It was clear from the number of distraught artists that attended Chris Lighty’s funeral on Wednesday (September 5), that the late hip-hop exec was well loved by those he worked with. That includes Russell Simmons who began working with Lighty at Rush Management back in 1988. Simmons issued a statement via Global Grind remembering the man who LL Cool J described as the ‘backbone’ of hip-hop.
“First let me say that Chris, or “Baby Chris” as his friends affectionately called him, was a generous and sweet man who used his energy and resources (yes, money) to give back to his community.
When Chris Lighty came on the scene, he was like the third or fourth member of the groups he worked with. Chris was a lot like the artists themselves: passionate, determined and a little hot headed. But as he matured, he toned it down, just enough to represent the artists and the culture he loved. He made it his life’s work to translate – but not water down – their fire. He took his artists’ work and presented it to the world in words and actions that the fans and the gatekeepers could relate to. As he grew into a respected highly successful music industry executive, he became even more polished, until one day he was no longer a part of the group, but instead the experienced, thoughtful black leader that rappers needed. He was the bridge that protected the culture, while shaping and curating the truth that was born from it. Chris was the architect who helped shape the takeover. These street kids were mostly without father figures (or at least successful father figures) and many looked to Chris to make sense of their success. Somehow he made it look easy.
Let’s face it, the record companies have decided that they know hip-hop now, so the managers, A&R teams and the indie labels are moving back towards the old boys clubs. Many of these managers are “smartly educated” kids, but have no experience with the gritty past from which these kids came from. Regardless, these new kids are “running shit.” No disrespect to them – I know they love the music and the artists – but they are no substitute for knowing where your artists came from because you lived it yourself. The fact that they lack this important life experience can be devastating to these kids’ potential and maybe even their lives. Each of their successes should lift up or at least inspire a community – where they can celebrate one of their own. Bottom line: hip-hop isn’t the same hip-hop without these black mentors to show the kids the way.
Truth is, we don’t live in a post-racial society. Black kids from black neighborhoods usually polluted with poverty and violence need mentors like Chris Lighty to navigate through the rough waters. Without a Chris in their lives, they can and often do self-destruct. So now that Chris isn’t here to be one of the leading guides of this generation, I ask the record companies to step up in his honor. Make an effort; don’t exploit your artists’ talent. Nurture it. Chris was a shining example of playing the game, while always keeping it real. Make it your business to nurture more Chris Lightys so that they can save more lives. In the end they will make music live longer and yes, you will make more money.
So here’s to Chris: a man perfected by God and freed from struggle long before we were ready to say goodbye.”