August 30th, 2012. A day that shook hip hop.
Today we’re gonna be talking about suicide. Please take caution when listening to the show. And if you’re feeling depressed or you just want to talk to someone, in the US you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Sophia Chang: You know I saw Chris less than 24 hours before he died. I have very specific memories of the day.
There are certain days you never forget. All the details are carved into your memory. What you saw, what you heard, what you felt. And no matter how many years drift by, it’s all still there. Crystal clear.
For Sophia Chang, a close friend of Chris Lighty, one of those days is August 29th, 2012.
Sophia: It was hot. I was telling him about, I think about an apartment I was thinking of renting. He had just had his haircut. This guy used to come to his office. He would do it 2 or 3 times a week. Uh and we were walking. His office was on 16th St., just west of Irving Place, and he said, “Soph, come walk with me to the sandwich spot. I’m going to go to the sandwich spot. He was wearing a Black pique cotton like a polo shirt. He had a little powder on his shoulder, on his right shoulder. I dusted it off and said, “You got your hair cut today?” He said, “Yeah.” And then he said to me, “Come see me tomorrow, Soph.” Everything seemed totally normal as it often does.
The day after Sophia dusted off Chris’s shoulder, he was found dead at his Bronx home.
The official cause of death: a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. No one saw this coming. And when the news broke, there were many who refused to believe it.
And even now, years later they still don’t. Chris was a strong, powerful man. A rich man. A successful man.
Only a handful of people close to Chris knew what we know now: that his marriage was falling apart. That he was drowning in debt. That a huge loan had just come due. That there was a warrant out for his arrest for unpaid child support. That despite all his public success, he was barely holding it together.
On this episode, we look back at Chris Lighty’s last day.
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.
It was August 30th, 2012. Labor Day Weekend. Tiffany Lighty, Chris’s eldest daughter, was leaving her father’s house in the Bronx to catch a flight to Toronto. And she wasn’t the only one who was leaving.
Tiffany: Veronica kept saying it, like, all week, like, “Okay, Tiffany’s leaving on the 30th to go to Toronto. Like, Chris, you’re leaving also on the 30th. You’re getting kicked out of the house. Like, you need to go and figure it out or something.
Things had been rocky between Chris and his wife Veronica for a long time. There were the affairs. And then, as we know from the police report we told you about earlier, there was the abuse. And now after a decade of marriage, it looked like things were coming to an end.
Tiffany: There were boxes in the car, I remember, in the Range Rover. I remember putting my hands, like, blocking the sun light and leaning on the window of the Range Rover and saying “Dad, look there’s boxes in the car, like, she’s serious.”
Reggie: She’s packing your shit up.
Tiffany: Yeah. He just, like, “Gah.” You know, just sighed and was just like shook his head.
Tiffany had spent the summer after her college graduation living with Chris and Veronica in the Bronx. It had not been a good summer. It was a tumultuous time, with Chris and Veronica fighting a lot. She told us about one of the fights she witnessed:
TIffany: They were fighting in the house. She was hitting him. And I was there and I saw it and, and me pulling her off of him and then her just kind of like, threatening to hit me. And then then he was like, “Whoa Veronica, like, you know, like, no.” We’re not doing this. Then they stopped fighting and then me going into my room and then I remember texting her niece who I was close to. And telling her, like, “I can’t be in this house any more.” Um, you know, even though I had just graduated college and obviously, you know, like, you go home after you graduate and you end up, you know, living at home for a bit, you know, figuring out what you’re going to do and where you’re going to live and what you’re going to do for a living. And so I was like, “Well, I can’t do that here.”
I wanted to talked to Veronica about this, but she declined to be interviewed.
So on August 30th, Tiffany packed up her suitcase and walked out the door.
Tiffany: This is before Uber so he put me in a car service. I gave him a hug. And like, someone asked me, like, “When he gave you that hug, like, did it feel like the last hug?” And I was like, “Not at all.” You know when you hug someone with like one arm versus two? It was a one-arm hug. It was, like, a see-you-later hug. It was normal.
And I got in the car and then I was texting him, like, saying I got to the airport. I got to my gate. And then I remember opening an email that he sent me and he said, “I’m sorry for how everything turned out. Like, like I really am sorry for it.” I read that and I took it as, “Okay, he’s apologizing for the chaos and mayhem that I just had to witness, really all summer while I was there. I called him just to say, like, “You don’t have to apologize to me, Dad. Like, don’t apologize to me at all. Like, it’s not—I clearly see it’s not you.” And then he was just quiet on the phone and I didn’t really know what to say. Because what do you say to, like, your dad who’s getting kicked out. And I felt so bad leaving but I just didn’t want to be there because it was just so painful and, like, horrible to witness. In retrospect now, you know, I’m like, “Oh my god, like, I wish I would not have left that day.
While Tiffany was in the air, Chris’s assistant, Bubba Barker, was on his way into the Violator offices.
Bubba Barker: I was on the train and Lyor’s assistant called me while I was, you know, passing through the train, I got reception. I’m like, “Hey, what up, Cat.” She’s like, “Bubba, what’s going on? Where are you?” I’m like, “Well I’m on the train going to work.” She’s like, “Why are we getting these calls saying, you know, Chris hurt himself? I’m like, “I don’t know what you talking about.” She’s like, “Yeah, Lyor’s losing his mind in here and somebody said Chris hurt himself. You need to get to the office now. I jumped off on the Canal St. Two stops before I had to get off. Ran from Canal st to our office at the time. I get to the office and my colleagues, you know, other assistants are downstairs like Bubba don’t go upstairs. I’m like why…. Chris Killed himself.
Bubba walks out into the crowded Manhattan streets. He’s numb. In a daze. He can’t believe what he just heard. It must be some kind of mistake. Some error. Chris killed himself? Not that Chris Lighty. Not his Chris Lighty.
Bubba: I start screaming, screaming on 8th Avenue and 16th St. Screaming at the top of my lungs. Somebody thinks it’s a bomb threat because all the people around me in front of the Starbucks turned around looking at me. But I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know what happened.
Meanwhile, Tiffany had just landed in Toronto. When she turned her phone on, it wouldn’t stop ringing. People were all calling and texting her with the same message: Come home, Tiffany. You have to get back to New York. That was all they’d say, because no one wanted to be the one to tell her that her father was dead.
Tiffany: One of the first calls was actually my little sister. And in between me getting calls I was trying to call my dad and so and he wasn’t picking up. Then I get a call from Veronica’s sister saying, “Tiffany you need to come home. Tiffany you need to come home.” And I’m like, “Why, what, what happened, like, are they fighting? What happened?” Like, I just kept asking, like, what happened and then Veronica got on the phone briefly and she’s like, “Come home, you need to come home.” And I could hear, like, she’s kind of, like, upset, and then …
Bubba: I had to call Tiffany. She was like, “What’s up Bubba?” I didn’t know what to say to her. Bubba what’s up?
Tiffany Lighty: And he’s like, “You need to come home.” And then I just was like, “Alright, like, what’s going guys. Like, you need to tell me—like, I just landed here. I’m just like, I’m just, like, blurting things out, like,
Reggie: You have no idea.
Tiffany: I’m just trying to guess what happened. I was like, “Did this happen, did that happen.”
Tiffany: At first I was like, “Did they hurt each other.” I was like, “Did something—well, obviously I had spoken to Veronica so I knew that she was obviously still alive.
Bubba: Tears is flying out. She’s not hearing me, but the tears is flowing right now, “So yo, just get back on the plane.” And she said to me—
Tiffany Lighty: Did my dad do anything to himself? And then he said yes. In my mind, I still thought like, maybe he’s still alive, I’m like is he in the hospital. I can’t remember if I guessed it or if he told me. I’m pretty sure I guessed it, like, “Is he alive or not?” He didn’t tell me, like, how or what. He did tell me, no.
Back in the Bronx, family and friends were starting to arrive at Chris’s house. Bubba had linked up with Busta Rhymes and they drove to Chris’s place together. When they pulled up they found a chaotic scene outside.
Bubba: The reality set in once we got up to that house.
Darryl Thompson, Chris’s friend and one of the original Violators, arrived around the same time.
Darryl Thompson: I get to the house. Chris Ali is there, Busta, his wife is there with her family. Her ex-husband is there. Some police officers and detectives. So I go up to Chris Ali and he said, “Well, the family for some reason wasn’t letting people in the house.” I said, “Why not? “Fuck that. Uh-uh. We going in.” So I went right through everybody and went right through and I just walked in the house. And I saw Mike Lighty. Then we was just trying to piece stuff together. The house looks regular ‘til you get down to where everything happened.
Downstairs they saw Chris’s body. Here’s how the Medical Examiner’s report describes the scene:
The decedent was found on the basement level outside the patio near the entrance of the house. He was found clothed lying in a supine position between the wet bar and the patio doors. There were two open wounds found on bilateral temporal areas that expelled clotted blood. No other injuries were noted.
The two wounds in Chris’s head were from the bullet—one where it went in, and one where it came out.
Darryl told us the body was too heavy for the medical examiner to lift. So he and Chris’s brother Mike stepped in and helped carry Chris up the narrow staircase. Here’s Mike:
Mike Lighty: You know my brother is a big guy. You know, he’s not no little, you know, guy where you’re gonna have two hundred-pound dudes lift him and get him into the truck. So they actually needed someone to help them assist it.
Darryl Thompson: That right there was tearing me up. Just to pick up my brother. In a black bag…zippered and then put him in the truck.
Mike Lighty: It was probably, like, the most craziest, hardest experiences ever in my life.
Reggie: What was going through your mind?
Mike: (Exhales)…mm…Honestly, I wanted to un-zipper it. (crying) And just take one more look at him. You know.
Mike: Because I just couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe that was what happened, you know.
Bubba: Once they pulled that body out there, eruption. Eruption. Busta falls as if his bones are spaghetti. He falls. How I caught him? Don’t know. Mike Lighty yells to the top of his lungs. You know what I’m saying? So everybody is walking around like zombies. Q-tip. He’s just walking around with his hands in his pockets. Not saying nothing to nobody. Then he just yells out. “THIS DON’T FUCKING FEEL RIGHT!”
Those words that Q Tip screamed into the afternoon sky—this don’t fucking feel right—he wasn’t alone in thinking that. So many people who heard about Chris’s death that day didn’t accept, couldn’t accept, what they were being told by the police. That Chris had taken his own life.
Here’s Chris’ mother Jessica.
Jessica: And immediately I had my doubts. That it happened the way they said. I do not believe that my son killed himself. I just do not.
Leemon: It just doesn’t make sense.
This is Scott Leemon. He’s an attorney from New York who worked with Chris and represented some of his artists.
Leemon: Tell me in any other situation, where there’s a death like this, that there’s not even a cursory investigation? Something stinks.
Almost every time we interviewed someone, they would share some version of this feeling: something stinks, something is off, we don’t know the whole truth. Chris’s family felt so strongly about this, that they hired Leemon, the guy you just heard from, to do an independent investigation into the death.
As we’ve been working on this story, we’ve looked into some of the concerns that people have about what happened that day.
First, how fast the death was labeled a suicide. The medical examiner’s report, tells us that Chris was pronounced dead at 11:43 AM. Around 6 PM, a detective declared the death a suicide and reported no foul play. That conclusion was reached in less than 7 hours. Again Chris’s mother, Jessica.
Jessica: Declaring my son a suicide in less than 24 hours. To me it it was purely a matter of, it’s a holiday weekend, they’ve already got plans, and he’s just a black man and they don’t care.
Then there’s the way the scene was handled. Like we heard earlier, a lot of people came into the house after Chris died. Darryl Thompson and Mike Lighty told us they carried the body up the stairs. Here’s my producer Matt asking Scott Leemon about that.
Matt: A lot of people were there and they weren’t just outside the house, they were inside the house. They were walking around. Does that mean the crime scene was compromised?
Leemon: Technically in that situation there was no crime scene. So they didn’t cordon it off like a crime scene. So there was nothing in their view to be compromised. Was it compromised in the pursuit—if anyone was really looking for evidence, absolutely. But the problem is from jump street, when the cops got there they didn’t treat this like a crime. Whoever had their initial conversations with the police, and I believe Veronica had the initial ones, and whoever else was there convinced NYPD that it was a suicide, and the NYPD took that for gospel.
It needs to be said that a lot of suspicions people have are focused on Veronica. She was there when it happened. She was the one who reported it. People knew they had a volatile relationship. And frankly, a lot of people already disliked her.
But let’s be clear: all of that is speculation and rumor. We have not seen any evidence to suggest that Veronica had any hand in Chris’ death.
There were two autopsies done on Chris’ body. The first was done by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office. It confirmed what the police thought – suicide.The second was part of Scott Leemon’s investigation. It was done by Dr. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist who has worked on some high profile cases.
Reggie: If you were to give us a probability that this was suicide what would you say? Is it 50% 70% ?
Baden: I would say that the evidence thus far points to suicide, except I’m a bit concerned that the family wasn’t able to get the additional test that were requested by the medical examiner.
The additional test he is referring to is a gunshot residue test. If there was residue on Chris’ hands, it would suggest he was holding the gun when it went off.
We know from the medical examiner’s report that gunshot residue samples were taken from Chris’ hands. But we don’t know if those samples were ever tested. If they were, the results were never shared with the Lighty family.
Dr Baden couldn’t get access to that information, but here’s what he could tell us based on his autopsy. According to Baden, there are two things that point towards suicide.
Number 1: the gunshot wound.
Baden: At the time of discharge the muzzle of weapon was against the side of the head. And then it was approximately a horizontal wound and exited the other side of the head.
In other words, that gun was pressed right up against Chris’ temple. Not shot from a distance or from an angle.
Number 2: there were no signs of a struggle
Baden: That was one of the questions that the family had. There was no evidence um at the autopsy that Mr. Lighty had suffered any kind of other injuries. No struggling types of injuries. No ecomisies, no black eyes, no bruises, no scrapes. So there was no evidence of a struggle.
This is the guy who was hired by Chris’ family to challenge the city’s conclusion, that Chris killed himself. But instead, everything he told us seemed consistent with the NYPD’s version of events.
We reached out to the NYPD on multiple occasions, but they declined to comment on the case.
Scott Leemon is still urging them to reopen the investigation.
Coming up after the break, a closer look at what was going on in Chris Lighty’s head.
Welcome back to Mogul. Before the break we talked about the aspects of Chris Lighty’s death that led many people to question if he committed suicide. And a lot of people still don’t accept the official cause of death. They are still convinced that Chris Lighty did not take himself out.
And you can see why. Look at the man they saw. The guy with so much charisma and ambition. The man behind so many landmark deals. The guy who just kept winning.
Bubba: Because he’s a king. Kings don’t do that to themselves. Black men don’t kill themselves. Nall hell no. what did he kill himself for, what reason, we don’t know.
Remember, the things we told you about Chris in previous episodes, about his marriage and his finances …The truth is that most people didn’t know that stuff…
Sophia Chang: I think he parsed out the information.
That’s Sophia Chang again.
Sophia Chang: I don’t think he told any one person everything. He wasn’t really allowed, there wasn’t allowed to be a chink in the armor, but by that same token he didn’t really, he wouldn’t show it, right? But yeah, I think once we all started talking to each other, different things were revealed.
Bubba Barker: I just felt like, he would look tired sometimes. I would see him and I would notice that the shirt he had on Thursday, he had on on Monday.
Debby: he was disappearing a lot. He wasn’t talking to people the way he was to or hanging out or you know like he was very absent even when he was there. He was still absent and he wasn’t being the talkative person that he always used to be
Turk: He didn’t feel he had a purpose anymore. Like, everything was always attached to the entertainment business, and I’m like, “Yo, your life is bigger than the entertainment business.” Like, his life was attached to his clients. And the success of his clients. And the things he do.
RO: And he can’t—he can’t flip that switch off.
RO: Which is dangerous.
Blue Williams: I have learned how to see signs in people I can kind of see the weight sometimes I can see the um body language, I just saw him just trying to cope. I could see a heaviness on him.
Maybe the person who came closest to understanding just how bad things were was Chris’s friend D-Nice.
DNice: You know, I sent him a text message and I all said to him was, in this message, “Are you okay.” And his response to me was no.
Reggie: Wow. Hold up, D. Why I’m saying wow is because, you know, you’ve had a different, more intimate relationship than most people with Chris lighty, but the consistent story with regard to Chris is that he always had this guard up or his armor up. Or he was always this chameleon, so even some of the closest people didn’t know what he was going through, but for him to say that you, that’s really—that speaks volumes.
DNice: It’s because I didn’t want anything from him. I only wanted his friendship. So in that moment of, like, what he said to me when I asked that question and he said no, I immediately just asked him to just come out and get dinner with me. And I won’t forget, we went to a restaurant in New York City called catch. We had dinner there, we talked. At the end of the dinner we left and we went to hear Q-tip DJ. And then after we left we were both in the taxi. I was like, “Yo, I’ll drop you off,” and you know, he shared with me, he’s like, “You know, yo, I’m stressed, you know, like, sometimes I just want to jump off the building.”
DNice: At the time I didn’t know what it was like to, like, lose a friend or to recognize the signs, but it was a difficult thing. I felt like it was my boy crying out for a little bit of help, you know. And even though I did help in the way that I knew how to by making myself available, those things were foreign to me. I wish, you know, had a better understanding of that and was able to be more encouraging. That we all go through ups and downs and, you know, things will eventually, you know, get better.
D-Nice might have seen that Chris was struggling the summer before he died. But it didn’t start that summer. Through our reporting we learned that Chris had been battling depression for some time.
In 2011, a year before he died, he checked himself into a psychiatric facility, a place called Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut. We obtained a copy of Chris’s discharge summary. One section reads, quote:
“He has been feeling increasingly depressed, with decreased energy, desire, initiative, interest in usual activities. His social withdrawal and impaired mood has affected the relationship with his wife and kids. He has started experiencing suicidal ideation, with thoughts of jumping off his building.”
This was more than a little stress. More than a bad day or two. This was clinical depression. Chris was mentally ill. And this kind of sickness, it’s not something people in our community like to talk about.
So when Chris checked himself in and disappeared from the scene, he played it off like it was high blood pressure or a problem with his heart. Because that was a lot easier for them to accept. It was a lot easier for him to share.
Feeling like you have to hide your mental health issues, that’s something Chris’s artist and friend, Fat Joe, can relate to. When I sat down with him, he opened up about his own battle with depression… a battle he hid for many years…
Fat Joe: I was depressed for two years, seeing a psychiatrist. I never thought of killing myself, but I know that’s, it’s a hard fight. It’s a hard fight. Like, I fought it for 2 years. You know when you come out and it’s 90 degrees and the sky looks dark? I couldn’t sleep. I would lay down in the tub with no water and just look at the ceiling for hours and hours. It’s a battle within yourself. So you know, sometimes it wins, you know what I’m saying? People don’t show that.
Fat Joe: Blacks and Latinos.
Reggie: We’re not allowed to.
Fat Joe: We’re not allowed to. And that’s why I tell you I went through depression, because I like to be vulnerable. I like people to know, yo, it’s cool, you know. You can go through that and you can come out of that. Know what I’m saying? That’s why I like to tell people certain things about me, to be like, because they look at me as a mythical figure. Like, you know, this nigga, he’s ready…. No, nigga. It’s hard out here. You know what I’m saying? But you could get through it.
Reggie: Did you have any idea Chris was depressed?
Fat Joe: No way in the world.
Lighty kept up his facade right to the last day. Like Sophia said, he parsed out the information. So in the end, each person who knew him had to take what they knew and make their own decision about how to grieve.
Tiffany: For me recently I’ve just had to just kind of choose to be at peace in a way to go forward because I’ve literally like tortured and like tormented myself with trying to be a detective of what happened and trying to put pieces together and then um – so. I just – say that he did take his own life – for me to just – you know. Try to move on. I mean there’s no moving on from it.
Sophia Chang: And you know, we all talked about – I heard about all the theories…that perhaps it wasn’t a suicide, me that was the easier way out for me personally because then you have someone to direct your rage at, right? And you have someone to point the finger at. Rather than pointing the finger at him because it was self-inflicted. And grieving a homicide and grieving a suicide are completely different. Grieving a homicide, you put it all on the perpetrator, you put it all on the murderer. Grieving a suicide. You put it all on the person that pulled the trigger, but you then also put it on yourself. Because again you think, “How didn’t I see it? I was just with him less than 24 hours before.” And then you play everything in your head, you know. “If I had just been there. If we had just spoken that morning on the phone. If I had told him to come downtown instead of going uptown. If I had gone uptown with him, and he’d taken me in the car, and I had been in the car. And I could’ve gone inside and—
But in the end I did choose to grieve it as a suicide.
PAUSE AND MUSIC UP
Chris Lighty was born in the Bronx in 1968—a time when hip hop didn’t exist. In 1979, when The Sugar Hill Gang dropped Rapper’s Delight, Chris was still in elementary school. He got his real education when rap went on tour, and New York acts like the Jungle Brothers threaded their way through towns and cities up and down the east coast. Rap had started to spread across America, and Chris was along for the ride.
When rap went global, so did Chris Lighty. His artists toured the world. Sold out stadiums everywhere. When Bling made it into the dictionary, when America elected a president who dusted off his shoulder and didn’t hold back his love for Jay Z, Chris was getting equity for his artists and making black millionaires.
I wonder if he ever imagined that hip hop would take him so far. If he was ever at one of the early park jams — weed in the air, bass in his chest — and he stopped to think: This thing, this stew of bass and beats and rhythm and poetry. This will take me on an incredible journey. And if he ever said to himself, this thing called hip hop … it’ll change my life.
But not always for the best. Sure, you get the car, you get the house, you get to live large. But this is a world that can chew you up and shit you out. A world where you have to be hard, where you have to stay winning. Chris spent his whole life running on that treadmill. And he stumbled many times. He wasn’t a perfect man. Not even close. As well as celebrating his success, we have to hold him accountable for his mistakes. He was complicated. He was flawed. But above all else, he was hip hop.
Sophia: Chris was the Violators. Chris was the South Bronx. Chris was hip hop in such a profound way. And nobody can ever, ever dispute that.
Reggie: Do you think hip-hop eventually destroyed Chris Lighty?
Sophia Chang: No. I mean, he was in hip-hop and his life was destroyed, but I don’t think he would ever say that hip-hop destroyed my life. No. Quite the opposite. “Look at the life that hip hop gave me, Soph. I’ve traveled the world. I started an agency. I’ve been in rooms that I never would’ve dreamed of. I’ve led conversations with kingmakers and kings.” No. I don’t think it destroyed him at all. I think it gave him everything. And he gave hip-hop everything.
Internets, thank you so much for going on this journey with us.
Okay, one last time. Let’s do these credits.
This episode of Mogul is a production of Gimlet Media and the Loud Speakers Network. It was produced by Eric Eddings and Meg Driscoll, with help from Isabella Kulkarni, Jonathan Mena, and Peter Bresnan. Our senior producer is Matt Nelson. What up 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 Nana Kwabena with additional music by Prince Paul and Don Newkirk and Haley Shaw.
If you like the show, please do rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. 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.
Tiffany: After it happened, I actually had a lot of, I think it’s called lucid dreaming with my father in it. He was coming to me in my dreams. And I have one dream where he says, he’s like, “Hi, Tiffany.” He’s like, “Oh, I’ve been tired since I’ve been here.” And I said, “Dad, why are you tired?” And he said, “I’ve been working on this deal with Biggie and Tupac.” And I woke up and I was like, “Are you kidding me?”
Reggie: That’s amazing!
Tiffany: That, that’s exactly what he would be doing if there is an afterlife.
Reggie: That’s amazing.
Tiffany: Working on a deal with Biggie and Tupac!
Reggie: And them stressing him the fuck out.
Tiffany: Yeah! And so he’s—
Reggie: Tupac’s crazy ass—and Big.
Tiffany: Yeah. So actually, it made me smile and it made me happy to know that he was still doing, you know, what he loved.
Reggie: It’s like almost a perfect ending to the story.
Tiffany: Mhmm. Mhmm. Yeah.
In this episode: cold hard cash.
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.
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.