In 1986 Harrell founded Uptown Records and became influential in the development of hip-hop and the New Jack Swing style of R&B, Billboard reported.
He discovered Combs, later known as Diddy, who was an intern at the record label. Combs eventually worked full time for Harrell as a talent director. Other artists Harrell signed included Heavy D & the Boyz, Mary J. Bilge and The Notorious B.I.G., Billboard reported.
Uptown's distribution partner, MCA, offered Harrell a multimedia deal, and he became the executive producer of the television show, "New York Undercover," Variety reported. He also was executive producer for the 1991 comedy, "Strictly Business," and in 1993 the label recorded the first showcase edition of MTV's "Unplugged" series, according to Variety.
In 1995, Harrell was briefly the president and CEO of Motown.
At the time of his death, Harrell was working on a TV miniseries about Uptown, Variety reported.