Friday, August 21, 2009

Big Pun's Family

From glow-in-the-dark velvet paintings of Elvis to the yearly holiday release of “new” 2pac albums, families of dead entertainers have long been disrespecting the legacy of their artists in efforts to continue eating off of said artist’s plate well after they have passed away. One needs to look no further than this year’s box office records and see the phenomenal success of “Notorious” for a recent example of how far family and business associates will go to cash in on the ones they supposedly loved (I could be wrong, but I’m willing to bet Bad Boy made more money by portraying Biggie as a womanizing, violent, drug dealing, dead beat dad than they did from all 4 seasons of “Making The Band”). This intense passion to avoid working by any means necessary by the family/estate/”loved ones” of deceased celebrities has reached truly absurd proportions this summer in the form of one Liza Rios, the now homeless widow of the late Big Pun.

Big Pun died in February of 2000, just under a decade ago, in this nine year period Mrs. Rios has contributed to two documentaries that portrayed Pun as a abusive husband and father (one released in 2002 and one due for a September 2009 release), managed to get his oldest daughter to say she was happy her father died (E! documentary about rapper’s wives), will gladly contribute to any urban news story about domestic violence, detailed his medical issues with anyone that would listen, publicly criticized his business acumen, squandered a small fortune and to my knowledge has made absolutely no effort at attaining employment to support herself or her three children (the oldest of which can actually be working too...but I’m sure that’s out of the question). And while it is always difficult to hear that a family has to utilize public assistance and live in a shelter, the internet has gone insane with people calling for Fat Joe’s head for not supporting this woman and her children. It seems as if the claims of Liza Rios and her message board supporters are somewhat misinformed about what has really happened. The incorrect assumptions that many make are as follows:

(Note: I am similarly misinformed, so what follows is strictly opinion with absolutely no basis in fact).

1. Big Pun made millions, upon millions of dollars and his wife and kids should be set for life

While it’s true that Pun’s 1998 “Capital Punishment” album was the first platinum album by a solo Latino rapper and “Still Not a Player” was a huge crossover single, I believe the amount of money earned on this project is greatly overestimated. “Capital Punishment” is an undeniable classic, however, part of what makes it a classic are beats by RZA, Havoc, The Beatnuts, Rockwilder, Domingo, Trackmasters, Dead Prez and Showbiz and guest vocals by Wyclef, Black Thought, Noreaga and Busta Rhymes. Not to mention a re-worked Dr. Dre classic and an interpretation of an R&B hit by Joe. And what do all these contributions have in common? They don’t come for free! Every single producer and guest MC on “Capital Punishment” had to be paid for their services and with an album featuring the biggest names of the era it is not unrealistic to think it had to go platinum just to break even.

Ok, so now they have this sick album with some of the biggest artists of the late 90’s backing up the new artist and they have to move major units just to start to see a profit from the investment. Loud records handled this by launching a huge media campaign involving massive street teams, promotional trucks, magazine ads and several expensive-looking videos. Guess what? All that costs money too! After Loud recouped their initial investment it’s hard to believe there was enough left over for Pun to buy a chain, let alone feed his family for the rest of their lives.

Further diminishing the income Pun could have seen from “Capital Punishment” was the fact that his crippling obesity did not allow him to tour (a major source of income for all artists), he did not endorse products and he rarely appeared on projects by other artists. While selling a million records is a huge accomplishment (albeit much less in 1998, right before widespread downloading, than today), artists like NORE, Cam’ron and Juvenile also went platinum in 1998, and even with extensive touring and guest verses, they are still working today to afford the “Rap Life.”

The idea that there are millions of dollars in either Loud Record’s bank account or Fat Joe’s extra large pockets from the sale of an album this replete with guest artists and popular producers and one of the most extensive promotional campaigns of the year it was released seems false even to someone like myself, with admittedly limited knowledge of the recording industry.

2. Big Pun made Fat Joe a star and he is forever indebted to Pun’s family.

Pun didn’t make Joe. Fat Joe came out in 1993, a full five years (an eternity in Hip-Hop time) before the release of “Capitol Punishment.” Before discovering Pun, Joe was a member or D.I.T.C., had an anthem-like single with “Flow Joe,” released two critically acclaimed and commercially respectable albums and was a hero to Hispanic and Bronx Hip-Hop heads. Sure, introducing Big Pun to the world helped establish Joe as a heavy hitter in the game, but realistically he was already famous and in all likelihood would have continued to be a relevant artist if he never brought Pun to the studio.

Further, Pun and Joe were BUSINESS ASSOCIATES, they were not friends before the music, they did not grow up together and they were not related by blood. I’m sure they were “Best Friends” the same way Puffy & Biggie were “Best Friends,”(questionable at best) but to claim he is responsible to feed the wife and kids of what amounts to “some dude he worked with” seems a little off. I will also fully acknowledge that there may have been some behind the scenes “street sh*t” that I am unaware of that would make their bond more significant than typical business partners, but the fact that Joe had Pun sign numerous contracts and everything was looked over by a lawyer to be legal and binding, I think it’s safe to say that signing Pun was a business deal and had nothing to do with “family.”

3. Fat Joe took advantage of Big Pun with shady paperwork.

Even casual fans of A Tribe Called Quest know about rule #4080. Pun had the right to lawyers, agents and managers and if he got taken advantage of (by Joe, Loud or anybody else) it’s his fault. He was clearly not stupid, anybody responsible for the head-spinning verses on “Dream Shatterer” possessed a high level of intelligence, but if he signed his life away and Fat Joe or Loud Records are still reaping the rewards of those contracts (that Pun signed) it’s hard to be mad at them for taking money that they are legally entitled to.

4. Liza Rios and her children have been completely abandoned by Fat Joe and the Terror Squad.

Liza Rios admits to getting $160,000 when her husband died, $120,000 when the posthumously released “Endangered Species” LP came out, $40,000 from a Pun writing credit on Joe’s smash single “What’s Love” (clearly an effort to take care of the family because the hit was released in 2002 and Pun could not possibly have actually written the song) and an additional $20,000 at some point between 2002 and 2007, also from Fat Joe. That’s $340,000! Most uneducated single mothers of three do not receive that much money over the course of a lifetime and somehow they are able to get by without public assistance and shelters. Clearly, a family can run through $340,000 rather quickly with mortgages, car payments and the like, but if she was to use the money as a foundation and then seek employment or investment opportunities to build on that foundation it is hard to believe her family would be in this predicament. Also, this is the money she admits to receiving, it’s probably a safe bet there is more she is unwilling to discuss.

5. Liza Rios is reputable spokesperson for domestic violence.

She openly discusses Pun’s physical abuse to any media outlet that will listen and encourages her now-teenaged children to do the same, regardless of how rehashing personal stories of abuse to organizations like “Smack! TV,” “Flowlicious” and “E!” is further damaging their psyches. Further, she was repeatedly beaten by a man that spent most of their marriage almost completely immobile. How do you allow yourself and your children to get beat up by a guy that can’t chase you? I’m not saying this to mock domestic abuse, but if you know a 500 lb. guy that can’t get up is going to beat you’re a**, why would you go near him? It seems like she could have avoided most of the beating by staying in the other room. Seriously, a parent that let’s someone abuse their children should not be allowed to raise kids. Also, in many interviews it appears as if she knew his deteriorating health would lead to an early death and she was willing to subject herself and her children to repeated bodily harm in hopes of a payday when he finally passed away, I challenge anybody to point to a more grotesque manifestation of the “Gold Digger” mentality prevalent in Hip-Hop than this.

6. Liza Rios, Fat Joe, Loud Records or anybody else cared about Christopher Rios.

Big Pun was a sick rapper and a sicker man. His inner circle of “friends,” family and business partners could not have been that interested in the health and well being of Christopher Rios, sure they all cared about Big Pun the rapper (aka the cash cow), but it is hard to imagine this “family” allowing someone clearly suffering from admitted depression and most likely numerous other psychological issues to balloon up to nearly 700 lbs. and stand idly by as long as he could keep everyone in new clothes, cars and houses. This pattern is fairly common in the music industry with artists engaging in absurd amounts to drugs (Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Lil’ Wayne?) or questionable lifestyle/sexual choices (R. Kelly, INXS’ Michael Huchence) with everybody in the inner circle just watching as they degenerate into shells of their former selves and then everybody acts surprised when they die or are publically humiliated.

Clearly, if any of the players in this seemingly never ending saga actually cared about Christopher Rios the man more than Big Pun the rapper he would have been forced to seek help and possibly lived to see his thirtieth birthday.

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