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Big Pun – Legacy of A Latino Lyricist

Artwork by André LeRoy Davis

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 dropped 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), he left everyone twisted, trying to recite it with a heavy hand on the rewind button. Everyone was speechless how Pun rode that classic beat from the dope 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 the Fugees going 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, I was laughing so hard. Dude was madd funny.

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 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 Pun 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 Lyricists 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!

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About AJ Woodson (2369 Articles)
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief of Black Westchester and Co-Owner of Urban Soul Media Group, the parent company. AJ is a Father, Brother, Author, Writer, Journalism Fellow, Rapper, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian and A 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, Spiritual Minded Magazine and several others.
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