Harrell grew up in the Bronx and jumped into the nascent rap scene as a teenager, joining up with Alonzo Brown to form Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the early 1980s. Known for their swanky attire—they wore suits and ties when they performed—Harrell and Brown were taken under the wing of Russell Simmons, who managed them as part of his talent company Rush Communications. When the pair parted ways, Harrell went to work for Simmons at his management firm, leaving after three years to form Uptown Records in partnership with MCA. His work at the upstart label in the late 1980s and early '90s minted his rep in the industry—he had a role in discovering and popularizing the likes of Mary J. Blige, Heavy D, Al B. Sure, and Jodeci. But he may be just as famous for the teenager he hired for an unpaid internship in the early '90s—Sean Combs. Diddy rose up from intern to A&R director until Harrell fired him; Combs went on to start Bad Boy Entertainment and became a megastar soon after.
In 1995, Harrell left Uptown and signed on as CEO of Motown Records, the legendary label then under the umbrella of Polygram. But Harrell's tenure at Motown didn't unfold as planned, and Polygram sacked him two years into his contract after he failed to generate any hits. Harrell settled in as president of Bad Boy following his ouster (reporting to his former intern) before leaving Diddy's side in 2000. Although he was one of the most prominent music execs in hip hop in the 1980s and '90s, Harrell has faded from the scene in recent years. He's since turned to urban marketing, consulting and TV producing.
Harrell lives in the West Village. He has a son named Gianni with his ex, music attorney Wendy Credle. [Image via Getty]