Big Pun – The Legacy of A Latino Lyricist

Date:

Starting with the end and working backward, the world was in shock when the news came that
Big Pun suffered a fatal heart attack on February 7, 2000 in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, White
Plains, at the age of 28 years old. In a time most stories like this ended with a hip-hop artist
dying by some act of senseless violence, if there was anything positive to find, many were happy
that he wasn’t shot to death.

What made taking his death so hard was hearing the lyrics of his current single; “It’s so hard (It’s
hard work, baby)/ Yeah (I just copped 100 pounds, I’m tryin’ to live, I ain’t goin’ nowhere).”
Despite the loss of weight, a heavyweight in hip-hop was gone. It’s So Hard featuring Donell
Jones played on not just heavy rotation, but every rotation like Hypnotize played right after
Biggie died.

Now starting from the beginning, I knew Pun was gonna be a big star when he joined Fat Joe on
stage to perform a track from Joe’s second album, Jealous One’s Envy. Joe was performing, Big
Pun came out on stage at the Palladium that used to be located on the south side of East 14th
Street, between Irving Place and Third Avenue. In mid-verse, Pun fell flat on his ass, laid on the
floor of the stage, never missing a beat, a lyrics and rocked like it was a scheduled part of the
show. I remember watching saying this dude gonna be a big star.

Big Pun was a surprisingly graceful and nimble rapper, delivering his often clever, tongue-
twisting rhymes at a torrential pace. When he spit; “Dead in the middle of Little Italy little did we
know/ That we riddled two middlemen who didn’t do diddly,” in Twinz (Deep Cover 98),
everyone was speechless how Pun rode that classic beat from the Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg collabo
from the movie Deep Cover. You couldn’t deny his notably technical efficiency, his having
minimal pauses to take a breath and his heavy use of alliteration as well as internal and multi-
syllabic rhyming schemes.

In my first interview at Loud Records with Pun a year or so later for the release of his debut solo
album, the one thing I remember was telling me, “AJ, I’m gonna be the first Latino rapper to go
platinum. That will be like artists go 10 times platinum for me, to be the first.” He insisted he
would be first; “cause Latins goin’ platinum was destined to come.” The other thing I remember
was his sense of humor, he was very quick-witted and had jokes for days, making it hard to
actually do the interview, cause he had my crying. Dude was madd funny.

Artwork by AL Dre originally appeared in The Last Word of The Source Magazine [Black Westchester]

Emerging from the underground hip-hop scene in The Bronx borough of New York City, in the
early 1990s, he was the first Latino rapper to have an album certified platinum as a solo act. He
first appeared on tracks from Fat Joe’s second album Jealous One’s Envy in 1995, and The
Beatnuts’ second album Stone Crazy in 1997, prior to signing to Loud Records as a solo artist.
 He is widely regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time. About.com ranked him #25 on
its list of the 50 Greatest MCs of All Time, while MTV2 ranked him #11 on its list of the “22
Greatest MCs”. In 2012, The Source ranked him #19 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All
Time.

Soundview, Pun’s hood is a neighborhood at the eastern edge of Bronx Community Board 9,
with a population density about 45,000 per square mile (excluding Soundview Park, about
53,000 per square mile). Its total land area is roughly 1.3 square miles. The neighborhood
predominantly consists of Latin Americans (mainly Puerto Ricans) and African-Americans and
has a mixture of moderate single-family homes, low-income buildings and expensive
condominiums. Just 10 miles or so, away from Money-Earning Mount Vernon where another
Heavyweight hip-hop artist, Heavy D, called home.

Boricua, morena, boricua, morena, boricua, morena, boricua, morena

In 1996 Big Pun began recording songs for his debut album Capital Punishment. In 1997
producer Knobody’s production partner Sean C took advantage of his new role as A&R at Loud
Records to play Knobody’s tracks to Big Pun. Suitably impressed, the rapper hired Knobody to
remix “I’m Not a Player”. The remixed song, featuring Joe and titled “Still Not a Player”, became
Big Pun’s first major mainstream hit and major breakthrough for Knobody. The full-length debut
Capital Punishment followed in 1998, and peaking at #5 on the Billboard 200.

Capital Punishment was also nominated for a Grammy, and went to No. 1 on the R&B/hip-hop
charts. Big caught his first big break when he met successful rapper-producer Fat Joe in 1995.
Recognizing Big Pun’s talent, Fat Joe asked him to appear on his song “Watch Out.” The two
oversized talents formed a strong friendship and working relationship. Inspired by a comic book
character, he took the new name, Big Punisher, and joined the Terror Squad, a group of Latino
rappers associated with Fat Joe. Fat Joe even helped negotiate Big Pun’s contract with Loud
Records.

In a short time, Big Pun developed a substantial fan base and became a hero in the Puerto Rican
community. He was proud of his heritage and often mentioned it in his lyrics and even draped
himself in the Puerto Rican flag at times. Christopher Lee Rios (November 10, 1971 – February
7, 2000) better known by his stage name Big Pun (short for Big Punisher), was a legendary
Latino lyricist!

AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief and co-owner of Black Westchester, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Rap Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.

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