By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
AMID A LANDSCAPE of would-be gangsta dons and their bohemian critics, of ghettocentric cartoons and prophets spouting premillennial tension, Big Punisher is just an MC. Capital Punishment, his debut album, is beholden to no conceptual trope beyond his own literal and figurative largeness. In a world where Player vs. Hater is the question of the day (the hip-hop equivalent of country music's equally heady Ford vs. Chevy wars), this wannabe lover boy is noncommittal. He proclaims, "I'm Not a Player" on the O'Jays-sampled lead single, and reaffirms that he's "Still Not a Player" on the album's reprise.
But the only insight he offers into his world of Zen-like self-awareness is that not being a player doesn't preclude a desire to, you know, "fuck a lot." Which can mean "bang[ing] a stranger" in his "torture chamber," "bring[ing] the pain like Method," and "banging off your hymen." Romantic stuff. Most disturbing of all is "Punish Me," a fantasy where a singer named Miss Jones provides the voice of a woman who left the big guy and now begs for reconciliation. For the chorus she asks for him to "come back to me, Punisher, and punish me, I've been so bad."
Misogyny and egotism aren't new developments in hip hop (nor are they unique to the genre, of course), but listen closely and this 300-pound sadist is remarkably unlikable. Like most hip-hop records these days, Capital Punishment is filled with guest appearances (RZA, Wyclef Jean, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought of the Roots), but some are featured for no reason other than to gratuitously massage Big Pun's huge ego. Funkmaster Flex delivers a monologue about Big Pun's assumedly famed sexual exploits while Pun giggles like a little girl in the background and goads him on. An MC named Dead Prez comes aboard to tell Big Pun, "When you rhyme/It's like music to me/It's like magic."
Other MCs get similar treatment on their own records, but Pun seems to need it. This combination of ego, insecurity, and girth makes him the Rush Limbaugh of hip hop. Maybe if he were more than just an adequate MC it would be easier to ignore what an ugly bastard he is. But he doesn't have the flow to overcome his baggage. Instead he rhymes in straight lines, lacking the dexterity and musicality that have marked A-list MCs from Kool Moe Dee to Nas. And at 24 cuts in more than 70 minutes, his album has more fat than the man himself.