If ever any latino artist in pop music was “livin’ la vida loca” it was undoubtedly Christopher Rios, a.k.a. Big Punisher. Undoubtedly one of the most talented rappers of the last three years, he was the first latino to go platinum AND be nominated for a Grammy (unfortunately, he didn’t win). He was heavily sought after for cameos and remixes by everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Naughty By Nature, and could turn even a seminal group of rappers like his Terror Squad homeboys into a force to be reckoned with. Truly Pun was larger than life – which also proved to be his downfall. His weight problems eventually led to the heart attack/failure which was demise this year; coming ironically after he had just finished “Yeeeah Baby” – his sophomore album.
Of course, the cynics in the music industry believe that this album was released after his death so that people would be afraid to “speak bad of the dead.” I don’t think it was that calculated. Otherwise it was rather prescient of Pun to say, “I just lost a hundred pounds – I’m tryin to live” in the lead single “It’s So Hard.” Obviously Pun had plans for a long career in the music industry, and this album was just a stepping stone. Punisher was never a perfect rapper OR a perfect man, and was aware of his own shortcomings – and was DRIVEN to overcome them. Therefore I don’t think he would expect anything less than the music industry to respect him as an artist with a fully honest review.
One thing is clear – this album does not imply the so-called “Sophomore Jinx” that most new artists in rap seem to have. Pun always was able to hit both the streets and the clubs at the same time; this album is more of the same. Starting off with the hardcore “Watch Those” and the Prospect duet “Off Wit His Head” shows that he had no intention of giving up the hardcore. Knobody and Just Blaze may not be the best known producers, but their tracks compare MORE than favorably to anything you’d hear from Buckwild, Premier, or Swizz Beatz. In fact, the only brand name production throughout IS Buckwild on the hardcore (but far too short) “Nigga Shit.” Still, tell me you won’t want to boogie up in the club to such bawdy party anthems as “My Dick”, “100%” and “It’s So Hard.”
Of course, this is certainly not a perfect album. Whoever told Tony Sunshine to rehash the 80’s song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on “Laughing at You” needs to retire from the rap game. Pun has had some of the most nasty disgusting skits ever on rap records, and “Air Pun” is really no exception. “You Was Wrong” may win converts with the Hot 97 crowd, but Drag-On is still not a good rapper and vocally his flow clashes with Fat Joe and Pun.
Any minor annoyance you feel at these mistakes though is more than covered by hardcore anthems like “New York Giants” with M.O.P. and the straight terroristic “Leather Face” – a song which despite being in the middle of the album actually sounds like a perfect finale for Pun’s career. He himself declares in the opening, “I am the +NICEST+.. +EVER+” and even if you don’t agree he certainly broke the mold for both crossover commercialization of the hardcore and for latino rappers to get their long overdue props in rap music as WELL as the mainstream. If Pun had to go, at least he left us on a high note.