Chris Lighty: Top Hip-Hop Exec Dies in Apparent Suicide (1968-2012)
What do 50 Cent, P Diddy, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Missy Eliot, Mariah Carey, Soulja Boy, Mobb Deep, Fat Joe, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and countless other Hip-Hop artists all have in common? They all owe part of their musical success to the late Chris Lighty.
The founder of Violator Management (a management company representing many Hip-Hop artists such as those listed above), Chris Lighty was known and respected as one of the most important execs in the Hip-Hop industry for his ability to spot talent and negotiate deals that allowed Hip-Hop artists to gain mainstream visibility from 1990s on to this day. Hip-Hop wouldn’t be what it is, musically and in terms of influence and inclusion into contemporary mainstream culture, had it not been for Chris Lighty. MBK Entertainment CEO Jeff Robinson told Billboard that Lighty, “taught so many artists how to become business juggernauts while making timeless hits at the same time.”
Raised by a single mother in housing projects of the South Bronx, Lighty got his start in the mid ‘80s carrying records for DJ Red Alert and was soon road manager for KRS-One’s Boogie Down Productions. In 1989 Lighty was recruited by Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen to work at their Rush Management, Hip-Hop’s first major management company. While there Lighty worked with Big Daddy Kane, Brand Nubian, Public Enemy, Eric B. Rakim. He also brought A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul over with him to Rush.
By 1990 Lighty had founded Violator. Within a few years it would become one of the most important firms in Hip-Hop and expand beyond just management to having marketing, multimedia and label wings. He negotiated some of the most important decisions that brought Hip-Hop to the mainstream and brought his artists great exposure through endorsement deals. He linked A Tribe Called Quest with Sprite in 1994 and a few years later Busta Rhymes with Mountain Dew. It may seem less surprising in 2012 to see rappers used in advertisements for a product, but in the early ‘90s, when Hip-Hop was still a young subculture, landing an endorsement deal if you were a rapper was a big deal. Chris Lighty was instrumental in tearing down the walls that separated Hip-Hop and the mainstream. He never however, believed in sacrificing the art in the process of establishing endorsement deals. The goal: to reach and expose Hip-Hop in its pure form to audiences previously clueless to the art and its rappers.
He’d go on to land other high-profile corporate relationships, this time for LL Cool J with the Gap. And perhaps the most notable deal he struck was for 50 Cent with Glacéau doing Vitaminwater ads for his own flavor “Formula 50” named after himself.
The news of Chris Lighty’s death, came as an extreme shock to the whole Hip-Hop community. Some of the most important figures in Hip-Hop immediately spoke on or tweeted about the great man behind the scenes:
Rev Run: “R I P to the kindest guy Chris Lighty. Thank you for being a manager to Diggy & a part of our family.. You are loved & will be missed”
P Diddy: “R.I.P. Chris Lighty. He Was A Dear Friend Of Mine And I Still Can’t Believe It.”
Rihanna: “Rest peacefully Chris Lighty, my prayers go out to family and loved ones! Dear God please have mercy”
Nicki Minaj: “Another tragic & inconceivable loss for the culture. #RIPChrisLighty”
Soulja Boy: “R.I.P my manager Chris Lighty, I know you’re in a better place. this shit got me so fucked up big bro we just talked on the phone”
Ludacris: “R.I.P. Chris Lightly who always had the best energy every time I had an encounter with him. He will be missed”
Game: “R.I.P. to my old friend “Chris Lighty”. Tragedy has once again struck the music industry & this time it hit close to home…A father, husband, mogul & a great business man. May his soul rest & many condolences to his immediate family & children. Love”
Fat Joe: “R.I.P. Chris Lighty. The man that saved my life!!!! I Would Be Nothing Without YOU!!!
It is still uncertain what drove Lighty, 44, husband, and father of six children, to take his own life. After a gunshot was heard by neighbors near Lighty’s townhouse in the Bronx, Lighty was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Reports indicate that he had been involved in an argument with his ex-wife Veronica Lighty earlier that day. According to the New York Daily News Lighty may have also owed up to $5 million to the IRS. However according to recent interviews by tearful widow Veronica Lighty, she and Lighty had come to an agreement not to divorce and that they had sold their Chelsea apartment to help pay for all of Chris Lighty’s debts. Lighty’s tweets in recent weeks surely signaled difficulty and struggle in his life:
“Hell is empty. All the devils are here,” he wrote in June. Followed by the last tweet to appear on his page, “Life is about perspective. It’s not what you see, but how you see it. What you see is what you get.”
A memorial was held on Wednesday September 5th, for Lighty at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan. Russell Simmons, P Diddy, Fat Joe, Rev. Run, Missy Elliott, Michael Bivens, Wyclef Jean, Ed Lover, Mary J Blige, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent and Lauryn Hill were all present for the memorial service. “You were the light in a lot of lives,” Busta declared. “It ain’t no coincidence that your last name was Lighty.”
What is for certain is that the brilliant manager to so many of Hip-Hop’s greatest talents, shall we say THE manager of Hip-Hop, will surely be missed and remembered for everything he did for Hip-Hop culture and all the individuals involved in it.