Momentum: R.I.P. Chris Lighty – Father x Leader x Mogul x Inspiration
Momentum is the word of the week.Create it.
— Chris Lighty (@clighty) August 27, 2012
So I’m sure that by now you’ve heard the story. The story goes that hip-hop mogul Darrel “Chris” Lighty, after a heated argument with his estranged wife, around 11:30 am on Thursday August 30th 2012, shot himself in the head behind his South Riverdale home in the Bronx. Before shooting himself he proclaimed loud enough for a “witness” (within earshot) to hear “I’m tired of this”. Cops found Lighty, 44, lying face up on the basement patio in a pool of blood with a 9-mm. pistol at his side. His 17-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son were in the W. 232nd St. home and left when the argument erupted. They were in a park nearby when Lighty, who has three other children, stepped outside and pulled the trigger.
Whether I believe that story or not (NOT) is not what I’m here to discuss. What I want to talk about is the man behind the story who happened to be my first “behind the scenes” music mentor and inspiration, whether he knew it or not.
Chris Lighty, co-founder of Violator Management/Brand Management/Violator Records, became the backbone and architect to the business side of the hip-hop industry in the late 1990s. Long before helped Three Six Mafia earn an academy award, before he brokered a $60 – $100 million dollar deal with Vitamin Water for 50 Cent, before he brokered 6 figure soda deals for Busta Rhymes & A Tribe Called Quest, before he Don King’d LL Cool J’s groundbreaking GAP commercial (“How easy is this?”), before he was an integral part of Russell Simmons’ Rush Artist Management in the 1980s pre Def Jam era, he was turning down a college scholarship to earn money for his family as an electrician while he carried crates of records for top hip-hop DJ Red Alert in his spare time. Being around hip-hop culture since its inception with such humble beginnings shaped Lighty’s perspective of how artists and people in general should be treated.
In 1999, when I was 13 years old, I met Chris Lighty & a host of other music industry insiders at a teen entrepreneurship initiative. It was this kind of laid back version of a scared straight program my mother signed me up for; a boot camp of sorts for “troubled youth” who were looking to enter the music industry. We broke into groups of 10 – 15 and went for sessions tailored to our interests; I used to rap. Most of the people I met that day shook hands and gave us a sentence or two during their 10 min speeches full of buzz phrases about getting into the “game”: “It’s not as easy as it looks” “stay in school” “have a backup plan” “when I was your age” etc. We had heard it all before.
This was not Chris’ method of getting his point across. Introduced as Mr. Lighty, when most of us had no idea who he was, he took a commanding position atop a chair then a desk and spoke to us for 30+ minutes about an array of topics. Phrases that stuck with me like: “know your worth”, “residual income”, “rap is music, hip-hop is culture”, “don’t believe the hype” (Note: I wasn’t into Public Enemy much until later on) “plan for tomorrow today” and more, those are just what I remember.
“When you’re growing up in the Reagan era, you really learn the value of a food stamp — and you never want to go back there”
We were asked to introduce ourselves and why we were there in a circle at the end of his session. The other children told semi criminal stories about theft, juvenile detention, etc., I stood up and said “Someone in school threatened me about after school so I started a fight in the hallway and got suspended”. I wasn’t last but I might as well have been last with the look he gave me after my story. Before he left he took a few minutes with each of us, well I should say each of them. When it was my turn, Chris gave me that same look he had given me in the circle and said “You look like you just made a mistake, you don’t belong here right?” I just nodded and he continued “The person who gets the credit isn’t always necessarily the one who starts the trend, it’s the person who gets seen first. Use your head”. I had no idea what that meant entirely, but I do now.
I only saw Chris probably 5 times after this at other events and I don’t know if he remembered me or not but he always stopped for a handshake so maybe he did.
I stopped rapping a few years later to pursue a career behind the desk as opposed to in front of the lenses. In 2008 I started I Am Not A Rapper LLC and iSpit Marketing & Consulting Solutions, which I didn’t take seriously until January 2009, at the request of 100s of people on The Facebook who said I should write for myself instead of the Zuckerberg Gestapo. Chris started a blog, www.chrislighty.com, on the suggestion of longtime friend and rapper/deejay, D-Nice. Not the same thing, but similar.
From that site, Lighty would expound on various topics of measure; New York hip hop’s heart, if the music biz was for you, and the overall climate of his life.
“I have 16 to 18 hour days and try to juggle my business, a wife, a family and people think it is easy,”
He says in a post from June 21, 2010.
“Everyone should chase their dreams, but remember it is up to you to make your dreams come true.”
Chris’s June 23, 2010 post, titled “chaos and mayhem . . . hip hop,” continued with the theme of messages that resonated with me as this was apparently aimed at twisted stories involving his clients.
“YOU HAVE SEEN THE SENSELESS LOSSES THAT WE HAVE HAD IN HIP HOP … THE CHAOS AND MAYHEM WILL DESTROY HIP HOP.”
In his final blog post on Aug. 23, 2012 Lighty vented about the “rat race we call hip-hop” and “the rumors and ridiculous stories” surrounding his clients again. “LETS STOP CONTRIBUTING TO THE CHAOS AND MAYHEM,” he wrote.
“THIS ISN’T ROME WE DON’T NEED TO SEE BLOOD. WE HAVE THE WWF FOR THAT. THIS ISN’T HIP HOP.”