The US hip hop industry, and the wider music business, was in shock yesterday following the untimely death of Chris Lighty, one of the American industry’s most savvy urban music entrepreneurs, and most recently COO of talent management powerhouse Primary Violator. Some US media reports have suggested that Lighty committed suicide.
Lighty was born in New York, and first made connections in the city’s emerging hip hop scene by helping out the likes of DJ Red Alert and KRS-One, at one time simply carrying records for the former. Once established in the scene, Lighty became manager for several prominent rap groups of the mid-80s, including Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.
His talents were spotted by early hip hop moguls Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen, who recruited him to work for their Rush Management business in 1989. He brought the acts he already represented to the company, while also subsequently working with Public Enemy, Brand Nubian, Big Daddy Kane and Eric B & Rakim, among many others. During this time he also occasionally rapped himself.
He founded his company Violator while still working for Rush, and when the latter closed in the mid-1990s several of its clients moved over to Lighty’s agency, which had become the primary project for both him and business partner Mona Scott-Young.
Violator grew into one of US hip hop’s most important management firms, with spin-off divisions focusing on brand partnerships, digital projects and record releases. Missy Elliott, Mobb Deep, LL Cool J and, perhaps most notably, 50 Cent joined the roster of acts Violator represented. Meanwhile, through various major label alliances, Lighty also personally held executive roles at the likes of Jive, Def Jam and Loud Records.
Last September, Lighty announced a major new alliance with another big US talent management company, Primary Wave, a deal which created Primary Violator. Light was appointed COO of the new venture, working alongside Primary Wave execs Larry Mestel and Michael ‘Blue’ Williams. Light said at the time: “I am excited to launch Primary Violator with two of the most talented and respected executives in the industry. The music business is all about innovation and this strategic partnership will create a more diversified company, which will bring forth a wealth of opportunities for our clients”.
After Lighty’s death was confirmed yesterday, Mestel said in a statement: “We are extremely shocked and saddened by this tragic news. Chris was a friend, business partner and most of all, an icon, role model and true legend of the music and entertainment industry. He will be missed by many, and we send love and support to his family”.
The New York Daily News has reported that Lighty died from a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound, possibly following an argument with his ex-wife. Various media have noted that recent remarks by the executive on Twitter were philosophical and downhearted, while the Daily News reckons the Violator chief was facing problems over unpaid taxes. Though there has, as yet, been no formal announcement regarding the circumstances around Lighty’s death.