A Star Born In The Afterlife

In the days after his death in February, several of the late Big Punisher's friends and in-studio collaborators likened the Puerto Rican star to Moses — Big Pun was the man who led Latinos to the promised land in hip-hop. He was, after all, the first Latino solo rapper with a platinum record, 1998's Capital Punishment.

Frankly, Big Pun was Moses in another way — he carried the less-talented folks around him and led them to a level of prominence they didn't really deserve. The same dynamic holds for Yeeeah Baby, the rapper's second album. Remove Big Pun's vocals from the mix and you're left with a series of generic beats, half-assed arrangements and too many samples (the "Rocky II" theme and Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)?" Arrrgh!!).

Big Pun, though, was an unabashed star, one whose lyrics were satirical, witty, dark and contemplative at the same time. He rises above the mediocrity to shine brightly here.

"Nigga Shit" is balls-out brilliant. In just under two minutes, Big Pun gives his listeners a tour of the absurdities of poor neighborhoods without passing judgment on them. It's a loving tribute to hot sauce, grape soda and cheese doodles, winos, dodgin' the cops, smokin' weed with your moms and beating up your sister's boyfriends. This is a star born, in the afterlife.