"The true gentleman is friendly, but not familiar." - CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


BY THE TIME HARLEM, NY RAPPER BIG L TOOK HIS LAST BREATH after taking seven bullets to the chest and head in front of an Uptown club, he was set to be one of hip-hop's next greats. His '95 debut album on Sony, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor And Dangerous, was deemed an instant classic by The Source thanks to the combo of L's syllable-shredding wordplay, guest appearances from then-rookies Jay-Z and Cam'Ron and the rock-solid East Coast jeep beats provided courtesy of his home team Diggin 'In The Crates, the legendary crew which also claims Fat Joe, Lord Finesse and Show & AG among its esteemed members. L's style was a clash in contrasts. Conceptually he was the gutterest of the gutter, "...pistol-whipping the priest on Sunday..." being just one of his many outlandish-to-the-point-of-plain-evil boasts. But lyrically he was the Jaguar of emcees: he often rhymed two or three times in one bar, his punchlines were some of the fiercest in the game, his rhythm and timing flawless. In 1998 L released his landmark single "Ebonics", a breakdown of most every East Coast street slang term imaginable. Roc-A-Fella was a week away from announcing his official signing to the label when L was put to rest on January 15, 1999. His sophomore album The Big Picture was released in 2000. One of the people in L's circle was Omar Credle a.k.a. OC, author of the 1994 real rap anthem "Time's Up". OC and Big L can be heard together on "Dangerous", the DJ Premier-produced collaboration featured on OC's sophomore release, Jewelz.

L was a funny dude. He would get you upset quick. He could taunt you and get under your skin, then at the end of the argument it would be like, everybody cool, everything is everything, everybody would laugh it off after they got upset with him. You couldn't say nothing around L without him commenting on it, because he knew how to fuck with you. Him and Freddie Foxxx got into it one night in the studio. I recall Foxxx telling him he would take him somewhere in Brooklyn where he'd drop him off and the wolves would get at him, and L told Foxxx he'd take him somewhere in Harlem where they wouldn't even find his ass, some shit like that. Everyone in the studio was bugging. I think Foxxx was mad but Foxxx is in the circle like that too, so he just brushed it off. And that was it. Nobody ever really came at L ready to hurt him, but when he was in the room and he would start that shit some niggas would walk out like "I don't feel like being bothered with this kid right now." But he did it on purpose because he knew he could get away with it. He was the youngest and that was his character.

He was different from what he rhymed about. He wasn't no sucker or nothing like that, but a lot of people didn't know him like we knew him. They just knew Big L the MC. He was animated with his rhymes in a devilish way. With female situations, a lot of [his lyrics] was probably true. but come on, like cats are talking that murder shit in their rhymes and really doing it. He was just telling a story. He wasn't no killer. He was in the streets. Everyone knows he grew up in Harlem: 135th and Lennox, 139th. But he didn't do nothing no different than any other cat growing up in the hood: trying to get paper, messing around with the chicks, trying to floss, whatever. Me and L was on tour [the last time I saw him], maybe the same year he died. We was in Croatia, Japan, Amsterdam, London, Casablanca, Switzerland... What I really remember from that tour is that he was writing "Ebonics" for a year. That was a thought-out song right there. Every slang word he done heard in his life he done put in that song.

I was in the studio waiting for L [the day he died]. I spoke to him on Valentine's Day. he called and I told my wife to tell him I'd call him back. He didn't show up to the studio so I broke out. When I got him wifey told me L was dead. I was confused just hearing "dead", so I was thinking about Finesse. I don't know what made me think about Finesse. We called Show and Buc and everybody else, and Fat Joe and Show rolled over the 139th St. Bridge - they got the word quicker than anybody, right after it happened. They went down to 139th and seen him laid out, that's how we confirmed it. Fat Joe and Show seen his boots under the sheet. It was basically some street shit. That's all I can put at you.

It broke our hearts, man, for a minute. That was a big blow right there. He was about to have a very good career. Hov and Dame and them had it set up to bring him on. It just left us fucked up, man. Diggin' wasn't the same after that, put it like that. To this day, sometimes I just hope dogs is gon' call me on the phone or something, nawmean? I wish he could just pick up the phone and be like "I'm here" or whatever. We lost a few cats in our crew after that who wasn't emcees, so we had a black cloud over us for a minute. Personally, it opened my eyes to a lot of shit. Just life - enjoying life and waking up the next day and being healthy. Money comes and goes. I can always make paper so that shit doesn't really matter to me no more, it's just a necessity. Cars and clothes and all that shit, that shit is non-descript to me. Plus he's a Taurus; he's a Taurus and I'm a Taurus. I just turned 33 recently. So it's like I beat the odds.