“I know you like the way I’m freakin’ it, I talk with slang and I’m never gonna stop speakin’ it.” -Big L
February is a tough month for hip-hop because it holds some anniversaries that are near and dear to many hip-hop heads. J Dilla’s birthday, Big Pun’s birthday, Nujabes birthday, and also the anniversary of the deaths of both Dilla and Big L. Jay Dee and Big L both saw posthumous success but true fans of both knew what kind of lasting imprint they were leaving on hip-hop while they were still with us.
Big L had a big impression on me in high school. I was certainly late to his catalog and scooped up Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous well after it’s release date. But I do remember his death, as it was reported on which ever nightly news my parents had on during dinner. It was a 25 second story and, much like Jam Master Jay years later, they related it to the murders of Notorious B.I.G. and TuPac. Fucking white people… I digress. I remember being bummed, but looking back on it now as a 27-year old, hip-hop blog owner, I literally had no idea how disastrous his passing was.
I got into Big L by way of Cam’Ron. I picked up some DJ Clue mix tape that featured a song with Cam’Ron and I really liked it. One day, while perusing the $18.99 section of Strawberries, I came across Cam’Ron’s Confessions of Fire album and blew most of my birthday on it. I got home, threw it in, and simultaneously fired up the 28K modem to do some more research on Cam’Ron. That’s when and how I found out about Big L, Murda Mase, and Killa Cam. This was around 1998 and I didn’t know anything about anything, and I relied on other people’s opinions to influence mine. I was a freshman in high school and pretended not to like things being played on the radio.
Finding out who Big L was one thing, but hearing my first Big L verse was another. “Ebonics” and “Size Em Up” were the first two songs I heard of L’s. My brother later bought be the 12” which I still have, framed, to this day. The Big Picture, much like every other Rawkus Records album of that era, was pretty big in my high school for an Indie album. And much like every other artist I independently found out on my own, I absolutely hated it when other people liked them. I felt cheated. I felt it watered their sound down, if other people liked them. Pretty much a complete 180 on my stance these days, as I’m (and we’re) a huge advocate for independent hip-hop (theechochamberblog.com.)
While playing Big L’s first album, Lifestylez … , I try to put it up against other records of it’s time, and to me, it was a throwback even back then. Big L’s punchline-happy style and the production of DITC members behind it is stereotypical boom-bap. It’s as good, and in some cases better since he’s one MC, as Wu Tang’s 36 Chambers. And both Big L and Wu’s second efforts stand the test of time. I like Lifestylez… better than The Big Picture, but his second album hasn’t aged a bit. And neither has Forever, Wu’s second album. The Big Picture would be better if it wasn’t for the freestyle and the “track” with Tupac. But that album as a whole helped mold my hip-hop tastes and preferences. I embodied Big L’s lyrical prowess and use of similes and metaphors in my writing in high school, and later in college. Big L had the ability to make you laugh even though he was talking about serious topics. And sometimes the laughter was brought on by just pure amazement, like; “haha, damn. Big L just roasted wack rappers.”
It’s hard not to think where Big L would be now, in 2012, if he hadn’t been slain on that faithful day in February 13 years ago. Would he have made a transition into more commercial, but still gully style like his fellow Harlem-Burrough mate Cam’Ron? Would he have huge crossover success and an empire like Jay-Z, a young rapper he invited on “Da Graveyard?” Or would he be on the indie-rap periphery like his fellow D.I.T.C. members? It’s impossible to know. But reliving his catalog every February and taking two hours or so to reminisce is one of my favorite things to do. Feel free to reminisce with me.