Lamont Coleman was fresh off 139th St and Lennox Avenue on Harlem's Westside. This spot was nicknamed the 'danger zone', due to its often violent crack-cocaine trade in the '80s and '90s.
Big L was the name he adopted on the scene, and he became more and more renowned as he frequently battled other emcees in the park on 139th or in other hotspots around Harlem city. Remembered as being one of the most gifted lyricists of his time, L eventually met Lord Finesse from the infamous underground crew called DITC (Diggin' In The Crates) in the early '90s, who recognised the incredible talent in him. After appearing on a remix of a song by Finesse called 'Yes You May', Big L recorded a four-track demo that pricked the ears up of Columbia Records who signed him shortly after. It was through Columbia that L would release his debut album, and one that is still considered as one of the best of the era - 'Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous' in 1995.
1999 - to begin with - had signs of being a very lucrative and exciting year for Lamont Coleman. He'd dropped a number of singles that had the streets talking, and it's reported that he was also close to signing a label deal with Jay Z's Roc-A-Fella Records and his own independent imprint, Flamboyant Entertainment, which would see him reach heights that cats in Harlem could only dream about. But unfortunately stars live and die all the same, and some sooner than others.
After travelling upstate, L's brother, Leroy Phinazee, sent word back to Harlem for someone to 'take care of something' - the details of this particular deed remain largely unknown. Donald Phinazee, Big L's oldest brother, has stated that L was in company when this deed was to be carried out, but by a twist of fate things didn't go to plan and somebody saw his face.
On the night of February 15, only a few streets from where he lived in Harlem, nine gunshots echoed across the pavement and down the block. An armed assailant and his vehicle sped off into the night, and nine gunshots were left embedded in Lamont Coleman's chest and head. Harlem's greatest rapper had been murdered.
Big L's killing remains one of the top unsolved murders in hip-hop to this date. On the anniversary of such a devestating event, we remember the lyrical acrobatics and passion that still keeps his name on peoples lips 16 years down the track.
"Old folks get mugged and raided, crimes are drug related - and we live by the street rules that thugs created".