Big Pun’s Widow & Chris Rivers Offer Up The Real & Uncut Story of Life With Pun (Audio)
Fifteen years removed from Big Pun’s death, there has been a lot of attention paid to one of Hip-Hop’s greatest lyricists. The Bronx, New Yorker Terror Squad founder born Chris Rios has been survived by his wife, Liza Rios, and three children. The youngest, Christopher Rios (same name as his father) has been making noise in the music scene weekly, under the alias of Chris Rivers.
While Big Pun was a charismatic celebrity in music videos, interviews, and through lyrics, Christopher Rios behind the scenes is a more controversial character. Some of the people who loved the man the most, knew him as the closest are victims of his physical and verbal abuse, in addition to the debilitating task of watching him die at age 28. The patriarch and financial earner for a family of five would reach a reported 700 pounds in weight, suffering from a gripping food addiction. Just as his career had broken through, Big Pun’s physical form departed in year 2000. In the decade that followed, Liza and her children ended up living in New York City shelters, battling some of Pun’s former business partners for royalties, and living with the challenge of a legacy of a tremendous artist, and a complicated—often hurtful, man.
The Combat Jack Show is the platform for Liza and Chris Rivers to unpack some of this hefty baggage. While DVDs and edited interviews can offer some vignettes into Pun’s life and career, this two-hour conversation goes places that even devoted Big Pun Heads have likely never been. Reggie Ossé and Premium Pete lead a discussion that veers into Pun’s own abusive childhood, a Bronx teenage love story, and a four-year rise from hungry MC to platinum superstar.
Anecdotes are captured, ranging from Big Punisher’s most influential MCs, the fact that Pun was a teenager with six-figures in the bank (before Rap), and his brief Miami residence are chronicled. Additionally, Heads can learn some vivid accounts of the abuse that include Chris and Liza getting a marriage license while the bride-to-be had a black-eye, a knife incident that shows on Liza’s body to this day, and a Chris Junior (who was age 6 at the time of Pun’s death) vowing to grow big enough to reportedly “kill” his dad. Also, in Chris Rivers’ rise to fame—white-hot in the blogosphere, it is pointed out that Made Men’s Ray Benzino was instrumental in Chris’ first deal, one that towers over the offers some smaller labels are currently dolling out.
Below is the interview not to be missed, followed by a run-down of some of the talking points:
(6:30) Chris announces his upcoming MC mixtape, and discusses the extended life of Wonderland of Misery. The 21 year-old rapper points out, “This is the age of the fickle, so we’re trying to stay in their face as much as possible.”
(9:00) Liza recalls meeting Christopher Rios in junior high. She discusses losing her virginity to Pun, and why April, 1987 was a life-changing month in her life. Liza, who was 14 (Pun was 15) recounts their first date in the Bronx, and how the relationship eventually forced her to move in with her father in Long Island. When she left, where did Pun live? The oft-homeless teen took residence with Liza’s mom, even though the couple was barred from speaking during the separation.
(23:00) The discussion moves to February, 1990, when they conceived their first child. “He had no home, so it was back of the bleachers,” Liza says of the memory. Additionally, she reveals that Pun won a $500,000 lawsuit from a childhood injury at a construction site. Pun broke cheekbones and had skin conditions from the injury, which later made him one rich teenager, relatively speaking “At 17-18, we already had money,” Ms. Rios recalls. “He went crazy. You give a kid [from] the hood with no guidance.” She remembers the purchases including Nautica, Gap, gold rope chains, and incessant meals at iHop and Bennigan’s. “He was really bad with money,” Liza admits. She also reveals that the pair would get a residence in Miami, Florida and a Porsche. However, Pun’s home-sickness forced a relocation to the Bronx. This was also the era when the would-be star MC began to over-eat regularly, prompting drastic weight gain.
(34:00) The abuse starts to be uncovered. “Put it to you like this: [when] we went to get a marriage license, I had a black eye,” Liza admits. The attacks started when the young couple moved in together, around 1990. As Liza explains, she was not allowed to watch talk-shows, as an angry Pun feared that they may give her ideas.
(38:00) Hip-Hop is mentioned. Liza Rios recalls growing up in a home with one radio station—including Crazy Glue on family’s tuner. She remembers Triple Seis and Cuban Linx (who were with Pun in Full-A-Clips); “they were always in the crib, writing.” Cuban Linx was 16 at the time. Liza cooked the young MCs many of their meals then. “They even lived with us at some point.”
(41:00) Combat asks her about Fat Joe, who was a budding MC on Relativity Records. “I was a little hype to meet him, at first…It was dope.” Liza says that Pun’s career got serious thanks to Funkmaster Flex’s 1995 debut album, 60 Minutes Of Funk, Vol. 1. The freestyle, with Joe Crack, was played on HOT 97. “It happened quick. Everything: him getting on, signing…it’ll all be in the book,” she says “I still learn every day how [great] he was.” She reveals that Pun’s personal favorite MCs were KRS-One, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, and Rakim.
(46:00) Pun (and Liza’s) fetish for weapons is uncovered. Liza reveals carrying a gun, and sleeping with weapons under the pillow. “Before rap, we was gettin’ the guns,” she says, in addition to Chris’ collection of Rambo knives. “I don’t ask any questions,” she says, about the collections, adding that she simply loved her husband. Explaining her own attraction to guns, she says, “They’re just powerful, it’s dope.” The mother and son (who embraced through many of the recollections, according to Premium Pete) reveal additional paranoia. “He was paranoid about Y2K,” says Chris Rivers. In addition to the Crown Plaza in White Plains, New York where Pun would eventually die (the Rios family’s home was undergoing renovations), they had a New York City residence in a taxi-cab base garage, filled with bunk beds. “He was really afraid the world was gonna end.” On Y2K, the whole family was outfitted with bulletproof vests “We was all ready, and didn’t understand why,” says Rivers.
(52:00) Liza speaks about the notorious pistol-whipping incident—later circulated online and on DVD through video. She explains, “You can’t see in the video, but I ran upstairs. I grabbed a shotgun, like ‘I’m gonna kill this mothafucka.” Liza continues, “I ended up putting the gun away, suckin’ it up, and keeping it movin’.” She summarizes the couple’s marriage as “The relationship was a hate-love relationship.” According to Liza, many of Pun’s problems had to do with his mother. “She had that drug mentality, even if she wasn’t on drugs…the one thing he wanted her to admit to the past abuse. That’s it.” Liza deduces, “He died with a broken heart, for his mom. That’s how I see it.”
(1:00:00) Liza chronicles a particularly jarring incident of abuse that she she still lives with. “At one point, he pulled out the knife, and I ended up grabbin’ it out of reaction.” The couple’s argument stemmed from a boy Liza kissed during her time living on Long Island as a teen. In her grabbing the knife and Pun pulling it out of her grip, she cut two fingers, including the tendon. Pregnant, at the time, her fingers are still not functioning properly decades later. She adds that Fat Joe knew of the abuse, and possibly Loud Records founder Steve Rifkind, who would call. “They’d wheel me back in sayin’ he’d agree to [get treatment at a] fat-farm.” She continues, “At the end of the day, I loved him, and that’s the father of my children.” Pun did attend a weight-loss retreat, in Durham, North Carolina. “It wasn’t for him,” she says. “[It was a] bunch of white old people.” While there, he reportedly lost 100 pounds, bringing his weight to 600 pounds. Per Liza, once Pun met that benchmark Fat Joe and others encouraged him to return to his former lifestyle. She mimics the conversations as “Like ‘Hey, you’re done.’…Shortly after that, he gained back twice the weight.”
(1:14:00) Liza Rios recalls Pun’s last days, in that White Plains hotel room. “His system was shutting down.” The MC was flying family members down, while clamoring to finish out his sophomore solo album. Together on that fateful February day, Liza says her husband showed closure and gratitude in those final moments. The conversation grows to ask about Liza’s life today, and possible remarriage. She tells the world about the Rios Family’s improvements: “Financially, we’re much better than we were five years ago. Five years ago, we was in the shelter.” Liza also has an ongoing legal battle with a reported two parties from Pun’s past. Who or what, she will not say. However, the widow stresses that she is not a legal eagle. “To clear the record, I’ve never sued anybody before in my life.” She urges those interested to look up the legal documents online.
(1:33:00) The attention moves to Chris. He reveals that following his dad’s death, Benzino was instrumental in his first career steps. The former Almighty RSO front man helped establish children’s Rap group 3 Down. Reportedly, at 6 years old, Chris was tied into a $1.3 million dollar deal. Given that experience, Heads may understand why Rivers laughs at some of the smaller offers he’s getting in 2014 and 2015.
(1:35:00) Moving from music to life, Chris Rivers admits he was the victim of his father’s abuse too. The youngest of the three Rios children boldly professes, “I used to tell mommy, if I got big enough, I’d kill him.” Rivers admits that his father forced boxing upon he and his sisters, making them fight each other. Today, the MC formerly known as “Baby Pun” admits that he’s kept boxing in his repertoire. In front of his mom, adding that he means no disrespect, he points that he raised himself. Looking at his budding career (post 3 Down), he acknowledges, “I’m not gonna pop overnight. It’s not been that way, and it’s not gonna be.” Admitting that labels are indeed reaching out, he says that Wonderland Of Misery, Vol. 1 carries “All my experiences as a child.” He also touches upon the name-change from Baby Pun to Chris Rivers (English translation of ‘Rios,’ his birth name). “I want to grow out of my father’s shadow.”
More than two hours long, what was most sticking of this interview to you? Do you think Chris Rivers will add to the Rios legacy without ever using his bloodline as the focal point?