September 06, 2012
By KAREN MATTHEWS Associated Press
Hip-hop royalty including LL Cool J and Sean “Diddy” Combs packed a standing-room-only funeral chapel this Wednesday to pay their respects to music-industry mogul Chris Lighty.
Mourners at the Manhattan funeral home also included Missy Elliott, Q-Tip, Russell Simmons, Busta Rymes, 50 Cent and Grandmaster Flash.
The 44-year-old Lighty was found dead in his Bronx apartment last week with a gunshot wound to the head. The medical examiner ruled it a suicide, but his family has asked for a second autopsy.
Speakers at the funeral, who included family members as well as LL Cool J and Busta Rhymes, didn't allude to the circumstances of Lighty’s death. Instead they stressed his legacy in the music world and his life as a family man.
Mourners filed past the flower-bedecked coffin where Lighty was laid out in a dark suit. A slideshow depicting his life appeared on a screen. By the time the service started, the chapel had become as crowded as a hot nightspot, with security guards only letting people in if someone else left.
Lighty had been a part of the hip-hop scene for decades, working with pioneers like LL Cool J before starting his own management company, Violator. But he was in the midst of a divorce and had been having recent financial and personal troubles.
A player in the hip-hop game since he was a child disc jockey, Lighty rose through the ranks at Rush Management, Simmons' first company, before eventually founding Violator Management in the late 1990s.
His roster ranged from Academy Award-winners Three 6 Mafia to Elliott to up-and-comer Papoose and perpetual star Mariah Carey. He made it his mission not so much to make musical superstars but rather to create multifaceted entertainers who could be marketed in an array of ways: a sneaker deal here, a soft drink partnership there, a movie role down the road.
In a 2007 interview with The Associated Press, Lighty talked about creating opportunities for his stars — a Chapstick deal for LL Cool J, known for licking his lips, and a vitamin supplement deal for 50 Cent.
“As music sales go down because kids are stealing it off the Internet and trading it and iPod sales continue to rise, you can’t rely on just the income that you would make off of being an artist,” he said at the time.
Survivors include his two children. He and his wife, Veronica, had been in the process of divorcing. The case was still listed as active, but electronic records show an agreement to end it was filed in June.
Lighty’s brother Dave has said he wants a full investigation of his brother's death, which he isn’t sure was a suicide.
Forensic pathologist Michael Baden, the former head of the city medical examiner’s office, said Wednesday that he performed a second autopsy at the request of the family and was awaiting test results.
Baden is paid to give independent opinions on deaths and has testified in several high-profile cases including the O.J. Simpson trial.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the department is still investigating and will wait until the full toxicology report is back, but he reiterated that the medical examiner's office has said it’s a suicide.
Grandmaster Flash referred to medical examiner’s findings outside the chapel.
“Whatever the pressure was that made him take his life had to be tremendous pressure,” he said. “I just wish that Chris would have reached out and said, ‘Flash, I need some help, man.’ ... He didn’t reach out. It's really sad.”
Simmons posted an online appeal to the music industry Wednesday to fill the void left by Lighty by mentoring young hip-hop artists.
“Chris was a shining example of playing the game, while always keeping it real,” he wrote.