As rap fans — hip-hop heads, we tend to get into heated debates all of the time. Especially, as people who are passionate and informed about the culture— here, on White Label Radio, we quarrel about our “favorite rapper,” a personal preference that involves the most biased defenses. Then, there is the debate about who is the “Best Rapper Alive,” a dispute that considers all rappers new and old, competing in their prime against any and all competitors. But, the one debate we hip-hop heads love to have, the one we go at each other’s throats on, is the debate about who is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time.) The most coveted division in hip-hop. While everyone has their favorite picks, side-eyes, and heads shaking in disgust are the norm when someone declares a weak nomination for the title.
The never-ending debate continues — we hear the same names come up over and over. Almost always, it’s Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Ice Cube, and Rakim — then the names of the fallen Biggie, 2Pac and Big Pun. Let me make this clear. The GOAT discussion is strictly for the artists who have shifted the culture in a major way.
So, who’s the greatest rapper of all time? Pure skill alone, Big L could hang with Em, Biggie, 2Pac, Rakim, whoever you think is up there.
“5 slash 3-0 slash 7-4 a lil bro was born with the mind of a psycho” —Big L, “Devil’s Son”
Coming straight outta Harlem, Lamont Coleman aka Big L is known as one of the most skilled lyricist to ever live. He had a unique style that was entertaining, but he also had very sharp intellect. A combination of compound rhyming, wordplay and fast rapping is the style that won him respect and recognition within the culture. Underneath the hard facade and complex story-telling, are numerous hysterical punchlines. Big L’s rhymes always had a sense of humor tied in. He had an understated, dry sense of humor that reflected in his rhymes.
“The label wanted something with a hook that would be kinda catchy, and something they could get radio play with. Like, everything L did was dark, and it was gangsta.” — Lord Finesse
His ability to create radio friendly songs, that didn’t sound forced or watered down, became apparent when Big L dropped his single “Put It On.” The bouncy beat ironically works flawlessly with his rough, street rooted Harlem flow.
“And when it comes to gettin’ nookie, I’m not a rookie; I got girls that make that chick Toni Braxton look like Whoopi.” — Big L, “Put It On”
So much was left unfinished for the Flamboyant Entertainment CEO, including a possible deal with Roc-A-Fella Records. On White Label Radio (Episode 138) Dame Dash chopped it up with Mellow Won and confirmed Big L was going to sign to Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records.
Before L passed away, he was very close to being signed to the Roc. According to Big L’s brother, Big L was courted heavily by Jay-Z and Dame Dash. Jay and Dame came to pick up L every single weekend. The signing was however delayed due to L wanting his crew to sign along with him. This likely brotherhood between two of hip-hop’s greats is what makes the “what if” questions surrounding L’s passing all the more painful. Hands down, Big L would have made everyone’s “Top Five MC’s” list, if he had signed with Roc-A-Fella and not passed away before his time. His name would stand in the conversation along with Nas, Jay-Z and other living legends we talk about today.
Big L is credited as one of the illest to ever touch the mic, and his life was cut short at the early age of 24 on February 15, 1999. He was murdered in an unsolved shooting in Harlem, on the very same block that raised him, 139th St. and Lenox Ave, “The Danger Zone.” During his 24 years on earth, Big L left behind a small catalog that includes: just one album, a handful of singles and freestyles. Ask any true hip-hop head, he is consistently mentioned among the greatest of the greats.
“Big L scared me to death. When I heard that on tape, I was scared to death. I was like there’s no way I can compete if this is what I gotta compete with.” — Nas
“He was a very talented writer. I think he had the ability to write big records and big choruses.” — Jay Z
“Take some Big and some ’Pac. And you mix ’em up in a pot. Sprinkle a lil’ Big L on top. What the fuck do you got?” — Eminem, “Patiently Waiting”