Big Pun – Before He Was Dead
Before They Were Dead
Before Big Pun would drop the lyrics: “I’m Not a Player I just Fuck a lot”
Before Big Punisher would team up with other artists including Fat Joe, Jennifer Lopez and Busta Rhymes.
Before Big Pun broke sale records becoming the first solo Latino performer to ever go platinum in Hip Hop.
Before Big Pun’s struggle with weight gain had him balloon up to almost 700 pounds after at one time where he only weighed 180.
Before Big Pun would collapse in front of his family at a hotel in New York at the age of just 28.
Raised in the Bronx by Puerto Rican parents who struggled with drug abuse, Christopher Lee Rios left home and dropped out of high school at 15, he was not only homeless at this time but also a young father. He picked up an interest in breakdancing and rapping and was actually the school quite athlete. He married his high school sweetheart and with money hard to come by and a baby to feed he turned to food to help cope with the pressures of life.
Throughout this he would continue to focus on his musical interests and developed for himself a unique flow and would often showcase his Puerto Rican pride, and killer sense of humour. His talent was soon discovered by fellow Bronx rapper Fat Joe. The duo was larger than life and Big Pun found success quickly not only within the Latino community but throughout America. But the pressures of fame and access to money only fuelled his food addiction and his weight sky-rocketed to a point where Fat Joe had to call him out on it.
Christopher Lee Rios was born in the Bronx New York on November 10, 1971 to parents of Puerto Rican descent. His early years were very difficult, including witnessing his mother’s drug abuse and his father’s death. While he did well in school and participated in athletics in his early years and had the potential to be the captain of his football team but he left home at the age of 15 due to his turbulent home life and eventually dropped out of high school.
During this period he was sometimes homeless, but that wasn’t going to stop Christopher from making something of himself. He took over his own education and was an avid reader. It was at this time that he became interested in breakdancing and rapping and began writing lyrics down.
At this time Christopher was still an average-sized guy weighing in at around 180 pounds. But within a few years he had the added pressure of being a young father when he married his junior high school girlfriend Liza and they had their first child together soon followed by two more.
At the age of 19 Big Pun’s luck would change after he received a settlement from the state of New York for an accident he had as a child in a city playground. For the first time in his life he had money, this allowed him not only to invest more in his music but it also allowed him to indulge in his addiction to food. Over the span of three years he doubled his weight to that of almost 400 pounds.
While raising a family he was still busy in the rap game. Going under the alias Big Moon Dawg he soon formed the underground rap group Full-A- Clips with rappers Lyrical Assassin, Joker Jamz and Toom. Big Moon Dawg made a lot of recordings with the group in the early 90’s, but none of them have been released. And ya, his size certainly made him stand out from the group, but it was his complex rhymes, sense of humour, and ability to rap for a long time without taking a breath that caught the attention of others.
Inspired by a comic book character he took a new name, Big Punisher. Now ‘Big Pun’ caught his first big break when he met successful fellow Puerto Rican rapper Fat Joe in 1995.
Fat Joe couldn’t deny the man had talent, and he asked him to appear on his song “Watch Out.”
The two large men created quite the reputation and beneath the collaboration they build a strong friendship and working relationship which led to Big Pun joining the Terror Squad, a group of Latino rappers associated with Fat Joe. Fat Joe even helped negotiate Big Pun’s contract with Loud Records. In 1997, Big Pun had his first hit, “I’m Not a Player,” and it quickly rose up the rap charts, peaking at No. 3.
In 1996 Big Pun began recording songs for his debut album Capital Punishment at Loud Records. One of the audio engineers working there also worked with producer Knobody and convinced Big Pun to listen to a few of his tracks. Big Pun liked what he heard and hired Knobody to remix “I’m Not a Player” into “Still Not A Player”; a track that featured r&b singer Joe and would propel the album to #1 and breakthrough to the mainstream.
Capital Punishment released in 1998 and featured cameos by rappers Wyclef Jean and Busta Rhymes. It became the first album by a solo Latino rapper to go platinum, making it to the top spot on the R&B/hip-hop album charts and was nominated for a Best Rap Album at the 1999 Grammy Awards (losing to Jay-Z vol 2 Hard Knock Life).
In a short time, Big Pun developed a substantial fan base and became a hero in the Puerto Rican community. He was proud of his heritage and often mentioned it in his lyrics and even draped himself in the Puerto Rican flag at times.
But shortly after the album’s release in April 1998, Big Pun was ordered by a doctor to rest for two weeks, after he showed signs of exhaustion while on the promotional trail. Despite this the rapper kept a high profile and appeared on albums by DJ Clue, Pete Rock and Jennifer Lopez.
Working with Terror Squad, which by now had also brought on most of the members from Full-A- Clips they released an album, titled ‘The Album’ in 1999. The release didn’t make any money and was a commercial flop but it was well received critically and the album was meant to be the foundations for Terror Squad members to release their solo projects.
But Big Pun’s weight and eating habits were sources of constant arguments between the rapper and his friends. Their worry for his well-being drove him to eat in secret and the more successful he was the heavier he became. At the urging of friend Fat Joe, he tried to lose weight.
In 1999 The rapper attended a weight-loss camp at Duke University in hopes of getting healthy again. He was able to lose 100 pounds before convincing his friends and family to take him out early and bring him back to New York. Once back home he quickly put on the weight he had just lost.
Just getting around and handling day-to-day matters became a challenge for Big Pun because of his size. But the rapper still managed to wow audiences when he performed live.
Big Pun was scheduled for a Saturday Night Live appearance with Jennifer Lopez and Fat Joe to perform the song “Feelin’ So Good” in February 2000, but he cancelled because he was not feeling well.
Two days after that while staying with his family at the Crowne Plaza Hotel while their home underwent renovations, Big Pun experienced difficulty breathing and collapsed in his hotel room. He was taken to a hospital in White Plains New York but sadly paramedics were unable to revive him. On February 7, 2000 at only 28 years old Big Pun was pronounced dead from a heart attack and respiratory failure.
Press materials often claimed the rapper was 400 pounds but the autopsy would reveal the truth. Weighing in at 698 pounds at the time of death with an enlarged heart three times the normal size that was a ticking time bomb. He was cremated a few days later.
The hip-hop and Latino communities mourned the passing of one of its stars. Thousands of fans attended his wake in the Bronx a few days after his death. To honour him, a local sign painting company, made a large mural about him on a building in his neighbourhood.
His second album titled, Yeeeah Baby was completed after his death and released the same year. It earned gold record status within three months of its release followed by a greatest hits and collab album titled Endangered Species. His widow fell on hard financial times after his death and claimed to have not received any royalty checks for Pun’s after death albums except for a small cheque. She held an auction in 2005 for Big Pun’s Terror Squad medallion hoping it would help her situation.
His close friend Fat Joe also went through a massive stage of mourning but eventually it would be the eye opener for him to address his own food addictions and get himself into better shape.
He’s still known as Fat Joe though… and the rest of the story, well Big Pun’s legacy lives on in his music, this is Before They Were Dead.
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