Posted on 27 September 2010.
Big Punisher still looms large in the South Bronx. Photo: Alexander Besant
The history of rap music begins in the Bronx. Its neighborhoods are dotted with iconic sites of rap history such as 1520 Sedgwick Ave. where DJ Cool Herc first created the break-beat, or the infamous Forest Houses on 166th St. where Fat Joe grew up.
Add to that list the “Big Punisher” memorial mural on Rogers Place and 163rd St. Though he died of heart failure over 10 years ago, the Grammy nominated Big Punisher, or “Pun” for short, still looms large in his native ‘hood on a wall that had special importance to him. In his days as a budding young rapper, Pun posed for a promo shot in front of the same wall which was decorated, at that time, with a cartoon of a Puerto Rican gangster carrying two guns.
Pun was a heavyweight in two ways. Literally, since some estimate that he weighed over 400 pounds, and musically, as the hip-hop giant of the late 1990s with hits like “Still Not a Player” and “It’s So Hard”.
The Bronx mural, painted by Tats Cru, a Bronx-based graffiti crew that knew Pun personally, was created on the day he died in 2000 to much fanfare and a bit of mishap. BG 183, one of the artists involved in creating the memorial said of the its inception in a recent interview with the Bronx Ink:
“We just decided to do this wall for Pun when he died. It was our choice because he was a friend.”
BG 183 remembered that it was one of the coldest days of the year but, despite the biting temperatures, fans and fellow rappers came out in droves to see the painting of the memorial.
“A lot of people heard we were painting the wall from Hot 97 [a hip-hop radio station in New York]. A lot of fans came down,” said BG 183, “Fat Joe and a lot of hip-hop artists came too. The whole place was like a mad house.”
After the mural was complete things turned sour. For some reason, the artists involved in painting were picked up by police one by one.
“The police saw that we were painting the wall and they called the owner and told her that there were kids painting illegal graffiti on the property,” BG 183 said. “Landlady decided to press charges. Boom! The police grabbed each one of us. Next thing you know we were there at the police station for five or six hours.”
The landlady eventually recognized the mural and its importance to the community and dropped the charges freeing the Tats Cru members. Tats Cru now tries to update the mural every year but they admit that it’s not always possible nor even desirable, especially if people in the community begin to like the new creation. The last rendition was updated in the spring and shows Big Punisher holding an iron mic with some of his most inspired lyrics behind him:
“When I was young. I wasn’t always Big Pun. It wasn’t always this fun. Ayo I rose from the slums.”
Check out friend and fellow rapper Cuban Link discussing the wall here…