Invading the rap game with a villainous charisma and a natural talent in lyrics, Big L blazed through the rap scene like the devil himself. Big L is the perfect contrast to MCs that tell us stories about everyday struggles, or a story where hope plays a factor into their songs, such as 2pac or Talib Kweli. Born and raised in Harlem, he entered the rap game with his debut album Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous, blowing everybody away with his dark style and amazing lyrics. The album gave Big L wide acclaim, making him a rising star in the rap world. Sadly, he didn’t live long enough to reach great heights; he was shot and killed only blocks away from his home at the age of twenty-four, and the news was a vicious blow to the hip-hop community. A prominent voice in rap world was sadly taken away, however fans of hip-hop were lucky to get five posthumous album releases from Big L. It’s still a shame not knowing where his musical talents could’ve taken him over the years, but nevertheless, Big L’s music revolves back towards Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous where it all began.
There have been plenty of MCs more intelligent than Big L, but there are very few who surpass him lyrically. The man is a monster on the microphone, destroying everyone’s minds with his content, and his voice brings listeners to the gloomy, crime-ridden world of Harlem where he paints horrible images with lethal punch-lines. Every single track has incredible examples of his devastating, dark rhythms. “All Black” gives a perfect example of how menacing his imagery can be. “I was taught wise / I’m known to extort guys / This ain’t Cali, It’s Harlem n**** we do walkbys / no one can match me/ tax me or wax me.” His flow just goes on and on, track after track.
This album came out during some of the greatest years of hip-hop, especially the east coast scene, so his LP was competing against the likes of Wu-Tang, Biggie Smalls, and Gangstarr. It must have been intimidating to contend with other big name rappers, but Big L was able to pull it off, and what made him stand out from the rest of them was his style of rap, which was known as “Horrorcore.” No, he didn’t create this genre, but he certainly helped to refine it. “I’m chokin’ enemies till they start turning pale / Satan said I’m learning well / Big L’s gonna burn in hell.” Hearing lyrics like that could make any listener pause.
As amazing as his lyrics and style are, this album does have a major flaw; the main problem with Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous is that it did not age well at all. During that decade it sounded great – the beats are very gritty and aggressive, which complements Big L’s verses, however, compared to what is coming out now, it’s very dated. The quality of the overall production is low and it doesn’t sound so good at times, and on top of that a strange mixture of sax and trumpet sounds invade some of the songs, and it doesn’t really go well with the dark tone of the album.
This album alone brought wide fame and respect to Big L due to his content and gritty beats; what’s really crazy about this LP is that Big L was only twenty when he made the record. Considering the lyrics of the tracks and the stories he was telling, that’s crazy – this is the type of album you expect from a veteran rapper, not some young kid who’s getting his start in the rap game. Then again Big L said it best, “I’m so ahead of my time, my parents haven’t met yet.”
If there was anyone in the genre of hip-hop that was an actual “genius” in the truest sense, then look no further than Big L. Though this album is a bit rough around the edges, you’ll have no trouble understanding why Big L is considered one of the greats; Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous has its flaws, but it’s still an album that every fan of hip-hop should listen to, if not own.