It’s February 23rd, 1995: the Stretch & Bobbito show was at the height of its cult following among those who knew what was really up, hip-hop’s golden era was in the midst of its second act, and two then barely known young and hungry emcees by the names of Big L and Jay Z are on the iconic radio show, on the precipice of what is about to be one of the most iconic freestyle sessions in hip-hop music history. Within a span of nine minutes, Big L and Jay Z give a captivating glimpse into what could be the future of rap music then via an unforgettable display of lyrical prowess. Through this session, rap fans were treated to a tete-a-tete of rhyming between two beasts on the mic, with razor blades for tongues and bars borne of venom and magma.
“Cuz I’m the neighborhood lamper, punk brother vamper, fuck around you’ll find my silk boxers in your mother’s hamper.”
Up until that time, Big L was known for pioneering the rap subgenre of horrorcore and being the founding member of Children of the Corn, a rap group that consisted of Bloodshed, Herb McGruff, Murda Mase, and Killa Cam. Now if you happened to do a double take because the last two names looked familiar, well, your suspicions were correct as Murda Mase and Killa Cam are better known as Mase of Bad Boy Records fame and Cam’ron, the Don Dada of the Dipset crew. Imagine the possibilities of those dudes making it big together. Unfortunately, the group disbanded after Bloodshed’s death in a car accident back in 1997, with Mase adding the dollar sign to his name and Cam blasting off into hip-hop’s upper echelon while dipped in pink.
For Big L to step into Stretch and Bobbito’s booth, he knew he had to come with it, knowing very well that only the most worthy emcees have blessed their mics. Think Nas, Big Pun, the Fugees, and Biggie and you get an idea of what kind of expectations he was stepping to that night. So when L starts firing off bar after scintillating bar, spitting ungodly quotables from the get go, you knew that this cat was something special. Just after the first verse alone, that mic must have been glowing red, scalding from the flames Big L just finished exhaling onto it. Yet in the immortal words of Onyx’s Sticky Fingaz – “Bu-bu-bu-but wait it gets worse!”
“Come on and ride the rhythm, I produce like jizm. Just like the gods I start with knowledge and follow with wisdom.”
“I got my man Jay Z here.” Big L finishes his lyrical flourish by introducing his man, Jay Z. Let that marinate for a second. The man that we now know as Hov, the hip-hop tycoon that’s arguably had the most successful rap career to date and who managed to wife up the baddest r&b singer along the way, was at that very moment back in ’95, simply Big L’s man. Now, to step to the mic after a verse that potent was on par with dunking after Vince Carter in 2000 (sorry Jerry Stackhouse). But luckily for all of hip-hop, Jay was no slouch on the mic himself, dropping a verse that sparks a first round of rhymes for the ages.
The ensuing second round of rhymes from both emcees was one that cemented its legacy into the minds of hip-hop heads everywhere as a freestyle session for the ages. With both Big L and Jay Z blacking out and displaying an otherworldly penchant for spitting rapid fire, acerbic, and penetrating rhymes with a veteran charisma, many believed that hip-hop’s next boom lay in the sharp tongues of these young street poets.
Alas, fate proved to be cruel and we were robbed of a talent when Big L was shot and killed back in February 15th, 1999. Up until that point, Big L was set to join Jay Z on Roc-A-Fella Records, catching the attention of Dame Dash and setting up one of the biggest ‘what if’s’ in hip-hop history.