DAR Classics Roundtable: 1995- AZ's Doe or Die vs Big L's Lifestyles Ov Da Poor and Dangerous

Today, we here at DAR wanted to bring back our hip hop classic roundtable album debates for DAR Classic Hip Hop Week. Now, this time we end up in 1995, discussing two debuts from two of the nicest: AZ and Big L. Let's get right into it.

Doe or Die

1. Intro 
2. Uncut Raw
3. Gimme Yours 
4. Ho Happy Jackie 
5. Rather Unique 
6. I Feel For You
7. Sugar Hill 
8. Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide 
9. Doe or Die 
10. We Can't Win 
11. Your World Don't Stop 
12. Sugar Hill (Remix)



Big L
Lifestyles Ov Da Poor and Dangerous 

1. Put It On 
2. M.V.P.
3. No Endz, No Skins
4. 8 Iz Enuff
5. All Black 
6. Danger Zone 
7. Street Struck
8. Da Graveyard 
9. Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous 
10. I Don't Understand It 
11. Fed Up With The Bullshit 
12. Let Em Have It L


As someone who has a lot of experience with New York hip-hop in the 1990s, Lifestylez and Doe or Die seem to be two of the more underappreciated albums that came out of that period. Lifestylez more so due to it being the only album L would release before his tragic passing. Personally, L's album was lacking in one area, that being production. Lifestylez featured the regular, gritty production of early 90s hip-hop, however with its release in 1995, and the amazing work done by Pete Rock, DJ Premier and co. the previous year, the production on Lifestylez was pretty basic. AZ went for a slightly different sound on his album and many of the instrumentals featured synths and samples, which in my opinion, gave it an interesting but strange sound. In terms of lyricism, both artists are excellent and so were these albums. Big L's punchlines and AZ's storytelling made both albums great, but if I had to pick a preferred album, I would go with Doe or Die, as the overall project, production and lyrically wise, is better to me.

AZ is one of my favorites all time. So I have to go with Do or Die as the winner. The whole album is classic. The production is all time great. Ho Happy Jackie and Rather Unique show huge lyrical depth. Mo Money Mo Murder, Mo Homicide has the GOAT Nas and AZ killing it over the mobster beat. AZ is one of the most underrated rappers and this is a perfect debut. Unfortunately it's his best album, as he has had over 10 since.

AZ and Big L should both be on everybody's underrated list, along with their debut albums. Doe or Die by AZ and Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous are both classics from the 90s that I've kept in regular rotation. The albums are hard to compare however, with AZ's debut being so much more laid back than the darker yet harder overall sound of Big L's first project. Going back to both albums now I'm realizing this is a harder decision than I initially thought, however I will stick with the horse I originally planned to bet on.
Slight margin to Anthony Cruz with that Doe or Die, since that album is basically my background music during a nice smoke session after a long day of trying to look busy. Big L almost got the nod. Every song on that album is a fucking banger. MVP and Let Em Have It L probably contain most of my favorite bars from the Harlem legend. "Everybody wanna be like Mike, but Mike wanna be like L". He was one of the true pioneers of the punchline heavy style that shaped the early 2000s when you consider how his style parallels the Lloyd Banks, Fabolous, etc. of that Era. It's a terrible shame he didn't live to collaborate and compete with any of them.
AZ is an originator in his own right(and words) and has an unmatchable flow to go with his high level lyricism. This is showcased on his collab with Nas "Mo Money, Mo Murder" where I'll even admit that he sounded like the better emcee on that track. "Gimme Yours" is probably my favorite track to relax with. Tracks like "Rather Unique" and "Your World Don't Stop" keep the theme of that classic Hip Hop feel and come together almost perfectly for Doe or Die. AZ released tons of projects since his '95 debut, but none really come close to his introduction into the game. It's a shame he didn't receive more mainstream recognition possibly due to being in Nas' shadow most of his career(even Pandora radio's bio had him listed as a Queensbridge Emcee when the boy is from Bed Stuy), but he's so much more than that one verse on "Life's A Bitch". Doe or Die for the win.

Big L vs. AZ. Do or Die vs. Lifestylez Ov Da Po & Dangerouz. Two great albums by 2 of the most underrated New York MC's of all time. Big L's album slightly takes this conversation. Production was flawless, meanwhile the production on Do or Die had some flaws. Both were great lyrically, with AZ winning that battle. But Livestylez Ov Da Po & Dangerouz just takes it. A little bit more versatile, being the perfect debut album for Big L to start off his career. I just didn't feel Do or Die as much.

For me, this one definitely centers around production and execution. I have to choose Doe or Die. That album is one of the best from the 90s in my opinion and while Big L created a classic in his own right, it has a few small flaws that gives AZ the edge. When talking lyricism, I think I vibe with AZ just a tad more. AZ painted pictures with his lyricism and smooth rhymes, while L was more of the aggressive punchline rapper. I love both styles personally, but always prefer imagery and more vivid lyricism in an album, which Doe or Die had a near endless supply of. I would go on record and say that AZ has the most underrated album of the 90s and I truly don't think that is a stretch.  Doe or Die is a classic and features some of my favorite songs too. Doe or Die all day.

What's your pick? Post it in the comments below.



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