"Classic Rotation" series revisits classic albums on the anniversary of their release.Today we take a look at Big L's debut album, "Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous", which dropped nineteen years ago on March 28, 1995.
Big L was a New York ‘representer’ straight from the danger zone of Harlem, and in the words of my father, who hung out with the young Lamont Coleman in the 90’s: “Big L was a charismatic and cool cat back then. A humble hustler who had bars.” Prior to the classic Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous, Big L made a name for himself as a problem in the battle sector of Hip Hop going against well-known artists such as Jay Z. His buzz grew from borough to borough and with guidance from older, more experienced men in the music industry such as Kid Capri and Buckwild, Big L started recording his rhymes. With their help and others, Coleman began pushing his records beyond the streets and to the record labels.
After a few months of his focused approach to rapping and a known underground name, Big L was signed to Columbia Records where he released “Devil’s Son". "Devil’s Son" was an introductory track that told listeners what he was about to bring to the table if they didn't already know. While many rappers were spitting lyrics that portrayed violence and living in the streets, Big L took it a few steps further with satanic-themed bars that the average person would feel uncomfortable repeating aloud. From that point forward, he would be known to step over the line of hardcore and into horror-core.
"Im living up to my extortion image/ I be stalking Lennox, catching more bodies than abortion clinics/ A kid tried to take L out/ Shot me with a Tech, I just laughed and spit the shell out"
"Devil’s Son" was quickly banned from attaining any radio play as a result of the young artist saying whatever he wanted. Despite the mediocre commercial attention of "Devil’s Son", it was an underground success. Two years later, Big L (still with Columbia) released Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous. Plaited with genuine storytelling, vivid fiction rhymes, and bars that will either make you laugh, rap-along, or feel extremely uncomfortable, the album was an instinctive classic.
With singles like “Put It On” and “MVP”, Big L earned the radio play he didn’t receive with “Devil’s Son”. The cocky and competitive rhymes of these tracks enhanced with catchy hooks were FM friendly. Aside from “Put It On” and “MVP”, tracks such as “Street Struck” and “Fed Up With The Bullshit” helped the album serve as a connected destination for listeners who could factually identify with Big L's lifestyle.
"Around my way they (Cops) shot many teens/ And them cops better stop or Imma stop em by any means/ The big L won't hesitant to cold diss em/ And if you ask me, muthafuck the whole system/ There are too many young black brothers doing life bids/ Cause justice means “just us white kids"/ So take heed to the rhymes I kick/ Im about to flip, cause Im fed up with that bullshit"
Specifically, “Street Struck” is a candid storytelling of Big L’s upbringing and how he switched it up from selling drugs to focusing his energy on rap. In the track, he attempts to uplift and motivate hustlers who haven’t found a creative or safe vice such as rhyming. His lyrics are conversational while also expressive of the idea that although a particular lifestyle may not be the best, safest, or healthiest, it is still alluring.
"Instead of cool friends, they'd rather hang with male thugs/ Instead of going to school, they'd rather sell drugs/ Its best to go the right route and not the wrong one/ Because it's gonna catch up with you in the long run
You beta listen when l rhyme/ Cause being street struck will get you nothing but a bullet or jail time/ So pay attention when l rhyme/ Cause being street struck will get you nothing but a bullet or jail time"
Along with Big L’s talent, the realism and wit heard throughout Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous has bred some of the most loyal fans in Hip Hop. It is unfortunate that Big L was murdered just a few years after his debut album release. Even still, he remains one of the most memorable MCs of his eon who was taken from us while on the cusp of Hip Hop notoriety as solid as a Nas or a Jay Z. His music lives on and in the words of the rapper himself, "I smash mics like cornbread, you can’t kill me, I was born dead."