The only album made while the Harlem rapper was walking among us, the debut from the DITC blue chipper remains a microphone masterclass
It’s a shame when an artist becomes the victim of the very same type of street violence they came to express and illuminate others by.
Big L was a lyrical mastermind and his freestyle abilities were second-to-none. Some argue that he was one of the very best ever to do it.
The East Harlem rapper, born Lamont Coleman, was, above all else, authentic. He rapped about what he knew—everyday life in the streets of New York.
He met Lord Finesse of the legendary Diggin’ in the Crates crew, in the back of a record store on 125th Street. After a short display of his skills, Big L was given a crack by Finesse on a remix of the track “Yes You May” (1992), which he completely bodied.
AUDIO: Lord Finesse Ft. Big L “Yes You May”
That quickly landed him a deal with Columbia records in 1993. He was like the Dark Horse comics of Hip-Hop. He was considered to be underground at a time when people were more focused on names like 2Pac and Biggie Smalls. Much like them, whole classes could be taught on his game changing lyricism.
Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous was his magnum opus. Considered to be an underground classic, his debut album managed to chart at No. 149 on the Billboard 200 and No. 22 on the R&B / Hip-Hop Albums chart.
“Put it On” was the closest thing to a mainstream hit that L would release. Featuring DJ Kid Capri and produced by Buckwild, the single was a display of just how talented the then 21-year-old rapper was: “Nobody can take nothin’ from Big L but a loss, chief / The last punk who fronted got a mouth full of false teeth / I’m known to gas a hottie and blast a shotty / Got more cash than Gotti / (You don’t know?) / You better ask somebody”
In an interview with Hip-HopDX, Finesse explained how “[Columbia Records] wanted something with a hook that would be kinda catchy, and something they could get radio play with. Like, everything [L] did was dark, and it was gangsta, and it was… what was the [popular style at the time]? Horror-core. So they needed something bright, something friendly. And ‘Put It On’ just matched everything perfect.”
VIDEO: Big L “Put It On”
“M.V.P.” – short for “Most Valuable Poet” – was produced by Lord Finesse and heavily sampled the track “Stay With Me” by DeBarge. Nostalgia aside, the track was yet another display of how unique L’s rap flows really were: “L’s a clever threat, a lyricist who never sweat/ Comparing yourself to me is like a Benz to a Chevrolette”
Showbiz of DITC joins L on the chorus of “No Endz, No Skinz,” a grittier track about money and women, which he follows with the legendary posse cut “8 Iz Enough.”
Taking the name from the popular TV sitcom, Big L invited seven rappers from his neighborhood – including Children of the Corn affiliates Herb McGruff and “Killa” Cam’Ron, Wu-Tang affiliate Buddha Bless, Terra, Big Twan, Trooper J and Mike Boogie – to join him on the track.
Big L was also a storyteller, though not necessarily in the same sense as Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.” His raps were never quite as PG rated.
“Street Struck,” is a cautionary tale for the youth about how just avoiding the criminal lifestyle and street violence will prevent serving jail time or death. Clearly, this track was a bit darker than the singles, but it had a point to make: “You better listen when L rhyme / ‘Cause being street struck’ll get you nothin’ but a bullet or jail time”
“Da Graveyard” was supposedly recorded after a seven minute freestyle featuring Big L and Jay-Z on the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show in Feb. 1995. The six member posse cut features guest verses by Finesse, Microphone Nut, Party Arty of the group Ghetto Dwellaz, Grand Daddy I.U., and perhaps most notably, Hov himself.
The title track, “Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous,” an obvious play on the reality TV show hosted by Robin Leach, was a far cry from the kind of things you would ever see mentioned on TV: “We stormed the city, shooting shit up like Frank Nitti / We robbed kids and split the dough 50/50. One day we stuck a dice game on the ave. and split the cash / Then I murdered his ass and took his half.”
Unfortunately, like so many successful young rappers on the come up, Big L became a victim of the very circumstances he came to rap about. In 1999, he was gunned down by an unknown assailant at the age of 24. He would not make it to see the release of his follow-up album, The Big Picture, which was released by Rawkus Records posthumously in 1999.
Twenty-five years since the album’s release, and we are still seeing the same things happen to young artists like Pop Smoke. These young and successful artists on the rise who are taken from this life way too early.