Christopher Lee Rios, popularly known as Big Pun, was an American rapper who came to prominence with his debut album ‘Capital Punishment’ that ruled the R&B/hip-hop charts for weeks. In fact, he was the first Latino rapper whose solo album was certified platinum. In 1997, he had his first hit, ‘I’m Not a Player, which occupied the third position on the US Rap chart. He formed the rap group Full-A-Clips, and developed a unique style of rapping as he could rap for a long time without taking a breath. Big Pun’s lyrics were full of deep meaning, complex rhymes, and repeated use of consonants and sounds, and thus, very fascinating to his fans. Despite the professional success he enjoyed, his personal life had been a troubled one. Big Pun had faced several hardships during the short span of his life. He was homeless for some time and also faced difficulties as a young father when he and his junior high school girlfriend Liza had their first child. It is said that due to stress, he ate more and became extremely overweight. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 29 from obesity related heart failure in 2000. Even after almost two decades after his death, he continues to be celebrated as one of the greatest Latino lyricists and rappers. MTV2 ranked him at the 11thposition on its list of the 22 Greatest MCs.
Childhood & Early Life
Big Pun was born as Christopher Lee Rios on November 10, 1971, in The Bronx, New York City, to Puerto Rican parents. He had several siblings.
At the age of five, he broke his leg while playing in a park. He later received a large amount as compensation from the city authorities.
Initially, he did well in school and also participated in sports. He loved to play basketball and was also enrolled for training in boxing. He was not only an avid reader but was also keen on break dancing and rapping. However, due to his difficult family life, he left home when he was 15, and eventually dropped out of high school. As a result, he was homeless for some time. During this time he started suffering from depression.
He married young and soon had a child. Struggling with depression and the pressures of being a young father, he started over-eating. He became extremely obese due to this habit and weighed 300lbs at the age of 21.
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Christopher Lee Rios started his career by writing rap lyrics in the 1980s. He soon formed a rap group called Full-A-Clips with rappers like Lyrical Assassin, Joker Jamz and Toom. Although he recorded a number of songs with the group, none was released. Eventually, the group became defunct. In the meantime, he changed his name to ‘Big Moon Dawg’ and later to ‘Big Punisher’, which was shortened to “Big Pun.”
In 1995, he met rapper Joseph Antonio Cartagena—better known as Fat Joe—who not only recognized his talent but also became his best friend and stayed close to him till his death. Fat Joe formed a hip hop record label called Terror Squad and signed a deal with Big Pun. In the same year, Terror Squad released Fat Joe's album ‘Jealous One's Envy’ in which Big Pun made his first professional appearance. He was also featured in Fat Joe’s song ‘Watch Out.’
In 1997, Big Pun started gearing up for his debut studio album ‘Capital Punishment’, and began recording songs for it. He hired producer Knobody to remix the song ‘I'm Not a Player’. The remixed song, titled ‘Still Not a Player’, became Big Pun's first major hit. The album ‘Capital Punishment’ was completed and released on April 28, 1998. It became a smashing hit. It was his only solo album released in his lifetime. In 1998, he appeared as himself in the TV series ‘Moesha’, aired on the UPN network.
In 1999, the rappers’ group Terror Squad released its debut album ‘The Album’. Although, the album did not do well commercially, it received critical acclaim.
He was cast as Punny in the film ‘Thicker Than Water’ in 1999. The film, which also starred other rappers like Fat Joe, Mack 10, Ice Cube, and MC Eiht, was about rappers from the East and the West Coast. In the same year, he starred in ‘Urban Menace’, a black horror film, directed by Albert Pyun. The film also featured Fat Joe.
Big pun died in 2000. His second album, ‘Yeeeah Baby’, was completed after his death and was released in April 2000. This album too was a smashing hit.
Another posthumous album, ‘Endangered Species’, was released in April 2001. The album was a collection of some of Big Pun's unreleased works. The album peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200.
Big Pun’s debut album, ‘Capital Punishment’, was his most successful work. It peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 and reached No. 1 on the Top R&B Albums chart and remained there for two weeks. The album sold more than a million copies and was his first solo album to be certified platinum.
His second album, ‘Yeeeah Baby’ (released posthumously), peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and garnered gold record status within three months of its release.
Awards & Achievements
Big Pun’s debut album, ‘Capital Punishment’, was nominated for a Grammy Award for the Best Rap Album in 1999.
Big Pun married his junior high school girlfriend Liza in 1990. They had three children—Amanda, who was born in 1991, Vanessa was born in 1993, and Christopher Jr. was born in 1994.
He struggled with a weight problem since his teenage. When he was 26, he weighed around 400 pounds, and with his success, grew heavier. Acting on the advice of his friend Fat Joe, he attended the Duke University diet program in North Carolina in 1999, and lost 80 pounds. But he soon quit the program without completing it and gained more weight.
On February 5, 2000, Big Pun and Fat Joe were scheduled to perform with Jennifer Lopez on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but Big Pun had to cancel the program as he was not feeling well. Two days later, on February 7, he suffered a heart attack and respiratory failure. Paramedics could not revive him, and he was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. At the time of his death, he weighed 698 pounds (317 kg).
Expressing grief, Jennifer Lopez told MTV, “He was a source of pride for the Latin community, a great artist and a great person.” Fat Joe told The New York Times, “I lost a brother.”
To honor him, TATS Cru, a local sign painting company, painted a large mural of him on a building in his neighborhood.
In 2005, Liza Rios auctioned Big Pun’s Terror Squad medallion due to the financial difficulties she faced after her husband’s death. She also claimed that she did not receive any royalty from the sale of Big Pun's posthumous albums.
On September 15, 2009, a documentary, ‘Big Pun: The Legacy’, directed by Vlad Yudin, was released as a tribute to the artiste. The film included interviews with artistes, actors, Big Pun’s close friends, and others whose lives were impacted by Big Pun.