Chris Lighty, the savvy entrepreneur who founded Violator Management and one of the key executives in hip-hop history, has died. The news was confirmed to Billboard today by a source at Primary Violator Management. Circumstances of his death were unconfirmed at press time, but New York Daily News said it was an apparent suicide.
Violator was a pioneering management/marketing/record label/multi-media entertainment conglomerate. The powerhouse merger between that company and Larry Mestel's Primary Wave Talent Management firm took place last September; at the time of his death, Lighty was chief operating officer of Primary Violator.
The roster of artists handled by Violator following the merger includes Mariah Carey, Soulja Boy, 50 Cent, L.L. Cool J, Busta Rhymes and Sean "Diddy" Combs. Among the artists that Primary Wave brought to powerhouse merger were Cee Lo Green, Ginuwine, Goodie Mob and Eric Benét.
"R.I.P my manager Chris Lighty, I know you're in a better place," Soulja Boy tweeted. "This sh-t got me so fu--ed up big bro we just talked on the phone 2 days ago."
Diggy Simmons, another of Lighty's artists, also expressed his heartbreak on Twitter. "Still in shock," he wrote. "More than just my manager but my family. Love you and gonna miss you Chris. R.I.P"
Violator first came to prominence in the late 1990s, under the direction of Lighty and former co-owner/president Mona Scott-Young. The company's roster at the time boasted Missy Elliiott, Fat Joe, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and L. Cool J.
In addition to providing management and marketing expertise, Violator released two compilation albums: 1999's Violator: The Album and 2001's Violator: the Album, V2.0. The albums respectively spun off two R&B/hip-hop top 10 hits: "Vivrant Thing" featuring Q-Tip and "What It Is" featuring Busta Rhymes and Kelis.
Lighty, together with Primary Violator Management president Michael "Blue" Williams, appeared on Billboard's inaugural Urban Power List (Billboard, July 7). At that time Lighty told Billboard at the time that next on their agenda was brokering more brand extensions for their clients and breaking artists on multimedia platforms. "We're constantly trying to move the culture forward," said Lighty.
A Bronx, New York, native, Lighty got his start in hip-hop carrying records for DJ Red Alert, then worked under Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen at Rush Management, which was rap's first major management company. He was an occasional rapper in a group in the late 80s/early 90s called the Violators, and was a member of a the Native Tongues crew with Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, at the time. He even rhymed on Black Sheep's 1991 debut album.
Check Billboard.biz for more updates on the tragic news.