1. XXXL: Big Pun

    Join Durwin Chow on the trail of pink cookies in a plastic bag being crushed by Big Punisher.

    Words: Durwin Chow | Photos: Cry Tuff NYC
    Originally published in ego trip #13, 1998

    “He raps,” murmurs Christopher Rios Jr., alluding to his pop’s professin’ profession. Sprawled out on a couch lining the inside corridors of midtown Manhattan’s Loud Records, Big Punisher’s half-asleep, six-year-old Little Pun gathers his last breaths of wakefulness and proudly adds, “He sings too.”

    Big Punisher sings indeed, flexing his vocal chords to the b-girls’ delight on his recent mack-tutorial, smash single, “I’m Not A Player.” Yep, girls just wanna have Pun. Like a hip hop Julio Iglesias, Pun’s infectious, harmonizing tones have catapulted the overweight emcee into virtual stardom. But what’s there not to sing about? Life is good for the Bronx-bred Pun, whose pretty face and gangsta wit has pimp-strutted him into every club, disco and hip hop household across the country.

    “So do you know what crushing is?” I curiously ask Liza, Big Pun’s wife. It’s family day at the chaotic Loud offices, as Pun, Liza and their three children are all in attendance for this overbooked press day.

    “I don’t know. Ask him, it’s his song,” she replies, slyly deflecting the question of the origin of her husband’s re-invented terminology back at Punisher.

    “Crushing is fucking,” interjects a matter-of-fact Pun seated across a large glass coffee table. “You can’t put me on the spot,” he dares. “You can’t embarrass me, I don’t give a fuck. I’m-a keep it real.”

    On the eve of their 11-year anniversary, interviews and photo shoots have replaced any plans of nuptial celebration from the couple’s itinerary. Pun’s round-the-clock hectic schedule—the result of promotion for his debut album, Capital Punishment, and the unbelievable buzz generated from his appearance on The Beatnuts’ ’97 get-money-anthem, “Off The Books” (not to mention the current smash, “Still Not a Player”)—leaves absolutely no room for a romantic rendezvous with wifey tonight.

    “In a month from now when there’s no occasion, I might bring home a ring,” explains an unapologetic Punisher, excusing his anniversary absence in advance. “We passed that, ‘That Day’ [baggage]. It feels so corny to us, we’d rather be spontaneous.”

    Sunk in the sofa of his label CEO’s spacious corner office, the 29-year-old husband and father needn’t worry about spontaneity. His Gatling gun spit-fire delivery and relentless lyrical bombardments have helped land Pun on most hip hop aficionados’ top 10 lists, solidifying him as one of rap’s newest heavyweight soloists. And at 400-plus pounds, the self-christened Big Punisher is indeed a heavyweight.

    “He was athletic. He used to work out,” says Liza, reminiscing of when the couple first met. “But we got married and he had money and a car. From riding around, he didn’t wanna play ball no more, [he just wanted to] cruise, be with his friends, take everybody out to dinner, breakfast, lunch. We used to eat out everyday and he stopped working out, he stopped everything. So he got heavier and heavier from one year to another.”

    If eating well translates to living well then Big Punisher’s appetizing full-course lifestyle was extravagant. However, life wasn’t always a bowl of cherries. From an abusive Vietnam Vet stepfather to an intolerant, beefing mother, Pun’s home life was less than easy. Left homeless after getting kicked out of his house by his mother at age 15, he resorted to the neighborhood trade of selling drugs to get by on his own. And it was there, on the Bronx streets where the self-sustaining entrepreneur found solace in the hip hop surroundings of his Soundview neighborhood.

    “Everyday of my life was a hip hop activity—whether I was graffin’, dancin’ or DJin’,” remembers Pun. “But as far as rhyming, I always used to write. I was always trying to think of shit to write down—jokes, poems, songs.

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