up the next day and do it all over again. Those are the true revolutionaries. 

This book is a personal memoir of change and wanting a better Me, and sharing that with you, hoping it becomes a better Us. That’s the goal of this revolution.

A better Us.

And a better Us creates a Nu America.

Nuff said. These are my notes. You ready?

Let’s go.

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