Friday, September 27, 2013

Album Review: "Capital Punishment" - Big Punisher (1998)

INTRODUCTION

This is another one of those reviews that I've taken too long to get to, but I wanted to do this right because, in my opinion, Big Pun is the best pure rapper to ever grace the mic. When you talk about lyrics, punchlines, metaphors, flow and mic presence, Pun had it all. His life was just taken away far too soon (what's with rappers with the word "Big" in their name all dying young?).

Big Pun was discovered by Fat Joe, the man everybody loves to hate. Pun brought Cuban Link and Triple Seis with him, both of whom would go on to become members of Terror Squad along with Joe and Pun. At that time, Big Pun was going by the name Big Moon Dawg. Thank God he changed it.

After spending a couple of years jumping on Fat Joe songs and lyrically murdering everybody on any track he rapped over, Pun came out with his first record entitled "I'm Not a Player." No; not "Still Not a Player"; "I'm Not a Player."

Knobody, who produced Jay-Z's "Can't Knock The Hustle," heard Big Pun's cut and was thoroughly impressed. That was when "Still Not a Player" was born, as Knobody laid down the beat and Pun and Joe (the R&B singer; not Fat Joe) killed it, marking Big Pun's mainstream breakthrough.

Shortly after, in 1998, Pun dropped his debut album, Capital Punishment. The effort became the first LP by a Latino rapper to go platinum, and it holds a place in the annals of hip-hop lore.

Nearly two years later, Big Pun died of a heart attack at the age of 28. So, like The Notorious B.I.G. and Big L before him, his first album was the only one that was released during Pun's lifetime. Yeeeah Baby hit the shelves almost exactly two months after his passing, and it went on to achieve gold status.

If only Big Pun would have taken better care of himself...

TRACK-BY-TRACK

1. Intro
You know the deal by now.

2. Beware
After the intro, we get treated to one of the best album openers in history. In any genre. This freaking bangs like an anvil dropping on Wiley Coyote on Looney Toons. The beat by Juju (of The Beatnuts) knocks, and Big Pun comes through with one of the most impressive, most vicious, most thoroughly verbally abusive performances ever known to man. I'm sure you all know this line: "Flawless victory, you niggas can't do shit to me, physically, lyrically, hypothetically, realistically." Good Lord. The Prodigy vocal sample (from "Shook Ones Pt. I," by the way) is dope as hell, too. If "Beware" isn't on your pump-up playlist, then I don't know what the hell you are doing with your life.

3. Super Lyrical
The energy level takes a massive nosedive here, but that isn't really a criticism of "Super Lyrical." It's just pretty much understood after "Beware," you know? Rockwilder lays down a laid-back instrumental for Pun to rock over here, and the big Latino does it dirty. Black Thought is here, too, but Big Pun is so outstanding that you'll end up overlooking The Roots member's contribution when it's all said and done.

4. Taster's Choice (Skit)
Well, at least Pun took time out to name his skits.

5. Still Not a Player
"Still Not a Player" is another perfect example of when radio hits used to be dope and tasteful. You'll never hear anything like this on the airwaves again. This is actually the song that got me into hip-hop, and I'll always remember it for that. The music video is also freaking hilarious, and I was never one to give a crap about visuals. Another interesting note is that "Still Not a Player" is one of the few songs where the clean version is actually superior to the explicit version. Big Pun must have even known that, because the clean version is the one that appears on Capital Punishment. Finally, not enough is said for Joe's performance here. The dude rips it, particularly when he repeats "boricua, morena" as the track nears its conclusion. This song rocks and always will rock.

6. Intermission
Remember when I said at least Pun took time out to name his skits? Well, I stand corrected.

7. The Dream Shatterer
A lot of people go back and forth between this and "Beware" in determining Pun's best lyrical outing on this album. Personally, I'm torn, but I prefer the beat on "Beware," so I guess that settles which record I like better. Make no mistake, though; "The Dream Shatterer" still knocks. Domingo's production will break your neck, and Big Pun obviously tears it to shreds. One thing, though: this is not the original version of this cut. That one was produced by Buckwild, and I am actually a bit partial to that version. It's that good.

8. Punish Me
This is by far the weakest song here so far, and it may very well be the weakest track on Capital Punishment. It's not that Pun doesn't do his job here; he actually puts together a very impressive lyrical performance. It's just that "Punish Me" sounds sort of out of place on this project.

9. Pakinamac Pt. 1 (Skit)
You're telling me there is a part two? Great.

10. You Ain't a Killer
And we're back on track. Younglord utilizes a Michael Jackson sample and combines it with Kool & The Gang's "Summertime Madness" to lace a pretty awesome beat for Big Pun, and he does what he always does in ripping it to pieces. I don't care what anyone says: Pun has the best flow of all-time, and it's not even close. It's also great how all of Pun's threats are legitimately menacing.

11. Pakinamac Pt. 2 (Skit)
And there it is.

12. Caribbean Connection
Wyclef hops on this Younglord-produced song, and not only does he kind of sound like Canibus here, but it also sounds like 'Bis wrote his verse. It makes sense, too, as Capital Punishment came out around the same time as Canibus' debut album, Can-I-Bus, which 'Clef played a big hand in creating. I also could swear that I once read that Canibus was supposed to be on "Caribbean Connection," but maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, when you look past the fact that Wyclef's verse may very well have been ghostwritten, you're treated to a pretty great track. The beat is engaging and is very suitable given the title of the record, and Wyclef sounds terrific on this.

13. Glamour Life
L.E.S. steps behind the boards for this posse cut, and it freaking bangs. Big Pun and his Terror Squad brethren (including Fat Joe) bless the raw instrumental, and to no one's surprise, it's Pun who walks away the winner, from his hook to his scintillating verse, the gigantic breaths he takes throughout notwithstanding. I'm running out of good things to say about this album by now, so I'll just say that "Glamour Life" knocks

14. Capital Punishment Medley
This is just alright. The Infinite Arkatechz production kind of sells Big Pun short, as he is not able to fully launch his legendary flow on this track. As a matter of fact, Pun sounds somewhat disinterested.

15. Uncensored (Skit)
Featuring Funkmaster Flex. What's that? You don't care? Yeah; me neither

16. I'm Not a Player
The aforementioned first song that Big Pun did on his own, and also the reason why "Still Not a Player" exists. Much like that "remix," "I'm Not a Player" is pretty damn great. Minnesota's beat, which utilizes an O'Jays sample, is really freaking good, and while Pun's sexual lyrics are much more graphic than they need to be, he still sounds great over this.

17. Twinz (Deep Cover 98)
Big Pun and Fat Joe cover Dr. Dre's debut single that was ironically named "Deep Cover," and Pun drops some of the sickest lines of his career, particularly "Dead in the middle of Little Italy little did we know that we riddled some middlemen who didn't do diddly." Fat Joe holds his own, as well.

18. The Rain and The Sun (Interlude)
There are far too many skits on Capital Punishment.

19. Boomerang
Pun's impeccable flow is on display once again on "Boomerang," and the instrumental provided by V.I.C. suits him perfectly. I don't really have much else to add. This track is just flat-out good.

20. You Came Up
This Rockwilder-laced record was actually the album's third single. Noreaga is here, but if you're a N.O.R.E. fan, don't get too excited; he only does the hook. The production here is solid, and Big Pun tones down his content a bit to suit the laid-back nature of the beat. Decent cut overall.

21. Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)
That brings us to what is easily one of the best songs on Capital Punishment. Big Pun brings Prodigy and Inspectah Deck along for this track, a track that was actually produced by RZA. It doesn't really sound anything like you'd expect a RZA beat to sound like, but who cares? This bangs. It is literally one of the most intimidating records your ears will ever have the pleasure of hearing. The winner of this cut is the guy you'd probably least expect: Prodigy. P rips this to shreds, although both Deck and Pun also do their thing with impunity.

22. Charlie Rock Shout (Skit)
The last skit on the album. Thank the good Lord.

23. Fast Money
While the instrumental by Danny O and EQ is nothing more than pedestrian, but it doesn't matter; Big Pun takes the production and elevates it to another level with a brilliant performance. The trademark of a good rapper is the ability to do your thing without the benefit of a great beat, and Pun is able to do that seamlessly.

24. Parental Discretion
Showbiz is on the beat here, but it isn't one of this better ones. Also, Busta Rhymes' hook sounds incredibly sloppy. Big Pun was good as usual, but this isn't exactly a great way to close out the album.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Some may say that Capital Punishment was the swan song of the golden era. That's not a bad argument, but, in my opinion, the golden era came to a close two years earlier. That's what makes Big Pun's debut album all the more special.

Pun put out Capital Punishment during a time when the genre of hip-hop had come to a standstill. Classics were not being released with regularity anymore. Instead, mediocrity saturated the market, and records like Big Pun's were few and far between.

What makes Capital Punishment so incredible is that, even if it was released during that period from 1992-96 where everything that dropped seemed to be dope, it still would have been one of the best projects of its time. That's how good this LP is.

Big Pun establishes himself as one of the best rappers to ever do it here, and, in my opinion, in terms of pure rapping ability, he is the greatest of all-time, period. No one possesses his impeccable combination of skills, and absolutely no one can even come close to touching his masterful flow.

Pun is one of those artists who doesn't even need a beat to sound good. He can put out an acapella album, and the result would still be enthralling. That is what separates the great rappers from the merely good ones, and that is what separates Big Pun from just about every other hip-hop artist in history.

Capital Punishment is a classic through and through, and if you disagree with that, then I suggest you start listening to a different genre of music, because hip-hop isn't for you.

TOP TRACKS

1. Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)
2. Beware
3. Still Not a Player
4. Glamour Life
5. The Dream Shatterer  

3 comments:

  1. If I were a professional fighter, "Beware" would be my entrance theme. Matter of fact, if I were passing through any significant hallway, "Beware" would be my entrance theme.

    Found this site by looking for info on Trigger tha Gambler's shelved album. Good stuff from what I've seen so far.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's funny, I got here searching for Trigger's album too. Great review, Matt. You're obviously a true fan of the art. Peace.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think you should explore the articles on your website, You should also cover different different categories for articles as you writes awesome. Thanks for sharing this great article with us.
    instrumental hip hop beats

    ReplyDelete