RIP Christopher Rios. It shames me greatly that it took me a decade to realize the level of your genius.
Big Pun died in 2000, the same year I moved up to the Bronx, fresh out of college (and terrified). A fellow Boricua, his shadow loomed large as hell during my first year living it up in the Boogie Down. I remember the signs, the flags, the music blaring out of boomboxes. No one’s death rocked the Bronx like his until Celia Cruz had her epic funeral procession three years later.
Oddly, despite all the noise and attention, Big Pun was a one-hit wonder in my book. A hell of a great single, one of my favorites that year, but that was it. He fit squarely in the Dexy’s Midnight Runners category. Except one couldn’t measure his junk with six rulers, apparently.
Nine years later I got my hands on this album, his posthumous greatest hits, freshly released. It disturbed me. It’s not that Big Pun was a good rapper, or even great- there are plenty of greats I haven’t paid enough attention to over the years. No, Big Pun is easily one of the top ten (if not top five) MCs of our time, imho. This guy has flow like the best of them- the mind-blowing internal rhymes of Eminem, the imagination of Ghostface, the verbal dexterity of Jay-Z. Track after track I was shaking my head- why did no one tell me he was this good?! Where the hell have I been all this time?
The album also brings me back to one of rap’s golden ages- the early Wu-Tang years. I never realized how much Wu-Tang influenced Big Pun and his hermano Fat Joe- there were five or six times when I could’ve sworn I was listening to 36 Chambers. Such a departure from the hip pop on the radio today…
This album was released with a documentary about Big Pun’s life. It’s a pretty riveting story, especially when you see the massive weight gain this guy suffered in a ludicrously short amount of time. It’s shocking. But not as shocking as his talent. Highly recommended if you’ve also underestimated Chris Rios, and assumed that his talent started and stopped at Still Not a Player.