Chris Lighty, hip-hop pioneer, commits suicide

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Hip-hop mogul Chris Lighty, 44, born Darrell Lighty, died the morning of Aug. 30 in his single-family home in Spuyten Duyvil from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to police.

Officials said Mr. Lighty pulled the trigger at approximately 11:30 a.m., while in an argument with wife Veronica Lighty.

The medical examiner confirmed Mr. Lighty’s death to be a suicide.

They said he was found dead inside his residence at 670 W. 232nd St. with a 9-mm pistol next to his body.

It is unclear how long Mr. Lighty lived in Riverdale, but real estate website Trulia shows the single-family home was purchased for $1,145,000 on March 6 of this year. When reporters arrived at the scene there was already a U-Haul truck parked in his driveway, which was later loaded with what appeared to be boxes of his belongings.

Busta Rhymes and DJ Funkmaster Flex were among the veritable hip-hop royalty spotted on the usually quiet street, which for hours was transformed into a tearful red carpet of sorts. 

 “[Busta] ain’t in the mood to do no talkin’,” said a man who appeared to be Mr. Rhymes’ bodyguard. The rap star was seen sporadically entering and exiting a silver Rolls Royce Phantom parked nearby.

It’s no wonder that the famous flocked to the place where Mr. Lighty took his final breaths. It was Mr. Lighty who breathed the first life into many of their careers. 

The Bronxite worked with everyone from LL Cool J  and 50 Cent to Sean “Diddy” Combs and Busta Rhymes while serving as chief executive of Violator Entertainment, a music firm based out of New York specializing in managing hip-hop and R&B artists. 

Mr. Lighty is responsible for branding hip hop. He encouraged the talents he represented to take endorsement deals, which not only earned them major wealth, but also allowed them to non-conspicuously cross into the mainstream. For instance, Mr. Lighty was instrumental in facilitating the endorsement deal between his client 50 Cent and Glaceau, the maker of Vitaminwater, according to Dan Charnas, who wrote about the partnership in his book The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop.

He was immortalized with a verse in Black Sheep’s “Pass the 40” and in Tribe Called Quest’s song “What?” with the line “What if Chris Light wasn’t such a baby?”

Though Mr. Lighty was helping his clients bring in the big bucks, he might have been facing financial woes of his own, according to news sources that claimed he owed about $5 million to the IRS.

Nelson Prevost, a used car dealer who said he lived in the building across from Mr. Lighty on Bronx River Avenue and knew him since they both were 15 years old and attending Monroe High School, confessed that he could never imagine Mr. Lighty having money problems. 

Mr. Prevost said he saw the hip-hop exec in 2011 at a party in the Meatpacking District.

“He was driving a brand new Ferrari and was surrounded by bodyguards,” he said. “But when he saw me, he came over and gave me a big hug. Chris was a great guy.”

According to Mr. Prevost, Mr. Lighty didn’t forget where he came from, even after he made it big. He said he would return to the Bronx River Day Care Center and give away school supply vouchers and sports equipment to the kids.

Mr. Prevost insinuated that hip hop has been a consistent fixture in Mr. Lighty’s life.

“We all used to hang in the same circle,” he said. “Even when he was a teenager, he was already promoting the event. You could tell which direction he was going in life.”  

Many people who appeared to be close friends and family of Mr. Lighty’s — including, as the day wore on, men wearing Zulu Warrior Security jackets — went to great lengths to conceal details regarding the hip-hop entrepreneur’s death.

At around 3 p.m. Thursday, Mr. Lighty’s body was transported to the van of the medical examiner. But his entourage held up unfolded cardboard boxes, even creating a curtain of one black and  one white sheet, in an attempt to block photographers.

An unidentified woman wailed hysterically behind the curtain as the body was removed from the apartment. Other friends stood in the driveway, crying as they consoled each other.

Mr. Lighty’s death has shaken many players in the entertainment industry. They tweeted about their shock and grief regarding what happened to their friend. But Mr. Lighty’s death has also affected Bronx residents who knew him since he was young, like Mr. Prevost, who when told about his childhood friend’s suspected suicide said, “I have the creepy crawlers,” running the palms of his hands back and forth over his forearms.

“Certain people when they reach a certain pinnacle of success become jerks,” Mr. Prevost continued. “That wasn’t the case with Chris.”

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