"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon


Friday, August 31, 2007

Albums You Should Own: Big L - Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous


“Put It On”, the very, first song on Big L’s classic debut Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, contains the bitterly ironic lines: “If you battle L, you picked the wrong head/I smash mics like cornbread/You can’t kill me, I was born dead.”

The tragedy of Big L’s murder isn’t quite the same as Biggie’s or Tupac’s tragic demise. Big L was not in the midst of violent beef between fellow rappers nor was he nearly as famous or iconic as them. By all accounts, his murder was in retaliation of a street debt that L’s brother had gotten involved with and couldn’t pay because he was in jail. The true tragedy of the murder is that world never got a chance to see just how amazingly gifted Big L was as lyricist and an artist. His only album that he released while living, Lifestylez Ov Poor & Dangerous, only serves as a bitter reminder of what could have been with Big L if he had lived.

Make no mistake, Big L was waaaaay ahead of his time. If you were to trace the lyrical DNA of every generic mixtape rapper working in the United States (and especially in New York), it would trace directly back to Lamont Coleman. Big L was the prototype for what I’ve somewhat mockingly called the “Punchline Lyricist.” Punchline lyricism is a form of rapping in which poeticism and storytelling are eschewed for witty or comedic one-liners and similes(*cough* usually about how much coke you sell *cough*) or rather as they are more commonly referred to “punchlines.” While I may mock Young Murda-A-Lot for being simplistic and clichéd when a rapper drops an album full of cheesy one-liners comparing cocaine to white girls or whatever; make no mistake Big L was a true master at the art form. His punchlines were vicious, and full of a dark, twisted wit that seems to escape the Jae Millz’ of the world. He’s the MC that Pusha T or Lil’ Wayne are trying to be but can’t quite pull off when they rhyme. His punchlines could be both perversely funny and at the same time extremely threatening. And yet oddly , he had this weird every man charm that made him quite likable and palatable despite him threatening to beat your mother, your daughter and your girlfriend up with a shovel. Make no mistake, Big L was truly a hardcore rapper and not in the sanitized radio friendly, 50 Cent way. He was not for everybody but oh, was he good.

Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous is like listening to horror film set in Harlem on wax. “Danger Zone” might just be pound for pound the hardest and most offensive rap record ever produced. Amongst numerous Satanic references on the record, Big L brazenly declares “They say a real man won’t hit a girl/but I ain’t real cuz I beat bitches up.” Also on that particular record, I believe he claims that he murders nuns on Sunday, that he doesn’t believe in God, would rape Christ, and doesn’t really give a shit because he knows he’s going to hell anyway. The first time, I heard that record, my mouth dropped. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I then immediately replayed the song over and over, again because I was perversely thrilled to hear a record that dark, warped and twisted but at the same time have a knowing, sly sense of humor to it all. As if to say, “You motherfuckers thought you knew hardcore. I’ll show you hardcore!” I don’t even think Marilyn Manson would go as far as say he would rape Jesus Christ.

While “Danger Zone” is L at his darkest, “Put It On” is L when he’s at his most playful. Over a Buckwild beat and a memorable chorus provided by Kid Capri himself, Big L drops memorable punchlines after memorable punchlines giving a clinic to future emcees on how to rock a mic. It’s a thrilling opener and represents one of the only playful moment on album that is darker than dark.

If there is anything that is weak about this album, the production is workmanlike and isn’t nearly as show stopping as Big L’s raw lyricism. It’s handled mostly by Big L’s D.I.T.C. cohorts, Buckwild, Lord Finesse and Showbiz, and they do give an album a gritty, hard texture that fits perfectly with the album but I wonder if this album received the level of production that Jay-Z had on Reasonable Doubt (who also shows up on the great posse cut “Da Graveyard” in all of his pre-Roc-A-Fella Fu-Schnickens biting glory) or Raekwon had on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx than this album would be in the pantheon of great rap records those currently occupy.

Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous remains one of the lesser known classics of the mid-90s New York hardcore renaissance and I decided to write about it to give it a bit of the more shine it deserves. If you listen to it, pay particular close attention to Big L’s style of rhyming and you can exactly see how many of your favorite rappers owe Big L their career whether they know it or not. Murder is always tragic but when it takes away such a young and talented artist who never got their fair shot at superstardom than have you have to wonder what it’s all for.

8 comments:

T.R.E.Y. said...

you know, i have "Put It On" on my iPod, but yeah, i heard the production on this supposedly isn't especially good. i haven't heard the rest though, so i can't say for myself.

oh, and i kinda assumed that Capri also did the beat on "Put It On." just changed it to Buckwild on my iTunes -- yeah, for my rap i put whoever produced the song in the "Composer" box. i'm crazy like that

DocZeus said...

Well, I think that production is just serviceable if not particularly memorable which kind of works for the album because it allows Big L's vocals to take center stage. The production does add to the dark and ominous feeling that the whole album gives off.

Daniel Krow said...

Doc Zeus-

I've been reading your blog for a week or two after I followed the link from No Trivia--it's nice to have another good blog to read at work when I'm bored.

Have you heard the D.I.T.C album? I remember being unimpressed when I first heard it but that was like eight years ago. I want to hear it again (plus hear Lifestylez) because the laidback 90s East coast production of producer/rappers like Buckwild and Finesse has a way of growing on me--it kind of sounds like DJ Premier Lite.

It seems like punchline rap has been lately taken over by rappers who aren't even close to clever. Besides the Clipse, what other mainstream rappers do it well? Not Jeezy, not Wayne, defintely not Santana. And the legion of East Coast mix tape rappers who do it, like Papoose and Jae Millz, are just sad. Their whole schtick is that they're keeping lyricism alive and their punchlines are like eighth generation cliches.

DocZeus said...

Daniel,

Thanks for my reading the blog and I appreciate the kind words.

No, I haven't heard the D.I.T.C. record so I can't really comment on that particular one. I will say they do have as their respective groups, and solo artists numerous great records. Diamond D's "Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop" is a stone cold classic, Showbiz & A.G.'s "Runaway Slave" is pretty good as well and O.C.'s "Word...Life" is pretty good, too. I think classifying D.I.T.C.'s production as Primo-Lite is a pretty apt comparison.

I think the "punchline" revolution in lyricism has generally downgraded the quality of writing in rap records as well. Whenever, I hear someone describe somebody like Lloyd Banks as "lyrical" I cringe a little inside. And I think your right about the Clipse being the only modern hip hop artist who can be described as doing punchlines really well. Weezy can occasionally be really good but I've already talked until my face turned blue about how inconsistent he is as a lyricist.

I won't even talk about how bad Jeezy and Juelz' punchlines are. (I'm Fly like an Ostrich!?!?! Are you fucking kidding me?!?!?!)

TXCaddyKing said...

I spent the hot Texas summers of '94 & '95 glued to Rap City (with Joe Clair) and recognized the greatness of Big L then. I was unhappy that the "MVP" version that was the video was different than the CD version.

Thanks for continually posting interesting topics.

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