"Russell says Andre was the only rapper who, when they played his songs, they only played the instrumental," says one old friend. "He called Andre Dr. Doolittle."
But Russell insists Andre gets a bad rap, that people don't give him the credit he deserves for the success of Uptown Records, which Andre left Def Jam to found in 1986. "I don't like to read all the time that Uptown wasn't him," Russell says -- that instead, it was A&R man Kurt Woodley and young Sean Combs who developed stars like Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. "Andre knows a lot more about music than 99.9 percent of record people," Russell says. "He changed the music business completely. He had a vision for R&B when R&B was worth zero, nothing."
Russell was never into the R&B sound much himself, however. "Russell's from the suburbs" -- he grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Hollis, Queens; his mother worked for the Parks Department, while his father was a school administrator and teacher of black history -- "so he's all about DMX and ghetto shit. Andre was from uptown, so he was all about Teddy Riley and fancy suits," says another friend. "The ones from suburbia always want to be hard-core, and the ones from the projects always want to be slick."
"Russ is totally alternative," says Andre.
"Andre was the straightest motherfucker I knew," Russell says.
"I remember," says Russell, around 1984, "when I moved in with Andre in LeFrak City, I was getting in the elevator with him one night; we were both going out on dates. I was wearing what I always wear, and Andre looked like Minister Farrakhan, he had on a three-piece suit. I was going out on a date with this crazy blonde punk-rock girl, I was going out to see the Circle Jerks at the World, some shit. And Andre, he was going out to play miniature golf with this girl -- we used to call her the no-laughin'-and-jokin'-ho. She was a project girl who grew up to be a lawyer. You couldn't curse around this girl.
"Andre was a rapper, like, livin' a double life, which is a real conservative-colored-man thing to do."
"Most black families," says Jimmy Jenkins, a.k.a. J. Luv, a former Uptown executive, "rear their children to be straight, go to college, get a haircut, don't stay out late. Well, Russell was always going to clubs that a traditional black man wouldn't go to, in the Village, SoHo, Save the Robots, and all those places with Madonna and Iggy Pop. Russell has always liked mixed environments and mixed people."
"I was taking all kinds of drugs back then," says Russell. "I wasn't free-basing, but I woke up in the punk-rock girl's apartment that next morning and she was free-basing, looking like Courtney Love in her nightgown. I thought I was in hell! But it was all good. I got up, took a shower, and I come home and Andre's telling me about playing miniature fuckin' golf! In Co-Op City! . . . 'And how was your night?' "
"Russell developed a taste for nightlife, and he used to drag me around to these clubs," Andre says. "At Danceteria there was a guy who used to check my hat, he had hair all over his face -- he looked like Cousin It. I'd look around like, 'Russ, why are we here?' I wanted to go to Bentley's -- that was the upwardly-mobile-black-people club. And Russell would say, 'Hold on a minute.' Then we'd go to Bentley's, and Russell would be like: 'I don't know why we here with these uptight Negroes -- what is this about?' "
"My real circuit," Russell says, "was Danceteria and Disco Fever" -- one of the first places to feature rappers, in the late eighties. "Shit, Andre didn't want to hang out at no Disco Fever," he says. "He didn't want to be in no South Bronx where niggas were getting shot and pulled off the dance floor -- in a back room with a bunch of rappers sniffing cocaine!"