Big L: Auspicious Storyteller and Hiphop's Most Underrated Lyricist by Rahmon
by Rapjoint Lagos
Lamont Coleman (May 30, 1974 - February 15, 1999), better known by his stage name, Big L, was an American Rapper from Manhattan, New York. His first professional appearance came on the remix of Lord Finesse's "Yes You May" in 1992, and later became a member of collective D.I.T.C. (Diggin In The Crates) due to his association with Finesse. Coleman released his debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, in 1995, and significantly contributed to the underground hip hop scene in New York. Shortly before his death, he created his own independent label, Flamboyant Entertainment, on which he released one of his best-known singles, "Ebonics", in 1998.
The main components of Coleman's lyrical technique were a straight forward matter-of-fact style, multi-syllabic rhyming and a rough sense of humor. Many of his songs feature violent and homicidal lyrics, with songs "All Black" and "Devil's Son" being prominent examples of his use of the sub-genre horrorcore.
On February 15, 1999, Coleman was fatally shot by an unknown assailant in his hometown Harlem, a neighborhood of Manhattan. His second studio album, The Big Picture, was put together by Coleman's Manager, Rich King. It was released the following year and was certified gold. Four posthumous albums have been released, mainly consisting of unreleased songs which were put together by Rich King and Coleman's brother Donald.
Coleman was born in Harlem, Manhattan, New York on May 30, 1974 as the youngest and third child of Gilda Terry (d. 2008) and Charles Davis. His father left the family when Coleman was a child. His two siblings were Donald and Leroy "Big Lee" Phinazee (d. 1999). At the age of 12, Coleman became a big fan of hip hop and began freestyling against people in his own neighborhood. Around this time, Coleman adopted the stage name "Big L", a reference to his childhood nickname "Little L".
Coleman attended Julia Richman High School. While in high school, Coleman freestyle battled in his hometown; in his last interview, he stated, "In the beginning, all I ever saw me doing was battling everybody on the street corners, rhyming in the hallways, beating on the wall, rhyming to my friends. Every now and then, a house party, grab the mic, a block party, grab the mic." He graduated from high school in 1992.
He formed a group with three which was called ‘Three the hard way’. The group eventually fizzled out due to lack of enthusiasm. ‘Rodney’, Coleman, ‘Doc Reem’ made up the trio of the group. After ‘Rodney’ left the group they were renamed as ‘Two hard motherfuckers’. This was the time when Little L came to be called as Big L.
Lamont recorded several demo videos. Several of these videos were later included in his debut album which was titled Lifestyle ov da poor and dangerous. Lord Finesse was at an autograph event at a record shop where Coleman did a freestyle. Following this Coleman and Finesse exchanged numbers. Several people close to Big L remember the time when Big L was brought onto the stage by Finesse and there were some really good moments created. He appeared alongside Finesse in the Yo! MTV ‘s Raps to promote the latter’s ‘Return of the Funky Man’.
Nubian productions had held a freestyle battle in which Lamont triumphed over 2000 contestants. A deal sign with Colombia pictures happened. The first single ‘Devil Son’ was released in 1993. As Big L recounted, he was a great fan of horror flicks. They fascinated him. Plus he recounted that he had seen very horrible things in Harlem. All these put together inspired him to come out in the single track. He performed at the Birthday bash of Finesse among Fat Joe, Diamond D and Nas.
In the year 1994, Coleman released Clinic which was a promotional single too. In the month of July the same year a radio edit version of ‘Put it on’ was released. In three months’ time the video was released for the public to enjoy. The following year, he released ‘No Endz, No Skinz’.Brian Luvar directed this single.
Lifestyle ov da poor and dangerous released in the year 1995, in the month of March. It came out at 149 on Billboard and number 22 on Top R & B/ Hip hop albums. As of the year 2000, the album sold 200,000 copies. In 1996 he was dropped from Colombia which was due to disputes with the production on the grounds of his rapping style. Big L recounts the experience as being among a bunch of strangers who did not know anything about music. Big L started working on ‘The Big Picture’ which happens to be the second studio album.
Big L had formed a group Children of the Corn along with Killa Cam, Bloodshed, and Murda Mase. On March 2, 1997 this group closed as Bloodshed died in a car accident. In 1998 Flamboyant entertainment was formed as an independent label. In 1998, Ebonics, the next single was released.
One of the famous hip hop murders is that of Lamont. In his childhood, Big L was constantly involved in battles in the neighborhood. He himself saw that he would be rhyming and battling in his future. He made enemies of which one of them had caught up. Big L lies buried in the George Washington Memorial park which is in Paramus in New Jersey.
On 15th of February in 1999 on the 45 West 139th street he was shot a total of 9 times in the head as well as the chest in Harlem. Big L’s friend from childhood Gerard Woodley was arrested for the crime but later, amidst controversy he was released. The murder case remains a mystery till date. The New York police believe that it could have been a revenge for childhood act which Woodley believed to have happened. Whether it did or not is unsure.
Coleman's first posthumous single was "Flamboyant" b/w "On the Mic", which was released on May 30, 2000. The single peaked at number 39 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and topped the Hot Rap Tracks, making it Coleman's first and only number-one single.
Coleman's second and final studio album, The Big Picture, was released on August 1, 2000, and featured Fat Joe, Tupac Shakur, Guru of Gang Starr, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane among others. The Big Picture was put together by his manager and partner in Flamboyant Entertainment, Rich King. It contains songs that he had recorded and a cappella recordings that were never used, completed by producers and guest emcees that Coleman respected or had worked with previously.
The Big Picture debuted at number 13 on the Billboard 200, number two on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, and sold 72,549 copies.The album was certified gold a month later for shipments of 500,000 copies by the RIAA. The Big Picture was the only music by Big L to appear on a music chart outside of the United States, peaking at number 122 on the UK Albums Chart.
Henry Adaso, a music journalist for About.com, called him the twenty-third best MC of 1987 to 2007, claiming "[he was] one of the most auspicious storytellers in hip hop history." HipHopDX called Coleman "the most underrated lyricist ever".Many tributes have been given to Coleman. The first was by Lord Finesse and the other members of DITC I (Diamond D, Big L and Fat Joe) on March 6, 1999, at the Tramps.The Source has done multiple tributes to him: first in July 2000,followed by March 2002.
XXL did a tribute to Lamont in March 2003. On February 16, 2005, at SOB's restaurant and nightclub in Manhattan, held a commemoration for him. It included special guests such as DITC, Herb McGruff, and Kid Capri. All the money earned went to his estate.
In 2004, Eminem made a tribute to him in his music video for his single "Like Toy Soldiers". Jay Z stated in an interview with MTV, "We were about to sign him right before he passed away. We were about to sign him to Roc-a-Fella. It was a done deal…I think he was very talented…I think he had the ability to write big, and big choruses."Rapper Nas also said on MTV, "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.'"
In 2017, Royce da 5'9" said he believed Coleman would have been a “top 3” rapper all time if he had not been killed so prematurely.In 2019, Funkmaster Flex said “People can get mad at me for saying this, but he was the best lyricist at the time. He was a better lyricist than Biggie and Jay-Z. He just didn’t have the marketing and promotion. Let me go on the record and say that. It’s the truth.”