The first time I heard Big L spit was on Showbiz & A.G.’s D.I.T.C. cipher joint “Represent” from their debut album, Runaway Slave. Big L led the song off and held his own amongst his more seasoned crew members (i.e. Lord Finesse and A.G.), fitting right in with his clever metaphors and humorous punchlines. The East Harlem emcee, known for his polished freestyle ability, would become an official emcee of D.I.T.C. and soon earned himself a solo deal with Columbia, where he would release his debut album, Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous.
Big L would call on some of his D.I.T.C. bredrin (Showbiz, Lord Finesse and Buckwild) to produce the majority of LODP&D. The album was a commercial failure, but received critical acclaim and some even consider it to be a classic. Sadly, it would be the only album Big L lived to see released, as he was gunned down in Harlem on February 15, 1999 (rip).
LODP&D is another album that I bought when it came out and haven’t listened to it in over twenty years. Let’s rejog my memory and revisit LODP&D together.
Put It On – The first song on LODP&D was also Big L’s first single. Buckwild provides a solid mid-tempo instrumental (which includes a cool xylophone loop) for Big L to showcase his wittiness and clever wordplay over, while Kid Capri drops in to add an energetic hook. It doesn’t sound as dope as it did back in ’95, but it’s still a decent record.
MVP – This was the second single released from LODP&D. A few months before the Trackmasters looped up Debarge’s “Stay With Me” for Biggie’s “One More Chance” remix, Lord Finesse would sample it for this song. Big L uses the mellow musical vibes to boast of his lyrical prowess and turns a dope Big Daddy Kane line into a clever hook.
No Endz, No Skinz – Well, the title pretty much sums up Big L’s message in a nutshell. Showbiz gets his first production credit of the evening as he slides our host a funky bass guitar loop to spit on and brings in a mellow jazzy break in between L’s verses. The hook is kind of corny, but the jazzy break is delectable enough to forgive that mishap.
8 Iz Enuff – Big L invites seven of his closes friends to join him on this cipher joint: Terra, Herb McGruff, Buddah Bless, Big Twan, Killa Kam (aka Cam’Ron from Dipset), Trooper J and Mike Boogie all spit verses alongside our gracious host. Buckwild’s dark unsettling instrumental suits the casts’ thug rhetoric, nicely. I wouldn’t call it a classic posse record, but it’s decent.
All Black – Finesse’s instrumental sounds like one of Showbiz’ “drab drums-boring bass line stock” beats he tends to hand out from time to time. Big L uses the ball of boredom to kill men, rape women, slay his mama and great granny, and occasional boast about his lyrical greatness. A few of L’s outlandish lines make me chuckle, but this song is barely decent.
Danger Zone – Wait. Did Buckwild jack Finesse’s instrumental from the previous song, add a little something here, take out something there and call it his own? Regardless, it’s just as boring as the former. Big L continues to spew violent threats and gets on some satanic shit as he denounces God, calls himself the devil’s son, kills nuns on Sundays and threatens to rape Christ? Wtf? I know it’s all said in jest and for shock value, but that shit aint nothing to play with.
Street Struck – Finesse redeems himself from the underwhelming “All Black” instrumental and creates this somberly melodic backdrop that Big L uses to warn the listener of the dangers that come with the street life: “I still chill with my peeps in the streets, but most of the time I’m in the crib writin’ rhymes to some dope beats, or either callin’ up some freaks to bone, but word up, I try to leave the streets alone, but it’s crazy hard kid, in other words, it’s spooky, the streets be callin’ me like the crack be callin Pookie, it aint a dumb joke, listen to this young folk, cause where I’m from you can choke from the gun smoke”. This is probably my favorite song on LODP&D.
Da Graveyard -I completely forgot Jay-Z made a cameo on LODP&D. Big L invites him, along with Lord Finesse, Microphone Nut (an early candidate for worst alias), Party Arty from Ghetto Dwellaz and Grand Daddy I.U. to join him on LODP&D‘s second cipher joint. Jay was clearly still a work in progress and far from the top-tier emcee he would soon become, but all parties involved turn in, at least, decent performances and navigate well around Buckwild’s dark and simple instrumental. Of course I have to crown a winner, and that would be Grand Daddy I.U., who steals the show with his potent closing verse.
Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous – Big L kicks some hi-larious lines on this one verse title track (i.e. “Breakin’ in cribs with a crowbar, I was po’ – I couldn’t afford the ‘or'”…”I told him “Give up the dough, before you get smoked, Oh you broke? *gunshots ring out* now you dead broke””…”Some say I’m ruthless, some say I’m grim, once a burglar broke into my house and I robbed him”), but Finesse’s instrumental sounds like a bunch of noise placed over a drum beat.
I Don’t Understand It – Showbiz’ instrumental sounds like a light-hearted version of “Chief Rocka”, only not nearly as dope. Big L uses the mediocre backdrop to question why wack emcees get on and why they take the opportunity for granted. This one could have been left on the cutting room floor.
Fed Up Wit The Bullshit – As the overly blunt an uncreative song title suggest, our host is fed u wit the bullshit. The bullshit in question is the treatment of young black men by the
pigs police in the inner city: “Cause to me they aint nothin’ but harassers, that misuse their badges, to whip niggas asses, then one day they slow rolled through the hood, with they .38’s cocked, two deep up to no good, they say that my skin was black, so they attacked, threw me on my back and stuck a gat to my fuckin’ cap”. L’s also fed up with racist cab drivers and threatens to put a bullet through their windpipes during the song’s second verse. Finesse replays the bass line from The Isley Brothers’ “Between The Sheets” and adds some jazzy horns and a Big Daddy Kane vocal sample during the refrain. It’s a decent instrumental, but too cheerful for Big L’s content.
Let ‘Em Have It “L” – The last song of the evening finds are host doing what he’s been doing pretty much the whole album: boasting about his lyrical prowess and threating to fuck niggas up: “The crown is still mine, cause I drop ill rhymes, a lot of rappers talk that murder shit and couldn’t kill time, one-two one-two, crews I run through, fuck karate, Big L practice gun-fu”. Craig Boogie (who gets the only production credit outside of the D.I.T.C. crew on LODP&D) hooks up a rough and dim instrumental that compliments Big L’s bars, nicely.
Big L is a competent emcee with witty metaphors and funny punchlines, but at times his flow sounds overly simplistic and his content on Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous quickly becomes redundant. Speaking of redundant, Buckwild, Showbiz and Lord Finesse fail Big L on the production side, as half the instrumentals sound the same and most of the music is just mediocre. I’m sure most readers will disagree with my synopsis, but Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous didn’t age well, it’s far from a classic and quite honestly, it’s a struggle to sit and listen to it from beginning to end. Feel free to stone me in the Comments, but listen to the album again before you do.