Christopher Rios … The Big Punisher
This morning I woke to #RIPBIGPUN as a trending topic on twitter and was conflicted about bigging up Pun. Pun was a lyrical mastermind, a Boricua emcee who indelibly marked the game, and a domestic abuser. Now it may seem strange for me to highlight the last portion, given Hip-Hop is known to many as a space of misogyny and violence, but to me that’s never what defined hip-hop.* The reality is that Big Pun may too powerful of example of Hip-Hop for me or us to face all he brought. Over the past few years getting a chance to meet and work with Hip-Hop legends, I’m reminded of the adage “never meet your heroes.” While there is a natural distortion upon meeting ones favorite celebrities, Hip-Hop’s unmasking has a particular timber. In Hip-Hop we depend so heavily on rappers presenting themselves with a certain mask. The mask that rappers, and we all wear, provides protection as well as blind spots. The reality is that we are all imperfect, but we as consumers highlight what we like and ignore what we don’t. In a twisted way the question becomes, “What violence is acceptable and what violence do we not accept?” Sadly the answer tends to be that within Hip-Hop domestic violence is one of the lowest priority violences.
I remember the first time I saw that clip I was stopped in my tracks. I didn’t know what to say. Of course the scholar in me says, if you like violence in one context, why not expect it in another one? I was hurt as I watched Pun pistol whip Liza Rios and then fail to make it up the stairs to continue his onslaught. In sick irony, in the most classical sense, Liza’s life was saved by Pun’s own nemesis of poor health, which would eventually take his life. When I hear folks say, “Hip-Hop is entertainment. Movies are violent, but you don’t see anyone coming down on them.” I’m reminded of the words of Liza Rios who talked about the evolution of her husband, “I knew him as Chris. And as he became Pun, he actually became Punisher. That wasn’t just a stage name, that was his way of being.” Cinematic violence, whether on screen or in our headphones, often requires us to suspend reality but with the visual evidence of Pun’s violence, my suspension of reality shattered.
I must be honest with myself and recognize that many of my rap idols like Biggie were domestic abusers, they just never had the camera rolling. To many, domestic violence is unconsciousable. But as a man, I have to grapple with the fact that we, Black, Brown, White, Asian men are the purveyors of the violence and must develop the tools to stop it. I’ve been in a number of conversations with sisters who do sexual abuse work over the years and when I ask them earnestly, “What should be done with brothers that abuse, rape or enact violence on women?” Sadly a number have responded, “jail”, “death penalty”, “let the community have their way with him.” From some of the most progressive sisters I know, this hurt me too. What is the cost of not acknowledging domestic violence? What is the cost of not making space for healing for the abused and abuser? This is complicated work, but the work that a community must do if it wants to be sustained. The reality is that violence remains a serious issue in our community and we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to punishment or healing.
*Part of my denial of violence as central to my definition of Hip-Hop is rooted in my understanding that many rappers are spewing perverse fantasy, and my black male privilege which puts me in precarious location of the potential purveyor and victim of violence. This would take a whole book to really go into, but had to offer that caveat.