Years after his death, Bronx residents and hip hop fans still remember Big Pun and continue to celebrate his legacy.
This coming Saturday, February 7, marks the 15-year anniversary of Big Pun’s passing, and for many, it’s a time to reflect on the shortened but illustrious life of the late rap legend.
Big Pun, who was born Christopher Lee Rios on November 10, 1971 to parents of Puerto Rican decent, was born and raised in Longwood.
In his early years, as a child, Pun witnessed many sad occurances, including his mother’s drug abuse and his father’s death. He also suffered constant abuse from his step-father, and eventually dropped out of high school.
This led to him leaving home at age 15, forcing him to live in abandoned buildings for much of the remainder of his adolescence.
In the early to mid 1990s, Pun began writing lyrics and collaborating with different Bronx hip hop artists, including Fat Joe.
Eventually, Pun released his debut album, ‘Capital Punishment’ in 1998, which sold more than one million copies in the United States and resulted in him being the first Latino artist in hip hop history to go platinum. The album was also nominated for Best Rap Album at the 1999 Grammy Awards.
Pun had a unique writing and rhyming technique, combining wordy phrases with quick deliveries while still talking about real life situations, such as competition, fame and relationships.
According to his fans and supporters, nobody was a match for him when it came to lyricism.
“He was the realest, wordiest and most talented artist in hip hop during his time and even afterwards – he was incredibly gifted and he touched on every music aspect,” said website editor and dedicated fan Divino Denegro, who has also written articles on Big Pun for hip hop magazine The Source in the past.
Despite his music success, Pun struggled with his weight for most of his life, excluding adolescence.
In 1999, weighing in at over 600 pounds, Pun took part in a weight-loss program at Duke University were he lost 80 pounds. He eventually quit the program before completing it, however, and returned to New York where he gained more weight than he lost back.
On February 7, 2000, while temporarily boarding with his family in a White Plains hotel during a home renovation, Pun suffered a fatal heart attack and respiratory failure, and was pronounced dead shortly after at just 28 years old.
“It’s unfortunate that his career and his life ended so abruptly,” said Denegro. “People always talk about him being the first Latino hip hop artist to sell one million copies, but in reality, he was so much more, and his career continues to inspire and influence others.”
One could have predicted that Big Pun’s legacy would live on even after he passed away.
The Big Pun mural, which was painted by professional muralist group TATS CRU, was painted over another Big Pun mural in 2011, a tradition that the group aims to take part in annually for his anniversary.
“Minus baseball, he was the modern day Roberto Clemente for the Puerto Rican community,” Hector ‘Nicer’ Nazario of TATS CRU said. “He was a caring, funny, genuine individual who always made time for everybody, and painting these murals is how we pay him back.”