Meet me on the corner of the plaza… you mean Big Pun Plaza?
Twenty-one years after his untimely passing at just 28-years-old, the Grammy-nominated rapper Big Pun has a piece of his native Bronx turf named after him. The popular intersection of Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse is now known as Big Pun Plaza.
The Puerto Rican artist was celebrated on Monday afternoon in front of a peaceful crowd that included some well-known faces. Hip Hop pioneers Grand Master Caz and Kool DJ Red Alert were in attendance, as were District 14 Councilman Fernando Cabrera and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.
Long before the release of his platinum selling debut studio album Capital Punishment, Big Pun had pledged his allegiance to the Bronx. The proof was in his lyrics, as when he recited the bar: “The king of New York, lays his crown in the Boogie Down.”
“He would probably be doing back flips now, if he could,” Liza Rios said, smiling. Rios is the widow of Big Pun. “Actually, he’s here, he’s feeling it, he’s happy. This is what he wanted.”
Rios was a moving force behind the plaza’s renaming. “I dedicated my life to give this man [even after death] whatever he wanted. I am excited that we were able to make this happen, he is well deserving of it. He’s a legend and we are here to stay forever,” she told celebrating fans.
The event featured DJ Doo Wop spinning on the 1’s and 2’s as well as the friends and family of the lyricist known for his multi-syllabic rhyme scheme and incredible breath control.
Big Pun’s son, Chris, was only six when his father died, and recalled being impressed by the masses of fans who showed up at his father’s funeral to mourn him.
“Today, again I get to see him be immortalized ever further beyond that. This is the place [the Bronx] he was born at, the place he died at and the place that he became an immortal. To see the fact that he got a street named after him, I know that he is shining down and smiling right now,” said Chris Rios.
The street co-naming ceremony was originally scheduled for February 8. However, Mother Nature had different plans on that day. The inclement weather forced the cancellation. But some would argue that there isn’t an expiration date on greatness.
“Top of the world ma, top of the world!” shouted rapper and Big Pun’s best friend Cuban Link. “That’s where he wanted to be [memorialized in the Bronx]. He wanted to go out like a gangster and a gentleman and we celebrate with him today. He got his own street now, oh wait he doesn’t have a street, he has a plaza, that’s even better.”
When reminiscing about the good old days, when his comrade was alive, Cuban Link said that every day with Big Pun was special.
“Every day with Pun was happy days,” he said. “He just had that humor. We used to make each other giggle in our own personal space with our own personal jokes. All he had to do was look at me and it was over…. We had that chemistry, where we already knew. That’s hard to find.”
For Rios’ supporters, his memorialization is a long time coming. A decade ago, the rapper’s family members were rebuffed when they met with Community Board 2, requesting that the corner of Rogers Place and E. 163rd Street in Longwood be renamed for him. Board 2 members and other local leaders had argued that Big Pun didn’t give back enough to the community during his lifetime to deserve the honor of a street renaming. Other residents argued that memorializing him would serve to promote the lifestyle he talked about in his lyrics, some of which were about drugs and violence.
Big Pun was born Christopher Lee Rios on November 10, 1971. The native son of Soundview died on February 7, 2000 of a heart attack coupled with respiratory failure. Big Pun struggled with obesity for most of his adult life. It has been reported by various sources that he weighed 698 pounds at the time of his death.
Big Pun’s second album, Yeeeah Baby, dropped posthumously in April of the same year. And just like his previous project, it was certified platinum. But although Big Pun’s life may have been cut short, Liza Rios feels that a lot can be learned from her husband’s passing.
“Soon enough, everyone will know the full story of his life,” she said. “But I would say that self-love [is what people should be taking away from his death], we got to learn how to love ourselves.”
“Pun had a lot of obstacles and the one thing that he didn’t do was love himself,” she revealed. “The whole world loved him, but he had to love himself. It’s the one thing I that learned from Pun. I always advocate self-love.”