Review Summary: It’s the Big L, comin’ at you once again in ‘95
Not all rappers can be considered true ‘street-poets’. 2Pac was, because he not only shared his experience treading the gravel but he condemned it. Pac told us stories about love and trust in a world where ultimately, a person’s hedonistic thirst governs their lifestyle. Acting as a perfect contrast to the uplifting MC, Big L invaded the rap game with a criminal charisma and a knack for lyricism. These words of his bring his listeners to a gloomy, robbery-ridden Harlem, New York with horror film imagery and ace punch-lines. It is nothing short of a shame that he had to pass so young and violently, but the magnitude of scarily relevant thematic credibility his death adds to the grim, remorseful, outlaw lyrics of this album is massive. A fine hardcore hip-hop experience.
Picture a drizzly Borough night, cruising in an ’85 Lincoln during the Fall of ‘95, windows rolled down so the dewy scent of wet asphalt clouds your nose, and you’re pulling on a Newport cigarette. A friend in the passenger seat is unsuccessfully preaching his trials and tribulations to you over (or rather, under) the pulsing rhythms of Big L rapping on a funky bass-guitar beat. You pull over and get out, walk to a Spanish lookin’ dude and his dingy hot-dog stand, order two with mustard and relish…as you reach out your hands to accept the small meal a bullet rips through your arms and a gunshot explodes to your right. You fall to the sidewalk, your friend runs away around the block, and Big L waltzes up to you as it starts to torrentially downpour, steps aside your stream of blood and rummages through your pockets to find a wallet stuffed with cash you owed to your grandma. You try to explain what it’s for but instead of finding sympathy in your woe, he kicks a couple rhymes in mockery of your bad luck and runs after your friend, who had a really, really decent chain hanging off his neck. Lamont Coleman has just given you a vivid tour through his lyrical mindset.
You’re in downtown Brooklyn at your first hip-hop show and the DJ introduces Harlem’s own living legend Big L to the stage. Big says “I’m gonna have a drink while the DJ spins some funky beats for y’all I’ll be right with ya”…a cheer, and the criminally addictive “Put It On” starts making the house jump for joy. After the loop goes around a few times Big L jumps on it with “Ayyo you’d better flee hops, or getcha head thrown three blocks, L keep rapper’s hearts pumpin’ like Reeboks…” and immediately, you know why your friends boast so often of his MC skills. Throughout his set you’re barraged with a myriad of themes, encompassing New York City street-life and all its ups and downs. His voice grows intensely angry after the bass pickup on “Danger Zone”, a song that harbors some of his best words you think, but these thoughts get whisked away in the energy of L’s empirically lyrical showcase of talent.
He talks about the dangers of a life on the ‘other’ side of the law on his classic song “Street Struck” while the crowd slows down for the closest thing Big L ever wrote to a ballad. The artificial drums seep deeply in your head and you zone out completely before “Da Graveyard” begins and on stage, Big L is joined by Jay-Z, Finesse, and others so chummy with him and his art. The crowd starts riling up again and you’re entranced in the rebel yell of an oppressed ethnic minority, expressing his circumstance with a cocky conduct and a voice that represents all of those without one. These rappers become more than an ostentatious criminal, rather a rough point of view stemming from a rough street education. They belong to a group of people who either live paycheck to paycheck or never see one.
You leave the show and leave behind a deafening pounding sound like a gunshot from a turntable. Big L left the stage minutes before and you see him, lighting a Newport cigarette in between the brick walls of an apartment building’s front entrance. He calls you over after he notices your cast and apologizes for his actions on the street last week, but, “Why did you come to see me man?” You look him straight in the eye and say, “I wanted to understand you.” He nods with a grin and offers you a bogie, but you decline, because your hospital visit allowed you to see firsthand what exactly a lung cancer patient looks like. Your conversation ended abruptly and it was silent for a moment, before Big L started to rhyme:
I still chill with my peeps in the streets; but most of the time I'm in the crib, writin’ rhymes to some dope beats…Or callin’ up some freaks to bone, but word up, I try to leave the streets alone
It’s crazy hard kid, in other words, it's spooky; the streets be callin’ me, like the crack be callin’ Pookie
It ain't a dumb joke, listen to this young folk cause where I'm from -- you can choke from the gunsmoke
Stay off the corners; that might be your best plan before you catch a bullet that was meant for the next man…or end up with a deep cut, relaxin’ on a hospital bed, from bein’ street struck