Feb 26, 2015

#TBT: Big L - Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous

One of the most underrated things in life is rediscovering an old album that you loved back in the day but kind of forgot about.

This was the case when I was looking for an album for this throwback Thursday column.  Seeing as the 16th anniversary of his murder just passed, I decided to go with Big L’s debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous.  For those of you unacquainted, Big L was a talented Harlem emcee whose lyrical stylings inspired an entire generation of punchline rappers.  He is also credited for essentially starting the “horrorcore” sub-genre with his brutal lyrics, although he wasn’t beholden to just that style.  At the time of his death in 1999 he was in the process of signing with Roc-A-Fella Records.  A number of posthumous albums of varying quality have been released but his 1995 debut remains one of the most slept-on albums in the history of hip hop.  
Laced with beats from Buckwild, Lord Finesse, Showbiz, and Craig Boogie, Big L constructs an album that serves as a time capsule of sorts to 1995 and almost a blueprint for how to make a balanced album.  L had a plethora of jazzy beats on which to showcase his lyrical dexterity. 

He starts off with a couple of braggadocios/radio-friendly songs in Put It On with Kid Capri on the hook and next raps over a very familiar DeBarge sample on MVP.  Throughout the rest of the album, you get your posse cuts (8 Iz Enuff and Da Graveyard feature a “before they were stars” Cam’ron and Jay-Z respectively), socially conscious songs (Street Struck talks about avoiding the trappings of the hood while Fed Up wit the Bullshit speaks on police brutality and racism.)  The tracks All Black and Danger Zone stand out as the most gritty and dark tracks on the album, the likes of which haven’t been seen since.

I don’t feel like this album is dated or aged poorly as far as the music goes.  This album isn't for everybody though, to be honest.  On a few of his tracks, L uses his gift for wordplay to craft some of the most brutal lyrics out.  Murder is a frequent topic, to say the least.  In a more socially conscious era, I recognize that some of the content is blatantly violent, misogynistic, and homophobic.   While this won’t sit well for many people, I’m also wise enough to understand that well, that’s kind of the point.  The lyrics are meant to be outrageous and shocking.  If you can see past this, you're left with an album of 90’s era beats with some of the most clever wordplay ever put on wax.  And since Big L didn’t have a Tupac-sized trove of unreleased material, this is essentially his masterpiece since his career and life were both tragically cut short.  L set the table for mixtape rappers who became punchline-obsessed and horrorcore emcees that tried to come up with the most outlandish and demented shit that they could think of.  But no one ever replicated the layers and diversity of Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous.  Big L was only scratching the surface.  May he rest in peace.

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