When veteran hip hop executive Chris Lighty died last Thursday, reportedly from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, I searched for articles with in-depth personal accounts from his friends. I had followed his career for 20 years, but had never met him. I wanted to know more about Chris Lighty the person.
Unfortunately, I only found very brief, generic statements about his of his superior business acumen and honesty. I understand that it's hard to people to get so emotional when they are grieving.
But one of Lighty's former clients Queensbridge New York rapper Cormega recently opened up about Violator management founder, providing the kind of insightful anecdotes I had been hoping to read.
Cormega's eloquent letter not only explains why Lighty found so much success as a pioneer, but it also shows how he encouraged the respected underground MC to push himself to evolve as an artist and as a person even years after they ended their business relationship.
Cormega's remarks provide a great read:
Did you ever see a karate movie where the student impatiently wants to do more than the chores the master gives him, only to later find out that the chores are key parts to the training? That's what my relationship with Chris Lighty was like. He was Steinbrenner, and I was Billy Martin. (He just never fired me as much.) He was a leader. A true leader is measured by the success of those he leads, and Chris led a multitude of artists, producers and DJs to success.
When I came home from jail, I was supremely ignorant. Intelligent yes, but ignorant when it came to the music industry. I thought being a good MC meant I would automatically be successful. I thought I was somebody because I was known and respected in the streets. Chris taught me that respect in the street means nothing in the industry, and that being a MC and being a recording artist are two completely different identities. He advised me not to bring certain friends around. At the time, I didn't understand or appreciate that advice, but sure enough, the same people he spoke of I don't associate with anymore.
He invited me to a barbecue at his house. The invite was for Mega and one person. I came alone and was upset when I saw my peers with more than one guest. Later, I realized why my invite was for Mega and one person. Most rappers aren't known street figures, and I was still one foot in the industry and the other in the streets. Now I understand exactly why my invite was Mega and one person! Honestly, now that I have a house, I would do the same thing. Home is where family is and for him to even invite me to his home was a gesture of trust. He gave me a tour of his house -- just he and I -- and said in so many words this is what it's about, not the streets. He had the basketball court in the back, and when I got some money (years later), I got myself one similar to his. So yes I swagga jacked Chris.
My album sat on the shelf for years, but Chris (and he alone) tried to put me on the "Survival Of The Illest Tour." I wanted to prove to him that I was ready and by most accounts I was. So when the tour was over and I was on a few albums, I felt I was ready, but I didn't feel like I was a priority at Violator, so I told them to release me from my contract. I had to speak to another exec at Def Jam, and finally I was released, free to sign elsewhere or in my case go back to the streets.
I bumped into Chris years later and he hooked me up with someone who wanted to do business with me. I respected that, but I fell out with him months later when I discovered that he was managing my then rival (a rapper you may have heard of). I felt betrayed because Chris was like a big brother to me. I said things in interviews about Violator because I was hurt. Truth be told when I later put out The Realness, it was for the fans, but it was for me to prove to Chris that I had what it took to succeed.
About a year ago, DJ J. Love called me and said my name was brought up and Chris' response was "That's the one that got away." I was happy to hear that he said something positive. Just last month, we saw each other, and it was like we never parted. But now we part!
Chris is always going to be who I aspire to be like in the industry. He represents WINNING, LOYALTY, and CONSISTENCY, and to this day I've never heard an artist say Chris jerked them. Even though Testament wasn't released by Violator, I will say this, he gave me 100 % publishing, and I had nice point percentage. My first deal was the biggest at the time for a new artist. A quarter million and that was because of Chris. My first recording plaque came from Chris. First tour came from Chris, and the first true sorrow I ever felt for a music executive dying is from Chris.