Big L, a notable figure in the New York underground rap scene who was gunned down in February 1999, is getting more fame now than he had in life his album of previously unreleased recordings debuted at #13 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and at #2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart this week.
The posthumously released The Big Picture sold 72,549 copies last week, according to SoundScan.
"The street hype on it was so ridiculous," executive producer Rich King said. "I knew that it would do big things." The LP features a duet with rapper Tupac Shakur, who also was killed, as well as duets with Fat Joe, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Sadat X and Guru.
Some of the street buzz for The Big Picture was created by record company street teams who plastered New York boroughs with Big L posters weeks before the album was released, said King, who is also Big L's former manager. King co-owns Flamboyant Entertainment, Big L's label, with the rapper's mother.
On the East Coast, those efforts paid off. The Big Picture has sold 27 copies at a Toms River, N.J., Wherehouse Records store four more copies than The Notorious K.I.M. has sold in the past month, said assistant manager Cornell Neal.
"[Big L] had been doing this a long time," said Pucci, a longtime friend of the rapper who helped King track down Big L's recordings for The Big Picture. "That's probably why the streets is talking so well now," Pucci, who declined to give his real name, said. "[From] Method Man down to Jay-Z, everybody industry-wise knew who he was and what he was about."
Big L was a member of New York's D.I.T.C. (Diggin' in the Crates) crew, whose members included Showbiz, Buckwild, Fat Joe, O.C. Diamond, Lord Finesse and A.G. Big L's 1995 solo LP, Lifestyles ov da Poor and Dangerous, had guest spots from Cam'ron and Ma$e and sold more than 200,000 copies.
East Coast Fame
Big L recorded the 1998 underground hit "Ebonics" (RealAudio excerpt) on Flamboyant, his own label. These achievements made him famous on the East Coast, but he never achieved significant national fame, Flamboyant publicist Bryan Adams said. The rapper, who lived in Harlem, recorded several songs for his follow-up, The Big Picture. The tracks for the disc were scattered among several independent studios.
Big L's talent and the carefully selected collaborations on the album also make it a strong seller, insiders say.
When the Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous release Born Again hit stores last year, many fans grumbled that the album recycled too much old Biggie material and featured rappers whom Biggie never would have worked with, King and other industry insiders said.
Rappers and fans pressured him not to fall into the same trap with Big L's sophomore LP, King said.
"Everyone was on my back like, 'You aren't gon' do that sh-- like Biggie's album. Don't let it come out like that. That sh-- was f---ed up,' " he recalled.
At the same time, many rappers clamored to add guest rhymes to Big L recordings that King and other friends gathered for The Big Picture, D.I.T.C. member O.C. said.
"It was crazy. I call it 'Dead Man's Theory,' " said the rapper, who collaborated with Big L on "Get Yours," on D.I.T.C., released this year, and "Dangerous," on O.C.'s 1997 solo LP, Jewelz. "When you pass away and you were slept on when you were alive then people recognize."
A Chance To Work With Idols
Guest artists on The Big Picture are rappers who worked with or who were admired by the slain rapper, King said. Big L never worked with Big Daddy Kane or Kool G Rap, but the Harlem rapper idolized them. Others, such as Brand Nubian's Sadat X, toured with Big L, King said.
Some planned collaborations failed. Notorious B.I.G. was to appear on "Deadly Combination" (RealAudio excerpt) with Shakur and Big L, but Flamboyant couldn't get clearance from Bad Boy Entertainment in time, King said.
Shortly before he died in 1996, Shakur recorded the track as part of a mixtape for producer Ron G. A few days later, Big L, then a Bad Boy artist, and Biggie eventually rapped over the same beat. The song wasn't released after the lyricists died, the record executive said.
A version of "Deadly Combination" with Biggie was leaked to DJs and will appear on a Big L compilation disc the label plans to release, King said. He could not say when the project, which is still in the planning stages, would come to fruition.
Jay-Z was supposed to appear on the Big L-Big Daddy Kane track "Platinum Plus," but Jay-Z plans to record a verse for a future remix instead, King said. The next single will be "Holdin' It Down" (RealAudio excerpt), a song that features new Flamboyant artist Stan Spit, along with A.G. and Miss Jones.
One radio expert said the producers' care paid off.
"Big L is not to be compared to the Biggie album," said Sonny D, hip-hop editor at Gavin, a radio trade magazine. He spun a copy of "Deadly Combination" at a Berkeley, Calif., record store appearance this month and had to replay it because store patrons repeatedly requested it.
"It's a really good song with great lyrics it's not just cut and paste," Sonny D said.
A Bigger Picture
O.C., who appears on "The Triboro" on The Big Picture, disagreed, speculating that half the songs on the CD wouldn't have met Big L's standards even "The Triboro."
"I wasn't really gon' get on the album," O.C. said. "L was real picky about beats and who he rhymed with. He knew what he wanted to do this time. [I felt] this is not what he'd do right now. This is not who he'd record with, accept beats from, whatever."
O.C. said even though he's not entirely happy with how the album turned out, he's pleased with its retail success.
"Me and L had a chemistry as far as doing a song together going back and forth like EPMD-type of sh--. So it was kind of hard, you know what I'm saying, just laying a verse," he said. "We not used to him not being there."
Bronx resident Gerard Woodley, 30, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with Big L's death. He is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 21.