Helped genre's top
artists make deals
A hip-hop mogul who managed Sean "Diddy" Combs, 50 Cent and Mariah Carey was found dead in his New York City apartment Thursday in an apparent suicide, police said.
Chris Lighty, 44, was discovered at his home in the Bronx with a gunshot wound to the head and was pronounced dead at the scene.
"It's a terrible loss," said Englewood's David Rodriguez, executive producer/vice president of NJPAC, who knew Mr. Lighty. "Chris was a gentleman and certainly a great spokesman and leader within the hip-hop community. He was part of that core group that legitimized hip-hop within the mainstream, both as a business and an art form."
Mr. Lighty was behind some of rap's leading figures, helping them attain not only hit records but also lucrative careers outside of music. He had been a part of the scene for decades, working with pioneers like |LL Cool J before starting his own management company, Violator.
The mainstreaming of hip-hop in the marketplace is key to Mr. Lighty's legacy, according to media executive Morris County resident Bill Stephney, former president of Def Jam Recordings, who worked with Mr. Lighty in his formative years.
Mr. Lighty, he says, was a "second-generation" hip-hop entrepreneur who came of age under the tutelage of pioneering mogul Russell Simmons at Rush Productions.
"He helped move the music and the culture and the fashion and everything that goes with it into the mainstream," said Stephney, now senior executive with Broad Market Media.
Rap had begun as an outlaw art form, and for years most of its stars had had a take-the-money-and-run attitude. Mr. Lighty helped change all that around 2004 when, as manager for Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, he urged his star to secure an equity partnership with the beverage Vitamin Water I've also seen this as VitaminWater and Vitaminwater.
"In lieu of taking actual cash payments, as I understand, he took partial equity," Stephney says. "Later, when the company was sold for several billion dollars, he became a wealthy man. It was Lighty who helped shepherd that deal."
As a result, other artists like Dr. Dre (Beats headphones) and Nicki Minaj (Pepsi) began to secure similar deals. It was all part of hip-hop's coming-of-age: Rap stars were now playing by the same rules and reaping the same profits as other entrepreneurs.
Mr. "He looked at the artist as a 360-degree brand: music, television, film, clothing, beverages," Stephney said. "These guys [rappers] had tremendous cultural influence. He found ways to leverage that influence."
Lighty said in a 2007 interview, "As music sales go down because kids are stealing it off the Internet and trading it, and iPod sales continue to rise, you can't rely on just the income that you would make off of being an artist."
No note was recovered in his death, but a 9mm handgun was found at the scene and there was no sign of forced entry, said Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the New York Police Department.
The medical examiner's office will determine a cause of death, but authorities say the shooting appears to be self-inflicted.
Twitter was abuzz with condolences on his death just hours after the body was found.
"R.I.P. Chris Lighty," Fat Joe posted on his account. "The man that saved my life!"
"Today, we lost a hip-hop hero and one of its greatest architects," wrote Russell Simmons.
Mr. Lighty was raised in the Bronx and ran with a group called The Violators, the inspiration for the name of his management company, according to the company website. He was a player in the hip-hop game since he was a kid DJ. He rose through the ranks at Rush Management (Simmons' first company) before eventually founding Violator Management in the late 1990s. (Mona Scott and James Cruz are partners.)
Lighty's roster ranged from Academy Award winners Three 6 Mafia to maverick Missy Elliott to up-and-comer Papoose and perpetual star Carey.He made it his mission not so much to make musical superstars, but rather multifaceted entertainers who could be marketed in an array of ways: a sneaker deal here, a soft drink partnership there, a movie role down the road.
In a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Lighty talked about creating opportunities for his stars a Chapstick deal for LL Cool J, known for licking his lips, a vitamin supplement deal for 50 Cent. "As music sales go down because kids are stealing it off the Internet and trading it and iPod sales continue to rise, you can't rely on just the income that you would make off of being an artist," he said at the time. Staff Writer Jim Beckerman contributed to this article.