As the business force behind 50 Cent, Chris Lighty finds himself knee-deep in boiling beef. Still Violater feels he’ll weather the storm and stack more paper than LeBron James. Can he live?—
Words: Amy Linden
Images: Keith Major

News Flash: America loves fame. We crave it. We are convinced that those who achieve it will not only live forever, they will also learn how to fly.

When this writer was a wee Whitey, the people who were actually famous were pop stars. Actors. Basketball players. Serial killers. Today? Please. All bets are off. We have celebrity stylists, celebrity publicists, celebrity plastic surgeons, celebrity journalists, celebrity CEOs. We have an entire ancillary industry of people who are actually famous. All of which brings us to the subjext of this feature, Mr. Chris Lighty.

Chris Lighty does not rap. He doesn’t dance. He’s never been on Broadway or acted in a film. To the best of anyone’s knowledge he does not sing, play an instrument or throw a baseball 95 miles per hour. Yet despite all of these apparent negatives, Chris Lighty is famous. So much so that when my own in-house teen focus group learned that Mommy was going to interview Chris Lighty, he perked up and exclaimed, “Wow. He’s 50’s manager!” Yes, yes. Technically, Lighty comanages (with Sha Money XL) the career of 50 Cent, but that’s not the point.

Time was that the job of “artist manager” was a strictly behind-the-scenes administration position. You book travel. You type up itineraries. You get your man to the show on time. The only music manager that achieved any degree of notoriety was the late Brian Epstein. And let’s be fair, the man worked with the Beatles. But a rapper’s manager? Come on, that’s like knowing who a rapper’s accountant is. In a perfect world, anyone who knew such information would be too embarrassed to admit it.

But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in an Entertainment Tonight/Access Hollywood world. A world where box office grosses are news items and even civilians are hip to the Billboard charts. We lie in Puffy’s world. Dame Dash’s world. (You just knew it was all their fault.) Chris Lighty is famous no because of what he does, but because of who he does it for—and he does it for some of the best. As the founder of Violator Management, he has guided the careers of Missy Elliott, A Tribe Called Quest, Foxy Brown, Mobb Deep, Noreaga and Busta Rhymes, among others. Since the 1980s he has risen through the ranks from gofer to macher. And now, thanks to his association with America’s latest favorite dreamboat thug (that’s Fiddy), Lighty finds himself a full-fledged celebrity. He gets bumrushed for autographs in the frozen food section of his local ShopRite. That must be sorta cool, huh, to be that well known?

Not that cool. Sitting in his cluttered office, located in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, Lighty insists that fame is a heavy burden to bear. “I don’t want the limelight,” he signs.

Lighty’s aversion to attention may have less to do with a well-adjusted ego than with serious concerns for personal safety. The last few months have not been peaceful or calm for anyone around Violator Management. As has been widely reported (and exploited), 50 Cent has been embroiled in a war of words with (former Violator client) Ja Rule, Irv Gotti and their Murder Inc. camp that has escalated into something far more serious than the comparatively pacifistic contretemps between Jay-Z and Nas. On January 16th, 2003, still-unidentified assailants shot up the lobby of Violator’s offices. Lighty and much of the staff were present, but in an interior room. A month later, Busta Rhymes’ SUV was riddled with bullets while it was parked in front of the building. Busta was not in the vehicle, and thankfully no one was hurt in either incident. But quite understandably, the bullet holes have left Lighty and the rest of the Violator staff spooked. No one is sure of the intent of the attacks, but its notable that Lighty and Busta drive the same type of car. Lighty also admits in a tone both angry and remorseful that he now owns a bulletproof vest.