Since there’s so little Big L released material available to review, it almost behooves hip-hop critics to cover every single nugget available. And this surprising album is more than a nugget – it’s an entire live performance by Big L from October 8, 1998 from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Underground hip-hop artists often pull bigger crowds in foreign lands from Europe to Japan than they do in the states. Does that mean they appreciate hip-hop more? It’s hard to say, but there are certainly times when jaded U.S. audiences who can see a show every other week may not realize just how good they’ve got it. Amsterdam is a favorite stomping ground for many acts, possibly because of it’s strong reputation for “coffee houses” where you can smoke the ‘dro legally, and/or for the relaxed and friendly atmosphere that welcomes people from all around the world to come and have a good time.
Who is responsible for blessing us with this high quality live recording of his show though? It’s impossible to tell. Although the CD is a full sized realize complete with inset tray artwork under a clear case, no label is listed and no group or website takes any credit. In fact, the only reference I can point anybody to who wants to cop the joint after reading this review is Sandbox Automatic, because that’s where I copped mine. Their abstract for the album offers no additional insight on who put this shit out, just a picture of the cover and a complete track listing.
Given that this performance occurs two years before the posthumous release of “The Big Picture,” it’s not surprising that a lot of the songs from it will not be found here. Getting to hear L flow “Ebonics” and “Size ‘Em Up” live though is a pleasant surprise, and he rips them with passion and energy, giving the people their money’s worth. He also blesses the peeps with obscure gems, like a remix of his first single “Devil’s Son.” You’ll hear him performing his verses from D.I.T.C. jams as well as guest appearances for affiliated artists like O.C., such as when he blessed the song “Dangerous” from O.C.’s “Jewelz” album.
A good portion of this live performance revolves around A.G. though, including most of the album’s second half. It’s not surprising that they were touring together though, or that A.G. would take the spotlight on a bill together. Even though they had been in the business about the same length of time, A.G. had more recorded releases out both with his partner Showbiz and with his 1999 solo album “The Dirty Version.” You’ll hear him perform the song “We Do That Too” from that joint, as well as joints he did with Showbiz from the old school “Soul Clap” all the way up to their “Full Scale” EP. A.G. is mostly dope, although his live performance seems a little bit shambled at times, especially compared to Big L’s tight flow and energy.
The album closes with A.G. and Big L coming together for a few joints, including performing their raps from the D.I.T.C. hit “Day One,” a freestyle acapella from L, and them dueting on another D.I.T.C. joint “The Enemy” to close the show. It all seems to be over far too fast, and you wish Big L could pick up the mic and bless a show just one more time, that you could hear him spit just one more rhyme. The wound of his murder on February 15, 1999 hurts less over time, but will never completely go away. Hearing him on “Live From Amsterdam” opens that pain a little bit, but at the same time helps to heal it just a little bit more. It may not be essential for those who aren’t fans, but to anyone who followed his career from his first guest appearance on Showbiz & A.G.’s “Represent” all the way through the 1990’s, it definitely qualifies as a must have.