I'm sure many of you were waiting for me to finally get to Big L's debut album, and the time has finally come.
Even if you don't know too much about Big L, real name Lamont Coleman, you probably know that he was from Harlem and was shot and killed in 1999. It was a career--and a life--that was cut far too short. Even though he released just one LP during his lifetime (The Big Picture was a posthumous album), Big L, known for his vivid storytelling over dark beats, is considered one of the best rappers of all-time.
Big L started out his rap career in 1991, forming the group Children of The Corn with Killa Cam (whom you now know as Cam'ron), Murda Mase (who is obviously Ma$e) and Bloodshed (who sadly died in a car accident in 1997). At this time, L was also fairly tight with Lord Finesse (hence his inclusion in Diggin' In The Crates crew), and his first appearance on an actual song came on Finesse's "Yes You May" remix in '92.
Then, in 1993, Big L released his first promotional single, "Devil's Son," claiming it to be the first ever horrorcore song. After dropping another promo single by the name of "Clinic," he came with his biggest hit, "Put It On." Shortly thereafter, Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous was born.
Big L's first full-length effort, also featuring the singles "No Endz, No Skinz" and "M.V.P.," was met with critical acclaim, and to this day, it is considered a staple in the collections of hip-hop fans everywhere.
Time to review what most have dubbed an undisputed classic.
1. Put It On
There are no album intros here. Just an absolute banger of a song produced by Buckwild. Even the most casual old-school hip-hop fans know "Put It On," and for good reason: this freaking knocks. The beat is actually a bit playful compared to the rest of the album, and Big L flashes his insane punchline ability throughout the duration of the track. Kid Capri also adds a really nice touch on the hook, even if it is as simple as a hook can possibly be.
The first thing you'll notice about "M.V.P." (which stands for "Most Valuable Poet" in this instance) is that Lord Finesse used the same sample as The Notorious B.I.G.'s "One More Chance" remix to make the instrumental. Let the record show that "M.V.P." came out before the Biggie record. Let the record also show that I never liked either cut. I just don't dig that DeBarge sample at all. Big L saying his crime record is longer than Manute Bol was pretty funny, though.
3. No Endz, No Skinz
This was actually one of the first records I gravitated toward upon hearing Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous, and it's probably due to the fact that the Showbiz production is more lively than most of the rest of the project. This song basically says that the more money you have, the more girls you'll get. Not exactly a triumph of analysis by Big L, but who cares? "No Endz, No Skinz" is pretty solid, particularly the chorus. This isn't one of my favorite tracks on the LP anymore, though.
4. 8 Iz Enuff
One of two posse cuts on the album. The difference between the two is that on "8 Iz Enuff," Killa Cam is the only guy on here outside of Big L that most of us have ever heard of (except for maybe McGruff, but I'd bet on most people not knowing who he is). Buckwild is on the boards here, and he crafts a decent beat for the 589 rappers that are present to spit on. Overall, this was merely alright.
5. All Black
This is the best song on Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous. This absolutely bangs in every way possible. Lord Finesse's instrumental is incredibly ominous, and Big L tears it to bits. The hook on here is especially great. To me, "All Black" is the crown jewel on L's short career.
6. Danger Zone
I've gotta say that I am more than a little perturbed about Big L's obsession with the whole "devil's son" bit, but Buckwild's production here is dope enough (actually, it knocks) to make you overlook that...a little.
7. Street Struck
The third of five Lord Finesse beats on on the album is a winner. This isn't "All Black," but it's still really good. The horns add a great element, and Big L drops some serious raps for a change. It's kind of spooky, too, because L warns against the very thing that ultimately ended his life. Very nice record overall.
8. Da Graveyard
The second posse cut. This one is actually very notable, as it features a young Jay-Z. Buckwild's instrumental is appropriately aggressive, and Big L eats it alive and then proceeds to spit it out with authority. Sorry, Jay, but L murked you on here. As a matter of fact, knowing what type of style Jay would ultimately adopt, he sounds awkwardly out of place on "Da Graveyard." Lord Finesse drops a verse, too, as well as Microphone Nut, Party Arty (known for his contributions to Show & A.G.'s albums) and Grand Daddy I.U. All things considered, Big L's performance was so scintillating that you'll find yourself wishing this was an L solo.
9. Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous
Lord Finesse is back on the boards for the title track, and he puts together a beat that sounds like a cross between "All Black" and "Danger Zone." In case you weren't sure, that is a very good thing. The most awesome thing about this song is that it is just one long verse by Big L, and he maintains his usual level of excellence throughout.
10. I Don't Understand It
Showbiz laces his second instrumental to Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous here, and this contribution is certainly stronger than his first. This is a certified head-nodder, and Big L broaches the same kind of topic that O.C. did on "Time's Up." Big L's version isn't as scathing, but it still reverberates today; that's for damn sure. L raps, "some rappers are mad nice, and don't even go gold." That line certainly applies to Lifestyles ov Da Poor & Dangerous, but it's a shame Big L wasn't around to see The Big Picture move enough copies to do just that.
11. Fed Up With The Bullshit
This is Finesse's final go on the album, and he went out with a bang. This is freaking awesome. He throws in some of his trademark horns and his typical dusty drums, and Big L fundamentally covers the topic of racism and how he's fed up with it, hence the title. This record is concrete evidence that L wasn't solely about punchlines.
12. Let 'Em Have It L
This is the only cut on the album that wasn't produced by a D.I.T.C. member, but you wouldn't know it unless you looked at the liner notes. Craig Boogie's beat sounds exactly like something one of those dudes would produce, and that's obviously good news. This sounds really good, and Big L drops punchlines galore on here. How else would you expect him to go out?
Yep; Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous is definitely an indisputable classic. Big L demonstrates that he was one of the most gifted MCs to ever do it here, and the beats provided by Diggin' In The Crates crew suit him perfectly. This album truly is a masterpiece, one that is, in my opinion, superior to The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die.
Here is a fair warning, though: those of you who enjoy radio-friendly hip-hop will not like this album. The only song on here that could be classified as somewhat radio-friendly is "Put It On," and even on that track, Big L does not compromise himself for the possibility of airplay.
The instrumentals on Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous are, in a word, raw, and they paint a perfect picture of what New York hip-hop sounded like back in 1995 and what it should sound like right now. The music is very dark and dreary, and I mean that in the best way possible. It does well to complement L's frequently bleak rhymes, and that's what make this project such an enjoyable listen, along with Big L's brilliant punchlines and masterful flow.
It's gravely unfortunate that we did not get to see what Big L would have been capable of had his life not been taken away at the age of 24. He is someone who likely never would have sold out and would have continued to drop classic material for the remainder of his existence in the rap game.
As an ode to Big L and to classic hip-hop in general, you need to make sure you have Lifestylez ov Da Poor & Dangerous in your collection. It's a very refreshing listen, particularly in the current space this genre finds itself in today.
1. All Black
2. I Don't Understand It
3. Put It On
4. Street Struck
5. Fed Up With The Bullshit