As Hip Hop has grown into new centuries and touched new generations, we’ve seen the children of iconic rappers like Willow and Jaden Smith, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Diggy Simmons and others, grow into their own stardom. Being the child of an entertainer isn’t always as glamorous as it appears; the hectic touring schedule and devotion that artists put into their careers often takes away from valuable family life experiences.
Chris Rivers, son of the legendary Big Punisher, who was taken away from him at the age of six, was both impacted by the rapper’s dedication to his craft but also his untimely death in 2000. As Rivers embarks on his own career and embraces his own artistry, he reflects on the path of “rags to riches to rags” his father’s death lead to.
The young New York MC’s value has risen over the past few years, not only because he killed a freestyle on Sway in the Morning, or collaborated with veteran MCs like The Lox, Termanology, Vinnie Paz, Joell Ortiz and more, but because the dude is nice. In Rivers, listeners will find raw energy mixed with scientific metaphoric word play, and somewhere in his unique voice you hear the passion and charisma eerily reminiscent of Big Pun. We sat down with Rivers to talk about his father and what defines him as an artist of his own.
How old were you when your dad died?
I was six years old.
Up until that time, how was your relationship?
He was very into the music, so a few times I went on tour with him. Or we was living in the studio a lot, because he was rocking for a few hours. I wouldn’t say we had too much personal time together, because he was really busy, but I was with him everyday.
You went on tour with him, what do you remember about that?
I have memories on the tour bus, and I remember going to Amsterdam with him one time. It’s not like we got to the shows or nothing, so I was just with my mom in the hotel. It was dope to be in another country. But yeah I got to see him in the studio. I got to see him pull different pranks on people, he definitely was a jokester, so that’s cool.
I don’t think a lot of people realize that part of him, because his music was so hard and lyrical. Was he really that funny?
He was hilarious. My manager now was one of his best friends, and they would just snapback on each other all day, crack jokes. He would even do the wet dreams thing, like if you fell asleep around him you might get a whole bucket of ice water in your face. If you walked away at the dinner table on him, expect like a jar of salt in your soda. Stupid s*it, he would go out in dead cold winter, and fill up Super-Soakers and just pull up on people and splash them. He was crazy with his pranks and stuff like that.
Fast-forward a little bit. Obviously you grew up without your father, how did that change things? What type of hardships did you have to go through after he passed that maybe molded your character?
Even when he was alive there was hardships, but after he passed was a whole different thing. Like my mom stayed at home and took care of us, he was the provider, so after he passed she was left with three kids and no job. So we definitely went through poverty and stuff like that.
But just the mental state of growing up without a father as a young man, as a boy really, growing up without a pops. Whether it be confidence issues, or just questions that’s unanswered, even basic things like how to shave your face or talk to a girl, stuff like that where you’d go to your father for. I mean like a lot of other kids in the ‘hood, be it they’re a deadbeat or actually passed, go through the same thing.
We house-hopped a lot. We lived in a shelter, we went through it. All that stuff taught me to be humble and everything you do in this world you have to earn it. I mean we went from rags to riches to rags, so the material things it can come and go. I learned at a young age, even if you have everything, it can be taken away from you in a minute. So you have to earn that, so it can’t be taken away from you because you made it with your own hands. And I appreciate what I went through because it made me the man I am today.
Growing up were there other kids, and people who knew who you were? How did that affect your childhood?
It messed me up, it gave me trust issues. Some people didn’t know, and a lot of them when they found out, they start treating you different. Or they want to just be your friend because of that. Or they expect things from you because they think you’re supposed to have a certain level of money. Or they pick on you, kids are really mean. I got into a lot of fights because kids say a lot of reckless shit, like, “Oh I heard he choked on a cheese burger,” like regular disrespectful s*it.
I think kids, and grown ups, don’t realize that famous people, even people that are your idols, or A-list celebrities like Kanye West, they’re still human beings. But they don’t treat us like human beings at that point, they’ll ask things of you they’d never ask someone else, not realizing you’re just a normal person too.
I had to realize and learn, like who’s a real person, who’s your real friend. Or just friends because they want something from you, or who you know. I think it broke down a lot of friendships, and even relationships. Figuring out who’s who, and I’m grateful for that too because there are all good people around me. My circle is small but it’s all real individuals.
As far as the rhymes go, of course your dad was one of your first influences, but was there a moment you remember where you really decided to try rap or was this like a skill you developed over time just being a fan of Hip Hop in general?
Rivers: Yeah, I mean me and Hip Hop had an off and on relationship. Like a girl you date and keep breaking up with. When I was eight, like right after he passed, I was like, “yeah I wanna be a rapper.” I remembered my pops doing it, and felt like it was something I was supposed to do. But imagine like being a kid and saying, “I wanna be a fireman or an astronaut,” but you imagine you have the actual resources to be an astronaut. Then you find out, damn it’s actually a lot.
So when I was a kid I was into it, then I fell out of it a while. Music was always my escape, I wrote a lot of poetry. Listened to a lot of Eminem and even rock-and-roll, Mos Def, always listened to the lyrical side or the poetic side that got me through the day. In poverty, free-styling and stuff like that I was always into it. Then in high school it really struck a nerve for me. I seen older people going to college and getting jobs, working hard just to pay bills, and they were miserable. And I’m just like, “Yo, when I leave school I want to do the thing I love” not just because it’s a smart choice. I want to be happy. So music was my first choice. Now we’re here.
Was there a moment where your talent struck you like, “Yo I’m actually nice!”
I’m super humble. People think I’m really dope and nice, which I love. But I have this urge to be better because I don’t really see myself in that highlight. Like every now and then, “Yo, that was cool,” but then I listen to a couple more times and think I can do better.
I mean there was a few times where I was writing and I was thinking if it was good enough. I would see someone super confident, and I would hear them spit and think, “that was super wack.” But this man had all the confidence in the world, and other people liked him, but I knew I was better. I don’t mean to say that to sound like an asshole, but I know this comes naturally to me, and there’s a few things that come natural to people, and when you find it you have to embrace it. Words have always come natural to me.
I noticed just from listening to some of your joints, you’re really scientific, using a lot of terminology, and rhyme patterns I don’t think other people would attempt because of the difficulty of the word choice. Were you always into math and science in school or where did the influence come from?
Science is common sense. The numbers just add up. Like science is how the world works. When you look around, things move in a pattern. In school, I was really smart, still am, and I would always get hundreds and nineties. Then I would actually try then because you grow up poor, I realized whether I tried or not, I wasn’t getting any incentives or rewards. So I stopped trying. So the easiest classes to me were science and math, I didn’t really have to study for them. Like you can’t common sense history, that’s information you got to read and study and know. All that information stuck with me and I got in depth with it. So that resonates in my music, that’s the way the world works, you can learn so much just from how an atom moves. So I think it’s dope.
You have a lot of collaborations with some legends, especially in New York. Did that develop from those artists hearing your music and the stuff you were releasing, or was that an effort of you reaching out? When you did reach out, did they want to hear your music first or were they like it’s love because ‘that’s Pun son’?
It was actually a combination of all of that. Someone like Termanology, my father was one of his favorite artists of all time, so he would have done it off the strength, but he tells me all the time it’s a blessing and a bonus that I can actually spit, that I can actually rap.
It’s a combination of love for my pops, them seeing I can actually spit and I got passion for it. People like Sheek, Styles or Jada are good individuals, so when they meet me and see my character they mess with me as a human being as well. So I’m just blessed because I’m just being me, I’m living my dream and people want to support it.