Lamont Coleman was born to Gilda Terry on May 30, 1974, in Harlem, New York. As an adolescent, Lamont listened to the talents of Run-D.M.C., The Cold Crush Brothers, and Big Daddy Kane. He learned to rhyme in the park near his house at 104th West 139th Street where he would spend hours trading rhymes with friends to pass the time. While attending Julia Richmond High School he was given the alias Big L to spite his childhood nickname, Little Lamont. L described his lyrical growth, "I started writing rhymes in 1990 and was in a group called Three The Hard Way, but they wasn't serious so I went solo. Then I started winning rap contests and battling everybody in my 'hood and roastin' em."The MC kept perfecting his craft, and by the time he was 17 years old, he was fast approaching the line that divides pastime and profession. His lyrics were defined by the world around him and gave insight into fabled Harlem shootouts and legendary Harlem street life.
On February 10th, 2008, Big L's mother, Gilda Terry, passed away; 5 days shy of the 9th anniversary of Big L's death.
When Big L was still in high school he caught the attention of Bloods in the back of a New York record store called “Ya Digg”. Finesse along with Joe "Diamond D" Kirkland and Rodney "Showbiz" Lemay, were the founders of the D.I.T.C. clique. L’s first professional appearance came on the B-side of “Party Over Here” by Lord Finesse in 1992, the song was called “Yes, You May” remix. Soon L officially became a part of the DITC crew which featured some of the best New York producers, deejays, and emcees on the mic, members came from several boroughs bringing to life the true sounds of New York hip-hop. The members of DITC included; O.C., Lord Finesse, Diamond D, Showbiz, A.G., Fat Joe, Buckwild, and Big L. His early successes in DITC lead to his signing with Columbia in 1992. Astoundingly, all it took was a four song demo tape showcasing tracks such as the horror-core establisher “Devil’s Son” and of course the “Yes, You May” remix. He regularly appeared on the fellow DITC members albums, and also contributed to the works of Success – N – Effect. He appeared with the group regularly, notably on their single "Dignified Soldiers" and their later self-titled LP release, sometimes known as Worldwide.
From 1997 to 1999, Big L worked on his second album The Big Picture. It was released worldwide at the summer of 2000 to critical acclaim. Two singles, "Ebonics" and "Flamboyant", both reached number one in the charts. The album featured cameos from Fat Joe, Tupac Shakur, and Big Daddy Kane among other emcees. The Big Picture was certified platinum in 2001. Jay-Z has said that Big L was set to sign with his Roc-A-Fella label, but died the week before. The two had mutual respect for each other, dating back to a dueling freestyle session on the radio and Jay-Z's appearance on Big L's first album.
On the evening of February 15, 1999, Big L was shot multiple times in the head and chest and killed near his Harlem home. Early indications led many to believe that Coleman was killed because of a debt owed by his older brother, Leroy Phinazee, who was in jail at the time and was therefore inaccessible. It has also been speculated that the murderer mistook Lamont for his brother on the night he was shot. Some time after his release from prison in 2002, Leroy Phinazee was murdered on the same street as his brother after attempting to find out who had shot him.
Big L exemplifies the gritty, punchline heavy battle raps mastered by his mentor, Lord Finesse. The recent trend of New York rappers aiming to “Bring New York Back” (in particular Papoose) with flurries of mixtapes and freestyles, seem to follow in the blueprint that Big L left. Big L is the logical progression of Lord Finesse’s style into the early and late Nineties. As a part of the legendary D.I.T.C. crew, Big L seemed poised to conquer mainstream rap, as rumors of Roc-a-fella signings whirled about before his tragic murder in 1999.
Big L has a unique style in writing lyrics. His crude and violent lyrics substantiate his claim as the originator of the Horrorcore genre of hip hop, though that is not the case since horrorcore style of hip hop originated back in 1992 as a Detroit fad. He also was able to evoke vivid visual and aural imagery in a humorous manner. A clear example of this is a verse from Put It On, from the album "Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous":
He has also written in the horrorcore genre, his lyrics so extreme that they have been banned from being broadcasted on radio stations internationally. A clear example of this is a verse from the song Devil's Son:
His technique has been considered the best by many, as he has been able to adapt work very well under any beat or producer and has been consistent in writing good quality lyrics and punchlines, as well as using a sophisticated, unique, and adaptable flow.
Lamont “Big L” Coleman was equal parts freestyle king, storytelling genius and punch line specialist. And while he was the recipient of more press than Soundscan sales, his reputation far exceeded any Billboard chart position. Sadly, a week before he was reported to sign to then-conglomerate Roc-A-Fella Records, he was brutally gunned down just blocks from his Harlem home. But to those who knew him and knew of him, Big L was more than just a hometown hero, he was a legend in his own right. In his song "Rewind", Royce da 5'9" tells Big L's story in the third part of the song, in how he (Royce) viewed his music and how it influenced him today.