I was home the night Big L was murdered. Everyone at the crib heard the pop-pop-pop, looked at each other like you do in the hood when you hear the shots and went back to watching the game. The next morning, we found out Lamont Coleman was dead. It was a sad day in Harlem, and we haven’t quite had that heavyweight rhymer since. The Big Picture dropped a year later and it was solid and well put together but there was no Tupac-like vault of material that could keep his name alive. Or so we thought.
Six years later, his older brother Donald was back on the streets after a stay up north and began to chase down pieces of footage here and songs there. It seems Big L had a wealth of material left at the many studios he had worked in throughout his underground run, and his brother had begun the task of gathering that material to continue the legacy of Harlem’s most gifted MC. Now in 2010, the culmination of that work nears fruition wit the coming of a Big L documentary in 2011 and the impending release of a new Big L album Return of The Devils Son with 22 unreleased tracks that are not retreads or remixed songs that we’ve heard before. We caught up with L’s brother Donald Phinazee to discuss the album, the documentary and the legacy lef tby his brother.
Planet Ill: Planet Ill is here with Don Phinazee, the late, great Big L’s older brother. We’re here to talk about the new project they have coming out. It’s been a while since his last project (2000’s The Big Picture)Why now?
Donald Phinazee: I was gone for almost a decade, you know what I mean? When I came home in 2006, I just started working on the album. I started working on a documentary first. I’m still putting together the documentary, we got like 9 hours of footage we gotta break down to an hour and a half, two hours of footage. Then the album came about because Im’a do a soundtrack to the documentary. But this is not the soundtrack to the documentary this is the first album. We gone have a series of album coming out; new stuff that wasn’t released yet.
Planet Ill: He had that much music left in the vault?
Donald Phinazee: Yeah because basically we were in the streets. Wherever we could get studio time, we cut a deal with a dude and pay the dude out our pocket and that’s how we’d do it so he had music in a lot of different studios. So I had to round up a lot, we still got like one dude he still got a lot of music that I’m tracking down. I talked to him but we just gotta get together. But I got…I got a nice piece now, you know what I mean? The soundtrack to the documentary is going to be serious but this album is going to be nice too.
Planet Ill: Big L’s got a very long-lasting influence and legacy over Harlem. It’s a bit of a tragedy that he didn’t get to expose himself to the rest of the world. What do you think he meant to Hip-Hop and Harlem.
Donald Phinazee: He meant a lot. He meant hope. That one of ours is doing what he’s supposed to do. He gave a lot of these young people inspiration. A lot of these dudes look up to him. Young Vado. Before that, Cam. Ma$e. Herb McGruff. It goes on and on for all the cats up here, they all looked up to L they all wanted to be around L. He was an inspiration to a lot of people.
Planet Ill: You mentioned Herb McGruff. Word on the street is that L could have signed to Rocafella by himself, but he wanted Herb and the rest of the dudes to come with him and the label wasn’t really too tough on that, but L hung tight because of loyalty. How important is loyalty in putting together this album? Is there anyone that wanted to contribute verses or production?
Donald Phinazee: Yeah. Kool G Rap, and another dude on there. Loyalty, we’re big on that. Our family was always big on that. That’s what dudes from Harlem live on. You always gotta be a loyal dude or everything will fall apart and if it falls apart you have nothing. Divide and conquer.
He was supposed to sign to Rocafella and he wanted Herb and his man to go with him. But they [Rocafella] didn’t want that off the bat and I told him go and get in, and get this label Flamboyent on, and then you throw them right in, no problem. But he didn’t want to do that. He stuck with it and stuck with them. And then that[his death] happened.
Planet Ill: L wasn’t really known for being a trouble maker or a rabble-rouser in the streets. How did he get caught up in that kind of situation?
Donald Phinazee: That’s a good question. I said it in the documentary, but I’ll say it now. Something went down out here with a dude and my middle brother, Big Lee. Lee went upstate for five years. He got caught with his gun on him. He just happened to be going home, matter of fact. Cops just stopped him for a second and caught him with the gun, that’s how he got knocked.
It was a little problem, like I said, divide and conquer between all of us and Lee went upstate, then I went upstate and then he (Lee) sent word to do something, he sent word to somebody else to do something and Lamont went with him. Which Lamont shouldn’t have went with him. It didn’t go down the way it was supposed to went down, and they seen Lamont face.
So both of us is gone and he was out here by himself and you can’t get one brother so you get the other one, and that’s on the real for real.
Planet Ill: We’re here at 140th and Lenox, in front of the mural of your brother. You see those iconinc murals, you know, Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Big Pun, Easy E they all have their…”permanence” when it comes to the hood. With this album what do you want to accomplish with that? What do you want to build on what L has already left?
Donald Phinazee: I want to continue to build what he started from this album and I’ma start back again because it was a long time man. Like you said, almost a decade. I want to put his name back out there and let the younger people that really don’t know him hear him. Just hear him. All they got to do is hear him and they gon’ love him. “Aww man who is that kid? The kid is hot!” And that’s Big L.
A lot of these young cats don’t know. A lot of them. The young cats since I been home, they bigger than me now. So they out there; they on Hip-Hop hard. They only know L basically if they walk through here the street and see that mural there. I just had this mural done over. Now it says the documentary (Street Struck) before it said “The Big Picture” album. So I threw an event out here, with Luvbug Starski DJing, I had free food, I had free t shirts; it was real happening out there. And I had all this going on while the kid 90 Degrees who did the mural the first time did it over, so this will last another 10 years.
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