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. He was 44.
A spokeman for the New York Police Department told the Associated Press that Lighty was found at his apartment in the Bronx with a gunshot wound to the head, and was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities said the shooting appeared to be self-inflicted.
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.
"We are extremely shocked and sadden by this tragic news," Mestel said in a statement. "Chris was a friend, business partner and most of all, an icon, role model and true legend of the music and entertainment industry. He will be missed by many and we send love and support to his family."
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.
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 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.
Billboard.biz will have more on this tragic news soon.
Shortly after news of his death broke, many in the music industry took to Twitter to air their thoughts and feelings.
Hard one to grab Yo damn.... My most humble prayers to the family of Chris Lighty!
- Ghostface Killah (@GhostfaceKillah) August 30, 2012
hard to believe it is true but RIP to my friend Chris Lighty. gone too soon
- Scooter Braun (@scooterbraun) August 30, 2012
RIP Chris Lighty. Today, we lost a hip-hop hero and one of its greatest architects... bit.ly/SWcK8Y
- Russell Simmons (@UncleRUSH) August 30, 2012
So very sad about Chris lighty..Great long time friend,fellow bronxite and peer...incredible businessman and person
- Jeff Robinson (@thejeffrobinson) August 30, 2012
Rest peacefully Chris Lighty, my prayers go out to family and loved ones! Dear God please have mercy
- Rihanna (@rihanna) August 30, 2012
I Would Be Nothing Without YOU!!! My Kids Appreciate YOU God Bless Chris Lighty
- FAT JOE (@fatjoe) August 30, 2012
R I P Chris Lighty SMH to the mongrels that have made the BLACKmusic industry a depressing game to drag such good cats into a pit of bullsht
- Chuck D (@MrChuckD) August 30, 2012
Damn, RIP Chris Lighty - the biggest rap manager ever
- Sandy Lal (@sandylal) August 30, 2012
THIS> RT @ chinoxl: Chris lighty ,since my child hood , since Zulu nation, great spirit, purveyor of hiphop , Rest in power king,this hurts..
- ICE T (@FINALLEVEL) August 30, 2012
R.I.P chris lighty!! Chris is hip hop, a friend & a gr8 person! When I came in the game he acknowledged me ... m.tmi.me/wg22p
- DJ Khaled (@djkhaled) August 30, 2012