July 10, 2008

Big L - Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (March 28, 1995)


Lamont Coleman, better known as Big L, was murdered in February of 1999 in Harlem, in the same neighborhood in which he grew up. There has been speculation that he was taken out because of a debt that his brother owed. Whatever the reason, his death was completely senseless, and was a huge blow for hip hop.

It took me a while to actually discover Big L, as I was busy with my other obsessions in the early nineties, such as Wu-Tang, women, and film. I had heard the name, sure, and I even heard his first two singles on the radio, but I didn't pay him any attention until I read an article about his crew, Diggin' In The Crates (D.I.T.C.), which also included such hip hop heavyweights as O.C., Lord Finesse, Fat Joe, Showbiz, A.G., and Buckwild. I don't recall the magazine or the name of the article, but there was a sidebar pointing out some of the best examples of Lamont's wicked wordplay, and one stood out the most for me: his verse on Show and A.G.'s "Runaway Slaves", which completely slayed me: "L is the rebel type, I'm rough as a metal pipe/Fuck a Benz, cause I could pull skins on a pedal bike."

Ever since then, I've paid attention.

Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous was his debut solo album, although Big L had made multiple appearances on other songs, most notably with two factions: the aforementioned D.I.T.C. crew, who could always be trusted to bring some creativity to the table (even if Fat Joe sucks balls today), and the Children Of The Corn, a Harlem crew made up of soon-to-be-stars Murda Mase, Killa Cam, Digga, Herb McGruff, and some guy named Bloodshed that happened to be Cam's cousin. Unlike most rappers that have a taste of success, though, Lamont never forgot about his friends, and included some of his Corn brethren on his D.I.T.C.-produced debut disc.

Sadly, this was the only album to be released in his lifetime. (I've written that sentence more than a few times on my blog for different artists, but that doesn't make it any less sad.) May he rest in peace.

1. PUT IT ON
To my knowledge, the first single. I can't believe this actually got some airplay in my area, not because it's a bad song (far from it), but because it's not even close to the textbook definition of "radio friendly". Although in the mid-nineties, rappers actually just made the music they wanted to make and forced radio to confirm to their standards, and not the other way around as is the case today (*cough* Clear Channel *cough*). The bizarre reggae-tinged interlude prior to Lamont's final verse is unexpected, though: I don't remember that being there at all.

2. MVP
The second single, which I believe was released before Biggie's "One More Chance" remix, although I could be wrong. (I know for a fact that "MVP" was released before Ashanti stole the beat, though: of that I am certain.) This track is only alright: I never really cared much for it.

3. NO ENDZ, NO SKINZ
Showbiz's beat isn't engaging enough for what essentially amounts to a primer on how to pick up women, although the title would lead one to believe that the song is about the joys of hiring a prostitute.

4. 8 IZ ENUFF (FEAT TERRA, HERB MCGRUFF, BUDDAH BLESS, TWAN, KILLA CAM, TROOPER J, & MIKE BOOGIE)
The first of two massive posse cuts, on which Lamont had the foresight to include no-name artists who would later make it big in the rap game. The winner of that sweepstakes here is Killa Cam, better known today as Cam'Ron, and on this track he sounds a lot different that he does now (since today he "talks" more than he "raps", unlike on his own debut Confessions of Fire), but, unfortunately, that doesn't mean that he sounds good. Big L easily bests everyone else.

5. ALL BLACK
Meh.

6. DANGER ZONE
Lamont's lyrics are at such a high caliber that they make Buckwild's plain-as-vanilla beat sound artificially hotter.

7. STREET STRUCK
I just listened to this track and find it impossible to distinguish it from the previous four songs.

8. DA GRAVEYARD (FEAT Y.U., LORD FINESSE, MICROPHONE NUT, PARTY ARTY, & JAY-Z)
Whoever cast this posse cut should either be fired or handed the fucking Nobel Peace Prize. Overall, the rhymes sound pretty decent over the pounding beat, making this the better of the two group songs. The surprise here, obviously, is the appearance of Shawn Carter, displaying the quick-fast flow that he had cultivated while rapping alongside Big Jaz, just prior to dropping Reasonable Doubt and switching it on everyone. You shouldn't overlook Lord Finesse's tight fucking verse, either.

9. LIFESTYLEZ OV DA POOR & DANGEROUS
Proof positive that you can write a song about societal ills in a serious manner while retaining your voice and not losing your edge. I wish Lord Finesse's beat grabbed you more, though.

10. I DON'T UNDERSTAND IT
Big L presents an entire song questioning why our chosen genre works the way it does (using the same argument which I've debated numerous times on my own blog regarding why certain music is considered "popular"). I wonder if he would even still be rhyming if he were alive today, or if he would have simply given up and taken a job at the post office after seeing hip hop on a fucking ventilator.

11. FED UP WIT THE BULLSHIT
If Big L were Michael Douglas, this would be his Falling Down, although I hope he would have secured a better director than that fucking hack Joel Schumacher.

12. LET 'EM HAVE IT "L"
"A lot of rappers talk that murder shit but couldn't kill time." This dark and sinister beat is the perfect way to end your debut disc.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous is a pretty accurate representation of how I thought a rap album would have sounded from New York in 1995 if it weren't for Puff Daddy. Having the one radio-friendly single didn't jeopardize the integrity of the remaining tracks: throw in a couple of posse cuts, unmistakeably dope rhymes, and beats that are at least consistent (if not always great), and you hit upon the recipe for a debut album that is heralded by bloggers but left on the store shelves by consumers en masse. Which is a damn shame because, apart from a few missteps, this shit is pretty good.

BUY OR BURN? If you find yourself with an extra quarter and nothing to spend it on, you should definitely pick up a used copy of this shit. You'll appreciate the wordplay, even if you also feel the beats are murky and lifeless.

BEST TRACKS: "Fed Up Wit The Bullshit"; "Let 'Em Have It "L""; "Put It On"; "Da Graveyard"; "I Don't Understand It"

-Max

23 comments:

  1. I can't believe you made it through this entire review without referencing "Ras Kass" syndrome.

    Look for the Summer Smooth remix of M.V.P.(or just go watch the video on Youtube, that's the version used for the video). It's Hoo-bangin'

    R.I.P. Big L.

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  2. L was one hell of a lyricist before he died. He just got better with time but we will never find out how he would have fit in today's brand of hip-hop. It's too bad because hip-hop really needs a shot of the new school underground that shocked the 90's. I heard that Jay was supposed to sign him to the Roc.

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  3. AnonymousJuly 10, 2008

    Word! Definitely L at that time had the slickest wordplay and was just ahead of his time...WHOA

    "Battles, I lose none, I make crews run, I get fools done, got 10 fingers but only use one.

    Run up like machine gun kelly wit a black skelly, put one in ya belly, leave ya smelly, n take ya pelle pelle. " MVP Remix

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  4. Lyrically, L was on some other level sh.t. Sad how his carrer was cut short, and that he was a handfulof rappers to release only one album in their lifetime (Rest In Peace). THis album is pretty good in its own right, and L does not disappoint. Cool Review!!!

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  5. errynow and then i run that freestyle session on the milkbone instrumental...and heds start arguing wether L's gully excellence really murked J's attempat at a more refined presentation...no doubt tho' that L took it

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  6. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJuly 11, 2008

    It's always good advice not to sleep on Lord Finesse. I consider him one of the most overlooked rappers in the history of the game. I love Big L but Lord Finesse is basically the Rakim to Big L's Nas. There's' a great clip of him on YouTube battling Percee P somewhere in the projects. He has ample talent to make his rivals "look funny like jogging pants and dress shoes." In fact, I'd like to request a review of his debut with DJ Mike Smooth Funky Technician. DJ Mike Smooth's title credit is perhaps the most undeserved of all time. He produced one track while DJ Premier produced six, Diamond D did four, and Showbiz contributed two tracks. I've never seen it in a store but the reissue from JCOR Entertainment is available online. Everyone should track this gem down. Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth Funky Technician.

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  7. I must kindly disagree with you on just a couple points:

    1) I *love* "No Skinz, No Endz." It's one of the wackest videos ever but to me that song represents what was great about East Coast Hip Hop at the time.

    2) I think "8 iz Enuff" is the better of the two posse cuts.

    3) I think "Street Struck" is an overlooked gem of a song. It might get muddled in the course of the album, but it hit me in a random sample on my iPod and it's better than I gave it credit for.

    Otherwise, I agree with everything else. Good breakdown.

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  8. "Meh" for "All Black"? Come on, that track is impeccable.

    The Lord Finesse instrumental has that super-creepy echoed saxophone skronk that should be annoying but is actually somehow amazing, plus it's one of those tracks where L keeps saying something completely fucked up and terrifying, and then following it up with something so ridiculous that you sort of forgive him for it.

    Plus it contains the line: "Once a nigga tried to stick me for Six G's / and I put more holes in his ass than swiss cheese" -- and that part at the end of the last verse where it sounds like he's trying to fit in as many rhyming couplets as he can before the refrain comes back in, concluding with "You know my style is wild / comin' straight out of Harlem, pal / it's Big L, the motherfucking problem child."

    It's a trick that's almost completely impossible to pull off, and L does it perfectly without even blinking. Easily the 2nd best track on the record, after the indelible "Put it On." Spend some time with it. It'll grow on you.

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  9. i definitely agree with DJ Hummingbird Feeder , at first i didn't like "all black" as well but after some time it became one of if not the favorite songs from the album, the beat is really grimey and big l rips the shit out of it.

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  10. "So if your mother aint ready for a funeral don't FUCK WITH ME/ Coz I got a good way to get your family together and I ain't talking about a reunion mutherf@@ers" Ill.

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  11. The Nighttime VultureAugust 26, 2008

    LOL, i bet your one of those people who dont think Diplomatic Immunity is a classic. But whatever, at least you think this album is good. Whoever doesnt think Killa outshined everyone on 8 iz enuff needs a hearing aid though. You hear them multies?

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  12. I bought the album for only 9 dollars (brand new with the shrink wrap) at Best Buy six years ago. A great hip hop album!

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  13. Got it recently and love the word play, but I agree that the beats let it down. L was an amazing lyricist no doubt. Two things though:

    1. I'm a tough guy to offend, but I must admit that I thought the repeated talk of having AIDS and raping bitches was a little too much.

    2. Another slight issue I have which is more or less a bizarre obsessive compulsive irritation of mine, is his tendency to rap in triplets on this disc...I don't know why, but it's a dated style of delivery that I normally associate with The Outhere Brothers or Will Smith...not Harlem's finest!

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  14. big L is insane. his 98 freestyle is ill.

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  15. And if you think I cant fuck with whoever, put your money up
    Put your jewels up, no fuck it put your honey up
    Put your raggedy house up nigga, or shut your mouth up
    Before I buck lead, and make a lot of blood shed
    Turn your tux red, Im far from broke, got enough bread
    And mad hoes, ask beavis I get nuttin butt-head
    my game is, vicious and cool
    Fuckin chicks is a rule
    If my girl think Im loyal then that bitch is a fool

    hahaha i love big L
    RIP man

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  16. AnonymousMay 01, 2009

    beats murky and lifeless??? it aint tome, the beats here are sick and stop focusing more on the beats focus mor on the rhyming and storytelling, thats the problem with you

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  17. Yo that whole album was dope and 100% on point. From start to finish.

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  18. The one thing that consistently brings me back to this blog (besides of course the music) is how much I agree with your non-sequiturs. Joel Schumacher IS a hack.

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  19. "Mcs be talkin' about breakin' jaws when they couldn't break a promise"

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  20. Ah.. if only L were still around today, imagine him and Hov dropping albums with Kanye behind the boards..

    RIP

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  21. Max i'm usually able to accept you disagreeing with me, but not liking Street Struck? That's Big L's finest 4 minutes in my opinion

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  22. One of the best albums ever.

    AND schumucher is a pretty good director. He's made some good films.. I LOVE Falling Down, and Phone Booth is a fun thriler..

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  23. The delivery of Jay Z's verse is hilarious on Da Graveyard; he sounds awful. How come the clown that appeared on that song made Reasonable Doubt?

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