Posthumous albums are always a hit or miss thing and the further away from an artist’s death we get, the less likely the artist’s actual vision has anything to do with the final outcome. 11 years after his death and ten years after his last album ,The Big Picture, the estate of Big L releases Return of the Devil’s Son, with unreleased verses from the late great rapper. 21 tracks in length, the work lacks cohesion and clarity of vision; feeling more like a “best of” mix-tape than an album. While most of the verses aren’t from album cuts, many are from mixtapes and stuff his fans have heard before.
“Return of the Devil’s Son” opens the album as a live performance of second cut, “The Devil’s Son,” which was released on the early pressings’ of L’s debut album. The smooth and simple drum of “Zone of Danger” is a reworked, more soulful version of the jazzy “Danger Zone,” also from the debut album.
The first of the “Mixtape Attack” interludes come from an old Dirtman/Sandman mixtape from ’94 preceding the debut. The vocals contain a small amount of distortion over a loopy, tripped out track.The second uses Primo’s “10 Crack Commandments,” flipping the Chuck D countdown for “1,3,9.” This verse originally appeared on O.C.’s Jewelz album on the track “Dangerous.”
Showbiz-produced “School Days” has that early 90s feel with the hard drum pattern and jazzy high-hat sample with brass on the edges. Big L reminisces about his rise as an MC in the days where he first showed skills. “Principal of the New School” picks up the pace with quick, rough drums a subtle piano and horn samples on the breaks. Big L’s delivery is more rear throat and a departure from his normally nasal delivery.
“Unexpected Flava” was released as a single and the Large Professor, Lord Finesse-produced track brings the best out of the old verses with production that doesn’t make the rhyme scheme feel as old. L chronicles his rise to fame and how that changed how the honeys treat him with various flows and deliveries. “Right to the Top” is simply a renamed version of the Kool G Rap, Royal Flush collaboration originally-titled “Double Up.” It’s one of the more contemporary tracks on the album with solid performances from the three emcees that could easily be from this side of the millennium mark.
“Once Again” includes the classic BB King’s “Chains N Things” sample along with Big L’s quick-witted rhymes and a vocal echo at the end of each stanza. Producer J-Love brings a recent flavor to the third “Mixtape Attack” while L delivers a short, sweet barrage of sharp punchlines and hood rhetoric.BBKing-Chains N Things
“I Won’t” shows the introspective side of Big L. Big L’s father was the actual devil he references in all of his rhymes and this track is where you hear that emotion.
It rounds him out as an artist and adds depth to his legacy. The fourth “Mixtape Attack” is an excerpt from an appearance on the October 28, 1993 episode of Stretch and Bobbito’s radio show .
The slow, R&B groove of “Power Moves” is a welcome change of feel for the album, with low-volume female vocals running beneath his verse, adding emotion and spice to L’s performance. “If You Not Aware” flips a Mary J. Blige vocal sample as L warns the fellas not to get caught out there by conniving women. The consequences are present on “Should Have Worn a Rubber” with a trip to the clinic as a reward for not bagging it. L raps over Sauce Money and Jay-Z’s “Pre Game” with a rapidfire delivery for the fifth “Mixtape Attack,” proving that given time, Big L could have adapted as emceeing evolved.Sauce Money Feat. JayZ-PreGame
“Fool’s Paradise” by Meli’sa Morgan is used as the backdrop for “Yes You Can,” an invitation for all cuties to ride the L train. “Audition” features a young L rhyming over the “The Symphony” with a Kane-like flow.The horns from Jack Bruce’s “Born to be Blue” are chopped up for “M.C.’s What’s Goin On,” as he ponders why low-skilled rappers get light and talented MC’s get slept on. The album closes with Big L freestlying over Cool Breeze’s hit, “Watch for the Hook” from a Kay Slay tape.
Length and novice executive production leave Return of the Devil’s Son feeling more like a compilation than an album. Fresher production could have been used to update the sound of the verses. That said, if listened to with the ears of his time, Big L was a strong rapper who could have blown up with the right team and production. We’ll leave you with words from his brother. Big L may be gone but he’s certainly not forgotten.
Big L-“Unexpected Flava” (Prod. By Large Professor & Lord Finesse) Unexpected Flava
3.25 out of 5
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