Big Pun Remembered At Listening Party

DJs, rappers and friends performed and celebrated the release of Yeeeah Baby.

NEW YORK — Friends, collaborators, colleagues and admirers of Big Punisher remembered the rapper in death Tuesday the way they say he lived — partying, honoring hip-hop, having fun and spreading love.

"He was just ill. He was gangsta, but he was funny, too," said Guru of Gang Starr, a former neighbor and longtime friend of Big Pun's, at Jimmy's Bronx Café in the late rapper's native Bronx.

What appeared to be thousands of people, including Guru's partner DJ Premier, M.O.P., Tony Touch, radio DJ Dr. Dre and Big Pun's friends and groupmates in the Terror Squad, jammed into the club to celebrate the release of his second and final album, Yeeeah Baby. People were still filing into the club at 1:30 a.m.

Big Pun died in February at age 28.

"I love you, my n---a! You'll always be a brother to me. Christopher Rios was the greatest. My idol. My best friend," shouted an emotional Fat Joe from the club's stage as tears welled in his eyes. Joe was Big Pun's close friend and mentor. He introduced Big Pun (born Christopher Rios), to Loud Records' chief executive officer, Steve Rifkind, who signed the rapper without hearing him perform.

The new album is stocked with uptempo dance songs. The album opens with "Creation," which recycles the beat to Dr. Dre's classic song "Deep Cover." Another song, "Laughing at You," samples Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)." The club-goers greeted the album with a fervor, dancing and chanting its hooks with a

passion.

The album also shows Pun's silly side, with one song called "Get Off My Dick" and another called "Nigga Shit," on which producer Younglord said he rhymes about ghetto idiosyncrasies such as eating cheese doodles and drinking grape soda at the same time.

The sea of fans the immense Joe peered over bellowed a huge response as Yeeeah Baby's hit "It's So Hard" blasted around them. Fat Joe grabbed a lighter from a club-goer and lit it above his head as the song played.

The mob of rappers, DJs, photographers, reporters and associates that stood behind Fat Joe looked solemn. Cuban Link, another Terror Squad rapper, performed "Flowers for the Dead," a song he wrote in memory of Big Pun, who weighed 698 pounds when he died Feb. 7 in White Plains, N.Y. He looked down and choked back tears as he recited the lyrics to the song, which samples the dramatic theme to "The Young and the

Restless."

Big Punisher was the first Latino solo rapper with a platinum record. His 1998 album Capital Punishment, best known for the single "Still Not A Player" (RealAudio excerpt), is now double platinum.

Big Pun was an inspiration to one Latino rapper, 18-year-old Shamburison, who said he performed a song called "R.I.P., Big Pun" at the rapper's funeral. He waved a small Puerto Rican flag in one hand and a plackard advertising Yeeeah Baby in the other as he danced Tuesday.

"He gave back to us. He loved his neighbors. He influenced me to be the

best," said Shamburison, also from the Bronx.

Tony Touch, who performed a short DJ set, said Big Pun didn't so much break ground for Latinos in hip-hop as much as he put a spotlight on the Latinos who'd been around for years, including Lord Finesse, Noreaga and himself.

"He re-opened the doors again," said the DJ, still breathing heavily after his performance.

Coroners in Westchester County still have not determined what the rapper's death. Deputy Medical Examiner Louis Roh has said he showed signs of heart failure and that his obesity had left his heart three times the normal size.

Fat Joe has said the proceeds from the sale of Yeeeah Baby would go to support Liza Rios — Big Pun's widow — and the couple's three children.