Yesterday, the internet was flooded with buzz on the premature death of Hip-Hop mogul, Chris Lighty. Unfortunately, not much detail was available besides the reports that it was another “apparent suicide” of a Hip-Hop music executive.
It should most definitely be noted, the impact this young man had on the music and culture of Hip-Hop. Lighty, at 19 years old, was already being courted by music executives. In fact, that was how he met Russell Simmons back in 1989. His introduction to the industry, however, came from carrying crates of records for DJ Red Alert. It was Red Alert who gave Chris and Darryl, his partner-in -crime (literally) the name Violators. He passed up a basketball scholarship to be the road manager for Boogie Down Productions. What put him on the radar of industry execs was not only his work ethic and street knowledge, but as one writer put it “Lighty was calm, but completely capable of carnage. He was, in a word, restrained.”1 That was exactly what Lyor Cohen needed, especially at a time when Def Jam and Rush Management were at the forefront of what was truly becoming a blossoming empire.
A turning point in Chris’ career came when he had to make the decision to leave the streets alone. He and his crew were well-known for being good with their hands, as well as being flashy. This meant automatic problems with guys from Brooklyn. One night at a birthday party for Queen Latifah, a guy walked up, slashed Chris’ cheek with a razor and ran into the club. Chris and Darryl chased him, caught him and beat him down. The fight caused a stampede and Latifah’s mom – Rita Owens – was injured. The night’s events were especially sobering for Chris, who made it a point to apologize personally to Latifah even before going to the hospital for stitches.
Oddly, much of Chris Lighty’s success could be credited to learning to do the opposite of what he saw of Lyor Cohen. Although Cohen was a brilliant and tenacious businessman, he didn’t read contracts. He didn’t care for counting pennies. And he definitely didn’t care for people’s feelings. Chris learned to read contracts religiously. Chris pored over financial accounts. And Chris was likeable. These are the things that allowed Chris to create his own empire…and he aptly named it, Violator.
The roster of client he managed were some of the most notable Hip Hop and R&B superstars of the past 20 years, including Mariah Carey, LL Cool J, 50 Cent, Missy Elliot, Ja Rule, and Sean “Diddy” Combs. In fact, it was Lighty who brokered the infamous deal for 50 that garnered him a 10% stake in Vitamin Water, which would eventually be sold to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion.
Many inside and outside the music industry are in complete shock upon hearing the news of Chris Lighty’s demise. Most believed the Hip Hop world was a better place with Chris in it. His family and friends surely believed the world overall was a better place with him in it.
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1 The Big Payback – The History of the Business of Hip Hop, Dan Charnas