Big Pun, Big L and J Dilla – Remembering Three Of Hip Hop’s Biggest February Losses

By Anton Constantinou

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February is something of a subdued month. Having emerged from January potless after an expensive Christmas and five weeks without pay, many of us are forced to scrimp and save. Thank god there’s only 28 days until March.

In hip hop circles, February is significant for stealing three of the game’s biggest stars – one of which we’ve spoken about on several occasions. Big L, Big Pun and J Dilla all died this month, within a mere week of each other in 1999, 2000 and 2006.

Crucially, these were no ordinary artists, but rather legends in their own right. Pun had a flow that could rattle the seas; a delivery capable of leaving even a lizard tongue tied. Big L had potential to be what Jay Z is now: a New York king. Only difference is Big L’s multies were better and so too was his vocabulary. J Dilla’s legacy will never die. Even to this day, he’s remembered as one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time, whose work lives on through a backlog of unreleased material.

So, in what way are these three artists united? Well, all died too young, for one. Big L was a mere 24 when he was killed on his doorstep, in what many believe to be a retaliation shooting for something his brother did. Pun and Dilla’s deaths were both health-related. Pun suffered heart failure at the age of 28 as a result of being morbidly obsese and was unable to recover. Dilla similarly died from cardiac arrest, brought on by an autoimmune disease known as Lupus. He was just 32.

The theory that like attracts like never quite stuck Dilla, Pun and L, who, for whatever reason, never really collaborated with each other at any stage – at least not visibly. In a period of immense competition between artists on the rise, where no one really knew what the other might amount to long term, it’s quite possible that the intention to work together was in no ones business interests.

Big L, shortly before he passed, founded his own record label, Flamboyant Entertainment, a move which saw him put out the classic album, The Big Picture. Other great music would inevitably of followed, as L had a terrific knack for going against the grain and keeping it real in the face of fame. There was also talk of him signing to Rocafella, Jay Z’s label. Had that of happened, it’s feasible that L might have overtaken Z in terms of quality output. His marketability needed some working on, for sure – no one makes a million off devil raps alone – but with Z’s help, the two could have gone to form one of the baddest groups on the planet.

Like L, Pun only managed to put out two studio albums in his time – the second of which was released posthumously. Had he survived, we reckon he’d of done more stuff with the Terror Squad, and perhaps even joined forces with Ja Rule, considering Pun’s work with J-Lo at the time.

In the lead up to his death, Dilla began collaborating with fellow producer, Madlib, together combining to form the group, Jaylib, and dropping the album, Champion Sound. Late 2006 saw Dilla embarking on a European tour. He here is embracing an audience at his last concert in Ghent, Belgium.

In time an international tour would have followed, as would further work with Common, Ghostface and Steve Spacek, who Dilla began working more closely with during his final months.

The beauty of hindsight is the fact that anything seems possible when looked back at. Whatever diverging paths these artists may have taken, I think we can all agree that they would continued to have prospered in their own way, whether in or out of music.

Handpicked for you are three songs which feel exemplify Dilla, Pun and L at their best.



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