"The Danger Zone," 1999.
The world of Hip-Hop and all of its adoring fans were seemingly still reeling from the aftershocks of the tragic and untimely deaths of two of its finest, 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. Senseless acts of violence had run its course and the music world had suffered a mighty blow. Little did we know that more tragedy lurked around the corner. On February 15, 1999, Hip-Hop would suffer another loss of one of their great messengers. Lamont Coleman, better known to the industry as "Big L.," was gunned down after a dispute in the same Harlem neighborhood that he was raised and would gain his notoriety.
Raised on 139th St. and Lennox Ave., in the Uptown section known as "The Danger Zone," life was anything but blissful for Lamont. As most youths in that section of New York City, he was surrounded by the many temptations and negative vibes that the streets were bound to offer. Known then as "Little Lamont," he often dreamed of what life was like on the other side of the fence. He would soon come to realize his knack for music, and with that came a brainstorm as to how he would take that knack and make it work for him. Inside Lamont brewed a talent unlike anything Hip-Hop was ready for, and soon after, the "Little" was dropped from his street moniker. He would come to call himself "Big L.," and for reasons soon to be revealed. He had developed a taste for lyrical warfare, and he could not wait to begin feasting upon the weak that lay in his wake.
L did not have to wait very long for his opportunity to show his vast talents to the world. In 1992, the legendary Lord Finesse gave him his first shot at lyrical immortality on the track, "Yes You May (Remix)." With lines such as "I only roll with originators/chicks stick to my d**k like magnets on refrigerators," L would make more of an impact than Finesse himself. His concise, rough, and sharp delivery captivated the minds and conscience of Hip-Hop lovers everywhere, and soon to follow was a deal with Columbia Records.
L seemed to be ahead of the game in many ways. His Uptown-based crew, Children of the Corn, was leaving behind a legacy of their own. The group consisted of Harlem World heavy hitters such as Cam’Ron, McGruff, and Ma$e. Alongside the company he kept came one of the greatest tracks he made, the promo-only "Devil’s Son." The track was a masterpiece, and with murderous lines such as "catch more bodies than abortion clinics," L was primed and ready for the success that Hip-Hop could give.
His debut album, "Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous," hit the scene in 1995, featuring his crew on tracks such as "8 Iz Enuff," "All Black," and "No Endz, No Skinz." The most prized track of the album, "MVP," ripped across the airways and media circles with the precision of a lighting bolt, and L became the poster child for hardcore Hip-Hop. Another well-publicized track was "Da Graveyard," featuring an up and coming Brooklyn colleague named Jay-Z. The Source Magazine would subsequently give the album four mics, calling the album "pure nineties B-boy music" in March 1995. At the tender age of 21, L was rapidly becoming the hottest ticket in Hip-Hop, and thoughts of stopping were nonexistent.
L also ran with another group of renowned Hip-Hop artists, collectively known as D.I.T.C. The group consisted of Hip-Hop icons Fat Joe, Diamond D, O.C., Lord Finesse, Showbiz & A.G., Buckwild and a number of affiliates. Together, they would independently release two tracks, "Day One," and "The Enemy." These would set the stage for another Big L. release, "Ebonics." Many believe this track is the coronation of L’s many talents, as this brilliantly broke down the art of street slang in classic Big L. fashion. It was declared one of the top five "independent records of the year," as it was released on his own record imprint, Flamboyant Entertainment, distributed through Fat Beats, and was only available on vinyl. "Ebonics" also dissected the "criminal slang" of New York’s underworld with an unabashed preciseness and unique flavor that was also radio-friendly. He was unparalleled amongst his peers, and his life was seemingly heading down the road of greatness with rumors that he was set to sign with Roc-A-Fella Records.
As fate and tragedy would have it, Big L. would perish amongst a fury of gunshots on the same streets that had made him into the man he was. Although he is gone out of our eyes, his music still lives on in all of our hearts. He would die before he could enjoy the success of his new album, The Big Picture. Released on Rawkus Records, the posthumous album featured production from DJ Premier, Roc Raida, Lord Finesse, Buckwild, Show, Ghetto Professionals, Pete Rock and more. His D.I.T.C. crew and friends also made their presence felt on this album, as Fat Joe, O.C. and Remy Martin would be featured on the track "The Triboro," Sadat X and Guru were featured on "Games," and Kool G. Rap would throw darts on the track "Fall Back." Other tracks included the heavily rotated "Flamboyant," "Holdin It Down," featuring Stan Spit, AG, and Miss Jones, and the legendary 2Pac alongside L on the track "Deadly Combination."
Commercial success is not the mark of a great MC in Hip-Hop. Big L. was the personification of what Hip-Hop was always intended to be, and his rhymes shifted the underground with the force of an earthquake. Exhilarating as much as he was energetic with a microphone in his hand, L’s voice can still be heard as fans enjoy his timeless music. Listen closely and tell us what you hear.