Rapper Big Punisher Dead At 28

Cause of death unknown, but hospital source says friends suspect heart attack.

Latino rapper Big Punisher died Monday at the age of 28.

The rapper, who can be heard on Jennifer Lopez's current single, "Feelin' So Good," was pronounced dead on arrival at 3:53 p.m. EST at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., after being brought there from a local Crowne Plaza Hotel, according to hospital spokesperson Charlotte Heese. The cause of death was unknown, Heese said Monday (Feb. 7) night.

A hospital source who requested anonymity said people accompanying the rapper believed he succumbed to a heart attack.

His body was on its way at 9 p.m. to the Westchester County Medical Examiner's Office, a spokesperson there said.

Big Pun (born Christopher Rios) was preparing to release his second solo album, Yeeeah Baby, in April to follow his 1998 breakthrough, Capital Punishment. The first single from the disc is "It's So Hard."

The rapper was slated to join Lopez and rapper Fat Joe for a performance of "Feelin' So Good" (RealAudio excerpt) during the weekend on NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live," but he did not turn up for the taping.

"He was a source of pride for the Latin community, a great artist, and a great person," Lopez said in a statement issued Monday night. "We will miss him terribly."

Los Angeles hip-hop radio station Power 106 began a tribute Monday afternoon to Big Pun after announcing his death. Listeners called in and expressed their thoughts on the rapper's legacy while DJs played his music.

"I just write about my life," Big Pun said in 1998. "I'm glad that so many people recognize me now, you know what I'm sayin'. ... It feels great just being a successful human being."

Big Pun became a star with the 1998 single "Still Not a Player" (RealAudio excerpt), which helped his first solo album, Capital Punishment, debut at #5 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in April 1998. The LP, which featured performances by Wyclef Jean, Busta Rhymes and Wu-Tang Clan's RZA, was nominated for the Best Rap Album Grammy last year but lost to Jay-Z's Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life.

In September, Big Pun, Fat Joe and four other Latino rappers released a self-titled album under the name Terror Squad.

Shortly after the release of Capital Punishment, representatives for Big Pun announced that the rapper was taking two weeks off due to exhaustion, per his doctor's orders. A radio programmer at KMEL-FM in San Francisco, where Big Pun canceled an appearance during that time, said the station was told that the rapper had a problem with his heart.

According to his own press materials, Big Punisher weighed 400 pounds.

Dane Webb, editor in chief of the hip-hop magazine Rap Pages, said the performer leaves a legacy in hip-hop. "The death of Big Pun is a tragedy," he said. "He said it best himself: Because a man is Spanish and he's a lawyer doesn't mean he practices [Latin] law. He never practiced just Latin hip-hop, he practiced hip-hop. And in just hip-hop, he was a major contributor."

Big Pun last year opened Big Pun's Billiards, Store & Barber Shop on Westchester Avenue in his hometown, the Bronx (N.Y.). It is part pool hall, part barber shop and part clothing store.

Last year, a Bronx judge dismissed charges against Big Pun and Fat Joe alleging that they beat a man and robbed him of a gold chain, after the alleged victim refused to testify.

Big Punisher is survived by his wife and three children.

(Staff Writers Christopher O'Connor and Brian Hiatt contributed to this report.)

(An earlier version of this story ran at 9:23 EST Monday, Feb. 7, 2000.)