It’s very rare that an emcee with unique cadences, lyrical ability, and superstar charisma come along. Even rarer, is when an emcee can take these abilities and combine the work ethic necessary to craft a masterpiece that will stand the test of time and be relevant to the culture 20 years later.
On April 28th, hip-hop celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Big Pun’s classic debut album, Capital Punishment. It’s a certified hip-hop classic by any account, and has impacted and influenced many present day emcees, from Joell Ortiz, to Pun’s own offspring, Chris Rivers, just to name a few. The date was commemorated by the release of his sneakers in collaboration with Ewing Athletics at BX Sports NY, “a place Pun himself shopped,” according to his widowed spouse, Liza Rios, on Instagram.
An incredible gesture that, without a doubt, was packed, but some of the people who played the biggest part in Pun’s career, like his former Terror Squad collaborator Fat Joe, were absent. Dismal circumstances, such as the lack of support of his former crew, have contributed to a lessening of the memory of one of the greatest NY rappers ever. Even with the release of the sneakers, it seems that of all the legendary deceased rappers, Pun’s legacy has been diminished the most. As far as the culture is concerned, Big Pun will be remembered forever, but if you’re interested in reasons why Pun hasn’t gotten the same widespread acclaim as some of his peers, I have some theories.
For starters, Pun didn’t leave behind a large body of work in comparison to someone like Tupac Shakur, who left behind troves of material. Even though Pun has two albums, Capital Punishment is the project that he’s remembered most. His second and posthumous album, Yeeeah Baby, which boasted the single, “It’s So Hard,” isn’t that memorable; Which can be attributed to the fact that he died before completing it. But it does show glimpses of what could’ve been had Pun lived. In truth, Pun left behind less material than Biggie who had one official album while living and two released posthumously. It’s no doubt that Big Pun was a phenomenal lyricist and talented emcee, and his accomplishment of being the first Latino rapper to have a Platinum album, can never be taken from him. However, lingering issues, such as the accusations of him being a domestic violence abuser, the rift between Pun’s widow and Fat Joe, and the fact he doesn’t have a biopic, are all issues that have harmed his legacy. In honor of the 20th anniversary of Capital Punishment, here are some ways the legacy has been damaged and could possibly be repaired so that the GOAT emcee’s status is never questioned again.
Pun grew up with an abusive childhood, and needless to say, because of that upbringing, and numerous public accounts of his escapades, it doesn’t take a psychiatrist to see he had issues with his mental health. That video of him smacking Liza Rios on tape with a MAC-10 may be too much for some fans to bear, and many perceptions reinforce the idea of him as a monster opposed to a flawed human being — especially when you factor in how frail she looked in comparison to Big Pun’s 700-pound frame. While Fat Joe and Pun’s own sister have stated in past interviews that Pun was treating Liza that way because she was sleeping with his brother, or bringing other men in his house while he was on tour (which sounds egregious), that video can cause nightmares and an empathic image of Liza. So, Fat Joe slandering Liza Rios doesn’t help Pun; It makes Pun look insecure and weak. A better explanation would have been, if he had just said that Pun had “issues.” Couple that with the fact that Pun’s own son, Chris Rivers, paints a very vivid picture of growing up in a household with a violent father, in his song, “Fear of my Crown.” It all makes Pun look bad, and no amount of excuses can justify his behavior.
It’s becoming a case of, “How do you separate the art from his past actions?” While Pun obviously was a great lyricist, a lot can be learned from the tragic outcome of his life. Domestic violence has been an issue in hip-hop. Some of our favorite rappers, in the past, like Joe Budden, and more recently, Fabulous and Nas, have been on the receiving end of domestic violence accusations. However, the public really didn’t become aware of Pun’s abuse until after his death, when he could no longer defend himself. I don’t believe Pun was a monster, but I do believe the visual against Liza Rios has been the most damaging part of his legacy, in the political correct climate we live in. I don’t think it’s fair to just label Pun an abuser, without hearing his side of the story, or taking his upbringing into account. But most would agree that hitting a woman is wrong under any circumstances.
However, the brighter side of the story is that Liza Rios, the victim of his abuse, still reps him in a positive light. She designed his sneakers that were released on the 28th, and, in interviews, has given a portrayal of Pun that shows she still loves someone who was deeply flawed. So even if you can’t rock with Pun’s actions, you should still support the Pun family, who hasn’t received the support over the years from Terror Sqaud; Which leads to my next point.
Rift Between Pun Family and Terror Squad
The perception is that Fat Joe did Pun’s family dirty. Proceeds of over $2 million was supposed to go to Pun’s family but never made it to them. In 2014, Liza filed a lawsuit against Fat Joe, which was settled. Fat Joe should have done more to look out for Big Pun’s family to make sure that they never struggled. According to a 2015 interview on the Combat Jack Show, the widow of the platinum rapper, and her children, were actually living in a shelter at one point. Looking at interviews from Fat Joe on the matter, his excuses come across as lame and from someone who didn’t have any loyalty to the deceased rapper. And because of that reason, the lack of unity between Fat Joe and Liza Rios is hurting Pun’s legacy. It’s the equivalent of Diddy and Faith not getting along — it would hurt the overall legacy of Biggie, who Diddy still reps faithfully.
Recently released, Big Pun’s sneakers would be a lot more popular if Fat Joe were wearing them or even mentioned them online, which he hasn’t. It’s like Fat Joe has moved on with his life, and besides the occasional Big Pun story by Remy Ma or Fat Joe in interviews, they are focused on their own careers. That narcissism has only hurt Pun’s legacy. Hopefully, Pun’s estate and Fat Joe get on the same accord so that Pun is remembered in the most positive light — A rapper who was known for his sense of humor and beloved by many in the hip-hop community. Over the years, both sides have given their accounts of who is to blame in interviews but the bickering has only served to decimate the remembrance of a true hip-hop legend.
No Pun Biopic
Hollywood has released a number of feature films of hip-hop legends, such as Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., N.W.A, and Roxanne Shante. However, still no Big Pun movie. A number of reasons could be stopping the film from being made: The rift of Pun’s family and Fat Joe, or even Hollywood being afraid of tackling the domestic violence issue. Even the issue of casting could be troublesome because who could realistically portray Big Pun on screen. But a Pun biopic, if done properly, would be able to humanize the rapper, and could bring the resurgence his brand deserves. It makes no sense that this film hasn’t been made, and for hip-hop fans, it’s long overdue. A film is the only place to explore the issues that have been unanswered about Pun’s life and clear up some of the misconceptions. With all the stories floating around on the internet about Big Pun, you can’t tell me that a film about his life wouldn’t be the most interesting hip-hop biopic ever. The truth of the matter is that the issues Pun had with obesity, domestic violence, and even managing his finances, are all matters that are relatable. Also, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, Latinos have the highest rates of moviegoing, so the market for this film to be successful exists. The only question is, when?
Sneakers are cool, don’t get me wrong. In the past, the Ewing brand has released sneakers for artists like, Cormega, the Outlawz, and Bun B. While those artists are talented in their own right, none of those artists are on the same level as an artist like Big Pun. Just the fact that in 2018, he has a sneaker with Ewing Athletics, shows a fundamental problem and indicates a decline of his brand. However, if the proper homage is going to be really paid to Big Pun, it’s time that he had his own feature film. We are talking about one of the biggest emcees to ever do it — literally. It has to be done right, with an excellent screenplay, and top tier Director, and be an honest portrayal of his life and circumstances of his death. While it is no question that Big Pun was a deeply flawed human being, the fact that he wasn’t perfect is what makes his story compelling.
With that said, only time will tell if Fat Joe will repair his relationship with Liza Rios, because Pun’s legacy rests on their shoulders. In order for the film to be possible and not one-sided, it will take these people, who have been divided for years to come together, and cooperate for a project bigger than themselves. Pun’s legacy can be expanded beyond a memorial mural, jackets, and sneakers. So, it’s no question if Big Pun was a GOAT MC; The question is when will the world get to the see the truth? Big Pun, being a domestic violence abuser, is horrible, but rappers still beat up women today and have thriving careers — look at XXXTentacion. The fact that Pun was videotaped in his abuse, doesn’t help his case, but, with a realistic portrayal in film, can create a necessary dialogue within the culture that can possibly help others who are going through similar issues. Big Pun’s story is one of the most compelling in hip-hop. But if those who meant most to him can’t come together and honor his work and life, his life would have been in vain, and all hip-hop will have to show for it is a classic album, a mural, and $150 sneakers that will be resold online for ungodly amounts.