This morning“Baby” Chris Lighty was found dead outside his Riverdale, Bronx apartment from an apparent self-inflicted gun wound. The news comes as a tremendous shock to those in what’s left of the post-hip-hop urban record industry that Lighty helped to build.
He began his career back in the 80’s rolling with Kool DJ Red Alert, carrying his crates of vinyl to club parties and acting as enforcer for the DJ and their crew, the ‘Violators,’ when the parties turned violent. When he performed as a DJ himself, it was as ‘Baby Chris’ because despite being tall, his cherub-y, handsome face always seemed like it to belonged to a teenager. Lighty later managed many of the Native Tongues acts, including A Tribe Called Quest.
Like a lot of young hip hop executives, Lighty learned the record industry fundamentals at Def Jam Records under the leadership of Russell Simons and Lyor Cohen, but real success and influence came as a result of his entrepreneurship; he and Mona Scott’s Violator Management, and then Violator Records, worked with innovators like Missy Elliot and Busta Rhymes and later brokered multi-million dollar endorsement deals for 50 Cent.
Even as the young mogul helped shape what became a decidedly more corporate culture in hip hop, Lighty was passionate about integrity—especially when it came to New York hip hop. On his blog in 2010, after rumors about 50 Cent-related violence, he ranted about the street violence that always managed to crossover into the business of hip hop. In all caps he wrote: “YOU HAVE SEEN THE SENSELESS LOSSES THAT WE HAVE HAD IN HIP HOP. I WILL NOT CONDONE ANY VIOLENCE. I AM A BUSINESS MAN IN THE BUSINESS OF BRANDING MY MUSIC AND EXPANDING HIP HOP.”
His last tweet remembered DJ Scott La Rock, the original DJ for KRS One’s Boogie Down Productions and one of rap music’s first fallen stars. A week before, on August 13, Lighty tweeted that slavery was alive and well in the music industry, the space in which he’d spent his adult life working.
Most recently there were talks of he and Cee Lo’s manager Michael Blue Williams joining forces to begin a publishing company.
Lighty was obviously not without his problems, too; he was divorcing his wife with whom he reportedly argued as he was moving out of their home just prior to shooting himself.
Bronx rapper Fat Joe tweeted that Lighty helped ‘save his life.’ Joe is in a sea of heavyweights to proclaim Chris Lighty’s impact on their lives. Today, the urban music industry community lost a true pioneer.