It has been 10 years since the tragic loss of Harlem’s “Big L,” but the revered wordsmith ‘s legacy continues to live on.
Born Lamont Coleman in 1974, L began writing rhymes at the age of 16 in 1990.
“Lamont was a funny little boy, a jealous little boy. ‘Come on mama, let’s race.’ When I’d win, he’d get mad. One Christmas I bought [Lamont and his brothers] turntables and a mixer. [Lamont] would be the MC. Leroy would be the DJ,” Big L’s mother Gilda Terry told AllHipHop.com in a previous interview. “Donald would be the dancer. I’d laugh at them. It was the worst thing I could’ve done. It made so much noise. That’s how he got into music and stuff. He really, really was into it. After a while, the newness of that went. But Lamont stayed right with it. He just loved it. He was a good kid. He always had a mind of his own. When he set his mind to do something, he just did it.”
Even though he was still cultivating his craft as a teenager, his natural talent drew the attention from members of the famed collective Diggin’ In the Crates (DITC).
Lord Finesse then placed the young emcee on the 1992 song “Party Over Here.”
Later in that year, L went on to further build his name on critically acclaimed LPs from Diamond D (Stunts, Blunts, and Hip-Hop) and Showbiz and A.G. (Runaway Slave).
In 1993, L signed with Columbia Records and created a minor buzz courtesy of the blasphemous single “Devil’s Son.”
He released his embryonic debut Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous in 1995.
The project featured appearances from then largely unknown future stars Jay-Z and Cam’ron.
Despite mostly positive reviews and buzz around his native New York through the Lord Finesse produced single “M.V.P.,” the album did not receive the promotion and attention of his contemporaries like the Notorious B.I.G., Wu Tang Clan, Nas, and others.
After being dropped, L sought out fellow Harlem emcees Mase, Cam’ron, McGruff, and Bloodshed to form Children of the Corn.
Although the group recorded over 30 songs while shopping for a record deal with producer Digga, the collective rapidly fell apart after the death of Bloodshed in a car accident.
Starting in 1997, L began working on what would be become his final album, The Big Picture.
Through his very own label Flamboyant Records, Big L scored an underground hit in the summer of 1998 courtesy of the single “Ebonics (Criminal Slang).”
L would follow up his momentum with other underground favorites such as “Size ‘Em Up” and “Flamboyant.”
The innovative lead single caught the ear of former collaborator Jay-Z, who was in the process of finalizing terms to bring L to Roc-A-Fella before tragedy struck in February 1999.
At the age of 24, Big L was shot repeatedly in the head and chest on February 15, shortly after leaving his home in Harlem.
The brutal slaying yielded an early arrest of a childhood friend, but the suspect was subsequently released due to lack of evidence.
The murder remains unsolved, and speculation has ranged from the execution being a case of mistaken identity to retaliation against L’s brother Big Lee, a street figure who was in prison at the time.
Lee was also murdered shortly after his release from prison.
Big L’s final album The Big Picture was released in August 2000 via Rawkus Records.
L’s tragic death and the reverence bestowed on him from various Hip-Hop stars helped push the project well past gold at over 600,000 copies sold.
Today, Big L remains well respected in Hip-Hop culture, and a shining albeit somber example of unfulfilled potential.
This year, Lamont “Big L” Colman would have celebrated his 35th birthday.
“He loved the neighborhood,” Mrs. Terry said. “He loved 139th Street. I loved 139th Street until he got killed, because before that, it was a close-knit block.”