Chris Lighty was at the center of the hip-hop revolution and his shocking suicide is one more sign that the music genre is fading in importance among a key constituency–white suburban kids– who principally bought the music.
Lighty, 44, was a key player early on as hip-hop and rap rose to prominence in the 1990s. At his height, he’d managed such artists as 50 Cent, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Soulja Boy, L.L. Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Mariah Carey and rapper Ja Rule.
But the music has been losing traction among its biggest constituency for years. Hip-hop record sales skidded by nearly 20 percent between 2007 and 2008 when the financial crisis hit, leading other genres, according to a study by Harvard Business School.
Between 2008 and 2009, the top 20 earners saw their incomes decline by 40 percent from the previous year, the study found. Rap artists and big industry players, who made bling king, ended up spending themselves into oblivion.
Lightly may have fallen into that group. According to several reports he was having financial trouble and owed the IRS more than $5 million. Law enforcement officials told The New York Daily News that financial problems may have been the prime motive in his death.
His body was found Thursday morning (Aug. 30) in his Bronx, NY apartment with a single gunshot wound to the head. The gun was found next to his body.
But big spending and bad luck have taken their toll on other artists as well. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, who is considered the chairman of the board of hip-hop and rap saw his clothing line, Rocawear ,hit the skids last year, as global sales fell by $500 million.
The decline forced the brand’s flagship Manhattan store to lay off half its 56 employees among other belt-tightening steps. Jay-Z is personally did some television commercials to help out. He sold a majority interest in the line, but still holds stock in the company.
Jay-Z, however, is one of the few artists who seem to have staying power. He and Kanye West just came off a successful joint European tour.
Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons helped give Lighty his start in 1989. He formed his own company a year later.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of a hip-hop hero,” said Simmons in a statement. “Chris Lighty has been a dear friend of mine since he was a kid. Was a brilliant partner in business and I was so proud of all that he had accomplished.”