New York Digital News

Rapper Big L Street-Renaming Ceremony in Harlem


Herb McGruff (front row, fifth from left), Stan Spit (front row, third from left), and other attendees of Big L’s street-renaming ceremony on May 28 in Harlem.
Photo: Photography and Words by Adam Jason Cohen

In 1999, Lamont “Big L” Coleman was gunned down a block away from the intersection of 139th and Lenox, an area he often referred to as the “Danger Zone.” Although the neighborhood no longer looks or feels exactly like the one L often spoke about and ultimately died in, friends and family spent this past Saturday officially making it the late rapper’s forever home. L’s niece Laniqua Phinazee and his longtime collaborator Herb McGruff had been pushing the city for years to have the corner renamed for L. Days before what would have been his 47th birthday, it finally came to fruition. The eventual ceremony felt like an intimate family BBQ honoring a fallen son as Phinazee reminded those gathered that this was not just a celebration of life but a reminder of how much loss can occur from senseless gun violence.

Though Big L was responsible for one the best hip-hop albums of all time, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, his contributions to the genre have always been somewhat understated. L’s work would eventually pave the way for fellow Harlem artists Cam’ron, Ma$e, and A$AP Rocky, and rappers such as Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nas have noted how much Big L has influenced their music. (Upon hearing him for the first time, Nas says he was “scared to death.”) This past Saturday, Big L’s family, collaborators, and fans came to pay their respects to his legacy as well as trade stories and throw their L’s up. It was long overdue. — A.J.C.

Big L’s great-grandniece Tori Phinazee doing the honors.

The corner of Lamont “Big L” Coleman Way and Lenox Avenue in Harlem.

“Saturday meant a lot to me,” says Big’s L niece Laniqua Phinazee, pictured here with her children. “With everyone showing up and showing out, it showed me how loved my uncle was and the role that he played in people’s lives.”

Herb McGruff, seen here holding the city’s proclamation in Big L’s honor, was a member of Big L’s early crew, Children of the Corn, and appeared multiple times on L’s first solo album.

140th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, the location of the Big L mural.

The Big L mural designed by Floyd Simmons.

Floyd Simmons presenting a model of 140th and Lenox to Big L’s niece Laniqua Phinazee.

Stan Spit, who appears on Big L’s “Holdin’ It Down” and “Who You Slidin’ Wit.”

Fans throw their L’s in the air at 140th and Lenox.

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