We’re too familiar with this scenario – we’ve BEEN too familiar with it for more than a minute now. Since back in the day we’ve lost talented artists like Cowboy and Scott LaRock to seemingly random violence. It’s not random though – people die in the hood every day, and more than most of them are not well-known rap artists. When you remember Lamont Coleman, remember him first as his mother’s son, his main man’s homeboy, and a future unborn seed’s father. L was blessed with a gift and was cut down before his time; but that gift wasn’t just his rap – it was his life itself.
L paid dues like Donald Trump pays taxes. For years his cameo raps blazed up tracks like Showbiz and A.G.’s “Represent” and Lord Finesse’s “Yes You May (Remix)”. Parlaying this work into a record deal, Big L recorded and released “Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous” through Sony/Columbia.. and promptly went aluminum. You could blame any number of factors: lack of promotion, an uninspiring lead single, not enough connections in the biz. If you aren’t familiar with L though, stop reading this review and go to the record store to cop his first LP – it’s MAD nice.
Far from folding up his tent and packing up the mess kit, L went back to the lab and redoubled his efforts. Between solidifying his already tight connections with the Diggin’ In The Crates family and launching his own Flamboyant Entertainment label, Lamont was ready to blow. His newest twelve inch “Ebonics (Street Slang)” was the hottest shit on mix tapes and college radio and he had a whole album full of hot joints planned – then disaster struck.
If you heard Notorious B.I.G.’s post-humous “Born Again” album you probably realize how hard Bad Boy tried to splice together unfinished material into full songs and pull acapellas from his guest appearances with other artists. Paired together with a couple of gems from the vault that were actually complete, it ALMOST comprised a real album – but Big L’s final album fares a little bit better.
Other than snatching up “The Enemy”, his duet with Fat Joe on D.I.T.C.’s self-titled release, this is the straight-up raw. If any of these cuts are spliced together, it’s hella hard to tell. Take mixtape master Ron G’s “Deadly Combination” featuring Tupac Shakur – like any tape king he records “exclusives” to pump up interest in his latest release. It’s possible they could have pieced this together – Shakur never mentions L by name or vice versa, but he DOES give Ron a shoutout as “the only DJ who can calm me.” Since the vocals are obviously authentic let’s put it this way: if you can’t tell the difference, does it matter? The beat slams, the raps rip. ‘Nuff the fuck said.
Besides the obvious inclusion of pre-album singles and their b-sides (at least four songs you may have heard, if you’re a fan of L) there’s plenty of new material to be happy with. Pete Rock blesses L with a bouncy, uptempo beat on “Holdin’ it Down” while guests A.G., Miss Jones and Stan Spiteach contribute nice vocals. Kool G. Rap is all over the brutally beautiful “Fall Back” with his trademark rapidfire bravado. The lead single “Flamboyant” has a Mike Heron beat to which the words beautiful and excellent don’t even begin to do justice. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s immediately followed by L’s three-minute long opus “Casualties of a Dice Game.” If you can’t rank Big L among hip-hop’s greatest storytellers after hearing this song, you WEREN’T paying attention. Peep a short selection of the lyrics:
I’m waitin for my nigga to come out of the spot
I see niggaz startin to plot, and I’m far from my block
Finally he walked out, told him, “Hop the fuck in”
On my face he saw the grin and said, “How much did you win?”
I estimated about, 45 maybe 50 G’s
My man was hungry so I dropped him off at Mickey D’s
Now I’m alone, headin home to rest my dome
Spotted some niggaz trailin so I picked up the phone
Called Bones, I said, “Yo son, I’m on the run
Need your help before I get done
Meet me downstairs, bring your big gun”
The illymostdefness ALMOST doesn’t let up on this album’s second half. DJ Premier blesses a double-threat of Big-ness on “Platinum Plus” in the form of Big L and Big Daddy Kane; then Pete Rock comes right back for L’s “Who You Slidin’ Wit'” which also features Stan Spit. Surprisingly, “Games” featuring Sadat X and Guru seems to be the album’s most lackluster moment. L sounds uninspired by his own rap about chickenheads, and Ysae’s beat adds nothing to the mix nor do the guest rappers. Lord Finesse puts a nice spin on the “The Heist (Revisisted)” though, and D.I.T.C. comes together on the album’s finale for “The Triboro” – even adding rapstress Remi Martin in the mix for the chorus and a verse.
Don’t assume this album walks away leaving L a perfect finale. Only on a post-humous album would you get away with including something like the “’98 Freestyle” as a song – this one is included for historical purposes; even those he spits it nicely. The problem is that there was far more history to be mined: the already released “Day One ’99” live in Amsterdam is nice; and the twelve inch tracks “We Got This” and “On the Mic” are surprisingly absent – especially given the fat beats and scratches by Roc Raida on the latter. L fans are going to view this album as 10 new songs, 4 already available tracks, 1 intro and 1 freestyle. Those who don’t know L will view it as 14 or 15 songs and an intro. ANYBODY who listens will agree on this one thing – L was ILL. A smooth voice, easy-going flow, and penchant for nasty punchlines put him in the upper echelons of New York’s best rappers – and like L himself these songs will not soon be forgotten.