Chris Lighty, the veteran hip hop manager who guided the careers of Diddy, Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip and Mariah Carey among many others, passed away today at the age of 44. Global Grind, the hip hop website co-owned by Russell Simmons, confirmed the news, with Associated Press stating that the cause of death was an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Lighty had been a central figure in hip hop for more than 20 years, joining Simmons and Lyor Cohen at RUSH Management, the first major hip hop management company, and later co-founding Violator Management, whose roster included 50 Cent, Swizz Beatz and Missy Elliott. Last year, Lighty merged Violator with management company Primary Wave to form Primary Violator and became the company's chief operating officer.
Violator became successful enough to spawn two compilations of the company's roster, 1999's Violator: The Album and 2001's Violator: The Album, V2.0, which released's Q-Tip's "Vivrant Thing" and Busta Rhymes and Kelis' "What It Is."
Simmons penned a brief eulogy on Global Grind, writing, "I am deeply saddened by the loss of a hip-hop hero. Chris Lighty has been a dear friend of mine since he was a kid. Was a brilliant partner in business and I was so proud of all that he had accomplished. He is an amazing example of how a passionate kid from the street can go to the most even-keeled, smart, thoughtful manager in the business and a generous philanthropist. He was loved by everyone who knew him, including me. He will be missed greatly by all of us."
AllHipHop.com reports that Lighty had "an automatic, cryptic auto-reply email message that indicated Lighty may be hospitalized for an undisclosed ailment as of last night." According to New York Daily News, Lighty had gotten into a fight with his ex-wife shortly before committing suicide. The pair divorced last year.
Starting out as a record carrier for influential New York DJ Red Alert, Lighty entered the business as a teenager working as manager for hip hop group the Jungle Brothers. Lighty would become instrumental as the bridge between hardcore hip hop and Madison Avenue, masterminding multi-million dollar endorsement and branding deals, including Busta Rhymes' partnership with Mountain Dew, LL Cool J's deal with Gap and 50 Cent's deal with Glaceau, which netted the rapper an estimated $100 million when Coca-Cola purchased the company in 2007.
Many of Lighty's friends took to Twitter to express their condolences.