Classic Artist of the Week: Big L

One of the most inherently gifted MCs of all time, this week’s Riffs & Rhymes classic artist is legendary Harlem rapper Lamont Coleman, aka Big L.

Emerging from Harlem, NY in the early 1990s, Coleman became well known in underground circles for his freestyling ability. He once showed off his rhyme skills for renown producer Lord Finesse at an autograph signing, after which the two exchanged phone numbers.

In 1992, Big L began recording demos for what would eventually become his debut album. He also founded the group Children of the Corn, which included a young Cam’ron and Ma$e. After signing to Columbia Records in the same year, he also joined Lord Finesse’s Bronx-based collective Diggin’ In the Crates, widely known as D.I.T.C.

Over the next two years, Coleman would piece together his official debut record “Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous.” The album introduced Big L as a premium spitter with a knack for wicked-clever punchlines and an unmistakable flow. His grim portrayals of street life and crime further established the horrorcore genre and painted a vivid picture of the dangerous neighborhoods he and his peers grew up in.

After artistic disagreements with Columbia, Coleman set out to pursue a record deal that would better suit his vision and began working on his sophomore LP “The Big Picture” in 1998.

On February 15, 1999, Big L was killed in a drive-by shooting in his native Harlem. The homicide was speculated to be a retaliation to an act committed by Coleman’s brother, though to this day, his murder remains unsolved.

In spite of his career being cut tragically short, Big L’s legacy as one of the best and most skilled rappers to ever grace the mic holds up.

In remembering the late MC, Nas once recalled his fear of having to compete with Big L after he first heard him rap. “He scared me to death. When I heard that on tape, I was scared to death. I said, ‘Yo, it’s no way I can compete if this is what I gotta compete with.’”

Recommended Listening:

Album: Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous (1995)

Album: The Big Picture (2000)

Track: “Put It On” (1995)

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