Big L :: Livestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous :: Columbia Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

Tragedy struck the hip-hop world hard on February 15th, 1999. Lamont Coleman, better known to rap fans everywhere as Big L, was gunned down in the streets of Harlem. He joined the far too long list of musicians who have died as a result of violence. John Lennon. Marvin Gaye. Selena. Tupac Shakur. It's not a phenomenon exclusive to the urban world, despite the attempts of an over-zealous media to say that rap music incites violence. Given the chance the Bill O'Reilly types of this world would probably blame North Korea's nuclear belligerence on Ludacris and Public Enemy.

The bottom line is that shit happens. When you're a celebrity or entertainer your increased visibility makes you a target for predators. Some are stalkers, some are out to rob, and some just want the infamy of shooting down a star. We'll probably never know the real reasons Lamont Coleman's killer had, but he's gone all the same. And like other slain musicians, he left us a legacy in the works that he recorded. Many are already familiar with the 2000 posthumous release of "The Big Picture." Hardcore heads remember his first big appearance on wax though, on the 1992 Showbiz & A.G. track "Represent" - and that he did:

"Yo, on the mic is Big L, that brother who kicks flav God
Known for sendin garbage MC's to the graveyard
I pack a gat and not a slingshot
Step to this and get a ass-whoopin like Rodney King got
Or get beat to your death like Cochise
My laws is no peace, fuck the police
MC's be braggin about cash they collect
but them chumps is like Ray Charles
cuz they ain't seen no money yet
Cause phony faggots I froze, it's a fact
I flip fast on foes with fabulous fantastic flows
L is the rebel type, I'm rough as a metal pipe
Fuck a Benz, cause I could pull skins on a pedal-bike!"

That first taste of the mad nasty comical punchlines and tough as nails flow had listeners wide open, but it was just a taste of what was to come. 1995's "Livestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous" would bring that seed to fruition on a twelve track LP. Things certainly got off to a hot start with the lead single "Put it On." In fact, pay the man some respects that he was living it up before P. Diddy could even piss out Cristal:

"I drink Moet not Beck's beer, I stay dressed in slick gear
Peace to my homies in the +Gangsta Lean+, I see you when I get there
And it's a fact I keep a gat in my arm reach
I charm freaks and bomb geeks from here to Palm Beach
I'm puttin rappers in the wheelchair, Big L is the villain
you still fear, cause I be hangin it hard and my shit is for real here
If you battle L you picked the wrong head
I smash mics like cornbread, you can't kill me I was born dead"

Ably produced by Buckwild, this song certainly had the right mix of radio friendly beat and rugged hip-hop joint although it failed to make a big impact nationally. In fact, Columbia Records seemed perplexed at how to promote the rapper. The street buzz certainly gave them reason enough to pick him up, but if they expected him to blow up on that alone a la Nas on "Illmatic" they were mistaken. Big L needed to be propelled into the limelight so that a national audience could get it, but excellent songs like "M.V.P." remained in the domain of underground fame:

"Battles I lose none, I make crews run
I get fools done, got ten fingers but only use one
I run up like Machine Gun Kelly, with a black skelly
Put one in your belly, leave you smelly, then take your Pelle Pelle
I'm the neighborhood lamper, punani vamper
Mess around you'll find my silkboxers in your mommy's hamper
And nowadays girls want you for your money
I'm like Hev, I got "Nothin' But Love" for you honey
And since I'm lookin slick and my pockets are thick
I need surgery to get chicks removed from my (chilllll...)"

D.I.T.C. production was in full effect on this track, with Lord Finesse serving up a funk riff from DeBarge that Biggie fans will recognize from the "One More Chance" remix. This was the apex of D.I.T.C.'s underground hip-hop production power, and it shows on songs like Showbiz's "No Endz, No Skinz" and the all-star posse cut "8 Iz Enuff" by Buckwild which even features a young Cam'Ron as Killa Kam. Speaking of surprises, an up-and-coming Jay-Z is found on the strictly underground posse cut "Da Graveyard":

"When I'm in the zone better hold ya own
Cause I like to break when I finish a poem
Pound for p-p-pound the best around
No way you can get up, when I get down
I shake rattle and roll and wreck shit like none
And beat a nigga ass half silly on the one
Fuckin A fuckin Jay ill with skill
So ladies step up I get around like a wheel
I'm never chokin' off chronic skills are bionic bitches'll treat me like Onyx
Expect that I'll peel a punks cap back and sign it
Creep through your block fuck a glock I step
Through your neighborhood armed with nuttin but a rep
I'm giving these ladies somethin they can feel cause I'm real
Ya man get outta line and it's kill kill kill"

This album is jam packed with treats, most of them courtesy Big L himself. Somewhere between Ras Kass and Mad Skillz vocally and with punchlines, L was the cornerstone of D.I.T.C. that should have taken each other to greater heights in the rap world. Sadly that never happened and this album faded quietly into obscurity, now better known after his death than it was while he was still alive. Still if you can find a copy of this album used, you're not going to regret the chance to advance with these fat tracks. Perhaps the ironically apt title "I Don't Understand It" best sums up my feelings about L; a rapper taken from hip-hop just as he was on the rebound from the bum deal that spawned this album. Today as it was back then, there are still plenty of rappers who weren't worthy to hold his jock strap:

"There are too many MC's who are overrated
You ask me, they wasn't even supposed to make it
In the rap biz, they don't know what rap is
So give it up, become a actor or a actress
Or a producer, cause you fail to use the
Mic right, so take flight before I bruise ya
For sayin those bull crap wack raps on wax
You need to get smacked, sit back and rip that contract
Hey yo, I'm serious, Big L ain't playin games
I should get foul and buckwild and start sayin names
But deep down inside you know who you are
Your rhymes are not up to par, you fake superstar
And that really gets on my nerve
When a rapper gets the credit that he don't deserve
Goin platinum and don't have no soul
Some rappers are mad nice and don't even go gold
I don't like the way it's goin down
Because it should be the other way around
I don't understand it..."

You're right L. I don't understand it either. I don't understand why you never got the props you deserved. I don't understand why your life was snuffed out so needlessly. I don't understand why so many people were happy to big you up after your death who didn't give you the time of day back in the day. I don't understand at all. "Livestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous" though, I understand. It was a classic then, it's still a classic now, and through his music Big L still lives on in the hearts of New York rap fans and hip-hop heads around the world. One love to Lamont Coleman - born May 30, 1974; died February 15, 1999. Big L's flav is gone but not forgotten.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 10 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10

Originally posted: February 18, 2003