On February 15, 1999, Lamont Coleman was shot nine times and killed in his near his often named checked 139th & Lenox neighborhood in Harlem. It was just shy of four years since L had released his breakthrough debut Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous on Columbia Records. L’s murder – which was connected to his brother who was in prison on drug charges – was not met with the outcry that Tupac or Biggie’s received. Unlike the aforementioned, Big L’s life was cut short before he reached the pinnacle of the Rap game.
There are people out there who call Big L the greatest emcee of all-time, and while that statement gives no thought to the importance of longevity, it is a testament to just how talented L was. Taking the blueprint mentor Lord Finesse laid down, Lamont took the style and turned it up a dozen notches; combining lethal shit-talk with shocking lyrics that paved the way for Eminem and Chino XL. Sadly, L was gone by the time his sophomore album The Big Picture was released in 2000. The LP may have been partially pieces together, but still went gold in just a month, far surpassing the sales of his debut.
Like The Notorious B.I.G., L didn’t leave a vault of music behind to be released for years after his death. A decade since The Big Picture, we’re just getting the next “official” releases. This summer the label Big L founded (Flamboyant Entertainment), released 139 & Lenox, a collection of rare and unreleased tracks. Return Of The Devil’s Son isn’t much different; rare songs that have only appeared on bootlegs, unreleased material and a handful of freestyles.
It may be far from the “regular” albums we’ve gotten from 2Pac’s vault over the years, but it is still a welcome addition to any collection. Return Of The Devil’s Son shows off all the facets of L’s game. The Showbiz-produced “Principal of the New School” is pure early ’90s Hip Hop with L firmly in Finesse’s mold. In fact, a few of these recordings sound like they pre-date L’s first solo single on wax (1993’s “Devil’s Son”). “MC’s Whats Going On” is a noticeably different emcee than you hear on more recent tracks like “School Days” or the outstanding Large Professor-produced “Unexpected Flava.” Extra P is behind the boards for another of the albums finest moments, “I Should Have Used A Rubber.” L shows off his flawless storytelling ability over Paul’s stripped down, raw beat.
There are a few questionable moves here unfortunately. “Once Again” is nothing more than a re-working of “Size’Em Up,” it shouldn’t be listed like a new song. A handful of the freestyles also feature rhymes that we’ve since heard, or at least some of the bars. Not to say they shouldn’t have been included, just don’t be surprised if you’d heard some of this before.
Ultimately, Return Of The Devil’s Son is a no-brainer for any Big L fan. Or any fan of lyricists for that matter. It may be a hodge-podge of old material, but unfortunately that is all we have left from one of the greatest talents this game has ever heard.