Part 4: Gucci Boots

July 13, 2017

Lighty is at the top of his game. He’s got the fancy Manhattan office, the high-end designer clothes, and a roster of famous clients calling him 24/7. It all looks perfect. But in this episode, we discover something awful going on behind the scenes.

WARNING: This episode includes a description of domestic violence. If you or someone you know is involved in an abusive situation, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to help. Get more information at www.thehotline.org or by calling 1-800-799-SAFE.

CREDITS: Mogul is hosted by Reggie Ossé. This episode was produced by Eric Eddings and Meg Driscoll, with help from Isabella Kulkarni, Peter Bresnan, and Jonathan Mena. Our senior producer is Matthew Nelson. Our editors are Lynn Levy, Caitlin Kenney and Chris Morrow. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Sound design and mixing by Haley Shaw. Music direction by Matthew Boll. This episode was scored by Nana Kwabena, with additional music by Prince Paul, Don Newkirk, and Haley Shaw. Special thanks to Cameka Crawford, Jina Moore and Bruce Shapiro.

Show transcript

Dave: The DMX situation was really my fault.

Reggie: What happened? That’s what we keep hearing.

Dave: Oh man, that’s the craziest shit.

That’s Dave Lighty, Chris Lighty’s brother. The story he’s about to tell is about a little misunderstanding that happened back in 1998, when Dave was working with Chris at Def Jam. Someone asked Dave for his opinion on the new DMX album. At that time, DMX was the biggest name in rap.

Dave: They were like what you think of it? I was like: he had hotter joints on his mix tape. Me personally, but I like it. And I guess they thought that , was a diss. Somebody in the room thought I was trying to diss and ran back and told DMX.

That’s how Dave tells the story. Eric Nicks, who worked with Chris, heard another version. He heard that Dave said something a lot less flattering.

Eric: DMX had a complex about being called a crack head. He had a serious complex back then about being called a drug addict.

Reggie: Because in certain instances, I’m not saying he’s a crack-head but sometimes DMX moves crackish.

Eric: Ya. DMX got wind of what was said and all he heard was Lighty.

Whatever version you believe, DMX was pissed. And DMX, he’s not the kind of cat to take a diss and just let it go. This is a guy who’s got a rap sheet almost as long as his set list. So DMX is like, fuck this, Imma fuck Lighty up. Problem was, he was after the wrong Lighty. He thought it was Chris Lighty who said this shit.

 

Dave: Chris was in the office one day and DMX was in the office.

Eric: DMX seen Chris and was like, Yo.

Dave: Chris turned around and DMX sneak punched Chris.

Eric: Boom!

Reggie: Punched him?

Eric: Punched him in the face.

Reggie: Broke his tooth.

Eric: Knocked his tooth out, clean out. All hell broke loose.

In a weird way, getting punched in the face by DMX was a measure of just how far Chris had come. He’s no longer knuckling up with cats in the club, he’s getting sucker punched by the biggest rapper of the time. Talk about a come-up.

But Chris was furious and he wanted to fuck DMX up. So he rounded up a group of his friends, the old Violator crew, and they went looking for X. So they could handle this thing like they woulda done back in the Bronx. Problem was, things were different now.

Eric: You know, everybody’s well off. DMX is well off. So it’s not like, “Oh he lives over here and is gonna be on this corner tonight, like the regular hood dude.” He could be anywhere. He could be at the Four Seasons, he could be at the Peninsula. He could have traveled, he could have left the city.

Reggie: He could be in Boston, he could be in Miami, he could be in Brazil.

Eric: He’s got money, it’s different. We can’t pull up on a set and light it up.

Reggie: I bet you he was in Japan.

But then Lyor Cohen came up with an idea for how to settle things. One that would appease Chris Lighty, and keep DMX from getting hurt. DMX would give Chris a cut of the royalties from his next album. And in return, Chris wouldn’t come after him.

Dave: At first he was, we’re going to tear — it was, oh, it was going down. And after the conversation it was, alright, we’re gonna do some business shit here …

Eric: Then he got a big check.

Dave: And you know, I’m not going to disclose all that, but it was the worst punch DMX could ever have thrown in his life … ha ha. And, you know, it cost him a check.

We don’t know exactly what the terms of the deal were … but if Chris got a check, it would’ve been a BIG check. DMX’s next album, Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood, went platinum three times. That’s over three million albums sold. So any piece of that is gonna be a lot of dough. It’s kind of like Chris turned DMX into a hip-hop version of the tooth fairy. Except instead of finding a dollar under his pillow, it woulda been a check with a lot of ohs.

I’m Reggie Osse and this is Mogul, the Life and Death of Chris Lighty, a production of Gimlet Media and the Loud Speakers Network.

Around this time it was like Lighty was unstoppable. Everything he touched turned into money. Even a punch in the face. The dude just stayed winning.

But I’m gonna tell you right now, everything was not as perfect as it looked. And in this episode we’re gonna get into some darker shit. The kind of shit people don’t want to talk about, and the kind of shit people don’t want to hear about, either. And I gotta to warn you, there’s violence involved. Not the kind of violence we’ve been hearing about earlier in the series. A different kind. And we’ll get to all that, but first we have to tell you what happened next for Chris.

In 1999, Chris decided to leave Def Jam and go on his own. He wanted to focus all of his attention on his own thing: a hip-hop management company he’d been running on the side. That company’s name? Violator. That name is, of course, a throwback to the crew Chris ran with back when he was carrying crates for DJ Red Alert.

 

With Chris running it full-time, Violator took off. And by the mid-2000s it was established as one of the industry’s leading management companies.

The Violator office was on 25th Street in Chelsea. It was inside this handsome 16-story building. Bubba Barker joined the company as an intern in 2006. Here he is describing exactly what it looked like inside:

Bubba: You come up the elevator and there were these big silver doors, like a silver covering. I came in and you gotta ring a bell. You come in and there are these yellow walls. You can’t see the walls, because there are so many plaques on these walls. The plaques are covering the walls —

Reggie: Like wallpaper.

 

Bubba: You can’t even see these walls, but you know there’s yellow behind them.

Those plaques are for gold and platinum records. That’s albums that sell over 500,000 and a million copies. Albums by artists like Q Tip, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Missy Elliott, Capone and Noreaga, and high profile R&B singers like Mariah Carey and Maxwell. And all of these stars were repped by Violator Management.

Bubba: And then you had the cubicles where all the junior managers and their interns were, at that time. Then you would pass the realest interns, who were just waiting for somebody to say, “Come do something for me.” That’s where I sat.

All of those interns and junior managers, they were all desperate to impress the man in charge. Chris Lighty.

Bubba: I said to myself, go introduce yourself to him. Let him know you here and you ready to work. So when I went to see him, he was coming out of his office and obviously he was on three phones at one time. He had on a sheepskin jacket, it was beautiful. He had on a white shirt, some jeans, some Gucci boots, he looked about his business, he looked like he meant something. And I was like, “How you doing. My name is Bubba. I’m an intern here.” He was like, “What’s up, that’s what’s up. Get ready to work.” He just walked out and that was it. You know what I mean. That was the first time I ever spoke to him.

Chris didn’t just look about his business, he was about business. And he wanted everyone who worked at Violator to be the same way. You had to be on top of your game, 24/7. 365.

Bubba: He was there 8 o’clock every day. Rain, sleet, hail, or snow. Like, why are you late dude? Chris don’t gotta be here until 9. It’s 9:02. You could have missed a call. He would say things like that, not to be stern but just to say, think about it. Just think about it. You could have missed a call at 9:01.

And you don’t want to miss that call, because the guys on the other end of the line were not fucking around. Guys like Busta Rhymes. Busta’s a Brooklyn rapper known for his cartoonish videos and a voice the sounds something like gravel going through a blender. I mean that in a good way … Busta’s voice is iconic.

But while Busta’s voice and his flow might be hard, he was one client Chris had to handle very delicately.

 

Bubba: He’d call the office just to see the vibe. And he’d be like, “Yo, let me speak to Chris.” And you gotta recognize his voice, don’t ever get him twisted who he is. Don’t say who is this, because he’ll disrespect you. So I’d be like, “A’ight hold on.” So you go see Chris. “Got Busta on the line.” Depending on the day or the time, he could say, “I’ll call him back,” or he could say, “I ain’t here.” But the thing with Busta’d be, Busta’d be right downstairs, and come upstairs if I tell him he ain’t here right now. He’d come upstairs and check. Because he’ll see Chris’s driver outside. I didn’t know he was outside. You know what I’m saying? So he’d come upstairs. “Yo who answered the phone for me? You know what I mean? It was him! You lied to me, homie? You don’t even fucking know me!”

Reggie: Was he serious?

Bubba: Very serious!

These artists, they were on Chris all the time. When he managed someone, it wasn’t just about marketing, promotion, and contracts. It was their lives. If someone need to be bailed out of jail, he bailed them out. If someone needed money, he’d loan it to them. He was there for the big stuff, and the small stuff, too. Down to the hems of their pants.

Nore: I’m Puerto Rican, ain’t no doubt about it.

That’s the homie Noreaga. He had some major hits in the 1990s and, like me, is now a podcaster. Nore was managed by Chris and he told my producer Matt and I this story that gives you a measure of just how involved Chris was in the lives of his clients.

Nore: I’m getting married. This was my first marriage. My second marriage right now. God bless my wife, I love you baby girl. Come home to me right now. But my first marriage. I’m getting married. And I’m Puerto Rican. I stick my fucking hems — the bell-bottoms, I stick the bell-bottoms in my socks and that’s how I walk down the aisle.

Quick visual, Nore is saying he tucks his pant legs into his socks. And he told us he likes to stick his cash in there, too.

Nore: Because you know, because that’s how I do it, if I had pants on right now, alright, one would be in my socks, and the other would be in my money. You know what I’m saying? It’s just how I was raised. I can’t do it. So I’m doing it. I’m spending $250,000 for this wedding, and I still got 500 bucks in one sock, 500 bucks in the other sock. So Chris comes and goes, “Oh no.” This nigga pulled my shit out my, he pulls the shit out of my sock. And my mom’s, you know, I got black family, my whole black family stood up and started clapping.

 

Matt: What do you think that says about him as a person, that story?

Nore: About Chris?

Matt: Yeah, what does that tell us about him?

Nore: He just played the father figure. He didn’t know he was playing the father figure. I didn’t know he was playing the father figure. But he way beyond my management, he was way beyond business, you know what I’m saying? Way beyond that. And shit, I wish he was here to appreciate it.

I talked to a lot of the artists Chris worked with, and they said similar things. The artists that Chris managed genuinely seemed to love him. They trusted him. They felt like he understood them. Knew he wanted what was best for them. These bonds were with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, they were a big part of why Chris and Violator reached the top.

It wasn’t just artists who leaned on Chris, though. A lot of people in the industry relied on Chris, and for more than just fashion advice, too. By the mid-2000s, Chris had been in the game for over 15 years. He was becoming an elder statesman, the kind of guy you’d go to if you needed advice. Sophia Chang was a manager too, she worked with RZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and a Tribe Called Quest. And she and Chris, they were good friends who went way back.

Sophia: I called Chris my Rock of Gibraltar. Chris was the place I always knew I could go when I needed to feel safe. I pitbull all fucking day long as a manager. I go hard all day long. I beat the shit out of people all day long. But I am still a woman and I still do want to feel safe. You know, I would go to his office, and he had these big shoulders. You know, and he would be sitting in his chair and I would just grab him around the shoulders. And he would let me do it. He’s not that guy. He’s not the touchy-feely guy. He was never like, “Oh, Soph, come and give me a hug!” Quite the opposite. But he always let me do it. Because he knew I needed it. I would go to his office and and I would just literally cry on his shoulder. And I have really, these tactile memories, you know. And I remember he always, he favored blue chambray shirts. And I remember I would cry on his shoulder and I would get up—his shirts would just be tear-stained. And remember, if I called him my Rock of Gibraltar, I was not alone. He was that to many, many, many, many people.

Chris had a lot of close relationships. With his clients, his coworkers, his friends. He also had a family of his own. He had three children. But although he’d been in a couple of serious relationships, he’d never been married.

That was about to change, though. Around this time, Chris met his future wife, Veronica. They ran in the same circles, shared a few friends, were both part of the hip-hop scene. They had another thing in common too — both of them were parents. And in 2002, they decided to blend their families and get married.

 

Reggie: When did you hear that they were getting married?

Jessica: When he called me on Memorial Day weekend while I was in the middle of producing one of Puffy’s white parties, losing my mind in the Hamptons. I remember I was driving, and he called me. I could see my phone ringing; I didn’t pick it up. He called me again. Three times in a row, so I was like, “I gotta pick it up.”

That’s Jessica Rosenblum. She’s one of hip-hop’s premier event planners. In fact, the reason she knew Chris so well was because they used to run events together at the legendary hip-hop venue, the Tunnel. So Jessica picks up and she’s like …

Jessica: “What’s up.” And he was like, “Uh uh.” And he used to do this a lot, he’d call me and start stuttering at the beginning of the call. Only when he wanted something, he’d be like, “Uh uh, I need something.” I was like, “I know, that’s what’s going to come after ‘uh uh, I need something.’” I was like, “What?” “I need you to do my wedding.” And it was, like, in two months.

Coming up after the break: Chris gets married. And the wedding was no ordinary wedding.

::MIDROLL::

Welcome back to Mogul. All right, let’s pick up where we left off, Chris’ wedding…

D Nice: To receive an invitation to this wedding was like receiving an invitation to the royal wedding, dude, you know, like, everyone’s going to be there.

That’s Derrick Jones, better known as D Nice. He was on the guest list, but honestly, he was probably the least famous person on there. It was like a roll call of hip-hop’s biggest names.

D Nice: Everyone from Lyor, Lyor was his best man, Jacob the Jeweler, Puff, 50 Cent, Nore, the Violator crew. The wedding was in Miami at the Vizcaya Museum.

Jessica: Which is a historical estate in Miami. It’s beautiful. And I really produced a spectacular wedding. I looked at it that I produced a spectacular event.

D Nice: We had never seen anything like that, you know. We all had rooms at the 4 Seasons. It was my first time ever staying at a hotel like that. It was a beautiful wedding, it was a beautiful moment.

And when the time came for Chris and Veronica to say their vows, Chris didn’t say, “for richer or for poorer.” He said, “for richer and for richer.”

And, of course, as well as being so lavish, this wedding was also …

D Nice: So hip-hop. Just the music alone. It was great, it was fun, rocking classic hip-hop. If you knew Chris, hip-hop played everywhere. Old school hip-hop especially. Throughout his house. In the cars. And that wedding was definitely an old school hip-hop vibe.

During that wedding, you could clearly see the happiness. This was what he was looking for. And in all those years after that, I wanted to emulate that happiness that my guy had, you know, like, that happiness that he was feeling. Because everything that he did was for his wife. And every move that he made was to empower his family and to be better for his wife. That’s the truth.

Not everyone was as impressed with Chris and Veronica’s wedding. In fact, one of the most important people from Chris’s past, DJ Red Alert, actually skipped it for the same reasons so many people were impressed by it. To Red, the fancy setting, the star-studded guestlist, the extravagant ceremony … it didn’t make it great. It made it seem kind of fake.

Red: I didn’t care for the wedding. Nothing against him. I didn’t care how the whole thing was arranged.

 

Reggie: How was it arranged?

Red: To me it was an industry wedding.

Reggie: How was it arranged though?

Red: Number one: none of us was in the wedding.

Reggie: The violators, close friends. Okay.

Red: You had Lyor Cohen at your best man at your wedding. I call that an industry wedding. And for all who’s a part of it, is industry-affiliated. When you have industry people in your wedding and not your true friends, I can’t support that.

I get it. Weddings, b. It’s not just your big day. Everyone in attendance thinks it’s their big day too. Someone feels snubbed because they’re not in the wedding party. Someone doesn’t like the Hors d’oeuvres.

But some people didn’t think Chris and Veronica should be getting married at all. They had concerns that went way beyond the canapes. Here’s Eric Nicks.

Eric: I said, “Chris you’re making a mistake.” And I was like, “Yo dawg.”

Reggie: Because why was he making a mistake?

Eric: Because this is not the girl you marry. This is the girl you have fun with. This is how everybody viewed her. I’m sorry, she can hear it, I don’t care. If she’s mad because I’m telling the truth, fuck it. I’m just going to go tell the truth. This is not, this is not who you marry?

Reggie: And what would Chris tell you?

Eric: He told me, “Yo, she makes me happy, I don’t give a fuck what everybody thinks.”

Despite what Chris said, despite the big beatiful wedding, there were problems. And Eric wasn’t the only one who told us about them. As we spoke to more people, we started to hear about a different side of Chris and Veronica’s relationship. And it wasn’t pretty.

Debby Coda: He did cheat on her. Everyone knows that. I don’t think he did it in an embarrassing way to her, like, he wasn’t public. She did find out.

 

That’s Debby Coda, she worked for Chris at Violator. We heard that Chris was unfaithful from other people we spoke to. John Turk, one of Chris’ closest friends, put it a little more blunty:

Turk: His dick stayed on tour, man. Eesh. Ha ha. Like I said, that’s where they got the name Violator from. Girls.

Debby: I think the more and more she found out, then the more and more she let the poison take over in her. I could also understand her, in some extent. Being little bit outspoken and and a little bit rude and aggressive or, you know, not giving a fuck, you know, that people are not watching or hearing turned into something on a different level.

Lots of people told us the same thing: that it wasn’t unusual to see Chris and Veronica in heated public arguments.

Debby: Inside clubs, inside events. Like, she didn’t care where they popped off.

We reached out to Veronica and some other people who were close to her. But they all declined to be interviewed.

The people who did talk to us, Chris’s friends and family, they painted a very specific picture of who they thought Veronica was and how they saw the relationship.

You hear all that shit, and you start to build up a story in your head. Boil all this shit down into one simple narrative. That Veronica was the bad guy.   

But then we found something that changed all of that.

Late in our research process for this show, one of our producers found a police report. I’m just going to go ahead and read it to you. But before I do, I have to restate that if you have a strong reaction to descriptions of violence, especially against women, you might find this disturbing.

The report is dated August 28, 2005. And this is what is says:

Defendant and victim are husband and wife of 3 years. Wife notified police. Defendant busted her lip with an open fist. Victim had numerous bruises where defendant dragged her on the floor and her face was swollen and red. Upon this unit’s arrival we entered the room and victim was on the floor crying with her dress ripped. Victim stated the defendant beat her up several times before and there’s been several police reports. Defendant was arrested.

The defendant was Chris. Chris had busted Veronica’s lip with an open fist. Chris had left numerous bruises.

We don’t know exactly what happened next, but the documents we found showed that Chris was charged with battery, but the case never went to trial.

After finding all this out, I had no idea what to do with this story. I’ve been working on this thing for over a year. I’ve been living it and breathing it. Fuck, I mean I even have a picture of Chris Lighty on my desk. And I built up this portrait in my head of who he was and what he meant to people. And this police report didn’t fit into that portrait. It smashed it all to pieces.

It was so hard to reconcile that report with everything else I’d heard about Chris. The Rock of Gibraltar did this? The guy who so many people trusted? The guy who so many people respected? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. So I decided to talk to someone who deals with this shit all the time. I called Cameka Crawford. She’s the chief communications officer for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Reggie: As we roll out this story, everybody’s concern is, like, what should we be careful about? Particularly with regard to this particular issue, the domestic abuse. What should we avoid saying, what should we be careful in terms of telling this story?

Cameka: I think that we have to step back, and, you know, I don’t know and can’t comment on their situation, but, I think the biggest thing that people should be careful about is placing blame on the victims. And I know it seems obvious, but it’s like, “Well, what did that person do? Well, there had to be something there. He or she must have been doing something, because I knew this person to be this way so what did the victim do to provoke that?” But no one provokes or does anything that deserves emotional, physical, financial, any type of abuse.

I also knew I had to talk to the people closest to Chris about this report. Chris’s family had been a part of this project since the beginning, so I wanted to get their response. I started with Nicole, Chris’s sister.

It’s a call that, in truth, I didn’t want to make. I mean, how do you tell somebody, “We found a police report that says your brother hit his wife?”

Nicole: Hello?

 

Reggie: Hey Nicole, how are you,  Reggie.

Nicole: Oh hey, Reggie, how you doing?

Reggie: How’s everything?

Nicole: Everything’s good, good, thanks for asking. It’s raining cats and dogs in Charlotte, but everything’s alright.

Reggie: So listen, I wanted to share with you, you know, we’re really digging deep because we’re about to finish, to wrap this story up. And you know, just digging to see what happened with your brother during his last day. Something came up and it really really affected me. And I felt it was my responsibility to share it with the people closest to him. We found this police report with regards to a domestic incident with your brother and his wife. I just wanted to share that with you because I don’t know how to handle this thing.

Nicole: Okay, what is the date?

Reggie: It’s 28th of August, 2005.

Nicole: Mmm, okay, 2005.

 

Reggie: 2005.

Nicole: I mean, their relationship was so volatile, I’m not surprised that there were so many different incidents. Their relationship was so volatile. Have I ever seen them in a fight or anything? No. But am I aware of them having arguments? I mean, yes. I can’t even tell you that I’m surprised, but you know. And I’m not condoning it. I don’t know what the incident is, if it’s something that him, is it him attacking her or her attacking him?

Reggie: Yes, it was basically him attacking her.

Nicole: Oh, that she filed?

Reggie: Yes, the police showed up and they intervened. You know, she had wounds on her lips and bruises and the whole 9. And like I said, and when I got this I, it’s weighing very heavily on me. And I just wanted to share it with you. Just to see what your thoughts were, like, how you feel about this.

Nicole: Oh, you know, I’m definitely not going to condone any man hitting any woman. But I also don’t condone a woman hitting a man, which I know incidents of that as well. So I mean, if it’s public record, it’s public record. That’s not anything that I, I definitely don’t want to paint a tainted picture, a tainted picture of him being an abuser.

I tried to talk to Veronica about this, but she declined to be interviewed. And Chris, of course, can’t comment.

That feeling that Nicole had: she didn’t want THIS to be the thing that Chris was remembered for. Other people said the same thing. And it got me to think, the truth is NONE of us want to look at Chris this way. It’s awful to think of somebody you admire being violent towards their spouse. It’s something that we’ve wrestled with before when we hear horrible stuff about celebrities. That shit is always hard to reconcile because we love what they do, and sometimes we confuse the work they do with who they are. This police report, we have to look at it. We gotta stare it in the face. Because it’s the truth. It’s a part of who Chris was. And it’s a part of this story.

If you’re out there and you or someone you know is going through something like this, know that there are resources for you. Here’s Cameka Crawford with more information on the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Cameka: If anyone is listening, whether you are the victim of a relationship or you are the abusive partner or you are a friend or family member, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is there 24 hours, 7 days a week. We don’t close. And you can reach out to us by calling 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-799-7233. Or you can chat with us on our website at www.thehotline.org.

You’ll find all of this in our show notes.

Coming up on Mogul we go deeper and find out more about what Chris hid from the world.

Sophia: How did you not see it? We all ask ourselves these questions, right? How did you not see it? He was one of your closest friends. You loved him so dearly. You talked about so much and you didn’t see it. But I realize that I think he parsed out the information. I don’t think he told any one person everything.

New episodes of Mogul come out every Friday. Mogul is a production of Gimlet Media and the Loud Speakers Network.  This episode was produced by Eric Eddings and Meg Driscoll, with help from Isabella Kulkarni, Jonathan Mena, and Peter Bresnan. Our senior producer is Matthew Nelson.

Our editors are Lynn Levy, Caitlin Kenney, and Chris Morrow.

Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Sound design and mixing by Haley Shaw. Music direction by Matthew Boll. This episode was scored by Nana Kwabena with additional music by Prince Paul and Don Newkirk and Haley Shaw.

Thank you to Cameka Crawford, Jina Moore, and Bruce Shapiro for their advice on this episode.

If you like the show, please do rate and review us on Apple Podcast. It’s a great way to help new people find out about the show. Follow us for all the latest news and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the show. Our handle is AT Mogul.

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If you're counting the hours until Part 5 drops...here's a quick preview, about one of the biggest deals of Chris Lighty's career.🥤