Uptown Records

Uptown Records: The Logo

By the spring of 1993, it was clear that Uptown was once again leading the way in urban music. In many ways as a matter of fact, it was the only record label that was putting out innovative R&B at the time, the suburban backlash of 1991 decimating the R&B rosters at the major labels. While the ‘Who’s The Man’ soundtrack wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves, one song in particular made urban heads pay attention: “Party and Bullsh*t” by a new rapper by the name of B.I.G…

MTV Unplugged (recognizing the impact of Jodeci and Mary J. Blige in particular) taped an Uptown Unplugged special, releasing the session on home video and on CD. It was the Unplugged special that launched Jodeci’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” into a top ten hit on the Billboard Pop chart; the only Jodeci song ever to do so. The Uptown Unplugged special also featured performances by Father (who had dropped the MC at this point), Heavy D, and Christopher Williams.

Around 1994, Sean “Puffy” Combs was fired from Uptown by Andre Harrell. Tension existed between Uptown and its key acts Mary J. Blige and Jodeci because they were being enticed out of their contracts by Marion “Suge” Knight of Death Row Records. Without Puffy’s keen vision, Uptown began to suffer, but not without releasing Mary J. Blige’s ‘My Life’ in 1994, and Soul For Real’s ‘Candy Rain’ in 1995.

By early 1996, Andre Harrell was offered the chance to revive Motown Records; he took it, but the label folded despite his leadership two years later. Not long afterwards, Uptown folded when Heavy D decided that running the company was not for him, choosing instead to pursue acting and performing. Looking back, it is clear that for Sean Combs, being fired by Uptown was one of the best things that could have ever happened to him; alternately – that proved to be Uptown Records’ biggest mistake.

In closing, it cannot be denied that between the years 1987 and 1991, Uptown Records was clearly the musical leader of the New Jack Swing Era. In the early 90s, Uptown Records evolved New Jack Swing into Hip-Hop/Soul, to be emulated by non-label artists such as SWV and R. Kelly. During its heyday, the Uptown sound was an innovation in urban music - period.