15 Years After Big Pun’s Life, Producer Domingo Shares Vivid Memories Off The Books (Interview)

Fifteen years ago today (February 7, 2000), Christopher Rios tragically died from a heart attack, leaving behind his family, friends, and millions of fans. At the time, the Bronx, New York MC known as Big Pun had only released a lone album, 1998’s Capital Punishment, but with that body of work, and five years of gigantic guest appearances, he left an everlasting impression on the face and sound of Hip-Hop. At a time when skills were constantly being pushed aside for flare, Big Pun proved those things to not be mutually exclusive, upholding the culture he held so dearly.

One of the men who maintained a great friendship with Pun was East New York Brooklyn producer/DJ, Domingo Padilla. This pair shared that deep love of Hip-Hop, the traditions, and the sounds associated with the age-old standards of dope. Having met in some hallowed grounds back in the early 1990s, Domingo was high on Pun’s depth chart in making his debut album. The producer, who would later work with Eminem, KRS-One, Kool G Rap and a host of hit television shows was newly making a name for himself. His sounds, his nature in the studio, and his charismatic way aligned with Pun. The limited discography is hardly a reflection of the relationship, as you will learn in this rare conversation with Domingo.

Beyond Domingo’s “Dream Shatterer” inclusion on Capital Punishment, the highly-active producer, last year, released Bronx Legends Never Die, a family-sanctioned release (Domingo is also working with Chris Rivers) of rare and unheard early Pun music. Twenty years deep, the two friends are still showing the world what this Hip-Hop thing really is, and how integral the Latino legacy is within it. Speaking with Ambrosia For Heads this week, Domingo recalled a rookie Pun coaching Fat Joe on one of his pivotal hits, explained the lofty intentions of Big Punisher’s debut, and how one take can change the game.

Ambrosia For Heads: You had worked on Fat Joe’s Jealous Ones Envy. Is that what transitioned you into Big Pun’s Capital Punishment, or was it something else?

Domingo: I met [Big] Pun while working on Jealous One’s Envy. He came to [DJ] Jazzy Jay’s studio which was in Jamaica, Queens at the time. He coached [Fat] Joe on how to flow on [the beat] for “Success” because Joe was looking to flow a certain way kind of how Nas was flowing on Illmatic [at the time]. So after a few takes, Pun told Joe, ‘You gotta say it like this,’ and Joe nailed it.

I remember when they recorded the song “Watch Out” [produced by Diamond D] and Pun said, “I doom the world like I was god and throw my gun away then snatch the moon out the sky and throw the sun away“… I was like, “What the fuck did he just say!?” That is my all time favorite Pun verse. Pun always liked the style of my beats and he had the beat for “Dream Shatterer” for three years before it was used. There was two other beats Pun used from me that he made demos to I don’t know where those are because he gave me them on a cassette tape and this was way before his deal with Loud [Records].

Ambrosia For Heads: Were there many takes for “Dream Shatterer”?

Domingo: There is a story behind how I got to produce the version of “Dream Shatterer” from Capital Punishment. Buckwild who is like my brother did the original version of “Dream Shatterer,” which is the one on Endangered Species, but bc of his use of the same [“Under The Influence Of Love” by Love Unlimited Orchestra] sample Puffy used for Black Rob’s “I Dare You,”…ya know, some industry politics went on and [Love Unlimited Orchestra founder] Barry White did not clear the sample for [Capital Punishment]. So Pun was in Axis studios in New York City, he called me and [asked] me did I still have the beat and I told him, “of course.” He had me come to Axis studios and pick up the acapella I went home and it was like the beat was meant to happen to that song, because I did not have to pitch anything to make it go on tempo with Pun’s vocals. When he heard it he loved it and we went into the Cutting Room [Studios] also in New York City and he recorded the vocals over to my beat in one take. The engineer was my dude Nastee at the time, and we both looked at each other like, “Oh shit.”

Ambrosia For Heads: In the Big Pun: The Legacy DVD, a lot was said about Pun’s Full-A-Klips group and his style as kind of a Horrorcore MC. When you were working on Capital Punishment, did you sense that Pun intended for it to touch fans in so many different pockets of Rap?

Domingo: Pun knew he had something with Capital Punishment. If you listen to the album, it is so diverse that it is meant for many different pockets of Rap, so I would have to say yeah, he knew.

Ambrosia For Heads: You’re a major purveyor of the true-school, hardcore boom-bap sound. In hindsight, how important do you think the success and acclaim of Capital Punishment, in 1998, was to keeping Hip-Hop strong, in leveling the playing field?

Domingo: Capital Punishment leveled the playing field in many different ways. He made that official stamp for Latins in Rap. Even though there was a few before him, he went platinum and put the stamp down that “we are here and going nowhere.”

As far as keeping Hip Hop strong, it was one of the strongest elements of Hip-Hop in 1998. Not taking anything away from other albums of that year, but you cannot deny that Capital Punishment held the crown that year.

Ambrosia For Heads:  As a Latino, how did Pun make Hip-Hop truly reflective of the cultures and ethnicities that helped make the Hip-Hop culture?

Domingo: Pun…like I said earlier, he put the stamp on Rap for Latinos officially. It was felt through the world as a whole, not just with Latins because throughout the culture artists respected Pun and knew he was not to be played with when it came to rapping.

Ambrosia For Heads: How was the relationship moving forward?

Domingo: Pun and I had a great friendship. I have good memories of him…all funny ones. The last conversation I had with Pun, he yelled at me [laughing] because he was working on his second album [Yeeeah Baby] and I was working on KRS-One’s [The Sneak Attack] and Channel Live at the time. He called me and told me, “Yo, why the fuck are you always the last one on my albums!? I need you on this one, man. C’mon Domingo!” I told him, “Okay, I got you tomorrow.” He told me meet him in front of the Apollo Theater at 8pm to give him the beats. The next day I was on time 8pm in front of the Apollo, then I got a call from—I believe it was Gilly—and he told me Pun could not make it because he was not feeling good. I never got to speak to Pun again because he passed away a couple of days later.

Ambrosia For Heads: You’ve shared a lot of unheard music. How important is that to put the fans above the commerce?

Domingo: They have to know what the “Golden Era” of Rap was, and how it sounded to appreciate it. So it is very vital to the future of appreciation for the culture and art-form.

Pre-order Domingo’s Big Pun album, Bronx Legends Never Die, which is available on CD and vinyl.

Purchase albums by Domingo.

Follow Domingo on Twitter.

Related: Here’s a Remix of Big Pun’s Beware by Legendary Producer Domingo (Audio)