(14) Classic Sounds…

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“Here’s an oldie but Goodie!”

That opening line from “Treat ‘Em Like A Prostitute”, the first track off of Slick Rick’s Magnum Opus is so appropriate at this time.

This classic LP  is the source of so many references, borrowed lines, borrowed swag, and is apart of that top ten of Golden Era releases whose songs litter the sound scape of 80’s themed stuff from movies to parties. You’ll be hard-pressed to find much pertaining to the urban lifestyle in the 1980’s without some Slick Rick song playing in the background or being mentioned. And it would more than likely be from this particular album.

Reason being is that Slick is of that oh-so-rare cluster of artists who only made 1 memorable album. However, that’s all that he ever had to do. This one album made an indelible and irreversible impact on the culture and music history period, to the point that it’s hit songs still get played in the contemporary party scene today…Re-looping it’s lifespan for each generation since it’s inception. It helped revolutionize and redefine Hip-Hop with new slang, new approaches to social situations, and a new voice most importantly.

This debut had been highly anticipated since the great alley-oop introduction lent to him by his partner in rhyme and then mega rap star Doug E. Fresh. His guest features and solo spotlights on the eternal hits, “La Di Da Di” and “The Show” helped cement him as a force to be reckoned with, but no one could have anticipated the bomb that he was about to drop.

As an outsider in more than one way, it almost appears as tho Rick’s immigrant status as a Brit and unmistakable King’s English has always been overlooked. When I was growing up in the 80’s I don’t ever recall hearing anyone trip off the fact that this guy was str8 up London rapping like he’d been in Brooklyn his whole life. As if he didn’t sound like a cartoon character. There was no masking his speech. Unlike other English performers – even fellow British rappers like Monie Love, his accent didn’t fade and slip out as he recited. It was here to stay. Now add to that a penchant for breaking out into random melodious riffs and interpolations of other popular songs, and Slick Rick was never intended to be the norm. He was far from conventional, but he wasn’t weird. He was just giving the Hip-Hop audience something that they didn’t hear before. And not because he was trying. But this was genuinely his interpretation of bragging, establishing identity and being stylish. This was his vision of cool. And we knew it was. Maybe the foreign thing played a huge part in his confidence, or maybe I was just too young to remember, but everything this guy did was accepted. Eye-patch and all.

This may explain his brazenness as well. Although many a rapper had dedicated their fair share of time to odes about the opposite sex and being the best, Slick took things from a different angle and delved more into situational relations. He demeaned his competition by not aggressively denouncing them, but by using witty jabs and sharp comparisons. Listening to him amongst his peers now can be likened to being in school and seeing how the other kids would settle conflicts with fist fights and then seeing that one kid who was the best snapper and would send other kids away in tears just with his words. This is also the case for how he approached female scenarios. Noted in rap as quite possibly the best storyteller, this was Rick’s chosen approach. It was always linear, yet easily digestible chronicling, full of characterizations and punch lines. Everything was and is a story for him. Yet what made him so bold was that at the time, the only rappers painting such vivid depictions of day-to-day life were the “gangsta” rappers. Slick was so appealing because he brought elements from each existing field of Hip-Hop at the time. He was topical, creative, a known party rapper with a talent for crafting the most compelling parts in a song to sing and rap along with, but he dealt with mostly street based issues and spoke about them like the hardcore rappers would. A good amount of curse words, which was not too prominent in the average rap recordings of the time. Even Rakim would use like 1 swear word per album. Around then, only Rick and maybe Big Daddy Kane were mixing that playboy image with the raw delivery and bravado, while still making time to speak on social issues.

Apart of that playboy image would be addressing male-female situations. And that boldness that Rick exudes is present from the moment the aforementioned “Treat Her Like A Prostitute” comes on. Just the idea to title the song in such a way, and furthermore, to start his debut album off with, speaks volumes to the balls this man had. And balls this man had indeed. So much so that he taunted his competitors to “lick” them on the closing track. The titles of his introductory and ending songs let you know the manner of hubris you are dealing with. Yet there’s a humble undertone in Slick’s ‘I-just-like-being-fly’ ethos, so consider these 2 songs to be the bread of a sandwich full of adventure and humor. On the former, Slick provides a cynical commentary on female infidelity based on crude accounts from stories that sound like something out of a Richard Pryor routine. On the Latter, Rick proves my point about his brash nature on this late 80’s braggadocio fest “Lick The Balls” with crazy sentences like “act trife, I’ll let my dog cold fuck your wife!”

Of course this was in the scope of a story. The tale being Slick at a show along with some less than comparable comp. This is also one of the only straightforward songs on here. In a similar but way more creative and intricate plot, on the song “KIT What’s The Scoop”, Rick and co. find themselves on the trail of a group of imitating rappers. Enlisting the aid of the high-tech talking sports car from the 80’s hit series Knight Rider, Rick catches the biters in the act, confronts and reprimands them, recapturing his style just in time to rock a show. This is rap as art to the highest level. The dialogue between he and the car (K.I.T.) is pure genius. 

Another interesting point in the Slick Rick profile is that he voices different characters in his rhymes. Most of the times this simply means that he softens his cadence to indicate that it’s another speaker or another pattern of thought, but sometimes this extends to include full on different personalities – even in adlibs. This is exhibited in songs like “The Moment I feared”, that finds him in a series of unfortunate mishaps where Murphy’s Law takes the wheel.  It’s when he characterizes female characters however, like on the über classic party hit “Mona Lisa”, or “Indian Girl” that he has gained the most notoriety. Where most males are unwilling to portray a woman or less than masculine roles, Slick presents full on conversational exchanges between his assumed characters. On “Indian Girl”, Rick uses all of the gross Native American stereotypes to tell an “adult story” that’s set to be a crassly humorous cautionary tale. Yet it’s exactly this kind of unabashed bluntness that separated him from the other rappers at the time. Only the super underground street rappers were reciting lines about having sex until “the pussy started yawning”, but by the same token this was a song that at its underlying core was about safe sex.

Blame it on the Libra balance, but Slick hits all of the angles on this album. He even willingly lets his cooler-than-thou guard down at times to play the victim in his stories. He also plays the grown man, but not the preacher on “Hey Young World”. For all of his finger waving and commentary, the song avoids that cheesy quality that lots of rappers like say a Run-DMC would display when speaking on social issues. It seemed to come from a place of experience and warning. Yet what set him apart from being a one-note rapper is that his songs with deeper content became as popular as his party songs. So much so that they get played in the same space. Anyone who knows the Slick Rick catalogue or anyone who has breathed air within the last 3 decades knows that “Children’s Story” is as popular as “Mona Lisa”. “Children’s Story” is hands down a lesson in Hip-Hop that I’m surprised not too many other rappers have taken a cue from. It’s an example from the Golden Era that was set early on for the rap generation of the future to learn that any song with any kind of subject matter can be made into a banger. It meant that you could be conscious and dance too. You would think this would catch on, but alas, we’ve had to endure 2 subsequent decades of deep-sounding, soul sample laden and gothic slow songs to get our thought-provoking rap fix. It wasn’t until “Jesus Walks” that another rap song tackling such hefty material got the same regard as a club hit and even still, that doesn’t get party play like “Children’s Story” does. By all accounts, it broke the rules. This is a song with no chorus, about a kid who sticks innocent people up, goes on the run from the police, has a shootout with them using an assortment of firearms (one borrowed from a dope-fiend), commits grand theft auto, grabs a pregnant woman as a hostage and ultimately ends up in prison by the end of the song at the age of 17. It’s dark and against 80’s format, but it worked because it was perfectly coupled with a thumping beat. It was the ultimate marriage of concise storytelling and great instrumentation. 

Speaking of beats, this LP encapsulated the entire 1980’s Hip-Hop sound. Using the popular synths and drums of that age, everything hits where it’s intended to. The party songs hit like party songs designed to rock any house jam. And the more subtle tracks are melodious. Just as the rhymes are evenly varied, so are the beat selections. So on a 12 track LP, this has the effect of a diverse spread of sounds, albeit of the Casio variety, but diverse nevertheless. From the twinkling on “HeyYoung World”, to the Blaring horns on “The Ruler’s Back” and constant scratches from the DJ all throughout, every song has its own lead sound, but nothing deviates too far to stand out-of-place.

With the exception of the sub par “Let’s Get Crazy”, which sounds like a song that was meant for somebody else, all the songs here are tightly knit. And even that is forgivable, because lyrically Rick doesn’t necessarily falter. This is a classic album that serves as both a great debut and a pivot piece for a new wave of rap styling. It’s well-rounded and crisp, full of wit and creativity. The most important thing about it being that it has proved to stand the test of time as a bona fide classic.

My favorite songs on here are “The Ruler’s Back” , “Hey Young World” and the ever-so-Dope “Teenage Love”

One of my favorite rap songs and videos of all time.

Overall, The Great Adventures Of… gets 16 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

(4) Classic Sounds…

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Since I’ve spent the last 2 weeks doing all of this female rapper coverage, it only makes sense that my next classic album review would be of the feminine persuasion.

Now even tho Lyte is my favorite female rapper of all time, I’m not quite sold on whether I think her debut album is better than her sophmore effort, Eyes On This. As a matter of fact, I don’t know which album of hers is her best.

I imagine the beginning is the best place to start.

I remember always liking Lyte for some reason as a kid. I would get hyped when her part came on for the “Self-Destruction” compilation cut. It’s almost like no one patronized her for being a woman, she was just that confident and made you a believer. Certainly, in my young mind, there was no difference. She was just another fly rapper with an unmistakable voice. I don’t ever recall anybody crying nepotism because of her brothers in the Audio Two. She came thru flawlessly with an ill rep and the best geometric hairstyles this side of 80’s pop music.

I wasn’t so much aware of her singles at the time or the top selections off of her album, because none of them were super radio smashes like Rob Base‘s “It takes 2” and me being a child, I wasn’t able to experience the thrill of hearing dj’s crank “Lyte As A Rock” at the Latin Quarter or The Rooftop. What did seem to trickle down to young me, however, was the impression that she was pretty raw and spoke her mind like her male peers. I got the hint that I wasn’t supposed to be listening to her music just like Kool G Rap and some of Big Daddy Kane‘s records with curse words in them. Heavy D and Doug E. she was not. But hey, she’s a Brooklyn Chic – it’s to be expected.

Now as an adult, going back into the crates to hear the largely touted classic from Ms. Moorer has a mildness to it. I can see how this was a big deal in it’s 1988 glory. Besides, at this point, a female rapper with a major release was unheard of. She broke records by going gold. Her acceptance in the game has always been monumental.

It’s almost as tho she was aware of this going into her album, as she sets the stage with an intro track that isn’t even a song!(“Lyte vs. Vanna White”) Just a damn-near 3 minute track of beat with slight scratches and voiceovers concluded by a halfway humorous and rare comedic moment of role-play by Lyte at the end. From here, we go into the title track which we all have come to know and love; if not by growing up on it, then surely by it’s reintroduction and rise in popularity on the soundtrack to the much over-rated but now Black-girl-classic, Love & Basketball. Her now Iconic, KRS-1 like inflection is cemented here, and the big deal aesthetic is continued as she drops one of the best 80’s rap videos ever, to accompany her song.

The voice is one thing. The flow is another.

The defining thing about this album is the varying of her delivery. And not necessarily in a good way. Much like how Biggie‘s first album showcased his growth of style and a time lapse, leaving an album comprised halfway of his more nasal, projected delivery and his more calm, big poppa cadence, Lyte vacillates between having an on-point, fluid 80’s flow, to a more prose-like, run-on flow that doesn’t exactly catch the beat in the right places. No matter how much you like her, this can get annoying after a while. I could only imagine if this album was 15 tracks as opposed to the perfect 10. For every “Lyte As A Rock”, where she seems to attack the beat with matching energy and pace and slickness, there’s a “Lyte Thee M.C.” that falters a tad.

Fortunately, what made this album a classic was it’s singles and the way in which they came to the public’s attention. The singles are actually the best songs on here. The ones that you probably know or have heard of, all came out in a way that would give you the impression that Lyte is a multi-layered emcee. The truth is that if you cop the album it’s all a boom-bap laced pile of diatribes of her uniqueness and superiority, which is surprising considering the era that she came out in, where socially conscious themes were the trending topic. Her approach was more typical of early to mid 80’s rap realeases, where it was all about bragging and boasting. Although Lyte’s brand of braggadoccio is much more cool calm and collect than the guys’ (which always made her cool), knowing the Lyte we’ve come to know by now with all of her insight and cautionary tales, it’s a little disappointing that none of that is present on her seminal release. But then again, taking into account that this is her coming out record (no pun intended) and the fact that she was in fact the first female rapper with a major release, I’m assuming that proving herself amongst the big boys was more important at the time than talking about the crack epidemic, or domestic violence.

To Lyte’s credit she tries a little. There’s moments where you can see that it’s important to her to wave the female flag high as indicated by titles like “Iam Woman” and “Don’t Cry Big Girls”, but it seems her focus isn’t quite there. On both songs, she starts off strong but then ends up trailing off into her usual spiel, making what seemed to be a possible rally for women everywhere just a guise to bring the spotlight back to the one-woman show. So the feminist ethos is sprinkled in there loosely, but ultimately lost.

The only time Lyte breaks out of self-aggrandizing mode is to take the heat off of sucker mc’s and place it in the face of corny 2-timing men and would-be suitors. This is why the singles off of this project made such an impact; You got what is now the modern formula for most successful rap releases, a party song (“Lyte As A Rock”), a Street hit (“10% Dis”) and 2 songs geared towards the opposite sex (“Paper Thin” & “I Cram 2 Understand U”). The latter 2 contain some of the best flowing and lines of Lyte’s career.  She was classy, but blunt, and the lyrics were easily relatable. These songs did wonders to quell any notion that she wasn’t interested in men, and helped her establish a female audience whereas she might’ve already proved herself to the male crowd already. This is pretty much the reverse of most female rappers’ entrances into the game. Another memorable video for “Paper Thin” took it over the top and made it an instant classic – not to mention one of the best simple beats in hip-hop history. From hearing only these joints, you would hope the rest of the album sounded like this.

“Kickin 4 Brooklyn” is another track that remains one of Lyte’s most popular, tho not an official single. In a narrative style, over a stuttering drum beat, it’s the rare instance where you get a touch of Brooklyn from the female perspective, before it became super-commonplace to shout it all over hip-hop records. Lyte may actually be responsible for adding to making that a norm. She exuded Brooklyn pride like none before her. This added to her street cred, but what really set it up was the incredibly infamous “10% Dis” where she devotes a whole record to then-contender Antoinette. As I mentioned in the previous post about forgotten female rappers, Antoinette’s career got put to bed early by not one but 2 songs directed toward her by Lyte. This one being the most clever and amped up, had to be the most pivotal. She murders her with lines like “30 days a month your mood is rude, we know the cause of your bloody attitude (a reference to Antoinette’s static-charged single “I got an attitude” and an all around female to female classic dis) and “Unlike Rakim, you are a joke”. In fact, how many lines from this song have actually been used and re-used??! This is one of the best battles of all time. In effect, Lyte also changed the game slightly by raising the bar for battles.

And that’s what it really boils down to. This album is classic undeniably for where it stands in both hip-hop history and female rap history, not for it’s sonic presentation, or depth. It is the dream introduction for any female aiming to make her stamp, and the kind of entrance every spitter strives for.

Having that said, my favorite tracks are the Prince Paul produced “Mc Lyte Likes Swinging” ,

which would have a whole different connotation given today’s interpretations and the longtime talk of Lyte being a proud lesbian. And also “I Cram 2 Understand U”, “kickin’ 4 Brooklyn” and “Paper Thin”.

And due to the fact that this fellow Libra made an album that perfectly evens out with flaws and miss-steps as well as Milestones and breakthroughs, I give Lyte As A Rock 4 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

(3) Lifestylez Ov Da Poor N Dangerous

Classic Sounds,

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Ok,

this was by request. The boy Mike Gordon asked me to Review Big L’s Classic debut for my next installment of this section. It was a no-brainer seeing as to how the Harlem pioneer is heavily responsible for the inception and inclusion of Punchlines in my writing style.

I’m sure Mike will have plenty to say after reading this review, since it’s an album near and dear to his heart.

The pulse of the Diggin’ In The Crates collective of the 90’s is One of my favorites from my area and one of my greatest influences in rap. I studied his style so much so that I kinda outgrew it once I broke down the mechanics of how it worked. His multi-syllable flow and patterns of stacked rhyming sentences with rapid-fire delivery is not easy to recreate without sounding like a biter. But it is one that’s also not as complex as it would seem. What was to be learned from it, however, was the importance of timing. In hip-hop, just like any form of entertainment, timing is everything. L was a master of this. Even early on before the hype around him that we’ve all come to know existed.

I missed this wave somehow. This album was a Columbia records release, when Sony still had some kind of foothold on hip-hop. The same house that gave the world Illmatic. A year after that and one before The Other Columbia records classic, The Score, Big L quietly slid in with his ‘wild style‘. This product of rap’s ever-so-fabled “Golden Era” marked a turn in several trends in hip-hop. It was kind of a crossroads…somewhere at the point when the dark, grimey, rah-rah rap was on his last leg and still popular, but at the launching of the flossy, overtly braggadocio conversational style New York hip-hop of the mid- to – late 90’s that was laced with witty one-liners. Big L’s debut stood right there. You’ll hear tones of both on Lifestylez

Now, this album wasn’t neccessarily blaring out of speakers  in the Harlem streets, unless I severely missed something. But I was right there, in front of the radio in the dawn of my Hip-hop -headness, and no Big L records on the radio to be found. I do recall hearing the beat from “Put it on” loosely around the city, but I’m sure a song like that and would-be hit “MVP” got overshadowed by the Biggie song that used the same sample during that year.

See, this was before blogs. Before there were comment walls or message boards to fill with praise and nerdy dissection of lyrics. This was when the now legendary freestyle with Jay-Z was just….a freestyle. Everything known of L was all word of mouth and hip-hopper buzz. Imagine how he would have flourished in the post internet-dependent world, where folks could have seriously appreciated his wordplay and hunger. The man was an unprecedented Beast! Yet and still, I didn’t catch on to This 94-95 incarnation of L. The Hype didn’t exist until right before he died unfortunately. Before it was second nature to throw up the L with your fingers at a hip-hop show, the buzz had just started brewing for L due to the rise of Mixtapes. His collabos were growing, and he had just released the notorious “Ebonics/Size ’em up” single. I guess it didn’t hurt that somebody put the battery in the back of D.I.T.C. and they started releasing plenty of singles in preparation for their long-awaited album as a group. The rumor of him getting signed to Roc-A-Fella records at the time didn’t hurt either.

But see, this was the Big L that caught my attention. In high school, the talk about him was non-stop. I remember vividly, the day I decided to take a cue from him…. I was in summer school at La Guardia (shout out to Reeenie!), but we were across the street from MLK high school. This was  right after L had passed and a summer where everyone was so laid back and in the chill zone, but of course, delinquency brings out the rappers! I was drawn into a comparative cypher in front of King with 2 kids from Queens who seemed to have lines for days. It quickly turned to a battle where my witty street-poetry lines were just not holding up and seeming to grab as much attention from the crowd as the Q-boro kids. My fellow Harlemites on the side were looking at me with disgust, saying ‘damn son, how you let these kids from Queens eat you?!’, quoting their lines and all. I turned to my homegirl at the time and she told me that my punchline game was weak, and that was what people react to. It was at that moment that I looked down at my book of rhymes and saw the sticker that I had on the cover. It was an R.I.P. sticker of Big L. I decided to make sure I never lost the crowd or any kind of battle due to lack of lines.

In a way, I’m glad it all happened like that. I caught on to Big L at the perfect time. I was there. I even saw him on his block one day getting his hair braided and caught an ice-grill. “Ebonics” changed my life. I bought his posthumous album that Rawkus records tried their damnest to beef up, I bought the Lackluster Diggin In The Crates album that was super late and only interesting on L’s verses. But it was really this album, the debut, that made me think how underrated he was. I truly believe that he was on his way to that status. He would have at least touched that late 90’s Cam type of fame. My boy used to bring print-outs of verses from his first album to school and I used to trip off of the fact that these were punchlines from ’94 that were better than what was out then. Fab would’ve had to get his weight up! It’s really a shame that up until right before his death, he was mainly an Underground artist, with One classic underground album.

This album starts off with the aforementioned “Put it on” which is probably one of the livest track 1’s in hip-hop history and so synonymous with the times… and thumping bass heavy beat that stutters near the hook build-up, background posse cheers, shout outs, and a dj (Kid Capri in this instance) obnoxiously adlibing. Yet and still it contains some of the most memorable Big L lines ever. It’s followed by “MVP” and what I presume was slated to be the big single had the album showed any promise of selling, “No Endz, No Skinz“.

Yes kiddies, you can tell by the title what era this song is from, but then again, even retreating back to that mindframe and the sound of that era, I remember thinking that this song was perhaps 2 years out of place even for the time it was out. It employed that Jazzy horn based kind of hip-hop beat that was ushered in and overused in the early 90’s by the influx of nerdy rap groups and producers looking for something more. Not to mention, rappers who just wanted to pay respect to their pop’s  favorite music. It also had a cheesy call and response hook that sounded so 1993 you would think the Fu-schnickens and Onyx were doing the background vocals. You might wanna blame that on producer Showbiz being in some kind of time warp, but I truly believe that this and the other Showbiz produced tracks on the album were just old recordings that were saved up and made the final cut. The song still contains some sense of content for L, which was not his strong suit. It also was laced with humor, which was his strong suit, as well as a penchant for super misogynistic lines that bordered on bragging about abusing Women.

L’s Domestic Violence rhymes littered this album periodically. For every clever line like “I’m lookin’ nothin like your poppa, I wouldn’t give a chic 10 cent to put cheese on a Whopper!“, there’s a “a chic asked me for a ring and I put one around her whole eye!” or “and if I get Aids, then I’mma start rapin’ bitches!” (“All Black“). Just real unneccesary shit here…

But this is the entire angle of L’s approach, shock value! He makes it a point to announce his hunger to a reckless degree of not caring how he expresses it. Blame it on the Harlem sentiment of the time, the previous era of rah-rah, say-the-craziest shit-you-can-say kind of rap, or just his eagerness to stand out and grab attention, but L went out of his way to say outlandish punchlines. He’s very much so from the school of thought brought out by his mentor, Lord Finesse, who handles a fair share of production on this project. But Finesse was one of the first guys along with Kane and Kool G Rap who began taking witticism seriously in hip-hop toward the turn of the 80’s decade and began focusing on compound rhyme schemes that landed on clever sentences aimed at belittling the competition. What we have today as the standard for most rappers who we consider “nice”, was revolutionary back then and what we witness with L’s lyrics, is the evolution of that. He was second generation…designed to surpass Finesse. And he did.

But in the anxiousness to exhibit this, L would push super hard, with super hard beats accompanying to show you how serious he was, even in the midst of deadpan humor. This was the ethic that had rappers mistaking “hard” for “real” or successful, so the beats on this album were predominantly dark and grimy. Blame it on Wu-Tang. The initial 3 songs that I discussed are misleading. Until we get to the second to last tracks, we don’t hear anything close to the upbeat or groovy vibe introduced at the beginning. Everything in between is one stark, menacing New York Stick Up-Kid soundtrack.

Sometimes it works, where it becomes apparent that L may be playing a role or creating a fictionally exaggerated version of himself, Like on the title track. The extreme scenarios depicted by l in this song clearly planted the seeds for stuff like  Cam’s “Confessions“. Like I said, there was some kind of Harlem kid sentiment to be the best and outdo any other rapper that came before by pulling the crazy card. I guess the idea was to talk so insane that it trumped bragging itself.

Where Big L shined the most tho,

was in his storytelling and picture painting. Like a more hands on, and less poetic Nas, L weaved street stories from a narrative standpoint, usually in third person. They were relatable, tho Harlem-Centric (as were most of his rhymes – you already know! Harlem all day!), and easy to follow. From loose diatribes like “I can’t Understand it” and “Fed Up With The Bullshit“, to more solid tales like “Lifestylez...” and “Street Struck“, L was definitely an urban Griot in his own right.

What makes this album the most famous, is who was actually made famous or became so subsequently. The biggest tragedy, many believe, is that 2 of the most minor guests on this album went on to become 2 of the BIGGEST rappers to ever set foot in the game. Their fame even while L was still alive was like a slap in the face, because guess what? No Big L features on their projects! We never know what goes on behind the scenes for sure, but you can definitely see L’s sense of charity in full effect back then when he shares the mic with 7 other Harlem niggas destined to NEVER make it on the song “8 iz enuff“. In this mix is a young, unpolished Cam’ron who can get easily lost in the sauce if you’re not distinctly looking for him. This same generosity is extended on the Horrible track “The Graveyard“, where the names that you know on it are the only names worth knowing! Lord Finesse sets it off and Jay-Z (version 1.0) comes off as eager as L does, shoutin his verse and rapping with at least 4 different flows to make sure  you know he’s got versatility. Safe to say,  L was better than all of them at this point in their careers.

However, at some point in time, L got stuck. The dudes he was attempting to bring up had surpassed him in multiple aspects. He might’ve relied on his rhyme-for-rhyme style too heavily. Although he  would often fore-go the couplets that his peers used and developed a unique pattern of stacking sentences and speeding up to slow back down, after a while it can get almost predictable. Or at least to me, what weighed that style down was the fact that in the frenzy to get to that oh-so special last line, he squeezed a bunch of random, awkwardly placed words and sentences in to make it connect.  And if they all did interweave, then it was usually a series of wild sentences that would all lead to one outrageous conclusion, like on “The Graveyard” where L exclaims that he’s “lightin’ niggas like incense, gettin’  men lynched, and when tense, I’m killin infants for ten cents!” Really tho? This line resonated with me and my boy Brandon so much that we started referring to rhymes when rappers reach to make punchlines connect as that ol’ ‘infants for 10 cents’ shit.

Either way, Big L is one of the nicest ever, and I think he could’ve gave Big and Jay some comp had he got his content game up.  L doesn’t welcome you into Harlem as a tour guide, he instead pulls a Training Day move on you; he puts you in the passenger seat and takes you as he makes his crazy runs and tells you to pay attention. This album is 139th street and Lenox avenue essentially. If you want to hear some of the greatest punchlines in hip-hop history, then peep this classic album. But if you’re looking for depth or some kind of Journey, this is not the record.

Overall, as a Classic Album, I give Big L’s Lifestylez Ov Da Poor N Dangerous 8 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

My Favorite joints are “Let em have it L“, “Street Struck“, “Lifestylez Ov Da Poor N Dangerous” and “MVP