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Was Big Pun Better Than Biggie?

Damn, it’s hard to believe that’s it’s been almost 10 years since Christopher “Big Pun” Rios passed away. Yesterday (November 10) was the big guy’s born day and had he lived he would’ve been 38 years young. (Click here for Joell Ortiz’s musical tribute.)

As the first solo Latino rap artists to go platinum (shout out to Cypress Hill, who were the first Latino group to go plat), Pun has his place in the history books. Still, I’m not sure if he always gets his props. Son was a beast on the mic, crafting timeless records like “Still Not a Player,” “Twinz (Deep Cover 98),” “100%” and “It’s So Hard.” As a fellow portly performer that was lyrically sharp and charismatic, Pun helped fill a void that had been left vacant after Biggie died. Some could even argue that the Punisher’s success was a direct result of the groundwork that the Notorious B.I.G. laid out.

Born and raised in New York, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when Big died. I was chilling at the crib when the news came on NY1. My homeboy came through with a 40 later (I didn’t drink, though) and we just watched the TV in silence. The first thing I said to my man when I answered the door is, “Damn, they got him.”

Although I was a fan of Pun’s music, I wasn’t as emotionally tore up about his passing. Maybe it’s because I was knee-deep in the industry by that point and was already getting jaded. I was working at The Source at the time and all I can remember about that moment was working on the tribute issue for Pun, which was also the same month I got my first big promotion and was put in charge of the culture department. Needless to say, I was swamped and didn’t have much time to mourn.

While I don’t have as crisp a memory about Pun’s passing as I do of the Notorious B.I.G.’s, that doesn’t mean I respect the man’s talents any less. In fact, I was debating with my boys the other day that Pun may have actually been a better pound-for-pound lyricist than Biggie.

Yeah, I’m from Brooklyn and I said it.

True, Big flipped the script with Life After Death, which is one of the best double-albums in hip-hop, and even gave Bone Thugs-N-Harmony a run for their style on “Notorious Thugs,” but Pun had some sick bars. Tell me heads wasn’t hitting rewind when he spit, “Dead in the middle of Little Italy/Little did we/Know that we riddled some middleman who didn’t do diddily,” on “Twinz.”

Then of course there’s his monstrous verse on “The Dream Shatterer:”

“Ayo, I shatter dreams like Jordan, assault and batter your team/Your squadron’ll be barred from rap like Adam & Eve from the garden/I’m carvin’ my initials on your forehead/So every night before bed you see the ‘BP’ shine off the board head/Reverse that, I curse at the first wack nigga with the worst rap/Cause he ain’t worth jack/Hit him with a thousand pounds of pressure per slap/Make his whole body jerk back, watch the Earth crack/Hand him his purse back/I’m the first Latin rapper to baffle your skull/Master the flow, niggas be swearin’ I’m blacker than coal/Like Nat King, I be rappin’ and tongues packin’/The ones, magnums, cannons and Gatling guns/It’s Big Pun! The one and only son of Tony… Montana/You ain’t promised manana in the rotten manzana/C’mon pana we be mob rhymers/Feel the marijuana, snake bite, anaconda/A man of honor wouldn’t wanna try to match my persona/Sometimes rhymin I blow my own mind like Nirvana/Comma, and go the whole nine like Madonna/Go try to find another rhymer with my kinda grammar.”

On top of all the lyrical clinics he delivered, Pun—like Biggie—could also craft hit records. I always wished we could have heard the both of them on a track together, but unfortunately they didn’t share the spotlight while they both were alive. My real dream was to have them do an album together and call it Twin Towers. Could you imagine those two going back and forth for a full LP? Guaranteed classic material and maybe then we would have been able to see who was better.

What do you guys think; was Pun a better lyricist than Biggie? I’m not talking hit records and radio singles, but actual lyrical ability. Who was nicer with words on the mic? Why do you think people overlook Pun sometimes? Would Pun have been as successful if Biggie didn’t pave the way for him? Would you have liked to hear these two on a record together? Is it unfair to even compare these two because Pun didn’t have as much material as Big? Do you think Fat Joe and Joell Ortiz are reppin’ for the Latino MCs properly?

R.I.P. Christopher “Big Pun” Rios, November 10, 2009 – February 7, 2000. —Anslem Samuel

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