Gone Too Soon

At the time of his shooting death in February 1999 at the age of 24, Big L's remarkable single "Ebonics" (RealAudio excerpt) had sparked an underground buzz in New York, earning him backers such as DJ Premier and Kool G Rap.

The Big Picture serves as a welcome tribute to the slain rapper (born Lamont Coleman). Consisting largely of songs he recorded in his early days on the hip-hop indie circuit, solo and with the Bronx group D.I.T.C., the album shows a supremely confident and raw MC with as smooth a flow as the late Notorious B.I.G.

The Big Picture is full of bravado and clever asides. "I got more dimes than that Sprint lady," L rhymes on "Holdin' It Down" (RealAudio excerpt). For a kid without major exposure, L's skills attracted a surprising number of collaborators. Guests here include Kool G Rap, Guru and — in a cruel twist of irony — the slain Tupac Shakur, on the eerily titled "Deadly Combination" (RealAudio excerpt).

The Big Picture's centerpiece is "Ebonics," a slice of pure hip-hop electricity. "Pay attention, listen real close to how I put this lecture down," L announces just before blasting out a list of ghetto translations. "If you caught a felony/ You caught an F/ If you got murdered/ You got left/ If you got the dragon you got bad breath."