Famed hip-hop manager Chris Lighty died today when he shot himself in the head after a fight with his ex-wife. Here’s what you should know about this legend in the business.
1. He Was Hip-Hop Royalty
As manager to some of the biggest names in hip-hop — Diddy, 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Busta Rhymes — Chris Lighty was a mogul and a legend. He founded Violator, a marketing group and record label that also has represented Missy Elliott, LL Cool J and Nas. He worked with many other huge names including Mariah Carey, Q-Tip, Fantasia, Mýa, Diggy Simmons, Cormega, Mobb Deep, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Jungle Brothers, N.O.R.E. and Foxy Brown.
2. He Made an Unhappy Merger
Last year Lighty merged his Violator Management with Larry Mestel’s Primary Wave Talent Management, forming Primary Violator Management. Violator’s hardcore hip-hop roots were diluted by the corporate Primary Wave, and Lighty was miserable, reports Page 6:
Some were shocked to meet a gloomy Lighty his first day on the job last month. “He introduced himself to the staff saying, ‘My name is Chris Lighty. I’m not in a good mood right now. That’s all I’m going to say,” a source said. “It sucked every ounce of oxygen in the room.”
3. He Was Recently Divorced
Lighty split from wife Veronica last fall. She filed for divorce around the time of the merger, after seven years of marriage. He left a longtime girlfriend/babymama to get together with Veronica.
4. He Had Money Trouble
While he was said to be worth $30 million and was known as a big spender (he bought two condos in Chelsea, New York City, for $5.2 million), he reportedly owed $5 million to the IRS. And he was a victim of Bernie Madoff.
5. He Had Humble Beginnings
Lighty didn’t have famous parents with connections to open the showbiz door for him. He grew up in the Bronx River Projects (known as “crack city”) while his single mother worked to put food on the table for him and his five siblings. In his teenage years he passed up a scholarship and took a job as an electrician to help with the family income. His first job in the music industry was manual labor:
Chris Lighty went from carrying the crates for Red Alert to brokering the biggest deals ever in music/entertainment.Hip Hop American Dream
— FRANZ (@followfranz) August 30, 2012
6. He Got His Break from Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons has helped many a young gun rise up in the hip-hop game and Chris Lightly was among those Russell took a liking to. In the late ’80s, he got a lucky break when he landed a gig at Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen’s Rush Management. It was during this time that Chris really learned about the music business and how to market the artists of that era and further hip-hop as a commercially viable product. Lighty went on to become one of the primary architects of the hip-hop industry.
RIP Chris Lighty. Today, we lost a hip-hop hero and one of its greatest architects… bit.ly/SWcK8Y
— Russell Simmons (@UncleRUSH) August 30, 2012
7. He Built a Website for New Artists
Lighty created a website where new artists could get listened to by industry insiders. Called Pleaselistentomydemo.com, it was designed to help unknowns break into an exclusive industry. “There are so many creative people out there,” he said. “We are not reaching everybody. Just listen to the radio. It’s the same 15 artists all day every day.”
But currently, a message on the site’s homepage says this:
We’d like to thank everybody who joined us during the first phase of PLTMD. We’ll be launching version two with some exciting new features and partnerships very soon! Want first access? Refer two friends and you’ll be one of the first to gain access.
8. He Was a Badass
From the Rolling Stone article on his death:
As Dan Charnas details in his book The Big Payback, Lighty found himself in a tense situation when Suge Knight wouldn’t let Nate Dogg appear in Warren G’s video for “Regulate.” After almost getting jumped by Knight days earlier, the much smaller Lighty went over to the Death Row offices and left with a handshake. Nate Dogg was on set 30 minutes later.
9. He Made 50 Cent a Gazillionaire
From the Forbes article:
Lighty was the architect of what turned out to be one of the most lucrative deals in hip-hop history–50 Cent’s VitaminWater pact. In exchange for letting the brand develop the beverage Formula 50 and appearing in commercials, the rapper received a small equity stake in VitaminWater parent Glaceau. When Coca-Cola paid $4.1 billion for the company three years later, 50 Cent walked away with $100 million; Lighty received an undisclosed sum.
10. He Had a Blog
On his website Lighty wrote a blog called Thoughts from Chris. He only wrote four posts, but they’re worth reading.