Big L: In Memoriam Part 1

Six years ago, one of Harlem’s greatest MC’s was stolen from the Hip-Hop community in single, violent moment of tragedy. To New York radio followers and others, Big L was a welcomed name throughout the underground – but there is no question that he was just days away from becoming as respected in the mainstream, […]

Six years ago, one of Harlem’s greatest MC’s was stolen from the Hip-Hop community in single, violent moment of tragedy. To New York radio followers and others, Big L was a welcomed name throughout the underground – but there is no question that he was just days away from becoming as respected in the mainstream, as he was in the basements.

Many people know about Big L’s role in the legendary crew Diggin’ In The Crates, a role covered time and time over. One of the super-group’s leaders, Lord Finesse, was responsible for discovering L. Last February, AllHipHop chatted with D.I.T.C. about Big L and the early days of the group and in 2005 we go a step beyond.

To commemorate Big L’s life and achievements, we’ve gathered his mother Gilda Terry and also other witnesses from his lesser-cataloged years. In addition to Mrs. Terry, we spoke with Digga, producer for Children of the Corn [Big L, Mase, Cam’Ron, McGruff], to reflect on the group that many revere, but few have heard.

Also chiming in is Grand Daddy I.U., who joined the likes of Big L, Jay-Z, Finesse and others on one of the fiercest posse cuts ever, “Da Graveyard.” Lastly, to go into the handlings of Big L’s estate, we chatted with Renata Lowenbraun, Esq. of the law firm Winne Banta Hetherington Basralian & Kahn. In our conversations, we hope to explore some rare moments of Lamont Coleman’s life. Put your L’s up and read on.

Big L: The Early Days. Can you describe Lamont’s upbringing, and what you stressed as a mother?

Gilda Terry: Lamont was a funny little boy, a jealous little boy. “Come on mama, let’s race.” When I’d win, he’d get mad. One Christmas I bought [Lamont and his brothers] turntables and a mixer. [Lamont] would be the MC. Leroy would be the DJ. Donald would be the dancer. I’d laugh at them. It was the worst thing I could’ve done. It made so much noise. That’s how he got into music and stuff. He really, really was into it. After a while, the newness of that went. But Lamont stayed right with it. He just loved it. He was a good kid. He always had a mind of his own. When he set his mind to do something, he just did it. You mentioned the race. So you weren’t the type of parent to let your children win?

Gilda Terry: He always wanted to race me. We’d race and I’d win. He’d get mad. I’d tell him, “Lamont, if you want to race me, you gonna have to win. I’m not gonna let you win and think you won. No, you got to win.” That’s how it went on until he finally beat me. Harlem was so prevalent in his rhymes. What was it like raising a child uptown in the late ‘70’s early ‘80’s, and how did Harlem harvest Lamont?

Gilda Terry: He loved the neighborhood. He loved 139th Street. I loved 139th Street until he got killed, because before that, it was a close-knit block. Everybody knew everybody. Back in them days, I used to take numbers. In the summertime, after I’d take all the numbers, I’d grab the kids and we would go different places. I organized the block association. For the block to change as much as it’s changed since Lamont died, and for that to happen to Lamont, it’s hard to believe. Everybody knew him, and he knew everybody from Lennox to 7th Avenue and 139th Street. Big L is remembered for his wit. He and Lord Finesse never laugh at their jokes on records, which made them even funnier. Was Lamont funny as a child?

Gilda Terry: It’s so funny that you would ask that question because Lamont was a comedian. When we did family gatherings, Lamont was the comedy. He always had to tell his corny jokes. The only ones who’d laugh at his corny jokes was my sister, Pam and Leroy. The rest of us would just look at him. He was corny. Give me an example. One liners?

Big L: He’d do knock knock jokes, or jokes where you supposed to answer, and he’d give you a silly-ass answer. Some of them, I just never got the meaning. How was he in school?

Gilda Terry: Lamont was about a B student. I had no problems with him going to school. I was never called to the school. The difference between Lamont and my other two sons, my other two, I stayed in school with. You have to know that Leroy was out in the street. What was the music like in the house when he was growing up?

Gilda Terry: Gospel. Strictly Gospel. I like R&B like Gladys Knight. So Lamont was connected to the church?

Gilda Terry: I took him, til’ Leroy said, “Why you forcing us? Let us make our own decisions.” So I didn’t force it. Were you embracing to his taking to Hip-Hop early on?

Gilda Terry: I didn’t even know he was getting into it like that. Lamont was competing at The Apollo. I got his trophy right here. I wanted to go see him, me and my mother. He wouldn’t let us come because of the cursing. He’d never tell us about his music. I’d heard one song he did called, “Devil’s Son,” when I was in the house. I started screaming, “Boy, you gonna have every preacher in Harlem knockin’ on our door!” That was the first time I heard any of his music. Later on, I heard “Put It On.” Even his Big Picture album, it was a long time after he died before I even heard that. Lamont was very respectful. If he was in the park, and they’d be playing music, and he was on the microphone, and one of us come around, he’d get off. If older ladies came around, he’d give them that respect. He knew I’d kill him if he didn’t. I used to tease him, “Lamont, are we ever gonna make it to the awards?” He’d say straight up, “Mama, the kind of music that I do, underground music, we won’t be going to no awards.” That was the most we talked about with his music. When he signed with Columbia in ’93 or so, no celebration?

Gilda Terry: When he signed with Columbia, he was with Finesse. I still never realized. I just never took to the Rap. I remember when he first went away, they were going to Brazil. I said, “Lamont, when you get there, you make sure you call me.” Lamont was cheap. Two days passed, I didn’t hear from my child. I’m worrying now. He’s never been away. Camp, one time. Four days past. The fifth day, he got back. I’m screaming on him. He said, “Mama, I sent you a postcard.” Postcard came three days after he got back. I wanted to wring his neck. He was not paying ten dollars to call. I ask lovingly, was he still thrifty as the success grew?

Gilda Terry: He was the same person. He was the same lil’ cheap person. Around us, it was us – the family. No music. Family things, his corny jokes, things like that. When you were first meeting the guys he was rolling with, how was that? Are those guys still around for you now?

Gilda Terry: I met Cam’ron, Mase, and all of them. I didn’t think of them as rappers. I just thought of them as little boys comin’ to see Lamont. They don’t like to be little boys. Finesse was the first one I met who was really into the music thing. I knew Finesse and I still know Finesse. [He] is just as humble as he can be. He was always just a nice guy. Has Hip-Hop been fair to you?

Gilda Terry: Uhh, yeah. The little ones still see me now and say, “Oh, that’s Big L’s mother.” I don’t go on 139th Street anymore. I lost both of my children there. It has bad memories for me. One day I was riding the D Train, and I climbed out of the subway, and I heard him playin’. I started crying. I get sad sometimes.

Check out Part II