There is no artist who can’t outlive his era and put out a record posthumously anymore. This is not entirely a bad thing. Many artists were in the process of finishing albums at the time of their demise; and such albums should be mastered and released to the public as a final accounting of their accomplishments. Other times, an artist was unable to release songs while they were alive for various reasons: uncleared samples, abrasive content, or an unsupportive record label not interested in furthering their artistic career.
This puts Big Pun’s (allegedly) FINAL album into a uniquely different musical paradigm. While he was alive, Big Pun’s large girth was matched only by the overwhelming affection of his fans in both pop music AND hardcore underground hip-hop. As a result there isn’t much Big Pun ever did that wasn’t released. In fact in his short career he collaborated with many of the greatest artists in and outside rap. He will forever be known as “the latin who went platinum” who not only paved the way for future boricuas and morenas but for other rappers to make smooth songs and crossover without being a sell-out.
To the credit of his label and his “Twin” Fat Joe, this album is not being promoted as “ALL NEW COMPLETELY UNRELEASED BIG PUN” on some cheesy cornball bullshit. Yes, there are a few new tracks. These probably fall into the “uncleared samples” category since they don’t sound unfinished or incomplete in any way. The lead single “How We Roll” featuring Ashanti is quite catchy in fact; and it’s a shame Pun didn’t live to see it blow up. The lyrics are Christopher Rios at his braggadocious finest – living the lifestyle so many of us aspire to (or envied him for):
“I get the job done, Pun’s handlin business
Candlelight dinners, havin a toast with the most glamorous bitches
My road to riches was no Christmas
Now we blessed with gold Lazaruses
so expensive my whole family’s religious”
The other unreleased songs are of an equally impressive caliber. “Mamma” featuring Tony Sunshine is a bit of a twist on the Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody,” hip-hop style with a funky latin guitar lick. The V.I.C. produced “Brave in the Heart” has Pun repping with his Terror Squad compadres over a smooth loop of “Making Believe That Its You” from Barry White and Emmett North. Only “My World” sounds a bit rough – a performance that is untypical for Pun in that it his flow seems to be disjointed and sloppy; with lines like “I’m in the shack baking muffins” thar probably needed a re-think and/or a rewrite.
The greatness and the curse of this album is that the rest of the tracks are filled out with Pun songs that were radio hits or all-star collaborations that appeared on albums by other musicians. As such the positives and the negatives almost cancel each other out. Why include “You Ain’t a Killer” and yet leave out his first crossover hit “I’m Not a Player”? For that matter, why repeat the mistake of his debut album and offer us the censored version of the “Still Not a Player” remix with Joe AGAIN? For a posthumous album, the least they could do is up the raw uncut version. Resurrecting the Kool G. Rap and B-Real duet “Wishful Thinking” was brilliant – this track was only on Loud samplers and select CD singles; yet the brilliant bootleg duet “Toe to Toe” with Cuban Link is nowhere to be found. “Pina Colada” becomes a rather sad inclusion thanks to a weak Ruff Ryders beat and lyrics that are also on “How to Roll.” This easily could have been replaced by “You Came Up” with his homey Noreaga on the hook; the most humerous and soulful single off “Capital Punishment.”
This album is good despite these mistakes, and it can be argued that there’s only “so much we could do” by the producers when there was so much Big Pun material to choose from. The previously unreleased songs are almost all excellent, and the collaborations like “Off the Books” with The Beatnuts or “Fire Water” with Raekwon and Fat Joe are hip-hop classics. Still one is left feeling a bit hollow thinking that this final album could have been Pun’s greatest tribute, but instead it fell just a bit short.