Hip-hop has moved from the block to the boardroom, and just as the culture grew, so did industry mogul Chris Lighty's career.
The manager to heavyweights including LL Cool J, 50 Cent, Diddy, Missy Elliott and R&B diva Mariah Carey was found dead in his Bronx, New York, home on Thursday morning (August 30) following an apparent suicide. While his death comes as a shock to the music community at large, Lighty will surely be remembered for his triumphant life story.
Lighty, who hailed from the Bronx River Housing Projects, brokered some of the biggest deals music has ever seen but humbly got his start in the 1980s carrying record crates for legendary DJ Red Alert. He made a name for himself and rose through hip-hop's ranks, learning the business under Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen at Rush Management and on the road with the Jungle Brothers and Boogie Down Productions.
Lighty went on to manage A Tribe Called Quest, and his name was often dropped in raps by other Native Tongues affiliates. "What's Chris Lighty if he wasn't such a baby," Q-Tip rapped on A Tribe Called Quest's 1991 track "What?"
Baby Chris, as he was affectionately called, even tried his skills on the mic, dropping a verse on Black Sheep's 1991 album cut "Pass the 40." But Lighty shined brightest in the boardroom.
Lighty would go on to form Violator Management, where he oversaw the careers of some of the biggest stars in music. With a roster that has always boasted A-1 talent, Violator dropped their first compilation album, Violator: The Album, in 1999 and its sequel in 2001.
Chris used his vision to help strike partnerships between top music talents and carefully selected brands. Lighty was instrumental in 50's career from the beginning. In one of his more famous deals, Lighty matched Fif with a little-known company called Glacéau — the company that produces VitaminWater. In exchange for the rapper's endorsement, Fif earned equity stake in the company, a move that would pay tremendous dividends when Coca-Cola acquired the company for $4.1 billion.
Violator didn't just breed famous artists. A number of industry power players like "Love & Hip Hop" reality show producer Mona Scott-Young worked alongside Chris, as did his brothers.
According to Forbes, Lighty merged Violator with Primary Wave Talent Management to form Primary Violator Management last year, in a move that could have potentially brought even bigger deals. But the 44-year-old reportedly owed the IRS $5 million in taxes.