As The Source looks back on the life of Christopher Rios, check out his 2000 cover story as we discuss whether or not The Crusher’s last days could’ve been prevented.

March, 1998: An industry slumber party “Big Pun is just another Spanish rapper,” an unidentified A&R man shares with some of his music industry colleagues in D&D Studios. “He’s only gonna sell a few records.” Listening to this cocky executive irritates me. He like many isn’t prepared for what’s about to happen to Fat Joe’s protégé. He like many ignores the fact that maybe, just maybe, a Latino rapper could make a huge impact on the rap game. And like those in the room who share the point of view before the Pun rush, this A&R will soon sit in his office fighting a one on one battle with denial.

 Later in March: Two months prior to the release of Capital Punishment

Numerous cabesas surround a small room in hopes of being cast for an MTV sitcom entitled World Famous. The topic of discussion is new MCs. “DMX is gonna kill em,” says one cat. “Nah dog, my money is on Canibus,” says another. “I don’t know. That Cam’ron joint is my shit,” says a young femme. “What about that nigga, Punisher?” I ask. The room goes quiet. “That nigga tore the shit up on ‘Off Tha Books.” “He’s alright, I guess” various non-believers respond.

April, 1998; Last minute instinct 

“I like that beat,” Big Pun says while sitting on a couch in the offices of his label Loud Records. On hand are Loud A&R’s Matty C and Sean-C, blasting a beat-tape from a barely known producer named Knobody. Pun nods with satisfaction. “Yeah, that that one right there,” he says. Pun’s debut album, Capital Punishment is only a few days away from being complete, but Pun wants to do this last song. “That’s for this remix I’ma do,” an excited Pun tells me, not aware that this eleventh hour choice will become “Still Not A Player,” a rhythmic club record with R&B star Joe, that will end up making this under-rated Nuyorican one of the biggest starts of the summer.

May, 1998: Big things start taking off “I wanna be that Latino artist who reminds you that we’re among the best,” Pun declares one sunny May afternoon. “Maybe I’ll be the artist in the future that other Latinos give credit to,”

Captial Punishment is in the top ten of Billboard’s Albums Chart and his reputation as one of hip-hop’s fiercest new acts is growing by the week. Sitting a few feet away from his baby shark tank, Pun reflects on the past year:

“My grandmother asked me the other day, How does it feel to be a legend?” I Said, “What do you mean?” She said “You’re the first Latino artist to do what you did. You’re an inspiration. When hip-hop becomes a school you’re gonna have your own course: Latinos In Hip-Hop Big Pun 101. It’s like Christopher Columbus with America.”

Twenty-six year-old Christopher Rios discovered this new world, but like Columbus, the world he discovered was already inhabited. Latinos had always been in hip-hop, but aside from dancing and graffiti, they were disregarded as an important foundation of the music. The Latino segment of hip-hop was already Ponce De Leon-ed by the likes of Charlie Chase from Cold Crush, Rudy D of Fantastic Five, Tito from the Fearless Four, and Prince Markie Dee of the Fat Boys. It was later carried on by folks like Powerule, Mellow Man Ace, The Beatnuts, Kid Frost, Cypress Hill and Pun’s guiding light Fat Joe. But it was Pun who brought the gold back to the motherland, and accomplished what his Latin hip-hop forefathers so righteously fought for: platinum respect and worldwide recognition.

But it wasn’t easy in ’98 while some rappers barked, and others battled towards the hearts of hip-hop aficionados, Big Pun took another route. Slowly but surely he gained his mass appeal with the commercial/underground formula that made the late Notorious B.I.G. one of the greatest rappers of our time. Though it’ll be years before Pun reaches the status of the Brooklyn legend, the similarities can’t be ignored.

Both are 300+ lb. giants who appealed to the radio & the streets without losing touch with either audience. Both are giants of lyrical fascination who after sessions of rewinding still leave listeners in awe. And where B.I.G. tapped with “One More Chance (remix),” Pun touched with “Still Not A Player (remix),” Pun confesses to have written a particular rhyme to use with the late Biggie Smalls, if ever he was given the opportunity.  “It’s sad, but I had to use it on another project.”