On this day in 1994, Big L, widely regarded as one of the best and most creative rappers to ever do it, was gunned down outside a Harlem apartment. Even if you don't know his name, you know his style, as the rapper's mastery of multisyllabic words and stand up comic-level punchlines influenced everyone from Eminem to Jay-Z to Mac Miller. We've already covered his 10 Best Songs, but we asked Miller, who sports a L tattoo to commemorate his biggest influence, to break down his legacy and share his favorite tracks.
I’ve been a fan of Big L for a long time. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be rapping right now. He inspired me to pick up a pen. In 8th grade, I actually started the first-ever Big L Facebook fan group before they had fan pages.
I’ve always had an old soul. When I was 14, my one homie played something off [his debut] Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous around the time that I was freestyling a lot. I was searching for something to inspire me and I remember finding that album and listening to it in my basement nonstop. It got to the point where my friends would get mad and be like, “Come on, man. We gotta listen to some Gucci Mane” and I’d only play Big L. Early on, a lot of my cadences and multi-syllabic rhyme patterns were very inspired by L.
There was growth in his sound from his early days to his [posthumous] second album [The Big Picture]. He was progressing with the times and wasn’t trying to just make 1994 music all the time. I’d like to think if he was still here, he still would’ve been dope. Whether or not everyone in the world knows about Big L is one thing, but people that know about rap give L the utmost respect.
That’s always been a favorite of mine. His flow on that is crazy. That was my song to put on when I was mad. When I was 15, I put out a mixtape on the Internet and it was my first go-around with putting something of my own out for other people to listen to. There was all this hatred around it and I wasn’t ready for all the Internet commenters. I got pissed and did a song over that beat on some “F-ck the haters” sh-t.
This song is just so tight. Everything that’s behind the L and Jay-Z story is dope. Sonically, the beat is very spooky and eerie. “All Black” is like that too. I'll actually make that one and "Street Struck" a tie for No. 3.
This is my favorite sh-t of all time. It’s a DJ Premier joint and I was at the studio with Primo begging him to give me that instrumental to rap over. That’s one of the illest beats of all time. L’s verses, damn... [begins to spit verse]. That song is one of those that you can just put on at any point in the day. "Punchline" was a real term for that man; that sh-t punched you in the face. His lines were clever, comedic and light. My favorite punchline of all-time: “Ask Beavis/I get nothing Butthead.”