Andre O’Neal Harrell was an American record executive, record producer, songwriter and rapper. Harrell was the founder of the record label, Uptown Records. Harrell also served as the president/CEO of Motown Records. He was the first half of the hip hop duo Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. Harrell was perhaps best known as the man that turned Sean “P. Diddy” Combs into a music mogul.
Harrell was born in The Bronx, New York City, on September 26, 1960, and grew up there. His father, Bernie, was a produce market employee in Hunts Point; his mother, Hattie, worked as a nurse’s aide. He graduated from the Charles Evans Hughes High School in 1978. When he was a teenager, Harrell and Alonzo Brown, his high school friend, formed a rap/ hip-hop duo named Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde (Harrell and Brown, respectively). The group achieved success with major hit songs like “Genius Rap” (1981) and “AM/PM” (1984). Despite this early success in the music industry, Harrell had other career intentions. He went on to study at Baruch College, before transferring to Lehman College. He majored in communications and business management, intending to become a newscaster. After three years, he dropped out of college and went to work for a local radio station.
In 1983, Harrell met Russell Simmons, the founder of Def Jam Records. He went to work for Def Jam and within two years became vice-president and general manager. After a few years of working at Def Jam, Harrell left and founded his own label called Uptown Records.
Harrell is credited with having discovered and signing Sean “Puffy” Combs. In 1988, Mary J. Blige recorded an impromptu cover of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” at a recording booth in a local mall. Her mother’s boyfriend at the time later played the cassette for Jeff Redd, a recording artist and A&R runner for Uptown Records. Redd sent it to Harrell, who met with Blige. In 1989, she was signed to the label, and she became the company’s youngest and first female solo artist.
In 1988, Harrell was offered a label deal MCA Music Entertainment Group. After he had multiple successful releases, in 1992, MCA offered Harrell a multimedia deal, which involved film and television productions. They developed the feature film Strictly Business and FOX’s hit police drama series, New York Undercover, which aired from 1994 until 1998.
Harrell renamed Uptown Records as Uptown Enterprises, and its records were featured in productions for Universal Pictures and Universal Television. In 1994, Harrell had a son with Wendy Credle, a music attorney. They named him Gianni Credle-Harrell.
In 1995, Harrell was appointed CEO of Motown Records and remained there until 1997. He also hosted Champagne & Bubbles on Sunday nights from 6 to 9pm on Emmis Urban AC WRKS (98.7 Kiss FM)/New York. Harrell was the CEO of Harrell Records, which is distributed through Atlantic Records. He partnered with budding Atlanta-based production company L7 Entertainment for the release of their new artists Hamilton Park and Netta Brielle.
Harrell was the Vice Chairman of Revolt, Diddy’s multi-platform music network. On October 17, 2014, he was instrumental in launching the Revolt Music Conference in Miami, Florida, at the Fountainbleau Hotel. The event was attended by such entertainment figures as Guy Oseary, Russell Simmons, and L.A. Reid.
Harrell died on May 7, 2020, at his home in West Hollywood, California. He was 59, and news of his death was first announced on Instagram by D-Nice. According to Wendy Credle, Harrell’s ex-wife, he had been suffering from heart problems in the time leading up to his death.