By David Browne
April 07, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Night and the City

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As it became clear in the days following his untimely fatal heart attack in February, 400-pound rapper Christopher Rios — a.k.a. Big Punisher — was a hero in New York City’s Hispanic community, a Latino family man who also found success in the hip-hop world. It’s easy to admire Big Pun in both regards, but as his posthumous album Yeeeah Baby shows, his artistic output was, unfortunately, problematic. Although he displayed a distinctive rhyming style — a thick, tongue-rolling barrage of phrasing akin to an overconfident bull in a china shop — Big Pun, like such vocally charismatic rappers as Snoop Dogg and DMX, had little to say with it.

Yeeeah Baby, which was close to complete before Big Pun’s death, benefits from an eclectic musical tapestry. Its sundry producers swathe Pun in salsa-fied hip-hop (”100%”), playful R&B (”It’s So Hard”), and gothic gospel (”Off Wit His Head”) — even elegant strings and piano (”My Turn”) and a sample from the Starsky & Hutch theme (”Watch Those”). But Pun’s raps — and those of his numerous guest posse mates — don’t venture much beyond the usual thug-life boasts, sexual braggadocio, revenge fantasies (”Leather Face,” complete with chainsaw solos), and now-chilling death stare-downs (”When the time is right, me and the devil gonna dance!”). Under the circumstances, Yeeeah Baby is an inherently sad album, but it’s an equally tragic commentary on the tedious state of hardcore hip-hop. C

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