On May 30th, 1974, Gilda “Pinky” Terry gave birth to Lamont Coleman in Harlem, NY. Lamont later became known as Big L in the hip-hop community, and one of the greatest emcees to ever bless the mic. While Big L rapped about “The Danger Zone,” Ms. Terry lived a calm life on 139th street away from all things hip-hop related. She was a church-going citizen who loved gospel music and had no interest in the hip-hop culture that surrounded her. And while Big L toured in Europe and gained notoriety in North America, Ms. Terry thought it was another phase her child was going through.
On February 15th, 1999, tragedy struck. Big L was murdered in front of their home in Harlem in what is (still) thought to be a case of mistaken identity. All evidence points to Big L’s older brother Leroy (“Big Lee”), who was incarcerated at the time and involved in a bad drug deal, being the target of the murder. Upon release in 2001, Lamont was also gunned down.
“I’ve lost two sons to street violence. There’s so much going on in this world, we don’t need the street violence, especially from our young people. They don’t care about life anymore, it needs to change.”
The relationship between Big L and Ms. Terry was nothing more than ordinary; a church going mother and a fast living son, two different worlds rarely understood in cohesion. It’s a relationship many of us have had with our parents: “What is this rap stuff?”, “Why are you cussing so much?”, “Where is this going to get you?” As youth culture flourishes with new clothing, music and dances at alarming rates, it also introduces new vernacular and slang at every opportunity which soon became apparent to Gilda.
“To tell you the truth, at first, I didn’t know who Big L was. He’d tell me and be mad at me like “Ma, why you being mean to my friends? My friends said they calling for me and you hanging up on them.” I’m like ’cause they keep calling here asking for Big L. He like, “Ma, that’s me!” I just said, well I didn’t know. You didn’t tell me.”
Unlike other mothers of slain rappers, like Afeni Shakur and Voletta Wallace, Gilda never knew anything about her son’s celebrity life until he passed. She had never seen a concert much less listened to an album, and was more concerned with what the neighborhood preachers would say than understanding hip-hop culture. To Gilda, hip-hop music was no more than a fad with foul language and unholy content and to have her son be a par of this community never appealed to her. Though, Big L also understood this and respected his mother as well as his elders as explained by Ms. Terry. Despite her reservations for the industry, Gilda understood that this was something that made her son happy and always stood beside him om his journey.
“I didn’t even know he was getting into it like that. Lamont was competing at the Apollo. I got his trophy right here. I wanted to go see him, me and my mother. He wouldn’t let us come because of the cursing. He’d never tell us about his music. I’d heard one song he did called Devil’s Son when I was in the house. I started screaming, “Boy, you gonna have every preacher in Harlem knockin’ on our door”! That was the first time I heard any of his music. Later on, I heard Put It On. Even his Big Picture album, it was a long time after he died before I even heard that. Lamont was very respectful. If he was in the park and they’d be playing music and he was on the microphone and one of us come around, he’d get off. If older ladies came around, he’d give them that respect. He knew I’d kill him if he didn’t. I used to tease him, “Lamont, are we ever gonna make it to the awards?” He’d say straight up, “Mama, the kind of music that I do, underground music, we won’t be going to no awards.” That was the most we talked about with his music.”
The majority of the hip-hop community has overlooked Gilda Terry and her efforts to keep Big L’s estate in the hands of the right people, as she’s always remained quiet about it. Perhaps it was the pain of losing a son that left her speechless but she knew that to continue holding on the Lamont’s life, she had to protect his assets; a fight Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey faces every day. Though Ms. Terry once spoke about losing her sons to gang violence and the affects guns have on the youth community in the book Enter the Babylon System, all she ever wanted was the world to know how gracious her son was and for justice to come to her family.
“To know how sweet he was. Even though he talked the way he talked. He was as sweet as can be. I never had no trouble with Lamont. I never had no trouble with him in school. He was never into any drugs. He really was a good kid. There were witnesses to the…what happened. And I hope that they would come forward and let my child rest in peace.”
Gilda Terry was the every-mom. She was the woman who didn’t understand the fuss about hip-hop, the woman who raised three sons without a father present, the woman who looked to God at all times. Gilda Terry was also the woman who lost two sons to gang violence, who fought to preserve her son’s legacy, and the woman whose biggest accomplishments included raising a amazing young man named Lamont “Big L” Coleman.
RIP to Ms. Gilda “Pinky” Terry and Lamont “Big L” Coleman, an ordinary love returned to the heavens.
*Compilations of quotes have been taken from interviews sourced by AllHipHop.com and SOHH.com.