Yeah. We're switching it up this week, because we can do that. We're going to give you an abbreviated Don't Sleep this week to make way for yet another new section, Cornerstone Credentials. Our joint is all about the people who have made timeless music for the streets. 'Hood icons, we salute you. And it's fitting that we're launching it with one of the greatest spitters ever, Big L. In Streets Is Talking, [artist id="1164800"]Fabolous[/artist] shouted us out. He's not too shabby when it comes to lyrics either.
Cornerstone Credentials: Where Legends Live
Big L was one of the best to ever do it, and unfortunately for many (from his family to his adoring fans), the slick Harlem rhyme-slinger's life was taken too soon. L had the potential to join the ranks of New York's greatest lyricists ever. As an up-and-coming MC he was compared to [artist id="1269"]Jay-Z[/artist] and [artist id="400206"]Cam'ron[/artist], both of whom he collaborated with early in their careers — and he more than held his own.
It's been 10 years now, though, since L, born Lamont Coleman, was gunned down in what was believed to be a retaliation hit against his brother, Big Lee. Like Biggie and Big Pun, L's death left many rap fans wondering, "What if ... ?"
Last weekend marked what would have been his 35th birthday and to honor the slain rapper's life, DJ Soul (Assorted Donuts) put together a mixtape called Big L 5/30 Tribute.
The project — a hard-core NYC rap fan's dream — includes hard-to-find freestyles by Jay-Z, unreleased Big L tracks and interludes from the fallen star's friends, including his mentor Lord Finesse.
"I look at him like LeBron," Finesse said. "I was out there doing it. But he was an upcoming cat that I could tell was gonna be way more advanced than me, 'cause he caught up to me and I had him by a couple years, it was like, 'Imagine where he was gonna go?' "
Besides L's overlooked debut, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, and the posthumous The Big Picture, there hasn't been much material from the "Ebonics" rapper that showcases his trademark wit, punch lines and humor. "He was one of the funniest cats I ever met," Finesse said.
And following his death, L's family continued to suffer from a number of tragedies as his brother Lee and his mother both passed. His half-brother Donald Phinazee is the only remaining family member aside from L's father, who Phinazee said was absent in the rapper's life.
"It'll never get easier [dealing with L's passing], 'cause in the process of that, I lost my whole family," Donald, 41, told us. "I lost the middle brother and, two years after that, I lost my mom when I came home. Saturday was L's birthday. I stayed out, I lit a whole bunch of candles, then stayed there and just sat there."
Finesse and Phinazee have been working on a documentary on Big L's life and rhymes for some time now. But the pair admitted the project has been delayed due to "red tape," including L's father's insistence on contributing and taking a chunk of the potential profits. They both said L's father had little to do with him during the rapper's life and they are surprised by his demands.
"We have an artist ready at the push of a button," Finesse stressed. "But not if he's involved. Not at all. That's what people need to understand — it's not that we don't wanna do it. We just have to take care of the business end. I don't feel enthused to do it if there is a dude there waiting to get the check."
"For what?" Donald asked, frustrated. "This guy didn't care nothing about ... I could tell you stories. He was never there. That's on everything."
The Streets Is Talking: News & Notes From The Underground
Fabolous' Loso's Way is done and headed for stores on June 30. On the LP, you'll find Jay-Z, Ne-Yo, Ryan Leslie and The-Dream. Like he's done throughout his career, Fab mixes it up with the best of the singers and rappers. So what gets him more inspired and competitive — when he receives a song where a singer just kills a hook or when he gets a track that a fellow mic champ lays a vicious verse on?
"I like both elements," he told us on the set of his video "Throw It in the Bag." "The R&B element, to me, is a little bit easier. But at the same time, I take my time with it. I feel I'm my biggest critic. I feel the whole world is listening, even though it may be a small amount listening. I feel everybody is gonna hear it. So I take my time and put my thing on it.
"With rap," he added, "I'm such a fan of hip-hop, I love it when somebody else is dope. I love the chance to go up against other rappers. 'The Hottest in the Hood' remix — Red Cafe, he hollered at me to get a verse done. I said, 'OK, let me know when you're ready, and I'mma ma put my foot in it.' "
Fab says he's going to be Mr. Reliable when it comes to his rhymes.
"I'm not one of them dudes whenever you hear the verse and you're gonna be like, 'Ah, this dude said some ABC on my sh--.' You're gonna feel like I feel, like, 'Fab really went in on this joint.' I feel that's what's kept me relevant."
Don't Sleep: Other Notables
We told you about Young Buck's new mixtape yesterday. Here's the other heat this week:
» D-Block - No Security (independent album)
» The Ruler and DJ Thoro - Summer Shutdown Part 1 and R&B Jumpoff Volume 52.5
For other artists featured in Mixtape Daily, check out Mixtape Daily Headlines.