Born Christopher Rios on November 10, 1971, in Bronx, NY; died on February 7, 2000, in White Plains, NY; married Liza, 1990; three children. Addresses: Record company--Relativity Records/Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., 31st Floor, New York, NY 10022, website: http://www.sonymusic.com.
Puerto Rican rapper Big Punisher, also known as Big Pun, was the first Latin emcee to score a place on the charts, earning platinum certification for record sales in the process. In a genre dominated by African-American artists, Pun managed to take Latino rap--before him largely a phenomenon only in Pun's South Bronx neighborhood--into the mainstream. His first single, "I'm Not a Player," predicted the success of his 1998 Grammy-nominated debut album, Capital Punishment. The rapper earned his name for his great girth; while many emcees rhymed about "living large," Big Pun weighed nearly 700 pounds when he died of heart failure in 2000, at the age of 28.
Big Pun was born Christopher Rios on November 10, 1971, in the South Bronx, New York. As a teen he was physically active, and basketball and boxing kept him in shape. He grew up in a strict household run by his mother and stepfather, but he dropped out of high school after just one year. Still hungry to learn, however, he read encyclopedias to expand his knowledge and vocabulary. He moved out of his mother's apartment when he was 15, and within a few years was an expectant father with bills to pay. He worked odd jobs until he collected on a long-standing legal claim for a childhood accident in a public park and received an estimated half-million-dollar settlement. He began overeating to cope with stress and quickly packed on the pounds. He married his childhood sweetheart, Liza, in 1990. The couple had three children.
Formed Terror Squad
In 1989 Pun, then known as Big Moon Dog, formed the Full A Clips Crew with fellow Latin rappers Triple Seis and Cuban Link. In 1995 the three crossed paths with legendary Bronx producer and fellow Puerto Rican rapper Fat Joe (who weighed 300 pounds himself), and whom Pun called his "twin." Fat Joe immediately recognized Pun's extraordinary rhyming and lyrical skills, and invited him to record a cameo on Fat Joe's song "Watch Out." Pun became part of a group of Latin rappers associated with Fat Joe, called the Terror Squad. Soon after, Fat Joe orchestrated Pun's contract with New York's Loud Records. Pun was one of the few newcomers to appear on The Mix Tape Vol. 1, a compilation put together by legendary deejay Funkmaster Flex. Pun and Fat Joe rode their own floats in the 1998 and 1999 Puerto Rican Day parades in New York City.
Pun released the single "I'm Not a Player" in the winter of 1997 and his debut full-length album, Capital Punishment, was released a few months later. It featured cameos by Wyclef Jean on the reggae-flavored "Caribbean Connection," Black Thought from the Roots on "Super Lyrical," and Wu-Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck and Prodigy from Mobb Deep on "Tres Leches." He laments mistreatment from an ex-lover in the ballad "Punish Me" and, on the album's closer, "Parental Discretion," featuring Busta Rhymes, Pun let loose one of the run-on rhymes for which he was famous: "I recollect when I was just a boy eating Chips Ahoy/wasn't allowed to raise my voice/now I'm making noise." The single "Still Not a Player" fueled the album to platinum status within a few months of its release.
Rapped About Every Day Life
Pun was known for his remarkable breath control and ability to squeeze out a seemingly endless stream of tongue-twisting rhymes in one breath. He also was known for his lyrical humor and ability to string together complex and difficult rhymes. While other rappers wrote about flashy riches, disrespecting women, and the violence and crime of ghetto street life, Big Pun described his style as "sophisticated hard-core," according to Jon Pareles of the New York Times."I'm talking about everyday life," Big Pun said in an MTV interview quoted in the same New York Times article, "losing your job, losing a loved one, stress, happiness, whatever."
Pun's rise in hip-hop was fast and steady, and so was his weight gain. When Capital Punishment was released in 1998, he weighed 400 pounds. By the time of his death just two years later he weighed 698 pounds. "He was so big and he knew his weight was causing a health problem," Fat Joe told Rolling Stone. "For a long time, even though he was a big guy, he could do whatever he wanted. He'd play sports with us and everything. As time went on, however, his health got worse." Encouragement from friends and family led Pun to enter a diet program at Duke University during the summer of 1999, but he quickly regained the weight he lost there. "[H]e really wanted to" lose weight, Fat Joe told Rolling Stone online. "It was just overwhelming."
Although he was known for his remarkable live performances, Big Pun's mobility was increasingly limited by his weight. "Given his size, Pun's performance is filled with suspense," critic Rob Marriot wrote in the Village Voice. The hot lights and physical stage show clearly tested the rapper's stamina. Still, Marriot continued, "Big Pun even outshone the headliners." He and Fat Joe rap on Jennifer Lopez's hit "Feelin' So Good," and were scheduled to appear with her on Saturday Night Live on February 5, 2000, but Big Pun was unable to make it. It was rumored that, during recording for his upcoming album, Yeeeah Baby, a mattress had to be brought into the recording studio for Pun to rest on while he rapped.
Big Pun lived in the Bronx with his wife Liza and three young children, but the family had moved temporarily to a hotel in White Plains, New York, while their home was being renovated. On February 7, 2000, Pun had trouble breathing and collapsed. Paramedics could not revive him, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. The cause of death was later determined to be heart failure. The professional mural company TATS Cru, made up of graffiti artists, painted a 35-foot mural in the Bronx memorializing Big Pun within days of his death. A campaign was launched to rename 163rd Street in the South Bronx "Big Pun Avenue." "He was a ghetto rapper; he didn't forget his people," one South Bronx grandmother told the Washington Post."Other rappers tend to forget where they're from, but not Big Pun. With all the money that he had and everything, he still lived around here, his home was here. He's a legend. This guy is going to be a legend for us."
Big Pun's last album, Yeeeah Baby, was released a few weeks after his death. All Music Guide's John Bush said that on the album, "Pun spits out inventive rhymes and paces his delivery with excellence" in a collection of tracks that was "quite seamless." Hip-hop and pop stars Lil' Kim, Puff Daddy, and Jennifer Lopez appeared together in the video for the album's first single, "It's So Hard."
Unlike Tupac Shakur, another deceased rapper, Big Pun left few recordings unreleased before his death. Nonetheless, his record label, Loud, was able to pull together a handful of Big Pun performances to release on Endangered Species in 2001. The album is a "mix tape for die-hards," Jon Caramanica wrote in Rolling Stone. It included songs from Capital Punishment, guest appearances, and previously unreleased material. "How We Roll," the album's first single, is built around Janet Jackson's hit ballad "Let's Wait Awhile." The Beatnuts' "Off the Books" is included, featuring Big Pun's classic cameo. Songs on which Big Pun collaborated by Kool G. Rap, Brandy, Fat Joe, and Ricky Martin appear on the album as well. "What's most striking about Endangered Species is that it shows Pun's rejection of musical limits," critic Rashuan Hall wrote in Billboard.
by Brenna Sanchez
Big Punisher's Career
Quit school and left home, c. 1986; using the name Big Moon Dog, formed the Full A Clips Crew with fellow Latin rappers Triple Seis and Cuban Link, 1989; met Bronx producer and fellow Puerto Rican rapper Fat Joe, 1995; appeared on Fat Joe's "Fire Water" and "Watch Out," c. 1996; appeared on the Beatnuts' "Off the Books," 1997; scored an underground hit with "I'm Not a Player," 1997; contributed "You Ain't a Killer" to Soul in the Hole basketball documentary, 1997; released Grammy-nominated, double-platinum debut album, Capital Punishment, 1998; entered a Duke University diet program, 1999; died of heart failure, February of 2000; Yeeeah Baby 2000, and Endangered Species, 2001, released posthumously.
- Selected discography
- Capital Punishment , Relativity, 1998.
- Yeeeah Baby , Loud, 2000.
- Endangered Species , Relativity, 2001.
- Billboard, April 7, 2001, p. 18.
- Boston Globe, May 4, 2000, p. CAL8.
- New York Times, February 9, 2000, p. B10; February 10, 2000, p. B3; June 11, 2000, p. 11; January 7, 2001, p. 6.35.
- Orange County Register, June 5, 1998, p. F56.
- Rolling Stone, May 28, 1998, p. 192; May 10, 2001, p. 84.
- Village Voice, June 9, 1998, p. 69.
- Washington Post, February 9, 2000, p. B6; February 11, 2000, p. C1.
- "Big Punisher," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 21, 2003).
- "Big Punisher," Loud Records, http://www.loud.com/bigpun/right_bio.html (February 21, 2003).
- "Big Punisher," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/bigpunisher (February 21, 2003).
- "Big Punisher," Sing365, http://www.sing365.com (February 21, 2003).