Who was the greatest rapper of all time? When the never-ending debate resumes—from barber shops and street corners to online chat rooms—the same litany of names comes up again and again. You’ve got your living legends—Jay Z, Nas, Eminem, Cube—and your fallen heroes—Biggie, 2Pac, Big Pun, and almost always at the end, Big L.
If L comes up as an afterthought, it’s not for lack of skills. During his 24-plus years on earth, the Harlem rap prodigy left behind a painfully small body of work: just one album, a handful of singles and freestyles. Yet on the strength of these recordings he is consistently mentioned among the greatest of the greats. But of course the music only tells part of the story.
This past Friday marked what would have been the 40th birthday of Lamont “Big L” Coleman. He didn’t live to celebrate this milestone because he was murdered in an unsolved shooting on the very same block that raised him, 139th St. and Lenox Ave, a block he famously dubbed, “The Danger Zone.” Unlike many who came up on that block, Lamont Coleman used his talents to travel the world and achieve a kind of immortality through his art.
While many hip-hop fans are well versed in the late MC’s small discography, they are largely unfamiliar with Lamont Coleman himself. That’s about to change. To commemorate L’s short but impactful life, Complex spoke with the select few who knew him best to get to know the man behind the myth.
Lamont’s close childhood friend, T.E. “Jewlz” Farer, director of the forthcoming documentary, Street Struck: The Big L Story, shared some exclusive photos and videos. L’s oldest brother, Donald Phinazee, granted us a glimpse inside the rhyme book of the self-proclaimed “most valuable poet on the M.I.C.” And partners in rhyme like Lord Finesse and Fat Joe of the Diggin In The Crates crew opened up to share stories that they’ve never told before. In the famous words of DJ Premier, “Big L, Rest in Peace!”