I got a text message from Chuck D this morning asking if it was true what he was hearing on Twitter about Chris Lighty’s passing. Hearing about one hero’s death from another one of my heroes was surreal. Not only did it turn out to be true, but it seems Lighty took his own life.
I don’t condone suicide, but I sure do understand it. I hope his pain has stopped.
Chris Lighty was one of the architects of the business side of Hip Hop and urban music. Not many pioneers are still in this business in this economically challenged music industry. Chris was my hero–he was the one that I looked up to when doing deals and making moves for artists. When I negotiated the Cash Money deal at Universal, not only was I trying to secure the best deal possible for Cash Money, but I was also trying to “one up” the Bone Thugs N Harmony deal that Chris Lighty had just renegotiated. Hearing Chris tell me that I had done so was a career highlight.
Chris and Mona (Scott), when they ran Violator together, did the first outside-of-music deal that I’d seen anyone in my world do (the hip hop world). It was with the biggest Super Agent at the time, Michael Ovitz. I remember being both envious and proud. Envious that they were working with someone I’d have killed to have the chance to work with, and proud that a company in Hip Hop had the foresight to enter mainstream America and infiltrate the acting world.
Almost a decade later, I envied Chris when he approached and landed a deal for 50 Cent to co-write a book with Robert Greene, author of one of my favorite books, The 48 Laws of Power. Prior to that, Chris negotiated a deal for 50 Cent to endorse Vitamin Water that surpassed a check as payment and went for ownership. A man after my own heart!!! His deals rocked!!!
In 2011, I secretly rooted for him to survive his marriage and keep it in tact, something I could never accomplish. My commitment to my job, artists, and my companies always won out over relationships, and I had hoped one of us in the industry could achieve balance. He lost that fight which ended in divorce around the same time Violator merged with another management company. Again, work won over the relationship. Booooo! Hissss!
There aren’t many of us left who got into hip hop in its toddler stage. Chris was a pioneer when I arrived on the scene in 1992. I learned from him and watched his career from afar. I never grew close to Chris beyond a conversation here or there. He worked for a label and managed artists, which had the potential to be an enemy of Rap Coalition (although he never was) so I kept a respectable distance. But I loved him, respected him, and cheered him on numerous times. The last time I reached out to him was to congratulate him on his daughter going to college in FL, something that was a huge source of pride for him.
This industry is harder than most and attracts (naturally) some very sensitive people–people possibly attracted by the glitz and glamor of fame and money, only to find out it’s not at all what it seems. The rate of disappointment is very high. It’s also a “hater” industry bred on jealousy and contempt by people with nothing who want something without putting in the necessary work and sacrifice. Chris was often railing against them on his blog and on twitter. This industry is full of sharks and can bring out the worst in others. Chris saw this continually and hated it.
I learned so much from Chris Lighty. He was my hero even though he hated me telling him so.
In a world where “cash rules everything around us,” those of us who didn’t diversify out of music have less money today than we did when we started (in fact, I have less today than I had when I was a college student lol). Because I’m not driven by money, I find it frustrating, but not to the extent of a life and death scenario. Someone who is used to being wealthy could easily find reduced income an unbearable challenge, especially if those around them–their peers, are all doing better and are consistently on the Forbes 500 Lists.
Additionally, if you run a company in hip hop where you’ve made millions your whole career, where do you go from here (a declining industry) to keep earning millions? It isn’t as if we are qualified to start a Hedge Fund or a Tech company tomorrow after managing a rapper today….
I’m not sure I understand what influenced Chris to take his own life, but I loved him and am hoping he’s at peace in a far better place than the current music industry. I loved you Lighty!! Thanks for all of your influence and wisdom that you shared, and most of all thanks for setting the barre so high for this white girl from the suburbs to do what she loves so much.
Founder, Rap Coalition
Chris Lighty Fan and Follower (since 1992)