Big L, Book of Rhymes, Vol. 2
Originally published in the March 2003 issue of XXL
Eleven years ago today hip-hop lost a legend when Lamont “Big L” Coleman fell victim to an assassin’s bullet outside his Harlem home on February 15, 1999. Most know L’s name, but not everyone knows his legacy.
As the youngest DITC member and the only Harlemite, Big L had partnered with Killa Cam, Murda Ma$e and Bloodshed in the storied early-’90s rap troupe, The Children of the Corn, and earned a solo deal with Columbia Records when he was just 17. Though he was dropped after his debut album, 1995’s Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, sold disappointingly, he continued his solo career through his own independent label, Flamboyant, and never lost his confident sense of humor. “How come you can listen to my first album/And tell where a lot of niggas got they whole style from?” he bragged in a radio freestyle that would appear on his gold, posthumously released second album, The Big Picture. At the time of his death, he was reportedly planning to sign with Roc-A-Fella Records.
Since his death, the contributions L made to the art of MCing have begun to be fully recognized. On the anniversary of his passing, XXL asked some of the people he made music with to choose a favorite verse and analyze, line for line, the skills of a lyricist who looms even larger now than he did when he were alive. —Adam Matthews
Former Rawkus Records A&R Mike Heron, who produced most of Big L’s album, The Big Picture, chose this verse from “98 Freestyle” (Recorded live during an appearance on the legendary Stretch and Bobbito radio show) as his favorite
“Yo, fuck all the glamours and glitz, I plan to get rich/I’m from New York and never was a fan of the Knicks/And I’m all about expandin’ my chips/You mad ’cause I was in the van with your bitch/With both hands on her tits/Corleone hold the throne, that you know in your heart/I got style, plus the way that I be flowin’ is sharp/A while back I used to hustle, sellin’ blow in the park/Countin’ G stacks and rockin’ ice that glow in the dark/Forever hottie-huntin’, trigger temper I’m quick to body somethin’/You lookin’ at me like I’m probably frontin’/I fuck around and throw, three in your chest and flee to my rest/I’m older and smarter this is me at my best/I stopped hangin’ around y’all, ’cause niggas like you/Be prayin’ on my downfall, hopin’ I flop/Hopin’ I stop, you probably even hope I get locked/Or be on the street corner with a pipe, smokin’ the rock/I got more riches than you, fuck more bitches than you/Only thing I haven’t got is more stitches than you/Fuckin’ punk, you ain’t a leader/Nobody ever followed you/You was never shit, your mother shoulda swallowed you/You on some tagalong flunkie yes-man shit/Do me a favor, please get off the next man dick/And if you think I can’t fuck with whoever, put your money up/Put your jewels up—no fuck it, put your honey up/Put your raggedy house up nigga, or shut your mouth up/Before I buck lead, and make a lot of blood shed/Turn your tux red, I’m far from broke, got enough bread/And mad hoes, ask Beavis I get nothing but head/My game is vicious and cool/Fuckin’ chicks is a rule/If my girl think I’m loyal then that bitch is a fool/How come you can listen to my first album/And tell where a lot of niggas got they whole style from?”
XXLMag.com: “Yo, fuck all the glamours and glitz...”
Mike Heron: And Jay-Z was sitting right next to him. He brought him up there. I think Jay-Z rhymes right after him. But this is who I am talking about, a nigga who ran with the kings. He was signed to Columbia when Nas was signed. He was royalty.
Founding DITC member (and one half of the much-loved duo showbiz & A.G.), A.G. chose this verse from Big L’s “Ebonics”
“Yo, yo, a burglary is a jook, a woof’s a crook/Mobb Deep already explained the meanin’ of shook/If you caught a felony, you caught a F/If you got killed, you got left/If you got the dragon, you got bad breath/If you seven-thirty, that mean you crazy/Hit me on the hip means page me/Angel dust is sherm, if you got AIDS, you got the germ/If a chick gave you a disease, then you got burned/Max mean to relax, guns and pistols is Gats/Condoms is hats, critters is cracks/The food you eat is your grub/A victim’s a mark/A sweatbox is a small club, your ticker is your heart/Your apartment is your pad/Your old man is your dad/The studio is the lab and heated is mad/I know you like the way I’m freakin’ it/I talk with slang and I’ma never stop speakin’ it...”
XXLMag.com: What are your favorite couplets in that verse?
A.G.: When he says, “Mobb Deep already explained the meanin’ of shook,” and “If you got the dragon, you got bad breath.”
XXLMag.com: A lot of these expressions are New York-specific, huh?
A.G.: L always represented Harlem. He spoke to the world, but it was from Harlem’s point of view. He was a true reflection of Harlem. And in Harlem, a lot of this slang was just coming about. So for him to put it all in one song would make your hair stand on end. How did this dude do this? From behind the scenes, I know that it took time, it wasn’t just overnight. I witnessed the process of “Ebonics.” That was like a year or so that he would just go around and be like, “Oh, I’ma say this.” I would hear it as it came along. But when I finally heard it to the beat with the whole song I was like, “This is what I love hip-hop for.” He just broke the whole slang down.
XXLMag.com: He says things like, “If you seven-thirty that mean you crazy.” Where does that come from?
A.G.: Because six o’clock [the hands on a clock] is straight. But 7:30 is not straight at all, so that’s crazy. I think that’s universal.
The notorious Freddie Foxxx chose Big L’s very first appearance on wax, this guest verse from Lord Finesse’s 1991 “Yes You May (Remix)”
“Ah, check it out, yo/Ayo, everywhere I go, brothers know my fucking name/I’m flooring niggas, and I only weigh a buck and change/I gave a lot of black eyes in my extorting days/Fucking with me, a lotta niggas was sporting shades/I grab the microphone and scar jerks/Niggas running up, ‘Put me on!’ What the fuck, is this? Star Search?/I’m relieving rappers like Sudafed/And if the microphone was smoke/Then Big L would be a buddha-head/Ayo, my crew’s real smooth like Lopez/I was rocking mics since niggas was wearing Pro Keds/I only roll with originators/Chicks stick to my dick like magnets on refrigerators/I’m a crazy mean lyricist/Many are in fear of this, yeah, so they stand clear of this/And those that refuse the order, Big L bruise and slaughter/Niggas hear me and take notes like a news reporter/I’ll bend a rapper like a fender, I’m slender, but far from tender/Killing niggas like a Klan member/You can’t touch this, your rhyme’s to darn weak/Front and I’ma introduce your brains to the concrete/I keep hoes satisfied, I’m pushing the fattest ride/To take me out, troop, even the baddest try/But they fell ’cause my techniques are liver/I’m so def I need a hearing aid with an equalizer/You tried to hit a home run but you struck out/My rhymes were released, I’d like to say peace the fuck out...”
Freddie Foxxx: There was this whole intensity in his voice. He was hungry as shit. It sounds like he had something to prove on that song.
XXLMag.com: “My crew’s real smooth like Lopez/I was rocking mics since niggas was wearing Pro Keds.”
Freddie Foxxx: There it is, that’s my favorite shit right there.
XXLMag.com: Why is that?
Freddie Foxxx: ’Cause his metaphor was dope. His metaphor is just crazy and it’s simple. It’s not too complicated. You know what’s ill about Big L? He literally took Lord Finesse’s style and flipped it. The way he rhymed he was like a spawn of Lord Finesse, but he said better rhymes. That’s ill when a young muthafucka takes your shit and flips it better than you. Like, Lord Finesse was dope, so you’d think nobody could use a Lord Finesse style and do it better than him. Another reason I like that is because I used to rock Pro Keds like a muthafucka back in the days.
Remembering how he was waiting for Big L at a Manhattan studio the night that he died, DITC’s O.C. chose this verse from “The Enemy”
“I drive up and down Harlem blocks, iced-out watch/Knots in my socks, cops think I’m selling rocks/Pulling me over to see if I’m drunk/But I’m sober, they wouldn’t fuck with me if I drove a Nova/Listen Colombo you’re mad because your money come slow/And what you make in a year I make in one show/Now you wanna frisk me and search my ride/Call me all kinda names try to hurt my pride/You’re just mad ’cause I’m a young cat, pockets dumb fat/Talkin’ bout where the gun at, I been there and done that/I’m through with that illegal life, I’m stayin’ legit/I love to see cars come cruisin’ bye and playin’ my shit/I walk around with six thou’ without a pist-al, my whole click’s wild/I’m rich pal, no more sticks, I’m makin’ hits now/I drink Cristal, I’m through breakin’ laws/I don’t sell coke anymore, I do tours/So get that flashlight out of my face/To bring me down them Jakes’ll do whatever it takes/Word up them federals got my phone and my house tapped/Praying that I fall for the mousetrap, I doubt that...”
XXLMag.com: “I drive I drive up and down Harlem blocks, iced-out watch/Knots in my socks, cops think I’m selling rocks/Pulling me over to see if I’m drunk/But I’m sober, they wouldn’t fuck with me if I drove a Nova...”
O.C.: It was some real shit at the time. We wasn’t selling no records, but we were driving nice things or whatever. And if you Black or you Hispanic, they think you’re fucking hustling. That touched me.
XXLMag.com: “Listen Colombo, you’re mad because your money come slow...”
O.C.: “And what you make in a year, I make in one show.” That’s what smart mouth muthafuckas say. L was the type to tell a cop that. Because they looking for drugs in his car, and he’s like, “C’mon, dawg, what you make in a year I make in one show.”
XXLMag.com: He’d really say that to a cop?
O.C.: Hell yeah. L was a big mouth. He would make you upset with words. He knew how to get to people—especially if there was people around, “Y’all ain’t going to hem me up and keep me shut.” He’d do it in front of people and embarrass a cop.
“Yo, you know the game plan/C-Town, that’s my main man/We never bring luggage, we go shoppin’ when the plane lands/Still run with the same clan, used to be a Kane fan/Mmm, mmm, mmm... Everything I rock is name brand/L’ll make ya dame swallow/Your ice don’t shine and your chain hollow/While you front in clubs for hours with the same bottle/Takin’ midget sips, I run with the richest clicks/Tap the thickest chicks, plus drop the slickest hits/You know nuttin’ about L, so don’t doubt L/What’s this muthafuckin’ rap game without L?/Yo, that’s like jewels without ice/That’s like china without rice/Or the Holy Bible without Christ/Or the Bulls without Mike/Or crackheads without pipes/The Village without dykes/Or hockey games without fights/Don’t touch the mic if you unable to spit/Flamboyant is the label I’m with, muthafucka...”
XXLMag.com: “We never bring luggage, we go shoppin’ when the plane lands/Still run with the same clan, used to be a Kane fan.” How did L’s putting you in a rhyme make you feel?
Big Daddy Kane: I mean he was a cat about to really be a part of hip-hop’s future. He acknowledged me and showed me love. I deeply appreciated that.
XXLMag.com: One way L showed the influence you had on him was in his sense of humor. Even when rhyming about a serious topic, you were both always witty about it.
Big Daddy Kane: You’ve got to ease the tension. Because, honestly, it’s never that serious. Your game face in boxing has got to always be real serious. In music, your game face don’t really have to be serious. There’s an art to it. I believe he understood the art. L, cats like Jay-Z, Biggie, those are brothers that understood the art because they know how to have fun with it. I think that cat was real clever. The game lost a very serious lyricist. And what I liked about him was he was spitting that hustle flavor a lot, talking a lot of that player stuff, but it wasn’t on a commercial level. It wasn’t on a superstar level. It was on a hungry underground level.
R.I.P. Lamont “Big L” Coleman – May 30, 1974 – February 15, 1999