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Big L: The Greatest Rapper We Barely Knew

Lamont Coleman aka “Big L”
May 30, 1974 – February 15, 199
By Mic Cool

This is the story of Lamont Coleman better known to hip hop heads as “Big L”.  Born in Harlem, New York in 1974, his father left when he was a child. At the tender age of 12, “Little L” as he was then known, started free-styling against people in his neighborhood. Then he founded a group “3 The Hard Way” which he quickly disbanded. By the summer of 1990 he had changed his name to “Big L” to impress one of his female friends and would go on to meet Lord Finesse at an autograph session. The 16 year old L kicked a rhyme and they exchanged numbers. All Coleman wanted to originally do was battle wether on a street corner, in the hallways, beating on a wall, or simply chilling with his friends at a house party. 

In ‘91 he recorded various demos while forming another click “Children of the Corn” consisting of Harlem rappers Bloodshed, McGruff, a young Ma$e(then Murda Mase), and Cam’ron (then Killa Cam). In 1991 Lord Finesse takes Big L under his wing as he promotes his upcoming album, leading to Big L’s first television appearance on YO! MTV Raps. Next in 1992 he won an amateur freestyle battle where he beat out 2,000 contestants to be crowned champion. Big L was vicious with the battles. This is how he earned money, battling anyone who wanted to test his lyrical prowess.

He signs his first deal to Columbia Records and joined DJ Finesses “Digging in The Crates Crew”, consisting of; Diamond D, O.C., Fat Joe, Buckwild, Showbiz, and AG. All of which are New York natives, although he was the lone representative from Harlem. In 1993 he penned the first so called horror core single “Devils Son”. He said he wrote the song because he was a fan of horror flicks plus the things he had seen in his neighborhood were truly scary. By 1995 he drops his debut LP  Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous which spawned the singles “ Put it On”, “MVP”, and “No Endz, No Skinz”. The album is a critical success but has trouble selling units. 

Come 1996 he was then released from Columbia over creative differences. While working on his sophomore album The Big Picture, one of his boys Bloodshed from “COTC” died in a car accident. In 1998 he formed his own independent label “Flamboyant Ent” which was planned to distribute the kind of hip hop that sold without top 40 samples or r&b hooks. Next he put out his biggest single “Ebonics” using lingo or slang the African American community invented. At this time he caught the eye of Dame Dash the CEO of one of the biggest rap labels Roc-A-Fella Records, and a childhood friend from his Harlem days. At this time Dame Dash and Jay-Z were trying to sign Big L to Roc-A-Fella but were caught up on minor disagreements that they working out. 

What happened on the cusp of this huge deal would be devastating. On February 15th, 1999 Big L was killed. He was shot 9 times to the body and face during a drive by shooting. Since his death he’s been regarded as one of the most auspicious story tellers in hip hop history, and one of the most under rated lyricist ever notable for using a rhyme style called “compounding”. He was a master of the punchline. With raps deadlier than a snakebite, yet cooler than a uptown pimp, he is larger than life. 

Big L lives on!

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Illmatic: Greatest Album of All Time?

Image courtesy of Apple Music

By Mic Cool

In 1992, G Funk and the west coast dominated the hip hop airwaves and had rap on lock between Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and his then protege Snoop Doggy Doggs “Doggystyle”. New York needed an answer. One emcee from the Queensbridge projects may have been what NYC needed to bring hip hop back to where it originated from, back to the Mecca. We were first introduced to a young Nasir Jones when he shined on Large Professors “Live from the BBQ” and had a notable quote “ I went to hell for snuffing Jesus”. This is a legendary verse that most from that era can spit back line for line. Nas was rhyming with his childhood friend  Willy “Ill Will” Graham, who was his DJ at the time until he was tragically shot and killed May 23rd 1992 near the building where they grew up as kids. This devastated the young budding emcee, but yet he preservered continuing on a mission. In mid 1992, MC Serch of 3rd Bass fame discovered him. Serch put Nas’s name out there claiming he was the 2nd coming of Rakim but Gods Son didn’t want that title; he wanted to be the first Nas. 

He got in the studio when he could sitting in on Kool G Raps sessions. He then began his debut album Illmatic. A slew of who’s who in hip hop came thru to add production to this project. Living NY legends; DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Large Professor, Marly Mal, and newcomer L.E.S., molded one of a kind beats that catered to Nas’ vivid street tales. After the talking/sampled intro “NY State of Mind” was born. Nas freestyled when the beat came on, with no practice or anything, the stuff legends are made of. Track 3 “Life’s a Bitch” featuring AZ brought not only a catch phrase but lyrical wizardry. Funny thing is Nas’s own father did a part of the instrumentation incorporating jazz music. “The World is Yours” told inner city youth that they could be what they wanted to be no matter what. “Halftime” is a verbal onslaught, crazy wordplay an punchlines. “Memory Lane” is storytelling at its finest in the mold of pioneer Slick Rick. “One Love” helmed by Q-Tip from Tribe called Quest, provided a canvas for Nas to paint pictures of realism. “One Time 4 Your Mind” had a simple hook yet once again Nas, blessed by a herbal essence, displayed excellence showing every black teen they don’t have to just play basketball to make it out alive. “Represent” was an anthem of sorts and was indeed a representation for not just his crew or his hood, but he was saying each dude around the globe should rep their city. The grand finally “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” featured no chorus necessary. The outro was three verses of tales from a creative educated poet well ahead of his time. Time is Illmatic and as we can see it never gets old no matter how many decades pass.

Illmatic has garnered many critical accolades throughout the years widely considered as the best hip hop album of all time. Blender magazine has listed it as one of the top 500 albums you must listen to before you die. Illmatic is in Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums as well, while also being included in The Source’s top 100. Ranked.com, a website that allows it’s audience create the ranking of their topics, ranks Illmatic the best hip hop album of all time. To date Nas’ 1994 debut release has reached platinum status and it’s lyrical poetic style is taught at universities across the world.

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