For two years fans were mourning the tragic deaths of 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G. while desperately needing a star MC to fill the void, and the verbal assassin Big Pun happily obliged. Big Pun’s 1998 debut Capital Punishment is a masterwork that made him an instant legend.
The Hip Hop world was first introduced to Christopher “Big Pun” Rios in 1995. On Fat Joe’s second album Jealous One’s Envy, the fellow Bronx-New York native featured Pun on a track called “Watch Out”, where Pun raps,“Yo, I cause a bloody bath to make my buddies laugh, and gig’/ My nutty wrath’ll live as long as I’m a nasty kid.” His impressive skills created underground curiosity amongst fans who later loved his debut single “I’m Not a Player.” Produced by Minnesota, the song sampled retro R&B classic “Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby” by The O’Jays with a repetitive bass loop that perfectly matched with Pun’s spitfire flow.
Pun’s rhymes met every bass beat. He was a rhyming wizard, mixing English and Spanish with lines such as “You’re f**in’ with King Papi Chulo when knockin’ culo/ Pop your mulos out the socket. Tryin’ to ride with the sumo.” However, it was the “Still Not a Player (Remix)” ft. Joe that successfully charted at #6 on Billboard and made Pun a household name. Now, with a pleased hardcore fanbase and mainstream appeal, the premiere of Capital Punishment would solidify Pun’s historical reign.
Capital Punishment is an album that defined an era of Hip Hop when high-level lyricism often meant success. The opening track “Beware”, produced by legendary team The Beatnuts, is an out-the-gate display of vicious battle raps—a warning to any would-be opponent who dared to even daydream about challenging Pun. He finessed his bars throughout the album as an alumnus of Kool G Rap University, giving a valedictorian speech on “TWINZ (Deep Cover 98)” ft. Fat Joe, where he deep breathed the iconic tongue twister, “Dead in the middle of Little Italy/Little did we know that we riddled two middlemen who didn’t do diddly.”
The album’s mafioso motif is displayed perfectly on songs such as “Boomerang”, “You Ain’t a Killer”, and “Caribbean Connection” ft. Wyclef. Then, the song “Punish Me” ft. Miss Jones showcases a vulnerable storyteller exploring feelings of first-time fatherhood. While “You Came Up” ft. NORE demonstrates Pun’s hit-record-making ability when he flows effortlessly over the beat and Spanish horn, predicting that “Latins goin’ platinum was destined to come.”
The album is MCing at its finest. Capital Punishment demonstrates Big Pun’s genius as an artist—his ability to rap over any production style while using his voice as an instrument. His rhythm naturally moved at the speed of a fast drum beat without sounding forced or controlled. This classic record along with Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life, Outkast’s Aquemini, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation, and DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, collectively made 1998 Hip Hop’s most significant year.