'98's Best: Big Punisher Busts Up Rap Stereotypes

Hit-making rapper writes rhymes with a difference.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, May 27.]

Throughout hip-hop history, the key to mainstream success for many a rapper

has been the all-important catch-phrase, or verbal hook. When Big Punisher's

Capital Punishment debuted at #11 on the Billboard 200 album

chart two weeks ago -- ahead of such competitors as Public Enemy and WC -- it

became clear that he had found a winner in the line "I just fuck a lot" from

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Big_Punisher/I'm_Not_A_Player.ram">"I'm

Not a Player" (RealAudio excerpt).

"It's been great," Big Pun said of the single's success. "I'll be riding down the

street and people will shout it out to me, you know what I'm saying? I'm just

really thankful that I could have such success with a song about fucking."

That such a line would bring him recognition is less surprising than the fact that,

under rapidly intensifying public scrutiny, Big Pun is revealing himself to be an

altogether different kind of rapper.

Take his lyrics, for starters. In a couple of notable ways, they steer clear of

stereotypical rap topics.

Big Punisher (a.k.a. Christopher Rios) is a big man -- at least 400 pounds,

according to his press material. He's also of Puerto Rican heritage and was

born and raised in the cradle of hip-hop, the South Bronx, N.Y. He does not,

however, center his raps around these facts. On Capital Punishment,

you'll find no rhymes reminiscent of the Fat Boys' "All You Can Eat" or Heavy

D's "Chunky But Funky." There's also nary a Spanglish song like Cypress Hill's

"Funky Bilingual" or Mellow Man Ace's "Mentirosa."

According to the 26-year-old rapper, he isn't at all ashamed of his background --

or his girth -- but he doesn't feel the need to focus on the subjects in his raps. "I

just write about my life," Big Punisher explained last week from the offices of

Loud Records in New York.

"I'm glad that so many people recognize me now, you know what I'm sayin', but

I'm a rapper. People don't like me because of this or that; they like me because

I can flow."

He echoed these sentiments in a

HREF="http://www.sonicnet.com/station">SonicNet chat (link to chat)

last Wednesday when a user asked him what it felt like to be a successful Latino

in hip-hop. "It feels fine I guess," Big Punisher responded. "It feels great just

being a successful human being."

Paradoxically, Big Punisher's success may increase the public's awareness of

Latino impact on hip-hop. Kemo and O.G. Styles -- both of whom are members

of Big Punisher's labelmates Delinquent Habits and both of whom are of

Mexican heritage -- point out that Latinos haven't always received the

recognition they deserve in that musical realm. "Latinos have been down from

the beginning," Kemo explained. "Latinos helped put hip-hop on the map. I'm

not bitching and crying, it's just about making sure people recognize when you

do the best you can."

"A lot of labels haven't yet seen the potential of Latin people buying hip-hop,"

O.G. Styles said. "We've got white kids and Latin kids buying albums by

everyone from Cypress Hill to the Beastie Boys to Wu-Tang Clan. When we

toured with Korn in the Midwest, we had a lot of people say to us, 'Wow, that

was great! I've never seen a rap show!' No one ever said to us, 'I've never seen

a Latino rap show.' "

Aside from defying expectations by not concentrating his raps on his heritage or

his considerable size, Big Pun also flips the script of the typical player-rap on

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Big_Punisher/Punish_Me.ram">"Punish

Me" (RealAudio excerpt). Where other songs would feature a rapper

boasting about his skills between the sheets while a woman coos about his

sexual prowess, Big Punisher refuses to bow to the crooning of R&B singer Miss

Jones because she, in the song at least, has done him and their child wrong.

"That song isn't based on anyone in particular," Pun explained, "but a lot of

people around me have had things like that happen. Like a woman who will

have a baby against her man's wishes and then disappear. I had to write a

song that said we ain't going out like that."

Speaking of writing songs, Big Punisher is also the wordsmith behind "Sweaty,"

a song performed by up-and-coming R&B singer Rell, one of the newest

editions to Jay-Z's Roc-A-Fella label. According to Rell (a.k.a. 19-year-old

Gerrell Gaddis), the song may surprise some people when it comes out this

summer. "It's a straight-up R&B song," he explained. "It isn't like a song where I

sing and someone raps. He wrote me this hard-core R&B song, and it sounds

great."

"It's like a rap song," Big Punisher said of "Sweaty," "but it's different."

Asked if it was more difficult to write an R&B song, Big Punisher said his

experience as a rapper actually helped things along.

"It was harder at first," he said. "But once I got the beat down it came naturally.

Just like my rhymes."