Originally published in the March 2003 issue of XXL

Ten years ago hip-hop lost a legend when Christopher “Big Pun” Rios died from a heart attack and respiratory failure in a White Plains, New York hotel room on February 7, 2000. When DITC member Fat Joe began working on his own collective, the Terror Squad, the centerpiece of the crew was Pun, whose 500-pound physique never obscured his lyrical dexterity. The first solo Latino MC to go platinum, Pun put a stop to all that Rico Suave talk with dizzying tongue-twisters like the classic from “Twinz”: “Dead in the middle of Little Italy little did we know/That we riddled some middleman who didn’t do diddly.”

Since his death, the contributions Pun made to the art of MCing have begun to be fully recognized. On the anniversary of his respective passing, XXL asked some of the people he made music with to choose a favorite verse and analyze, line for line, the skills of a lyricist who looms even larger now than he did when he were alive. —Adam Matthews

Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck chose this verse from a Pun song he guested on, “Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)

“Yo, Big Punisher’s ready/Prodigy, Deck and me, QB, Shaolin and Bronx trilogy/Lyrically hazardous for your wealth, swing on your world’s piece/Foil your plans, boil your grams, take a shine/Fold all your hands, spoil your mans, make him mine/Take all you made, call you gay on Hot 97/Drop by your dwelling got the nueve right behind your melon/Ain’t no tellin’ when the bullet’s behind the trigger/I do it to live niggas and Pulitzer Prize winners/You wouldn’t survive nigga, if I chose you/Froze you from ear to ear, showin’ your whole vocal/Who told you, you could roll through, my lyrics practically rose you/From the grave, like The Crow’s do/I told you a long time ago, don’t ever fuck me/’Cause if I leave you half dead/Consider yourself very lucky/Very ugly from the face up/Leave you laced up, Joey Crillz, Pros, Cuban Link, Triple Seis, what?”

XXLMag.com: You appeared on this song with Pun [along with Mobb Deep’s Prodigy]. Did you feel any pressure?

Inspectah Deck: I ain’t going to front. You got Big Pun in there rhyming. He’s a force. And P already had his name solidified in the game. Just being in that room, they brought the best out of me. You can’t say anything wild on a track with Pun.

XXLMag.com: “Prodigy, Deck and me, QB, Shaolin and Bronx trilogy...”

Inspectah Deck: I got family all up and down Queens, I was born in the Bronx and I be in and out of Brooklyn. It’s the five boroughs that make New York whole.

XXLMag.com: “I do it to live niggas and Pulitzer Prize winners...”

Inspectah Deck: I feel the same way he feel. I don’t care if you’re Langston Hughes or Maya Angelou, if you step in my realm, then we going to face off. It’s like, Maya Angelou could even get hit like Langston for even approaching me like that.

One of Pun’s original rhyme partners, former member of the Latino rap crew, the Terror Squad, Cuban Link chose this verse from “The Dream Shatterer

“Ay yo, 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 tongue’s packin’/The ones, magnums, cannons and Gatling guns/It’s Big Pun!/The one and only son of Tony Montana/You ain’t promised mañana in the rotten manzana/C’mon patna, 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...”

XXLMag.com: On this song Pun says, “I’m the first Latin rapper to baffle your skull.” How important was Pun to the idea that Latinos could do hip-hop?

Cuban Link: He was the nucleus. Everybody else was chromosomes and shit. He was the one. He was definitely Neo from The Matrix. He was the gap between Black and Spanish. He was this paradox of being so big and kicking this fast flow. It was unbelievable the way he just kept the flow in the air. Pun was four or five hundred pounds, so his breath control was incredible. He wasn’t just spitting regular words. He was kicking encyclopedia words that were making sense. His vocabulary was crazy. He put it together with his format, which was complicated as fuck.

XXLMag.com: “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...”

Cuban Link: Faggot-ass nigga! Those battle rhymes are crazy. Those are street rhymes that we grew up listening to—the G Raps, the Rakims, the Big Daddy Kanes, the KRS-Ones. Pun could stand on any corner and kick those three rhymes. I don’t give a fuck if you beige, White, Black, niggas just got to give props.

Pun’s mentor and “Twin” Fat Joe chose this verse from “You Ain’t a Killer

“It’s hard to analyze which guys is spies, be advised people/We recognize who lies, it’s all in the eyes Chico/We read ’em and see ’em for what they are/Ds in undercover cars, takin’ my picture like I’m a fuckin’ star/I’m up to par, my game is a smash/With half a million in the stash/Passport with the gas, first name and last/Ask anybody if my men are rowdy/Give me the mini-shottie I body a nigga for a penny probably/I’m obligated to anything if it’s crime related/If it shine I’ll take it, still in my prime and I finally made it/I hate the fact that I’m the last edition/Probably a stash magician/Could’ve went to college and been a mathematician/Bad decisions kept me out the game/Now I’m strictly out for cream/Doin’ things to fiends I doubt you’ll ever dream/My team’s the meanest thing you ever seen/Measured by the heaven’s King, down to the Devil’s mezzanine/I never creamed so loud, I’m proud to be alive/Most heads died by 25, or catch a quick three-to-five/So be advised, the streets is full of surprises/It’s not what crew’s the livest/One that survive is who’s the wisest...”

Fat Joe: That whole record is the most lyrical record in hip-hop ever. I’m a total believer that he was the nicest lyricist ever in hip-hop. That whole verse was just ripped so phenomenal. I don’t see where Rakim could have jumped in and ripped it more. I don’t see where Nas or KRS, none of my other favorite rappers—Kool G Rap—I don’t see where they could have brought another line to it. He just left no room for oxygen, B.

XXLMag.com: “We recognize who lies, it’s all in the eyes, Chico/We read ’em and see ’em for what they are/Ds in undercover cars, takin’ my picture like I’m a fuckin’ star...”

Fat Joe: What I would have given to be sitting in a car, where niggas couldn’t see me, and watch some of my favorite rappers, just to see how they felt when they first heard the lyrics on that joint right there. The nigga is just murder, murder, murdering it! When Pun first came on the scene he was too lyrical. To the point where I thought he would go over niggas’ heads sometimes. I used to tell him, lay back a little—there’s some dumb fucks out there.

Frequent Pun collaborator JuJu from The Beatnuts chose this verse from “Brave In The Heart

“We brave in the heart, playin’ a part, amazingly smart/Razor-sharp, futuristic raps, state of the art/Takin’ New York cats past the stars/First it was Nasty Nas now watch me turn an apple into Macintosh/Computer chip locomotion flow, la Cosa Nostra dough/Hold your toaster low, business never personal/Just some words to know: If you run the streets/Come in peace or leave in pieces/Even Jesus was killed by the polices/They crucified him now they inject us with juice to fry ’em/Depends on the state, if death is my fate then cool I’m dyin’/If that’s my destiny it’s meant to be/Just remember to bury the muthafucka that bent me right next to me/Aight crew? Aight then, let’s fight then/I’m hype then, comin’ with the thunder and the lightning/Invitin’ the comp, ice on the arm/Nights when I storm, snipin’ your moms, right from the Bronx/Mic in the palm it’s the ghetto God/I rip a nigga heart out his frame while I scream Terror Squad/Be larger than life, my initials carved in my wife/She says she’ll starve when I die, I’m a God in her eyes/The father of Christ, sure to be immortal/Guzzling beer bottles by the dozen with Devon it’s me and mano...”

XXLMag.com: “First it was Nasty Nas, now watch me turn an apple into Macintosh?”

JuJu: Lines like that let you know we hadn’t seen the tip of the iceberg yet.

XXLMag.com: “Comin’ with the thunder and the lightning...”

JuJu: This dude had the most powerful flow I ever heard. I always looked at Pun like this bigger-than-life, extraterrestrial MC. Like he was sent here from somewhere else, and had super-powers.

XXLMag.com: “Come in peace or leave in pieces/Even Jesus was killed by the polices/They crucified him now they inject us with juice to fry ’em/Depends on the state, if death is my fate then cool I’m dyin’/If that’s my destiny it’s meant to be…”

JuJu: His reference to Jesus getting killed by the police is haunting and visual. Him being ready to meet the same fate just puts him in a different league.

Pun’s female protégé, Remy Ma, chose this verse from “Wrong Ones

“Cannibalism is livin’ in my metabolism/Givin’ ’em spasms and aneurysms at baby baptisms/That’s all my thugs thinkin’ about, drinkin’ your blood/Boricuas love flooded rugs bloody and bloated mugs/Leavin’ the reverend decap’ and severing when I’m beheadin’/The Armageddon is lettin’ demons slip into Heaven/Goin’ back to spiritual ritual times/What you gon’ find—shiftings of Satan in critical bind/Never mind, I do that often, I’ve risen often/Bust out my coffin, I’m a livin’ abortion/Battled the Devil and deaded his demons/Trained other beings to be in his different levels of Hell, still screamin’/Seein’ bodies bloody and babies bloated corroded/Know the Chinese exploded/Know they run with Gotti who know it, check it/I never run I never ran, the fattest muthafuckin’ man/I roll with Cuban makin’ junk to jams/That’s all I’m knowin’ and I’m never need/All on your soul I feed, I’m lettin’ punk muthafuckas bleed/Fuckin’ with me, better hide yo’ seed/Better think twice, before you ride on me/’Cause I’ma lift your weight, then I’m droppin’ you in the incinerator/Then I’m hittin’ the hospital and poppin’ two in the incubator/That’s how we do it pana, hardcore, no more goo-goo ga-ga/Oh, I’m sorry pa-pa, was you the da-da?”

XXLMag.com: “Never mind, I do that often, I’ve risen often/Bust out my coffin, I’m a livin’ abortion.”

Remy Ma: Do you know how many times you have to rewind that to get it? When he said it, he was funny, he was joking. The average person don’t think like that. I was there, and I didn’t know what the fuck he was saying. How are you going to say you’re a living abortion? That’s crazy!

XXLMag.com: Do you think Pun really felt like that?

Remy Ma: That’s the whole shit—if he felt like that, he didn’t act like that. He made it seem like he was having the time of his life, but I guess inside he was really fucking dying or hurting. He showed it through his songs. When you listen to it, it sounds like depression. But I guess he felt like, “My mother didn’t want me.” I think all of that has to do with having a bad childhood. He used to be alone living in abandoned houses. He was with [his wife] for two or three years before she knew he was homeless. He used to sleep where ever. He used to drop her off and come back smelling clean because he washed up in a fire hydrant. She didn’t know for years, so who knows all the things he was hiding inside.

R.I.P. Christopher “Big Pun” Rios, November 10, 1971 — February 7, 2000