When it comes to aggressive punchlines and metaphors, few were as vicious as Big L. Notorious for his freestyle prowess and battle ready delivery, Harlem’s favorite son was one of the most feared lyricists of his time, even besting arguably the greatest rapper of all time in grand fashion once upon a time.
Member of the Diggin’ In The Crates Crew, founder of the supergroup Children Of The Corn (which included a pre-fame Ma$e and Cam’ron), and one of the pioneers of horrorcore rap, L was a rising star that was snuffed out 15 years ago today on February 15, 1999, before he got the chance to truly shine. In memory of his legacy, we bring to you the 10 Big L Songs Everyone Should Know. Get your rewind buttons ready.
Be sure to check out previous entries in The Primer Series where we break down the catalogs of many other legendary artists and groups.
1. “Devil’s Son”
While Nasir Jones made “hell for snuffing Jesus” legendary a few years prior, Big L flipped that hot line into a hot song of his own. After impressing Lord Finesse with an impromptu freestyle during an autograph singing in Harlem, L was chosen by Finesse as the newest artist in the rapper/producers Diggin’ In The Crates crew. Signing a solo deal with Columbia records in 1993, L dropped his debut single, “Devil’s Son.”
Produced by Showbiz and said to be one of the earliest songs in the horrorcore genre, L claims to be the son of the devil and damn near lives up to the title with ungodly lines like “I’m a stone villain, known for killing and raping nuns/Ayo, I even kill handicapped and crippled b*tches, look at my scalp real close and you’ll see triple sixes”
I would suggest clutching a crucifix whenever listening to this song, as it’s blasphemy at its finest.
2. “Put It On”
“Big L is a crazy brother, and I’m a lady lover/ A smooth kid that will run up in ya’ baby mother”
With label requesting something “bright and friendly,” Big L released the radio edit of his third official single, “Put It On,” in 1994 while gearing up for the release of his debut album, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous. Produced by Buckwild and featuring Kid Capri on the hook, the track is one of the more radio friendly tracks in L’s catalog, but doesn’t sacrifice any of his lyrical prowess in the process, stacking dope bars on top of one another in usual Corleone fashion.
The single would go on to be a moderate hit, peaking in the Top 25 on the Hip-Hop charts and spawned one of the few music video’s he ever released.
3. “Danger Zone”
If you’ve never been to 139th St and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, after hearing this song we’re sure you’d think thrice before putting it on your travel itinerary. With Buckwild handling the production duties, Big L lets you know how it goes down in the ‘danger zone’, where violence and nihilism is but a way of life. Spitting violently graphic lyrics and displaying a disregard for life with the conviction of a man possessed makes this audio horror story very believable.
Many casual fans of Corleone may vaguely recall the music video version of “MVP,” but the true heads know that the original album version is the real winner. Featured on Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, the track sees L taking a more laid back approach in contrast to his more hardcore material.
Produced by Lord Finesse and containing a DeBarge sample you might be familiar with from another slain rap legends catalog, L crafts something smooth for the hardrocks and fly girls, all the while detailing why he’s Hip-Hop’s undisputed MVP.
The song would go on to reach the Top 25 on the Hip-Hop charts, pushing the album to over 200,000 units sold and giving the acronym “MVP” new meaning in the same breath.
5. “Street Struck”
During the recording process for his debut, the label felt that he should balance the album out by adding a little positivity to the mix. Notorious for his controversially violent material, L switched it up for this Lifestylez… track. “Street Struck” serves as a cautionary tale about the various pitfalls that street life can bring, with Big L spitting “You better listen when L rhymes, cause being street struck won’t get you nothing but a bullet or jail time.” In hindsight, this song is eerily prophetic, as L would eventually fall victim to those very streets he warned us about.
“Yo, pay attention and listen real closely how I break this slang shit down…”
In 1996, Columbia dropped Big L due to sub-par album sales and artistic differences. Instead of letting the setback deter him, he bossed up and created his own record label, Flamboyant Entertainment. During the recording process for his sophomore album, L dropped his first independent single, the Ron Browz produced “Ebonics,” which served as a street slang for dummy’s tutorial in audio form.
Featuring a buffet of quotables and masterful lyricism, the Harlemite made no apologies for street savvy linguistics. The record was deemed one of the best indie releases of the year and even caught the ear of fellow uptown rep and Roc-A-Fella CEO Dame Dash, who courted the rapper and in hopes of him joining his roster. Unfortunately, the deal would never come to fruition once L was gunned down on W. 139th in Harlem, the same block he made notorious through his music.
“Make sure my mic is loud and my production is tight/Better watch me round your girl if you ain’t fucking her right/You damn player haters never wanna see me blow/Flamboyant Entertainment, CEO…”
Following Big L’s death, his sophomore album, The Big Picture, was released on Rawkus Records in 2000. The Mike Heron-produced lead single would become L’s first and only number one rap single. Flawless verses on top of a smooth ass beat was proof that even in death, Corleone was too advanced for y’all.
* — Legend has it that the blanked out name in the verse was Big L’s former C.O.C. cronie Ma$e, who wasn’t on the best of terms with Corleone at the time of his death. While it hasn’t ever been officially confirmed, just listen to the first eight bars of the song and make your own conclusions.
8. “’98 Freestyle”
“F*** all the glamor and glitz, I plan to get rich/I’m from New York, but never been a fan of the Knicks.”
With those opening bars, Corleone, notorious for his legendary freestyle performances, proceeded to kick one of the more heralded freestyles in the history of Hip-Hop. Recorded during an appearance on Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garicia’s radio show and featured on The Big Picture, “’98 Freestyle” is Corleone at his best, taking the beat and slamming it off the back board with jaw dropping lines
9. “Casualties Of A Dice Game”
“Me and my man was cruising through the streets and everything was flowing nice/The corner’s crowded, n*ggas must be rolling dice..”
One of the premier punchline kings in Hip-Hop history, Big L decided to put his storytelling skills on display with this tale of a dice game in Harlem gone wrong. Produced by Ron Browz, “Casualties Of A Dice Game” sees L partaking in a game of Cee-Lo, from which he walks away with winnings of upwards $50,000.
But as they say, more money more problems, and the loser decides he’s not letting his money go that easy and him and a begin to follow L in his car with plans of netting a big payday of their own. What follows is a double homicide, which then turns into a triple homicide with a shootout with the police for good measure. While we won’t spoil the rest of the story, just know when L says “Casualties of a dice game..never gamble with snakes” that it would be wise to take his advice.
10. “Platinum Plus”
Big L hooked up with BK legend Big Daddy Kane for this DJ Premier-produced street banger off The Big Picture. Released as the third single, the track featured starring performances from both emcees, littering the track with elite bars and one-liners galore. While L never achieved platinum status on the Billboard charts, The Big Picture earned him a gold plaque posthumously and solidified himself as one of Hip-Hop’s crown jewels and that beats platinum any day.