Lamont Coleman (May 30, 1974 – February 15, 1999), known professionally as Big L, was an American rapper.[1]

Big L
Big L in 1998
Big L in 1998
Background information
Birth nameLamont Coleman
Also known asL Corleone
Born(1974-05-30)May 30, 1974
New York City, U.S.
DiedFebruary 15, 1999(1999-02-15) (aged 24)
New York City, U.S.
GenresHip hop
  • Rapper
  • songwriter
  • record executive
Years active1992–1999

Emerging from Harlem in New York City in 1992, Coleman became known among underground hip-hop fans for his freestyling ability. He was eventually signed to Columbia Records, where, in 1995, he released his debut album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous. On February 15, 1999, Coleman was shot nine times in his East Harlem neighborhood and later died from his injuries.

Noted for his use of wordplay, writers at AllMusic, HipHopDX and The Source have praised Coleman for his lyrical ability,[2][3] and he has also been described as "one of the most auspicious storytellers in hip-hop history."[4] Regarding Coleman's legacy in an interview with Funkmaster Flex, Nas claimed "[Coleman] scared me to death. When I heard [his performance at the Apollo Theater] 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.'"[5]

Early lifeEdit

Lamont Coleman was born in Harlem, New York City, on May 30, 1974,[6] the third and youngest child of Gilda Terry (d. 2008[7]) and Charles Davis.[8] Davis left the family while Coleman was a child.[9] His two older siblings, Donald Coleman and Leroy Phinazee (d. 2002[7]), were the children of Gilda and a man named Mr. Phinazee.[8] Coleman received the nicknames "Little L" and "'mont 'mont" as a child.[10][11] At the age of 12, Coleman became a big hip hop fan and started freestyling with other people in his neighborhood.[8][11]

He founded a group known as Three the Hard Way in 1990, but it was quickly broken up due to a lack of enthusiasm among the members.[12] It consisted of Coleman, Doc Reem, and Rodney.[13] No projects were released, and after Rodney left, the group was renamed Two Hard Motherfuckers.[13] Around this time, people started to refer to Coleman as "Big L".[8] In the summer of 1990, Coleman met Lord Finesse at an autograph session in a record shop on 125th Street.[14][15] After he did a freestyle, Finesse and Coleman exchanged numbers.[15]

Coleman attended Julia Richman High School.[8] 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."[16] He graduated in 1992.[8] Coleman began writing rhymes in 1990.[17]


1992–1995: First recordings and record dealEdit

In 1992, Coleman 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.[12][18] On February 11, Coleman appeared on Yo! MTV Raps with Lord Finesse to help promote Finesse's studio album Return of the Funky Man.[19] Coleman's first professional appearance came on "Yes You May (Remix)", the B-side of "Party Over Here" (1992) by Lord Finesse,[18] and his first album appearance was on "Represent" off of Showbiz & A.G.'s Runaway Slave (1992).[14]

In that same year, he won an amateur freestyle battle, which consisted of about 2,000 contestants and held by Nubian Productions.[20] In 1992, Coleman signed to Columbia Records.[12] 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.

In 1993, Coleman released his first promotional single, "Devil's Son", and later said it was one of the first horrorcore singles, influencing others. 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." However, he said he preferred other styles over horrorcore.[14] 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.[8]

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.[8] In 1995, the video for the single "No Endz, No Skinz" debuted, which was directed by Brian Luvar.[21]

His debut studio album, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, was released in March 1995. The album debuted at number 149 on the Billboard 200[22] and number 22 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[23] Lifestylez would go on to sell over 200,000 copies as of 2000.[24] Three singles were released from the album; the first two, "Put It On" and "M.V.P.", reached the top 25 of Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks and the third "No Endz, No Skinz" did not chart.[25][26]

1996–1999: Released from Columbia, second album, independent artistEdit

In 1996, Coleman was dropped from Columbia mainly because of the dispute between Coleman's rapping style and the production from Columbia.[27] He stated, "I was there with a bunch of strangers that didn't really know my music."[28]

In 1997, he started working on his second studio album, The Big Picture.[29] COC folded when Bloodshed died in a car accident on March 2, 1997.[30] DITC appeared in a July issue On The Go Magazine.[8] Coleman appeared on O.C.'s single "Dangerous" for O.C.'s second album Jewelz.[31] In November, he was the opening act for O.C.'s European Jewlez Tour.[8]

Sometime in 1998, Coleman formed his own independent label, Flamboyant Entertainment.[32] 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."[33] He released the single "Ebonics" in 1998.[34] The song was based on "Ebonics", and The Source called it one of the top five independent singles of the year.[15] DITC released their first single, "Dignified Soldiers", that year.[6]

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[35][36] 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".[8][37]


At around 8:30 PM 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.[38][39] Gerard Woodley, one of Big L's childhood friends, was arrested three months later for the crime.[40]

"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.[41] Woodley was later released due to lack of evidence, and the murder case remains officially unsolved.[42] On June 24, 2016, Woodley was shot in the head and later died at Harlem Hospital.[43][44]

Lou Black's book, Ethylene: The Rise and Fall of The 139th St. NFL Crew, claims that Leroy "Big Lee" Phinazee, Coleman's eldest half-brother and leader of the NFL crew, met and contracted a hitman while in prison to murder three members of the NFL gang, one of whom was Gerard Woodley. Phinazee had tasked Big L to identify the targets to the hitman. Approximately a week before Big L's murder, Woodley evaded the hitman's assassination attempt. As Big L had been seen multiple times with the hitman days prior, Woodley assumed Big L had taken part in the assassination attempt.[45]

Woodley's family maintains his innocence in Coleman's killing.[46]

Big L is buried at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, New Jersey.[47]

Posthumous releasesEdit

The tracks "Get Yours", "Way of Life", and "Shyheim's Manchild" b/w "Furious Anger" were released as singles in 1999 for DITC's self-titled album (2000) on Tommy Boy Records.[8][48] The album peaked at number 31 on R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and number 141 on the Billboard 200.[49] Coleman's first posthumous single was "Flamboyant" b/w "On the Mic", which was released on May 30, 2000.[50] The single peaked at number 39 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs[51] and topped the Hot Rap Tracks,[26] making it Coleman's first and only number-one single.

Coleman's second and final studio album, The Big Picture, was released on August 1, 2000, and featured Fat Joe, Tupac Shakur, Guru of Gang Starr, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane among others. The Big Picture was put together by his manager and partner in Flamboyant Entertainment, Rich King. It contains songs that he had recorded and a cappella recordings that were never used, completed by producers and guest emcees that Coleman respected or had worked with previously.[8]

The Big Picture debuted at number 13 on the Billboard 200, number two on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, and sold 72,549 copies.[24] The album was certified gold a month later for shipments of 500,000 copies by the RIAA.[52] The Big Picture was the only music by Big L to appear on a music chart outside of the United States, peaking at number 122 on the UK Albums Chart.[53]

A compilation album containing COC songs entitled Children of the Corn: The Collector's Edition was released in 2003. The next posthumous album released was 139 & Lenox, which was released on August 31, 2010.[54] It contained previously unreleased and rare tracks.[54] It was released by Rich King on Flamboyant Entertainment.[55] The next album to follow was Return of the Devil's Son (2010), which peaked at number 73 on R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[56] Coleman's next release was The Danger Zone (2011),[57] and an album called L Corleone was released on February 14, 2012.[58]

Legacy and influenceEdit

Henry Adaso, a music journalist for, called him the twenty-third best MC of 1987 to 2007, claiming "[he was] one of the most auspicious storytellers in hip hop history."[4] HipHopDX called Coleman "the most underrated lyricist ever".[12] Many tributes have been given to Coleman. The first was by Lord Finesse and the other members of DITC on March 6, 1999, at the Tramps.[8] The Source has done multiple tributes to him: first in July 2000,[59] followed by March 2002.[60]

XXL did a tribute to Lamont in March 2003.[61] On February 16, 2005, at SOB's restaurant and nightclub in Manhattan, held a commemoration for him.[62] It included special guests such as DITC, Herb McGruff, and Kid Capri.[62] All the money earned went to his estate.[62]

In 2004, Eminem made a tribute to him in his music video for his single "Like Toy Soldiers". Jay Z stated in an interview with MTV, "We were about to sign him right before he passed away. We were about to sign him to Roc-a-Fella. It was a done deal…I think he was very talented…I think he had the ability to write big, and big choruses."[5] Rapper Nas also 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.'"[5]

In 2017, Royce da 5'9" said he believed Coleman would have been a "top 3" rapper all time if he had not been killed so prematurely.[63] In 2019, Funkmaster Flex said "People can get mad at me for saying this, but he was the best lyricist at the time. He was a better lyricist than Biggie and Jay-Z. He just didn't have the marketing and promotion. Let me go on the record and say that. It's the truth."[64]

In 2022 the 140th Street and Lennox Avenue intersection was co-named Lamont "Big L" Coleman Way.[65]


Coleman is often credited in helping to create the horrorcore genre of hip hop with his 1992 song "Devil's Son."[14] However, not all his songs fall into this genre. For example, in the song "Street Struck," Coleman discusses the difficulties of growing up in the ghetto and describes the consequences of living a life of crime.[citation needed] Idris Goodwin of The Boston Globe wrote that "[Big L had an] impressive command of the English language", with his song "Ebonics" being the best example of this.[66]

He was notable for using a rap style called "compounding".[67] Coleman also used metaphors in his rhymes.[68] M.F. DiBella of Allmusic stated Coleman was "a master of the lyrical stickup undressing his competition with kinetic metaphors and a brash comedic repertoire".[68] On the review of The Big Picture, she adds "the Harlem MC as a master of the punch line and a vicious storyteller with a razor blade-under-the-tongue flow."[27] Trent Fitzgerald of Allmusic said "a lyrically ferocious MC with raps deadlier than a snakebite and mannerisms cooler than the uptown pimp he claimed to be on records."[69]


A documentary Street Struck: The Big L Story was set to be released in 2017. It is directed by a childhood friend and independent film director, Jewlz.[20] Approximately nine hours of footage was brought in, and the film is planned to be 90 to 120 minutes long.[35] The first trailer was released on August 29, 2009.[20] Street Struck contains interviews from his mother Gilda Terry; his brother Donald; childhood friends E-Cash, D.O.C., McGruff, and Stan Spit; artists Mysonne and Doug E. Fresh; producers Showbiz and Premier; and recording DJs Cipha Sounds and Peter Rosenberg.[20] A soundtrack will be made for the documentary, and it will be put together by Lamont's brother Donald.[35]


Studio album
Posthumous studio albums
Compilation albums

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Today in hip hop history: Big L was shot and killed 22 years ago". The Source. February 15, 2021. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  2. ^ "The Source: Top 50 Lyricists [Magazine Scans]". Genius. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  3. ^ Henry Adaso. "10 Great Rappers Who Died Too Young". Entertainment.
  4. ^ a b Adaso, Henry. 50 Greatest MCs of Our Time (1987–2007). Retrieved August 27, 2011
  5. ^ a b c Fleischer, Adam. "Big L Would Have Been 40 Today: Here's How He Impacted Jay Z, Mac Miller And More". MTV News. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Big L > Overview". Allmusic. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  7. ^ a b Paine, Jake (February 18, 2008). "Big L's Mother Passes Away". HipHop DX. Cheri Media Group. Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved November 6, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n The Big Sleep (November 7, 2008). "Lamont 'Big L' Coleman Timeline". Big L Online. Archived from the original on May 2, 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2011.
  9. ^ Arnold, Paul (July 12, 2012). "Lord Finesse Says There Will 'Never' Be Another Big L Album". HipHop DX. Cheri Media Group. Archived from the original on January 21, 2012. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
  10. ^ Ovalle, David (December 2, 2002). "Rapper, 23, Was on the Verge of Stardom When He Was Gunned Down in Harlem". The Miami Herald. p. 1E.
  11. ^ a b Johnson, Brett (November 29, 2010). "Donald Phinazee on the life of Big L". Crave Online. Archived from the original on September 26, 2011. Retrieved September 21, 2011.
  12. ^ a b c d Udoh, Meka (February 15, 2007). "Remembering Lamont 'Big L' Coleman". HipHop DX. Archived from the original on December 15, 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Soobax (November 20, 2009). "Donald Phinazee's Q&A – Part Two!". Big L Online. Archived from the original on January 18, 2013.
  14. ^ a b c d Daniel, Jamila (April 1995). "Uptown Renaissance: Big L". The Source (67): 36. ISSN 1063-2085.
  15. ^ a b c "Big L: Bio". Rawkus Records. Archived from the original on March 31, 2001.
  16. ^ Coleman, Lamont (1998). "Big L's last interview (Oxygen FM in Amsterdam '98)". Oxygen FM (Interview). Amsterdam.
  17. ^ "Yo! MTV Raps". 1995. MTV Networks. {{cite episode}}: Missing or empty |series= (help)
  18. ^ a b Hess (2010), p. 40
  19. ^ "Yo! MTV Raps". February 11, 1991. MTV. {{cite episode}}: Missing or empty |series= (help)
  20. ^ a b c d BigLOnline (August 29, 2009). "Big L Documentary Trailer (First Draft) – 'Street Struck: The Big L Story.' Coming Soon!". YouTube. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
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  25. ^ Krishnamurthy, Sowmya (February 15, 2012). "Hip-Hop Remembers Big L on the Anniversary of His Death". MTV Networks. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  26. ^ a b Big L > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles. AllMusic. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  27. ^ a b DiBella, M.F. "The Big Picture – Big L > Review". AllMusic. Retrieved October 31, 2011.
  28. ^ Lewis, Mike (1998). "The Crate & The Good". Hip Hop Connection. ISSN 1465-4407.
  29. ^ Salaam, Ismael (February 15, 2009). "Rapper Big L Remembered 10 Years Later". Retrieved February 11, 2012.
  30. ^ "About Cam'ron". Hot 97FM. Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  31. ^ "Dangerous: O.C." AllMusic. Retrieved November 9, 2011.
  32. ^ Park, April (September 13, 2000). "Big L: The Big Picture (Rawkus/Flamboyant)". Riverfront Times. Retrieved February 5, 2012.
  33. ^ Jasper (1999), p. 2
  34. ^ Berry, Jahna (July 31, 2000). "Big L's Second Album Due, More Than A Year After His Death". Vh1. Viacom. Archived from the original on May 13, 2014.
  35. ^ a b c Donald Phinazee (November 10, 2009). "Big L's Brother Talks His Death and the New Album". Vimeo (Interview). Interviewed by Bill Starlin.
  36. ^ Hess (2010), p. 41
  37. ^ Herb McGruff (July 25, 2010). "Herb McGruff Jay Z & Big L Deal". YouTube (Interview). Interviewed by Mikey T.
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  42. ^ Gray, Madison (September 13, 2011). "Big L – Top 10 Unsolved Hip-Hop Murders". Time. Archived from the original on September 23, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2011.
  43. ^ Sommerfeldt, Chris. "Man suspected of killing hip-hop star Big L in 1999 shot, killed in Harlem; one of two men gunned down Thursday". New York Daily News.
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  45. ^ Black, Lou (June 19, 2017). Ethylene: The Rise and Fall of The 139th St. NFL Crew (1st ed.). Respect the Pen LLC. pp. 147–152. ISBN 978-0-9989986-0-2.
  46. ^ "Big l'S Alleged Killer Murdered in Harlem". June 25, 2016.
  47. ^ Harlem World Magazine
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  51. ^ "Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. September 16, 2000. Archived from the original (XML) on April 22, 2012. Retrieved November 7, 2011.
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  53. ^ Zywietz, Tobias (May 7, 2011). "Chart Log UK: Darren B – David Byrne". Retrieved April 8, 2012.
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  58. ^ "L Corleone by Big L". iTunes Store. Apple. Retrieved January 28, 2012.
  59. ^ Rodriquez, Carlito (July 2000). "The Tragic Story of an 11 Year Old Killer, Our Tribute to Big L". The Source (130). ISSN 1063-2085.
  60. ^ Rodriquez, Carlito (March 2002). "The Greatest MC, Albums and Moments". The Source (150): 118. ISSN 1063-2085.
  61. ^ "Big L, Book of Rhymes, Vol. 2". XXL. Harris Publications. 7 (45). March 2003.
  62. ^ a b c "Commemorating the Life of the Legendary 'Big L'". SOB's. Archived from the original on February 4, 2005.
  63. ^ "The Source |Royce da' 5'9" Believes That Big L "was better than Jay Z"". May 10, 2017.
  64. ^ ""Flamboyant:" How Rap Legends Remember Big L 20 Years After His Death". March 28, 2019.
  65. ^ "Big L, Forever". June 2022.
  66. ^ Goodwin, Idris (December 7, 2010). "Anthology Expands Rap from Music to Literature". The Boston Globe. New York Times Company. Archived from the original on January 18, 2013. Retrieved February 9, 2012.
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  69. ^ Fitzgerald, Trent. "D.I.T.C. > Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved November 8, 2011.


External linksEdit