Twenty years ago, hip-hop was in the midst of one of the most historic years the genre would experience. A slew of classic rap albums helped rap fans pick up the pieces from the deaths of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. and move forward by embracing and celebrating the remaining rising stars and major players in the game. When surveying the landscape and the potential kings in waiting, Bronx native and Terror Squad rep Big Pun was as good of a pick to grip the baton and run with it as any of the contenders vying for control of the throne. Discovered by Fat Joe during the mid-90s, Big Pun raised his profile with a string of standout guest appearances, including the 1997 single “Off The Books,” which paired Pun with fellow Latin reps The Beatnuts and had everyone inquiring about the rotund spitter.
Among those intrigued was Loud Records. Pun and Terror Squad signed their record deal in 1997, setting in motion the recording of his debut album, Capital Punishment. Preceded by a pair of hit singles, including the Joe-assisted smash “Still Not A Player,” Capital Punishment was released on April 28, 1998, and confirmed critics and fans’ notions of Pun’s potential. The project ended 1998 as one of rap’s most talked-about albums. Earning Pun a platinum plaque, Capital Punishment made him the first solo Latin rapper in history to achieve that feat, which would help break all barriers for the Latin emcee to set off a cultural revolution of Latin pride within the hip-hop community. Earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album and stepping into the role of rap’s most prominent heavyweight behind the mic, the future appeared bright for Pun heading into the recording of his second album, Yeaah Baby***.
However, his untimely death on February 5, 2000, would cut short his career in what is still considered one of the biggest tragedies in hip-hop history. In spite of only releasing one album during his lifetime, Big Pun is revered as one of the greatest lyricists of all-time, due in large part to the excellence displayed on Capital Punishment, an album filled with riveting rhyme spills and testimonials from the vantage view of the murderous streets of the Bronx.
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, VIBE took on the tough task of breaking its tracklist – pound for pound – and ranked the songs from worst-to-first to determine which track best defines this undisputedly classic and game-changing album.
16. “Fast Money”
Big Pun tries his hand at storytelling on “Fast Money,” a Danny O-produced selection that finds the Bronx bomber in the middle of a high-stakes heist. Going out in a blaze of glory alongside Cuban Linx, Big Pun and his partner in crime shoot it out with the cops before being rescued by Fat Joe and the rest of the Terror Squad on what makes for one of Capital Punishment‘s most visceral songs.
15. “Punish Me”
Capital Punishment makes few concessions in terms of subject matter, but Big Pun provides a change of pace as he caters to the ladies on the Miss Jones-assisted number “Punish Me,” laying down game over production courtesy of Frank Nitty. Equally adept at wooing the fairer sex as he is packing a mac in the back, Big Pun delivers a plush duet with “Punish Me,” a track that shows the Punisher’s more tender side
14. “Parental Discretion”
The album’s closer ends with a percussion-heavy number that includes a guest spot from Busta Rhymes, who lends his rambunctious vocals to the song’s hook while Big Pun pummels the track to bits. “New York ni**as is trigger happy, got Pataki scared/This town ain’t big enough for both of us and I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” Big Pun vows on the opening verse before running roughshod over the remainder of the hard-boiled backdrop. He racked up yet another highlight-reel performance in the process.
13. “Super Lyrical”
Black Thought may be revered as one of the top lyricists in rap history in 2018, but 20 years ago, the Philly-bred rhyme animal was still one of the underground’s best-kept secrets due to a lack of widespread commercial success. However, The Roots’ frontman would get an opportunity to flex his skills for the greater rap audience on “Super Lyrical,” going toe-for-toe with Pun and putting the world on notice that he could hang with the best of them.
After a short intro, Big Pun sets off his debut with “Beware,” a menacing selection on which the Bronx native eviscerates the competition with a flurry of bruising couplets. From promising a “flawless victory” to offering to “go blow for blow like Evander and Bowe,” Terror Squad’s top gun leaves no prisoners on this JuJu-produced heat-rock, leaving listeners on the edge of their seats and setting the tone off the rip.
11. “Capital Punishment”
Family ties get exposed on Capital Punishment‘s title-track, which includes nods to Big Pun’s wife, kids, siblings and cousins over production by Mike “Trauma” D & Jugrnaut. Anchored by a guest spot from Prospect, “Capital Punishment” takes aim at the government and local politicians alike and includes some of Pun’s most clever bars on the album.
10. “Carribean Connection”
“Wanna rumble with Pun, huh,” Big Pun asks on “Caribbean Connection,” which pairs him with Wyclef Jean and Canibus, one of the most formidable rhyme animals of his era. Doing the bidding over an island-tinged backdrop provided by Wyclef, the two East Coast luminaries deliver a verse apiece, with Canibus taking home the bragging rights on this particular outing. “Caribbean Connection” served as one of the multiple instances in which the two appeared together on wax.
“Now should I slit my wrists, go for it all or call it quits/Picture me taking my life, leaving my wife and my daughter s**t,” Big Pun ponders on “Boomerang,” which ranks among the more intense inclusions on the Capital Punishment tracklist. Producer V.I.C. hooks up a backdrop that brings to mind a New York night with this sinister composition that finds Big Pun in the zone, leaving minds riddled with his train-of-consciousness over the course of two vivid verses.
8. “Still Not A Player”
Capital Punishment may be one of the hardest rap albums of all-time from top to bottom, but the album wouldn’t have reached the amount of success it did without the inclusion of “Still Not A Player,” a song that served as a statement not only for Big Pun but Latinos in hip-hop. Produced by Knobody and featuring R&B singer Joe, “Still Not A Player” became a runaway hit, peaking at No. 6 on Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It remains Big Pun’s most successful single to date.
7. “The Dream Shatterer”
Announcing himself as “the first Latin rapper to baffle your skull,” Big Pun puts on an emceeing master class on “The Dream Shatterer,” one of the most explosive offerings on the heavyweight’s ’98 debut. Produced by Domingo, “The Dream Shatterer” contains the type of rhyme spills that put fear in the heart of friends and foes alike and is a testament to Pun’s dominance in his prime.
6. “Glamour Life”
Few rap albums can be called a classic without including a posse-cut in its mix and Capital Punishment‘s comes in the form of “Glamour Life,” which finds Big Pun playing the back-burner and giving his Terror Squad cohorts air-time to shine. The opportunity proved to be far from a squandered one. Produced by L.E.S. and powered by a sample of “For the Love of Money” by The O’Jays, “Glamour Life” proved that although Pun may have been the straw that stirred the drink, the rest of the Terror Squad members were just as capable of adding to the formula in their own right with one of the album’s most potent tracks.
5. “I’m Not A Player”
After first turning heads with guest appearances alongside the likes of Fat Joe, Flesh-N-Bone, and The Beatnuts, Big Pun broke out on his own accord with this 1997 debut single, which doubled as the lead-single from Capital Punishment. Produced by Minnesota, “I’m Not A Player” peaked at No. 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, and showcased Big Pun’s more suave style. The melody earned him comparisons to The Notorious B.I.G. and remains one of his most beloved songs (and music videos) to date.
4. “Tres Leches”
Three of New York’s most ballyhooed spitters lock horns on “Tres Leches,” which pits Big Pun against Mobb Deep member Prodigy and Wu-Tang clansmen Inspectah Deck. The battle royal for the ages influenced the three emcees to shoot to kill in their respective verses. Big Pun defends his homecourt advantage with a stanza so electric that it’s unfair.
3. “You Came Up”
One of rap’s most charismatic tandems hook-up on Capital Punishment when Big Pun calls in Queens connect Noreaga to contribute the hook for “You Came Up,” the third single released from his platinum-selling introduction. Reminiscing on his humble beginnings in the Bronx, Big Pun spins a rags-to-riches tale over production by Rockwilder, which peaked at No. 49 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart and remains one of the more indelible moments in his short, albeit legendary career.
2. “Twinz (Deep Cover)”
Remakes of classic rap songs are largely hit or miss, but one of the more epic instances of a rap track getting the remix treatment and being given a run for its money is when Big Pun and Fat Joe linked up for “Twinz (Deep Cover).” The pair put their own twist on Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s 1992 banger, and while Pun’s “Dead in the middle of Little Italy” rhyme scheme alone makes this song a timeless moment in hip-hop, when matched with Fat Joe’s own dexterous couplets and additional highlights from Pun, it puts “Twinz (Deep Cover)” in rare air as one of the greatest retreads of all-time.
1. “You Ain’t A Killer”
Being an album that is nearly flawless from beginning to end, singling out one track that encapsulates the greatness of the soundscape is a task not for the faint of heart. But when all is considered, it’s hard to make a case against “You Ain’t A Killer” from receiving that honor. From the moment the Younglord-produced track bleeds out of your speakers or into your headphones, it’s clear that what’s about to go down is far from the ordinary. Big Pun lives up to that expectation, wasting nary a bar and turning in a superb lyrical performance that simply leaves you in awe at his precision as a craftsman.