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Hotshot achievers under 35.

This generation's young powerbrokers are blazing new trials in their fields.

Age may be just a number, but for many it also functions as a benchmark. While your accomplishments are important, the age at which you've achieved them stands out as a critical measure of success.

If the work force is now meaner and meaner, it's also much younger. And it's flush with ambitious self-starters, better equipped to take risks and embrace change than their elders ever were.

Within this pool, some noteworthy African-American hotshots have distinguished themselves as veritable leaders of the pack through their innovation, creativity and raw talent. BLACK ENTERPRISE highlights five of the best and brightest young visionaries. None has yet seen his or her 35th birthday.

These five individuals were not selected on the basis of title, visibility or the size of their paycheck. Rather, we let the caliber of their achievements, their impact on industry and endorsements from colleagues and constituents vouch for their inclusion. These "junior" achievers have worked hard and with vision toward the future. We're likely to hear from them again.

It was chilly and damp outside, but the party inside was hot and happening. Bill Block, a top talent agent at International Creative Management (ICM), had planned a small gathering at his Hollywood Hills home. But once word got out that Andre Harrell was the guest of honor, half the town showed up. Over in one corner was Wesley Snipes. Across from him, power broker Clarence Avant chatted with rapmeister Russell Simmons. Public relations whiz Terrie Williams shot the breeze with producer Suzanne de Passe.

Why the star turnout? The answer is Harrell, founder and president of New York City-based Uptown Entertainment, a man touted as "The Flavor for the '90s." The 31-year-old Bronx, N.Y., native has two of the best "ears" for what sells in the music industry. That gift, combined with an uncanny ability to package and market talented young black singers and producers, has helped Harrell catapult his once tiny record label into a multimillion dollar entertainment empire in just five years.

Harrell's instincts for rooting out hidden potential have inspired him to take more than one chance on an unproven artist. His instincts often prove right, as highlighted by the roster of former unknowns that now headline his chart-busting stable: Jodeci Heavy D and the Boyz, Mary J. Blige, Al B. Sure! and Christopher Williams. To fully appreciate Harrell's return on his good investments, you have to appreciate the miniscule chances for success in the record business. A well-produced, 12-song compact disc by an unknown singer or group can cost upwards of $300,000. Yet a label can make more than $2.5 million if the disc sells 500,000 copies. To date, Harrell's Uptown Entertainment has parlayed the sale of over 12 million records worldwide into a gold mine.

He's making inroads in other entertainment venues as well. His first attempt at film production resulted in the 1991 comedy Strictly Business and he's developing new movies for Jodeci along with weekly sitcoms starring such Uptown artists as Heavy D. Hollywood is so enamored with the young mogul and his money-making instincts that MCA Inc., parent company of Universal Pictures and MCA Records, recently signed him to a seven-year, $50 million, multimedia deal, allowing him to dabble in a wide range of MCA projects.

Harrell's sensibilities come from strong family ties and a streetwise New York background. He formed a rap group when he was 16 years old. A communications major at Lehman College, he dropped out by his senior year to work as a radio sales rep. But he soon left this job to work as a $200/week vice president for Russell Simmons' then-fledgling Rush Communications.

"I had a concept of what I wanted to do musically, and it involved partying, socializing, having a good time - that inner-city feeling. Russell was, and still is, into more of a hardcore rap vibe," Harrell says. Harrell stayed with Rush for two years and then left when MCA Records offered him an A&R (artist and repertoire) position.

Harrell negotiated an estimated $75,000 label deal with MCA and then defied belief when his first release, a compilation disc of then-unknown artists, scored a huge success. He followed that with mega hits by his before mentioned superstars. "At the time I started, R&B was dead and Uptown Records was able to open up the door for a new sound - a marriage of hip-hop and R&B," Harrell offers.

Harrell classifies Uptown as a lifestyle that represents the complete spectrum of African-Americans in the '90s. Accordingly, he's filled the plush offices of Uptown with a staff of young, black producers and vice presidents who are skilled at translating the ever-changing energy of urban lifestyle into music that homeboys, coeds and junior executives put on their CD players at midnight.

That audience will be the foundation for Harrell's success in film and TV. I want to tell stories about everyday black people that will have a widereaching appeal - experiences that are African-American, but feelings that are universal."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:African American business leaders
Author:Cunningham, Kitty
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Biography
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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