If he were alive, Big L would have turned 40 years old today. But he was tragically shot and killed on February 15, 1999, in his native Harlem.
Despite the fact that his life and career were both cut far too short — he was just 24 when he passed, and only released one album while alive — his legacy has been carried on not just by the music that he left, but through the rappers he influenced.
His punchline-driven, multisyllabic rhyme style laid a blueprint for many that would come after L. To celebrate his birthday, we dug up quotes from seven rappers speaking his praises.
Jay Z on wanting to sign him
“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 records, and big choruses.”
Mac Miller on his influence musically
“He really inspired me to be clever and witty. My early stages of rapping, I was basically trying to be like Big L—trying to be a super raw MC. That’s what he really inspired in me: to always keep that MC factor about myself and about my music.”
A$AP Rocky on his influence stylistically
“You see me rockin’ them Cartier frames and feelin’ myself? You know where that came from.”
Nas on hearing him rap
“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.'”
Cam’ron on his friendship
“He’d be like, ’Yo, I can’t think of no rhymes. Give me some inspiration.’ I used to be like, ’Wow, Big L wants me to rhyme,’ even though that was my friend, I looked at him like the main rappin’ n—a. Like damn, he had a [record] deal, he’s from my block, he wants me to rap?”
Tech N9ne on his legacy
“Top 9 dead or alive. Okay, let’s see. Eminem’s in there. Tech N9ne is in there. Tupac is in there. Notorious B.I.G. is in there. Big L is in there. Nas is in there. Jay Z is in there. Kendrick Lamar is in there. And one more. Let’s see. There’s gotta be somebody good, man. Uh, uh, uh, it’s between KRS-One and Rakim.”
Kevin Gates on his influence
“I always gravitated towards up north music. I always loved the lyricism, and I loved that it was witty. And I always loved down south beats. Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Big L, Tupac. That was, like, my top five, generally.”