Big L, as photographed in the 1990s
|Birth name||Lamont Coleman|
May 30, 1974|
Harlem, New York City, New York
|Origin||Harlem, New York City, New York|
|Died||February 15, 1999
Harlem, New York City, New York
|Labels||Columbia, Flamboyant Entertainment, Rawkus.|
|Associated acts||D.I.T.C., Children of the Corn, Gang Starr|
Lamont Coleman (May 30, 1974 – February 15, 1999), better known by his stage name Big L, was an American rapper. Coleman was born and raised in Harlem, New York City, New York, where he started his rapping career with Three the Hard Way. His first professional appearance came on Lord Finesse's "Yes You May (Remix)". He released his debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous in 1995, and significantly contributed to the underground hip hop scene. He created his own independent label, Flamboyant Entertainment, in 1998 where he released one of his best known singles "Ebonics" (1998).
On February 15, 1999, Coleman was killed by an unknown assailant in a drive-by shooting in his native Harlem. His second studio album, The Big Picture, was put together by Coleman's manager, Rich King. It was released the following year and certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Four posthumous albums have been released, mainly consisting of unreleased songs which were put together by Rich King and his brother, Donald. Multiple tributes have been given to Coleman, including in The Source, MTV, and HipHop DX. A documentary is in the works titled Street Struck: The Big L Story (2012). About.com called him the twenty-third best MC of all time, and multiple writers at Allmusic have given him high praise.
Born Lamont Coleman in Harlem, New York on May 30, 1974, he was the third and youngest child of Gilda Terry (d. 2008) and Charles Davis. His father left the family while Coleman was a child. He has two siblings, Donald and Leroy Phinazee (d.2002), who were the children of Gilda Terry and Mr. Phinazee. Coleman received the nicknames "Little L" and "'mont 'mont" as a child. At the age of 12, Coleman became a big hip hop fan and started freestyling against his own neighborhood. He founded a group called Three the Hard Way in 1990, but was quickly broken up due to a lack of enthusiasm. It consisted of Coleman, a "Doc Reem", and a "Rodney". No studio albums were released, and after Rodney left, the group was called Two Hard Motherfuckers. Around this time, people started to call him "Big L". In the summer of 1990, Coleman met Lord Finesse at an autograph session in a record shop on 125th Street. After he did a freestyle, Finesse and Coleman exchanged numbers.
Coleman attended Julia Richman High School. While in high school, Coleman freestyle battled in his hometown; in his last interview, he stated, "in the beginning, all I ever saw me doing was battling everybody on the street corners, rhyming in the hallways, beating on the wall, rhyming to my friends. Every now and then, a house party, grab the mic, a block party, grab the mic." He graduated in 1992.
1990–1994: The beginnings
Coleman began writing rhymes in 1990. In 1991, he founded the Harlem rap group Children of the Corn (COC) with Killa Cam, Murda Mase, and Bloodshed. On February 11, Coleman appeared on Yo! MTV Raps with Lord Finesse to help promote Finesse's studio album Return of the Funky Man. Coleman's first professional appearance came on "Yes You May (Remix)", the B-side of "Party Over Here" (1992) by Lord Finesse, and his first album appearance was on "Represent" off of Showbiz & A.G.'s Runaway Slave (1992). In that same year, he won an amateur freestyle battle, which consisted of about 2,000 contestants and held by Nubian Productions. In 1993, Coleman signed to Columbia Records. Around this time, L joined Lord Finesse's Bronx-based hip hop collective Diggin' in the Crates Crew (DITC) which consisted of Lord Finesse, Diamond D, O.C., Fat Joe, Buckwild, Showbiz, and A.G.
Sometime in 1993, Coleman released his first promotional single, "Devil's Son", and claimed it was the first horrorcore single released. He said he wrote the song because "I've always been a fan of horror flicks. Plus the things I see in Harlem are very scary. So I just put it all together in a rhyme." On February 18, 1993, Coleman performed live at the Uptown Lord Finesse Birthday Bash at the 2,000 Club, which included other performances from Fat Joe, Nas, and Diamond D. In 1994, he released his second promotional single "Clinic". On July 11, 1994, Coleman released the radio edit of "Put It On", and three months later the video was released. In 1995, the video for the single "No Endz, No Skinz" debuted, which was directed by Brian Luvar.
1995–1999: Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous
His debut studio album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, was released in March 1995. The album debuted at number 149 on the Billboard 200 and number 22 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Lifestylez would go on to sell over 200,000 copies as of 2000. Three singles were released from the album; the first two, "Put It On" and "M.V.P.", reached the top twenty-five of Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks and the third "No Endz, No Skinz" did not chart. Even though the album received a three-star rating from Allmusic, it was an AMG Album Pick.
Sometime in 1996, Coleman was dropped from Columbia mainly because of the dispute between Coleman's rapping style and the production from Columbia. He stated "I was there with a bunch of strangers that didn't really know my music." In 1997, he started working on his second studio album, The Big Picture. COC folded when Bloodshed died in a car accident on March 2, 1997. DITC appeared in a July issue On The Go Magazine. Coleman appeared on O.C.'s single "Dangerous" for O.C.'s second album Jewelz. In November, he was the opening act for O.C.'s European Jewlez Tour. Sometime in 1998, Coleman formed his own independent label, Flamboyant Entertainment. According to the The Village Voice, it was "planned to distribute the kind of hip-hop that sold without top 40 samples or r&b hooks." He released the single "Ebonics" in 1998. The song was based on "Ebonics", and The Source called it one of the top five independent singles of the year. DITC released their first single, "Dignified Soldiers", that year.
Coleman caught the eye of Damon Dash, the CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records, after the release of "Ebonics". Dash wanted to sign Lamont to Roc-A-Fella, but Coleman wanted his crew to sign On February 8, 1999, Coleman, Herb McGruff, C-Town, and Jay-Z started the process to sign with Roc-A-Fella Records as a group called "The Wolfpack".
Coleman was killed at 45 West 139th Street in his native Harlem on February 15, 1999 after being shot nine times in the face and chest. Gerard Woodley, one of Coleman's childhood friends, was arrested in May for the crime. At the time of his death, Coleman had two brothers in prison. "It's a good possibility it was retaliation for something [Big L's] brother did, or [Woodley] believed he had done," said a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department. Woodley was later controversially released, and the murder case remains unsolved. Many say that if his career played out, he could have been one of the greatest rappers of all time. His death can be compared to rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., who were also murdered in drive-by shootings.
In a 2010 interview with Donald Phinazee, he commented on what led up to the death of Big L:
There was something that went down with a dude out here with my middle brother, "Big Lee" (Leroy Phinazee), and, uh, Lee went upstate for five years. [...] It was a little problem like I just said, "divide and conqueror" with the fellas between all of us, and, uh, [Lee] went upstate, then I went upstate, and then [Lee] sent word to do something [to someone]. He sent word to somebody else to do something, but Lamont went with him, which Lamont shouldn't have went with him. [...] It didn't go down the way it was supposed to have went down and they seen Lamont face. [...] So, uh, both of us is gone, and [Lamont] was out here by hisself. And so you can't get one brother, you get the other one. That's it in a nutshell.—Donald Phinazee, 
The tracks "Get Yours", "Way of Life", and "Shyheim's Manchild" b/w "Furious Anger" were released as singles in 1999 for DITC's self-titled album (2000) on Tommy Boy Records. The album peaked at number 31 on R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and number 141 on the Billboard 200. Coleman's first posthumous single was "Flamboyant" b/w "On The Mic", which was released on May 30, 2000. The single peaked at number thirty-nine on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and topped the Hot Rap Tracks, making it Coleman's first and only number-one single.
Coleman's second and final studio album, The Big Picture, was released in August 1, 2000 and featured Fat Joe, Guru of Gang Starr, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane among others. The Big Picture was put together by his manager and partner in Flamboyant Entertainment, Rich King. It contains songs that he had recorded and a cappella recordings that were never used, completed by producers and guest emceess that Coleman respected or had worked with previously. The Big Picture debuted at number thirteen on the Billboard 200, number two on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, and sold 72,549 copies. The album was certified gold a month later for shipments of 500,000 copies by the RIAA. The Big Picture was the only music by Big L to appear on a music chart outside of the United States, peaking at number 122 on the UK Albums Chart.
A compilation album containing COC songs entitled Children of the Corn: The Collector's Edition was released in 2003. The next posthumous album released was 139 & Lenox, which was released on August 31, 2010. It contained previously unreleased and rare tracks. It was released by Rich King on Flamboyant Entertainment. The next album to follow was Return of the Devil's Son (2010), which peaked at number 73 on R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Coleman's next release was The Danger Zone (2011), and an album called L Corleone was released on February 14, 2012.
Henry Adaso, a music journalist for About.com, called him the twenty-third best MC of 1987 to 2007, claiming "[he was] one of the most auspicious storytellers in hip hop history." HipHop DX called Coleman "the most underrated lyricist ever".
Many tributes have been given to Coleman. The first was by Lord Finesse and the other members of DITC on March 6, 1999 at the Tramps. The Source has done multiple tributes to him: first in July 2000 followed by March 2002. XXL did a tribute to Lamont in March 2003. On February 16, 2005, at SOB's restaurant and nightclub in Manhattan, held a commemoration for him. It included special guests such as DITC, Herb McGruff, and Kid Capri. All the money earned went to his estate.
In "Ebonics", one of Coleman's best-known tracks, he raps about the slang used in Harlem while he was growing up.
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Coleman is often credited in helping to create the horrorcore genre of hip hop due to his 1992 song "Devil's Son." However, not all his songs fall into this genre, for example, in the song "Street Struck" Coleman discusses the difficulties of growing up in the ghetto and describes the consequences of living a life of crime. Idris Goodwin of The Boston Globe said, "[Big L had an] impressive command of the English language", and the best example was Coleman's song "Ebonics".
He was notable for using a rap style called "compounding". He also used one-liners: an example is in the song "'98 Freestyle" from The Big Picture where he raps "If my girl think I'm loyal, then that bitch is a fool." Coleman also used metaphors in his rhymes. M.F. DiBella of Allmusic stated Coleman was "a master of the lyrical stickup undressing his competition with kinetic metaphors and a brash comedic repertoire". On the review of The Big Picture, she adds "the Harlem MC as a master of the punch line and a vicious storyteller with a razor blade-under-the-tongue flow." Trent Fitzgerald of Allmusic said "a lyrically ferocious MC with raps deadlier than a snakebite and mannerisms cooler than the uptown pimp he claimed to be on records."
A movie title Street Struck: The Big L Story was set to be released in 2012. It is directed by a childhood friend and independent film director, Jewlz. Approximately nine hours of footage was brought in, and the film is planned to be 90 to 120 minutes long. The first trailer was released on August 29, 2009. Street Struck contains interviews from his mother Gilda Terry; his brother Donald; childhood friends E-Cash, D.O.C., McGruff, and Stan Spit; artists Mysonne and Doug E. Fresh; producers Showbiz and Premiere; and recording DJs Cipha Sounds and Peter Rosenberg. A soundtrack will be made for the documentary, and it will be put together by Lamont's brother Donald.
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