Lamont Coleman (May 30, 1974 – February 15, 1999), known professionally as Big L, was an American rapper. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most lyrical rappers of all time, and is known for helping to pioneer horrorcore.
Emerging from Harlem, New York in the early to mid-1990s, Coleman became well known amongst underground hip-hop fans for his freestyling ability, and was eventually signed to Columbia Records, where he released his debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous in 1995 and is now considered by many fans as a classic album. On February 15, 1999, Coleman was shot nine times and killed by an unknown assailant in his hometown of Harlem.
Noted for his use of wordplay, multiple writers at AllMusic, HipHopDX and The Source have praised Coleman for his lyrical ability, and he has also been described as "one of the most auspicious storytellers in hip hop history." Regarding Coleman's legacy, Nas said on MTV, “He scared me to death. When I heard that on tape, I was scared to death. I said, ’Yo, it’s no way I can compete if this is what I gotta compete with.'”
Lamont Coleman was born in Harlem, New York City, on May 30, 1974, the third and youngest child of Gilda Terry (d. 2008) and Charles Davis. Davis left the family while Coleman was a child. His two older siblings, Donald Coleman and Leroy Phinazee (d.2002), were the children of Gilda and a man named Mr. Phinazee. Coleman received the nicknames "Little L" and "'mont 'mont" as a child. At the age of 12, Coleman became a big hip hop fan and started freestyling with other people in his neighborhood. He founded a group known as Three the Hard Way in 1990, but it was quickly broken up due to a lack of enthusiasm amongst the members. It consisted of Coleman, Doc Reem, and Rodney. No projects were released, and after Rodney left, the group was renamed Two Hard Motherfuckers. Around this time, people started to refer to Coleman as "Big L". In the summer of 1990, Coleman met Lord Finesse at an autograph session in a record shop on 125th Street. After he did a freestyle, Finesse and Coleman exchanged numbers.
Coleman attended Julia Richman High School. While in high school, Coleman freestyle battled in his hometown; in his last interview, he stated, "in the beginning, all I ever saw me doing was battling everybody on the street corners, rhyming in the hallways, beating on the wall, rhyming to my friends. Every now and then, a house party, grab the mic, a block party, grab the mic." He graduated in 1992. Coleman began writing rhymes in 1990.
1992–1995: First recordings and record deal
In 1992, he recorded various demos, some of which were featured on his debut album Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, he also founded the Harlem rap group Children of the Corn (COC) with Killa Cam (Cam'ron), Murda Mase (Ma$e), Bloodshed and McGruff in 1993. On February 11, Coleman appeared on Yo! MTV Raps with Lord Finesse to help promote Finesse's studio album Return of the Funky Man. Coleman's first professional appearance came on "Yes You May (Remix)", the B-side of "Party Over Here" (1992) by Lord Finesse, and his first album appearance was on "Represent" off of Showbiz & A.G.'s Runaway Slave (1992). In that same year, he won an amateur freestyle battle, which consisted of about 2,000 contestants and held by Nubian Productions. In 1992, Coleman signed to Columbia Records. Around this time, L joined Lord Finesse's Bronx-based hip hop collective Diggin' in the Crates Crew (DITC) which consisted of Lord Finesse, Diamond D, O.C., Fat Joe, Buckwild, Showbiz and A.G.
Sometime in 1993, Coleman released his first promotional single, "Devil's Son", and claimed it was the first horrorcore single released. He said he wrote the song because "I've always been a fan of horror flicks. Plus the things I see in Harlem are very scary. So I just put it all together in a rhyme." On February 18, 1993, Coleman performed live at the Uptown Lord Finesse Birthday Bash at the 2,000 Club, which included other performances from Fat Joe, Nas, and Diamond D.
In 1994, he released his second promotional single "Clinic". On July 11, 1994, Coleman released the radio edit of "Put It On", and three months later the video was released. In 1995, the video for the single "No Endz, No Skinz" debuted, which was directed by Brian Luvar.
His debut studio album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, was released in March 1995. The album debuted at number 149 on the Billboard 200 and number 22 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Lifestylez would go on to sell over 200,000 copies as of 2000. Three singles were released from the album; the first two, "Put It On" and "M.V.P.", reached the top twenty-five of Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks and the third "No Endz, No Skinz" did not chart. Even though the album received a three-star rating from Allmusic, it was an AMG Album Pick.
1996–1999: Released from Columbia, second album, independent artist
In 1996, Coleman was dropped from Columbia mainly because of the dispute between Coleman's rapping style and the production from Columbia. He stated "I was there with a bunch of strangers that didn't really know my music."
In 1997, he started working on his second studio album, The Big Picture. COC folded when Bloodshed died in a car accident on March 2, 1997. DITC appeared in a July issue On The Go Magazine. Coleman appeared on O.C.'s single "Dangerous" for O.C.'s second album Jewelz. In November, he was the opening act for O.C.'s European Jewlez Tour.
Sometime in 1998, Coleman formed his own independent label, Flamboyant Entertainment. According to The Village Voice, it was "planned to distribute the kind of hip-hop that sold without top 40 samples or r&b hooks."He released the single "Ebonics" in 1998. The song was based on "Ebonics", and The Source called it one of the top five independent singles of the year. DITC released their first single, "Dignified Soldiers", that year.
Coleman caught the eye of Damon Dash, the CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records, after the release of "Ebonics". Dash wanted to sign Lamont to Roc-A-Fella, but Coleman wanted his crew to sign On February 8, 1999, Coleman, Herb McGruff, C-Town, and Jay-Z started the process to sign with Roc-A-Fella as a group called "The Wolfpack".
On February 15, 1999, Big L was killed at 45 West 139th Street in his native Harlem after being shot nine times in the face and chest in a drive-by shooting. Gerard Woodley, one of Big L's childhood friends, was arrested three months later for the crime. "It's a good possibility it was retaliation for something Big L's brother did, or Woodley believed he had done," said a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department. Woodley was later released, and the murder case remains unsolved.
On June 24, 2016 at 139th St. and Lenox Avenue, Woodley, 46, was shot in the head and later died at Harlem Hospital.