Lighty is at the top of his game.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
This Cameo is from Warren G.
Welcome to Mogul Cameo.
Chris Lighty meets Warren G.
In the beginning, there was East Coast hip-hop. And East Coast hip-hop sounded like New York City.
In New York you’re always walking. You’re always out on the street, always trying to get some place fast. The city’s loud, it’s frantic. You hear the subway clanking, you hear the cars honking and the people yelling. And I’m talking about New York back when hip-hop started. The time when New York was at its MOST New York, its most gritty. Its most intense.
And the music sounded like that too. Take the quintessential New York artist, LL Cool J. By 1985, when he released I Can’t Live Without My Radio, he killed New York sound.
Just stop listen to LL, man. I mean, that drum loop. It’s rapid fire rhymes over rapid fire beats, you think LL is trying to kill you. He’s angry. It’s hardcore and in New York you had to be hardcore.
That’s the sound that Def Jam built. And for a long time, that sound WAS hip-hop, and Def Jam was on top of the world.
But it couldn’t stay like that forever.
Eventually hip-hop moved out West. And when it got to the west coast, it really started to change.
On the west coast you got this one consistent summer weather. You got the palm trees, the sun is out. The women are beautiful. And you drive, it’s a car culture, you’re driving with the top down and you’re smoking that good weed, man, and that comes out in the music.
The perfect example? Dr Dre’s “Nuthin but a G Thang.”
And by the early 90s, that west coast sound was starting to dominate. It sounded fresh, and it was what people wanted to hear.
Think of the groove like it’s floating. Like the beats are still there, but there’s more bass on the vibe. They’re selling a vibe, they’re creating a vibe. The music sounded like summer, forever summer, like cruising, like getting high.
And by the early 1990s, that west coast was starting to dominate everything. It sounded fresh, and it’s what people wanted to hear.
And that’s great if you’re making those funky west coast beats. But it’s not so great if you’re Def Jam and your signature sound is starting to get stale.
Russell: We were ice cold, we were very cold. A lot of the same go-to artists, they were still hot, they were still making a good record, but we had a lot of other artists that we developed that were not hot. And you know, there’s a moment where we were at risk of losing the company.
That’s Russell Simmons, one of the cofounders of Def Jam. If his company was going to survive, they needed some new sounds. And luckily, Chris Lighty had just been hired by Def Jam, and he had his ear to the streets.
I’m Reggie Osse, and this is Mogul: The Life and Death of Chris Lighty, a production of Gimlet Media and Loud Speakers Network.
So Chris Lighty was a Def Jam fan from way back. And landing a job there was his big break. He was NOT about to let his new employer go belly-up. That meant finding a star for them—someone to put Def Jam back on top.
But sometimes saviors come in the most unlikely forms.
Warren G: I used to have tape on my glasses because they would break. I didn’t get no screws or nothing. Back then they weren’t selling screws in the stores, you know. I never did get to an eye doctor to give them my glasses to fix it. So I would put tape on there and had an arm taped on there, like a nerd, just to keep my arm on. And that’s just how it was.
Warren Griffin was a little-known producer from Long Beach, California. He’d made some beats for other artists, and rhymed on a few other rapper’s records. But back in the early 1990s he was unsigned. And he was broke.
Warren G: I had moved back with my sister and was just producing tracks. You know, sitting around on her floor with my MPC60, a crate of records, and my turntable and mixer. Putting samples together and drum tracks. That’s pretty much was what I was doing, ha ha!
And that’s how he’d spend his days. Sitting on his sister’s floor. His shit piled up around him. Dirty socks. Vinyl. Taped-together glasses. And he’d dig through his record collection, looking for beats and samples. Honing his signature sound. Here’s Warren explaining it to my producer, Matthew Nelson.
Warren G: My sound was G funk.
Matthew: What’s G funk, for people who don’t know?
Warren G: Chords. Strings. We brings melody. That’s G funk.
Warren G: Live instrumentation with melodies.
Warren listened to a lot of different shit back in those days. He was into funk bands like Parliament Funkadelic, but he also fucked with cats like Pete Seeger and Michael McDonald.
For example, Warren loved to spin this track. “I Keep Forgetting.”
So there he was. Making beats. Coming up with all of these ideas. But getting no recognition.
To make matters worse, it seemed like everyone else was making moves. Warren’s step-brother, this cat named Andre Romelle Young, had just launched the hottest label on the west coast, Death Row Records. And one of his best friends, this dude called Calvin Broadus, Jr, was signed there too.
If those names don’t sound familiar it’s probably because you know them as Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg.
That’s right: That nerd with taped together glasses listening to Michael McDonald is the step-brother of one of the biggest names in hip-hop, Dr. Dre, and he’s childhood friends with Snoop Dogg! And he worked with them both. He supplied beats for Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop’s Doggy Style. But still no one was checking for Warren. He was just a name in the credits … and if they did know him, it was probably for this skit right here at the start of one of Dr Dre’s tracks …
[deez nuts skit]
So when this album came out, like, the biggest thing that we used to do—we would call people and prank them, and have them ask us a question about somebody. We would respond with “deez nuts.” Well, Warren G was the “deez nuts” guy.
So, Warren’s kinda awkward, but he’s obviously got talent. And he has connections. And he’s making beats for two of Death Row’s biggest artists. But here’s what’s kinda fucked up: Death Row never tried to sign him.
Matthew: Did it hurt your feelings?
Warren G: Yeah, hell yeah. All I knew was being with Snoop and Dre. Being separated from them—which, we wasn’t separated like that—but just not being on the same label and working together like we was was not cool for me, you know, because that’s my family. One thing I can say is my brother was like, “You should go out and be your own man and build your own outside of this, because I don’t want you to get into no bullshit.”
An opportunity for Warren to be his own man arrived when he met a record executive called Paul Stewart. Paul was working as the music supervisor for the film director John Singleton.
Paul: He hired me to music supervise the Poetic Justice film. And so I was in the studio, Death Row studios.
Paul was there to collect soundtrack songs from some of the label’s biggest artists.
Paul: It took a lot of time hanging around those guys to get the song delivered. Dre and them were really high. They weren’t pressed about it. They wanted to do it, because it was John Singleton’s new movie, you know, and all that kind of stuff, but they weren’t super pressed about it. And so I hung out at the studio a lot.
Warren was hanging out at the studios a lot, too. He noticed Paul and sensed an opportunity.
Warren G: It was unusual for a white guy to come in like that in those days. If he’s in here he must be somebody. I heard him talking about soundtracks, and they were looking for songs for soundtracks.
Paul: He craftily kind of pulled me to the side and said—I remember, he specifically said, “Yo, cuz, I got my own stuff.
Warren G: Let’s go outside and sit in the car and we’ll play it for you.
The track was a song Warren had co-written and produced for another rapper, a cat called Mista Grimm. Warren popped up on a couple of verses, but he was pitching himself as a producer here.
Paul: Warren came out. I remember we got into the truck. It was a handwritten cassette and it was Mista Grimm, “Indo Smoke.”
It played through the first verse and hook and I ejected it
Warren G: He said stop.
Paul: Like, it only played for 45 seconds, and he looked at me crazy.
Warren G: You know, I just took as, like, what the fuck is up? You know, like, what’s happening? Like, you don’t like this shit? So I felt a certain kind of way then, but he said, “Let me take the tape.” So when he said, “Let me take the tape,” I was like, “Oh. Shit going ahead.”
Paul: It was an incredibly funky Warren G funk track. That loop is a monster, you know what I mean? And like, you know, and the way—
Warren G: —I was rapping was different from everybody else. Plus, I wrote a lot of “Indo Smoke,” so it’s like, “one for the money, two for the bitches, three to get ready, and four to hit the switches.” Oh that’s the wrong one. Ha ha ha! Hey! “Indo smoke. Pass me the joint so I can take a toke. One puff two puff three puff [coughs] — wait a minute! Gotta clear my throat. One puff two puff three puff four puff five; I’m feeling real high. I’m leaning to the side in my motherfucking ride with the OG gangster glide. [continues rapping] Different. It was different.
Paul: In my career finding certain hits and things—I can remember better than others, you know what I mean? But I distinctly remember knowing, this is fire, we’re doing this. I’m fucking with you. You know what I mean? The whole conversation was pretty short.
Paul knew that the track was hot, but at the time he saw Warren more as a behind the scenes guy. A producer who could help big name artists make hits. So he signed on to be Warren’s manager. His next step, get him working with a label.
To promote Warren, Paul sent the song to all of the influential people in his Rolodex. This is the 90s remember…people still used a Rolodexes.
Paul: My insider A-list. You remember, Reggie? You used to get these kind of things. You know what I mean? These are your industry insiders. They might work at another label or whatever, but they’re in the industry. They’re an important, right, person. They might be a DJ, they might work at the source. You know what I mean? We mailed out about 30 of these.
This is where Chris Lighty enters the story.
Paul: And I remember clearly, Chris Lighty called me back after he got his, and he said, “Hey, who’s the guy in the third verse rapping?” And I said, “Oh that’s Warren G.”
Lighty wanted to know who the unknown rapper in the third verse was because he saw—and he heard—something that all of the other industry executives and even Warren’s his own brother had missed.
The unknown producer with the broken glasses could be a star.
Paul: I think Chris was really smart to recognize that this guy could be a big artist. And I got to give him all the credit, like I said, me and John, who were managing him, didn’t even have that vision. I know I didn’t. So I just think Chris was such a visionary that he understood what a big artist Warren could be. He saw a good-looking young cat from the west coast that had flows, that had a personality, that could produce, that was affiliated with Dre and Snoop. I mean, what wasn’t to see? You know what I mean? Like, I smacked my head a million times afterward going, “Man, how come Chris was thinking about this before me, in some regards,” you know what I mean?
Coming up after the break, Chris turns on the charm and tries to sign Warren G …
Welcome back to Mogul.
Once Chris had decided that he wanted to sign Warren G, he knew it wasn’t going to be as simple as collecting a signature. Back then, west coast artists rarely signed for east coast labels, and vice versa. Warren G would have to be convinced that he should break tradition and head to Def Jam. And it was Chris Lighty’s job to do the convincing.
But signing Warren G wasn’t going to be a case of simply collecting a signature. Back then, west coast artists rarely signed for east coast labels, and vice versa. Warren G would have to be convinced that he should break tradition and head to Def Jam. And it was Chris Lighty’s job to do the convincing.
Warren G: Chris came out, I ate dinner with him. He told me they wanted to sign me. I said we’ll see how it pans out.
Matthew: How did he try to persuade you? What sort of stuff was he saying?
Warren G: I can’t remember everything he said. I just know everything we did was—it was late out, you know, and I had never been treated to dinner or, you know, showed a good time like that back then. Super shit in Beverly Hills. You know, big steaks I had never seen before. Seafood. Just different things I had never had, like sauteed shrimps and stuff like that. I had shrimp, you know, in my neighborhood, but it was different, you know. Rice pilaf, and just different. Shit, you know, and somebody bringing your drinks to the table. You know, that shit was live, we did a lot of that, eating and bossing up because that’s how it was.
Rice pilaf wasn’t Chris Lighty’s only method of persuasion. He had other tricks up his sleeve when it came to impressing Warren G.
Warren G: They flew me to New York. I’d never been on an airplane. Me and the twins.
Matthew: Who were the twins?
Warren G: They was one of my groups. Told my buddies, “Y’all come with me.” The first night I stayed there I was just chilling, enjoying being in New York, able to order whatever I want. Steaks, whatever, liquor, in my room. Me and the twins we was lifted. We went down to Times Square. We was on 47th and 2nd at the Embassy Suites. So the next morning I get a phone call. And I was like, “Hello?” And it was like, “Hey, this is LL Cool J. I’m downstairs, come here.” So I was like, “Huh?” So hung the phone up, so he called back and was like, “Yo, this is LL. I’m downstairs, man. Come down, I want to holler at you.” So I said, “Okay.” So I called twin. I was like, “Man, come with me down stairs. There’s some dude sitting up here telling me he’s LL Cool J. Let me see who the fuck this is. So uh, back then you could get on the plane with guns. I had a glock. And so we went downstairs. Sure enough it was LL Cool J. Jump in the car with him.
Matthew: Did you have the gun with you?
Warren G: Yeah. He didn’t know it. Because he probably wouldn’t have let me get in the car. We went to Queens, went shopping at the mall. He took me to his house. Showed me how he started, with all his clothes laid down in the basement. Just really laid it out to me on how, you know, how his story was. How he built himself and how he, you know, what it took. And I thought that was the greatest shit ever, because I was—I am still, and I was a humongous fan of LL Cool J. So that really, like, blew my mind. Just to meet him and be in the fucking car with him. All of that came from working for Chris Lighty, man.
Warren signed with Def Jam. And that Michael McDonald track he was fucking around with in his sister’s crib … Warren transformed it into this.
That song, “Regulate,” became a massive hit. I was in Brooklyn when it dropped and you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing that song.
As for Warren G. what do you do when you go from sleeping on your sister’s floor to the penthouse? You party. You fucking party hard. And that’s exactly what Chris and Warren did.
Warren G: We had some good parties together. I gotta say, you know, like how NWA had Wet n Wild? This is Def Jam. Bikinis. Shorts. Summertime. That was the mode. We rented a mansion. We had shuttles, people would park in Beverly Hills. We had the shuttles bring everybody up the mansion. We were the ones that started that, by the way. Everyone in Hollywood, from movies to hip-hop, and music in general, they do that now. We started that, me and Chris Lighty. Everybody else followed after that. So that’s how we had it, man, and we had it to where everything was laid out when you come in the door. You got a bar. You walk up another level, you can eat live barbeque, steaks, whatever you wanted was right there. And you go up again, you got the dance floor. And we had other side rooms. Cards, dominoes, whatever. And just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of beautiful ladies. Me and Chris was in the middle of it all.
I’m going to tell you what the trip about the whole thing was. There was a lot of the beautiful ladies, from New York to the west coast, they used to always say me and Chris looked like brothers. Everywhere we went, they used to think we was brothers. He loved that, because a lot of women was probably on him because of me. Ha ha ha! Hey! But it was all good, you know what I’m saying, because Chris was a cool dude and for somebody to say that we look alike, that was cool.
Matthew: Did you listen to Warren G at those parties?
Warren G: Oh, we was banging everything. Warren G. Death Row shit. Everything. Even 80s. Rock music. Everything was playing at our shit. You know, because it wasn’t just blacks, it was blacks, whites, Mexicans, Asians, Dominicans, everything. We played everything, man, we played all types of good music. That was my friend and boss. That’s how we used to do it. Man, have fun, man.
Warren G’s first album sold over three million copies. It went triple platinum. The album made Warren a star. And all of the money it brought in managed to save Def Jam.
Russell: For sure, nigga, we was dead, we was gone. So it was a very special moment for us, because it gave us a little breathing room, it gave us freedom, and it gave us billing. It made the company hot.
Charnas: They were 33 million dollars in debt before Warren G. And then when Warren G came out, they had a 33 million surplus, right? So good job, Chris Lighty, right?
Warren G: You goddamn right. I probably wouldn’t have signed with them if I had known that they was in debt, you know, back then. I’m just happy to be a part of history. You know, and like I said, Chris Lighty opened that door. Lyor Cohen opened that door, and Russell Simmons opened that door. Chris was the guy who did the groundwork.
Def Jam made the most of its second chance. In the second half of the 1990s, the label had a new golden era with acts like DMX, Method Man, Ludacris, Foxy Brown, and Jay Z.
But the deal didn’t just change the course of Def Jam’s history, it changed Warren G’s life, too.
Warren G: But I just wasn’t taking no shit back then. I was really hot-headed back then. You know. And if it wasn’t for Chris Lighty, and the Def Jam situation I’d probably be in jail right now. You know, probably for shooting somebody.
Matthew: You really think that?
Warren G: I know it. And so they pretty much saved me from going to jail, and I saved them from crumbling as a company.
By the mid-1990s, Chris Lighty had established himself as a force at Def Jam. He was promoted to Vice President of A&R and it seemed like he’d become the guy that Lyor Cohen wanted him to be. The executive. The businessman. Corporate Chris Lighty, not Violator Chris Lighty.
So it’s true that Chris had come a long way. But he hadn’t entirely left the streets behind. Not because he didn’t want to. But because he couldn’t.
Let me break something down that I know from personal experience: In hip-hop there is no clear way to differentiate between the streets and the boardroom. No matter how high you rise up the corporate ladder, most of the music still comes from the street. And a lot of the people you work with are street. There’s this dance that goes on between both worlds.
And the street exploded back into Chris’s life when the Warren G deal led him on a collision course with the most feared man in hip-hop: Death Row Records’ co-founder, Suge Knight.
A few things to know about Suge Knight. First off all, he is not to be fucked with. He was a huge guy. Built like a NFL player. In fact, he was one. He played two games for the LA Rams back in 1987.
And when it came to his business, Suge ran his label, Death Row, like a gang. They had a reputation in the music industry for using strongarm, violent tactics to get what they wanted. Death Row didn’t just use lawyers to negotiate, they used baseball bats and guns. There’s this famous story that Suge dangled Vanilla Ice by his ankles off a 15th-floor balcony to get him to sign over royalties to his hit record“Ice Ice Baby.” Now, that’s a bit of a tall tale— Ice denies that it ever happened. But still, it’s a big part of the legend of Suge Knight.
So, not the kind of man, or label, you want to clash with. But that’s the position Chris found himself in when he and Lyor were in Los Angeles at a De La Soul concert.
Suge and his entourage were there too. Chris explained what went down in an interview he gave to Def Jam biographer Bill Adler.
Chris: Suge comes in saying, I want to talk to Lyor. I need to talk to Lyor.
Bill: And Suge’s not happy.
Chris: Suge’s not happy.
Suge and Death Row were pissed Warren G signed with Def Jam. Nevermind that they didn’t try to sign him themselves, that they totally ignored him. What mattered was that Chris had gone into Suge Knight’s backyard and taken something without permission. You don’t do that. And now that Chris and Lyor were in LA, on Death Row turf, Suge wanted to do some Death Row-style negotiating with them.
Lighty saw trouble brewing and told Lyor: Head for the exit. He’d handle this one alone. It was time for the Violator to return.
Chris: I was like you know I’m involved in the whole Warren G thing.
Bill: That’s what he says to you.
Chris: I say that to Suge. I’m involved in the Warren, so you can talk to me. And he’s like, “No I wanna talk to Lyor.” And I was like, “No, you can’t talk to Lyor. Lyor left. I just told him to leave. So now you gotta talk to me.”
Lighty wasn’t just protecting his mentor here. He was protecting the reputation of Def Jam. Get played by Suge, and the label would never live it down.
Chris: Like he woulda tried to embarrass Lyor. Because it’s the white guy. It wouldn’t have been a good look for Lyor. I don’t know what would’ve happened, him smacking Lyor or something like that. We’re the mighty Def Jam, Lyor can’t get smacked.
So there Chris is, toe to toe with Suge Knight. Now Lighty’s a big guy, 6 foot plus. But he’s not in the same weight class as Suge. Chris did have a friend with him, though. And his friend was packing.
Chris: And my friend is there. And I said yeah it’s gonna be okay.
Bill: Who’s your friend? Big?
Chris: My friend is not big, he’s actually a little shorter than me. His name is Light, but what he’s holding there’s nothing light about it. So Light has no problem showing him what bodily harm he could do to Suge at that moment.
Bill: Suge possied up?
Chris: Nah, he was possied up. But they would’ve caught it too. Who wants to go first? You’ve seen the movie. You’re definitely getting shot. You’re next. I might get hurt. But you’re definitely getting hurt. There’s no doubt you’re getting hurt.
Bill: You spelled it out—
Chris: I didn’t have to say anything! I said, “My man’s doesn’t feel that way.” So he just pulled out and said, “Hey.” And I said, “So you’re not gonna see Lyor tonight.”
Chris convinced hip-hop’s most famous bully, Suge Knight, to back down. And in doing so, he saved Def Jam’s reputation once again.
You might think that getting into it with Suge Knight is as intense as it gets. But you’d be surprised. Now that Lighty had proved himself, the pressure is just going to get more and more and more intense.
Next time on Mogul: Even more chaos comes Chris’s way.
Bubba Barker: And I think he just loved it so much. He just let that shit consume him, from sunup to sundown.
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, you heard him earlier in the episode. Now, one of our favorite moments that didn’t make it into the episode was when Matthew asked Warren G one too many questions.
Warren G: Same shit I just told you. So what else do you want me to tell you? How I walk to the bathroom and piss and was drinking Hennessy and shit and probably eating food? What! What else do I need to tell you? What socks I had on? Ha ha ha!
Matthew: Do you remember?
Warren G: No, I don’t. Ha ha ha.
Nice work, Matt.
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 Prince Paul and Don Newkirk, with additional music by Open Mike Eagle, Haley Shaw, Matthew Boll, and Nana Kwabena.
If you like what we’re doing here, please do rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. It’s a great way to help new people find out about the show. Come on man … do it for the culture!
Got Internets? Got Twitter? Follow us for all the latest news and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the show. Our handle is AT Mogul.
Until next time, continue to raise the bar.
Fat Joe is one hell of a storyteller.
Reggie: Man, basic question, man. Why do they call you Fat Joe?
Fat Joe: Man, since I was a little kid, I was overweight. And everyone in my building and in my projects always called me Fat Joey. So I took it as a term of endearment and just always rocked out with it.
I’m Reggie Osse, and this is Mogul: The Life and Death of Chris Lighty. A production of Gimlet Media and the Loudspeakers Network.
Alright, so we’re halfway through this story, but we really wanted to pause to do something a little different before we tell the rest of Chris’s tale. One of the people we interviewed for Mogul was Fat Joe. And those of you who’ve heard an interview with Fat Joe will know that the man is an incredible storyteller. And when we spoke to him, Joe dropped a couple of ill stories about Chris that we couldn’t fit into a standard episode. But we still wanted to share them with you right here, in full. Before we get into this, a warning. If you have strong reactions to descriptions of violence, you may want to skip this episode.
When Chris Lighty first met Fat Joe, it was in the early 1990s. Chris was building his reputation as an executive, but he still kept his ear to the streets. And that’s where he found Fat Joe, in the streets of the boogie-down Bronx, the same streets that Chris came from. Back then, Joe was starting to build a reputation as a rapper. But a lot of people in the hood had heard about him for something else. Fat Joe was a drug dealer. Now a lot of rappers sold a little weed on the side, and spit about being on El Chapo status and such, but in Fat Joe’s case, this was no exaggeration. Fat Joe was official, a big-time drug dealer. And when Chris first went to meet him to discuss the possibility of signing him, that’s exactly what he was doing.
Fat Joe: So at the time, I was hustling, you know, like, big drugs, you know, and so I didn’t really take rap seriously. And Chris Lighty came to my spot, to my spot. Like a drug place, one of my drug locations. I got a Benz there, Beemer there, I got gold chains on, I’m watching—
Reggie: Was it an apartment or like a—
Fat Joe: Nah, it was in the streets. So I had, like, a building, it was a old coffin factory, and we had it all cemented up, and we had the hole in the wall, and the picture would be by the wall. We would double cement it and put steel so the police won’t get in there. And they would pitch through the fucking wall. Pitch means like, “Yo, what you want? A bundle of dope?” “Alright, so a hundred dollar.” So we had a guy behind the door, almost like if you went to a check-cashing place. You never even could see him. And then we would control the crowd outside, like, you know, two at a time, two at a time, keeping them moving like that, and watch out, you know. It was like a fortress. So the cops really never, never, never busted nobody in there. Too much—you couldn’t even get in there! Like, you know what I’m saying? He came to the spot, my nigga. Yeah! He walked up on me. He didn’t walk up with no fancy car. No crew. One Deep. He was like, “Yo, what’s up.” He was like, “You Fat Joe, right?” And I was like, “Yeah, I’m Fat Joe.” He was like, “Chris, I’m Baby Chris,” and I was like, “Yeah, I know who you is.” And he was like, “Yo, I think you could be a dope rapper. I think you could be,” and I was like, “Word?” And he like, “Nigga, I’ll sign the contract in the middle of the street!” He came with the contract. I think I made 35,000 or some shit. And I signed, and I was showing everybody the contract, being, “Believe me.” Like, all the hustlers and from that point on, I left the drug game and I just went legit.
Just because he left the drug game didn’t mean he could let his guard down. Fat Joe still had enemies, and one day, his past caught up with him. This is the story of how Fat Joe got shot.
Matthew: Could you tell us—
Fat Joe: Tell the story?
Matthew: How did you get—
Fat Joe: You ain’t never hear that story, bro. That’s the realest story. I don’t tell those stories, because then you’d think I lied. You know, but it’s a fact.
There was a kid I used to pick on all the time. He owed me, like, ten dollars, and I would see him all the time and tell his friends, “Yo, that nigga owe me ten dollars. That nigga owe me ten dollars.” So I would, like, fake-threaten him. I really didn’t want to hurt him. But I would fake-threaten him every time I saw him. One day, it was the Fourth of July, and we was having a picnic. And we were playing softball, and I had maybe a hundred niggas with me. We had maybe 15 guns in the park. Of course, I go to get my Diet Pepsi. I’m at the store. The kid is standing out there with a black leather trench coat. It’s like a hundred degrees.
Me, 2016, I would’ve knew something was funny. I would just, I thought I was invincible. The hottest, craziest nigga on earth. I went and bought a Diet Pepsi like this size, when there was still bottles. Now, I’m saying, “Yo, man, what the fuck you doing out here, man?” And he had this, like, deranged face. And he was, like, looking at me, smiling. I’m like, “My nigga, you got my ten dollars, nigga?” And he was just looking at me like he was lost, like, in his zone. So man, he pulls out the gun. And when he pulled out the gun, I still looked at him and said, “Now, my nigga, what the fuck you doing with that gun. You fucking crazy?”
So I hit him in his forehead. So hard with the Diet Pepsi that I watched sawdust, the bottle dissolved into sawdust. That’s how hard I hit him. And he was a black dude, and there was a fucking white line looking like lightening. It was like white meat. And then the blood started coming, and I looked at his face. He just started laughing. And I knew that was it. He cocked shit back. So at that point, I knew, “Oh shit. I gotta run.” It’s crazy, because I turned around and started running. It was the Fourth of July, so people in the street and everything. So I’m running in the middle of the street. He’s shooting. Right?
And I’m running in the middle of the street, and at one point, I could’ve run to the left, where my car was at. I had two guns in my car. I could’ve run to the left. And got away. I would’ve got away without getting hit. But there was a bunch of little kids playing there. And in that split second, that I thought about, “Should I go to the left and go, get away? But I know these little kids are going to get hit?” And I thought about that, very split-second that I thought about, “Fuck it. Keep running straight.” Finally, I got hit twice. That very split second.
Reggie: Where’d you get hit?
Fat Joe: In my arm and in the side. Now, I got a white t-shirt on. The whole shit was red. So I’m thinking—he’s chasing me down—I think he’s behind me, like, “I know this guy gotta kill me.” Like, I know he gotta finish this job, like, you gotta kill him. So as I’m running, my shirt is all red, my mother’s out there with my son Joey. My baby Joey’s in the carriage. So as I’m running, I see my mom’s looking at me. This was crazy, man. I remember seeing my son in the carriage. So then when I get to my car, I remember going under my seat on the passenger side, and pull out the guns. It felt like it was a movie, like I was like—I think he’s going to jump on the hood and air me out, right? So I remember grabbing the gun, the guns and going, “Yeah, nigga!”
And went I went like this, I was like, “Ohhh.” I started fainting. And then my Uncle Willy jumped in the driver’s side and drove me to the hospital. My Uncle Willy was driving me. He was dumb-nervous. And I was like, “Yo, yo, I can’t get blood on my seats!” It was a new Beemer. Like, “Yo, I can’t get blood on my seats, Uncle Will!”
So then they took me to the hospital, they cut my clothes off. The whole Bronx knew. It was like, they actually said I was dead. So it was, like, big hype.
Fat Joe went into surgery and made it out on the other side alive. When he was recovering in the hospital, Chris LIghty came to see him. And he had only question for his artist.
Fat Joe: He said, “You good?” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m good.” He was like, “Okay. You ain’t fuck up the money.” He broke out, b, I guess that was some gangster shit! I was like, “Yo, this nigga ain’t give a fuck about me, man. He just came over here straight business.” Now, I always say he’s a piece of shit. A businessman. I told him that. I said, “Yo, Chris, you’re a piece of shit.” He was like, “Nah, nah, I had to make sure my money was straight.” Ha ha ha!
Next week on Mogul, we return to Chris Lighty’s story. And he’s got more chaos headed his way.
Bubba: Well, Busta would be downstairs. That’s how slick he was. He would be downstairs, because he would call the office. He’d be like, “Yo, let me speak to Chris.” If I tell him that he ain’t here right now? And he’d say, “You lied to me? You don’t even know me, homie! You going to lie to me?”
Reggie: Was he serious?
Bubba: Very serious!
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 Menna, and Peter Bresnan. Our senior producer is Matthew Nelson. Our editors are Lynn Levy, Caitlin Kenney and Chris Morrow.
Sound design and mixing by Haley Shaw. This episode was scored by Nana Kwabena with additional music by Haley Shaw.
Special thanks to Tuma Basa, Global Head of Hip-Hop at Spotify for creating the Mogul companion playlist, celebrating artists who’ve worked with Chris Lighty. Check it out now on Spotify by using key word, “Mogul”.
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Reggie Ossé, known as Combat Jack, first rose to prominence as founding partner of the small NYC law firm Ossé and Woods, where his clients included such legends as Jay-Z, Damon Dash, DMX, and Sean “Diddy” Combs. He worked briefly as an executive at MTV, then began blogging under the name Combat Jack, building a following around his riveting tales from the golden age of hip-hop. He was then managing editor of The Source Magazine, and now dedicates himself full-time to The Combat Jack Show and the Loud Speakers Podcast Network.