It’s So Hard: Big Pun’s Widow Liza Rios Speaks on His Life, Death, and Legacy
When Big Pun passed, hip hop lost a great artist. Liza Rios lost a husband, a provider, and the father of her children.
April 4, 2015 marks 15 years since the release of Big Pun’s sophomore album, Yeeeah Baby! The legendary emcee born Christopher Lee Rios did not live to see that release because he died of a heart attack on February 7, 2000. Pun’s lyrical sparring partner Cuban Link was called in to put the finishing touches on the album. Although the album was certified gold, Pun’s morbid obesity (he weighed 698 at the time of his death) clearly took a toll on the recording process. On certain tracks, you can almost hear him struggling for breath. Nevertheless, Pun’s name has gone down in music history as one of the greatest emcees ever to touch a microphone. When he passed away at the age of 28, hip hop lost a great artist.
But Liza Rios lost much more than that—she lost a husband, a provider, and the father of her children. In the 15 years since, she and her family have had to fight for their fair share of the profits from Pun’s music. At one point, they even lost their home and had to live on public assistance. Mass Appeal spoke with Liza Rios about how she met Pun back when he was a slim dude who loved R&B and basketball, how he decided to start rapping, how she stood by his side despite enduring physical and emotional abuse, and why she believes that Pun might still be alive today if the people he trusted in the music business had been more concerned about his health and well-being than with pushing him to finish his album.
Mass Appeal: Tomorrow is the anniversary of his second album, Yeeeah Baby. What sorts of feelings does this moment bring up?
Liza Rios: I’m just happy to see that after 15 years Pun is timeless. Just to see that he’s still relevant to this day. There’s a lot of—there’s that video where he does “The Dream Shatterer” in a cypher with DMX, Mos Def, and Canibus. That is considered something new and it was done like 20 years ago. But the new generation is still up on it. It feels good that Pun’s music is still living and it’s timeless. That’s something that I know personally—he definitely wanted to leave that mark in history, and 15 years later he definitely accomplished it.
Hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Pun’s passing.
I know. When you’re going through it you don’t really think about it but when you look back, it’s like “Damn—15 years already.” It is a little shocking. When you’re actually going through the emotion of living the 15 years you don’t really think about it too much as the years go by when you’re in it. But when you sit back at moments like this, on the anniversary, and think about it, it’s like, “Wow already 15 years.” I remember when it was 2 years and 3 years. It definitely is a little hard to talk about it.
I used to work in the same building where Loud Records was, and we would always see Pun going to meetings and big him up. Very few people can do what he did on the mic.
I totally agree. The only person that I’ve seen who comes close is his only son, Chris Rivers. Sometimes it’s not common for a legend’s child to be just as good or to be as successful or great as the parent. But Chris Rivers—that’s as close as I’ve seen to anyone getting to Pun’s level. He’s grinding a lot, doing a lot of shows, videos, and he’s getting a lot of love and great response from the industry and the fans. People are loving him. He’s definitely been strongly embraced by the boricuas, the Puerto Ricans. They feel like he’s carrying Pun’s torch. I’m proud of him.
It’s tough to walk in the footsteps of a legend.
He’s a real special kid but real humble.
One thing Cuban Link told me which surprised me was that Pun was more of an R&B guy before he started rapping.
He really loved the Bee Gees and soul music. Did he actually used to sing, or did he just like to listen?
Nah he used to sing, like, he used to shower me with songs… We was young—14, 15, 16 years old. We used to go out in the middle of the street and I’d feel like I was at a concert. I was surprised that he became a rapper. I woulda thought that he woulda been a singer. He sounded really good and he had all the moves and everything. A lot of people think that because he was a rapper that he would listen to a lot of rap music. But he listened to all types of music, and especially the oldies. Phil Collins was like one of his favorites.
So he would sing for you in the house or where?
[Laughs] It could be anywhere. I remember I even took pictures. There’s one or two pictures I took of him while we were dating. It was in the middle of the street right on Bronx River Avenue, right across from my mother’s house on the corner of Bronx River and Colgate. He just dropped right there and started singing. He sang all the time, anywhere. When we was young we didn’t spend a lot of time in the house. That was mainly because my parents didn’t want me to be with him and he didn’t have a house to go to. We spent a lot of our time hanging out, walking around in the park—you know, that young love shit.
Why didn’t your parents want you to be with him?
Well, ’cause I was young. I was 14. And they were concerned with him. My mom didn’t want any unplanned pregnancies. At the time she was very heavily religious, and into the Pentecostal religion. So they were concerned about me having premarital sex and everything as far as having control—you know, that type of stuff. So they didn’t want me with him. When we first started dating, I tried to have sex with him on his birthday. And my mom found out, so I was sent away for a year and a half, for lying.
When I got back, my mom kinda kept in touch with his mother. They had built a relationship throughout the time. I didn’t want to cause no friction or problems—I didn’t want to get sent away. But when I called him, we talked for hours on the payphone. We didn’t have no cellphones, we used a payphone back then. We talked for hours. The day we knew we’d be together forever was then.
After that my mom started giving me a hard time. Giving me a curfew. Telling me I either had to leave him or marry him. My father wasn’t happy about him. They felt that I was gonna have a hard life with him. So it would cause a lot of friction, and caused my father not to talk to me for 10 years. It was a whole mess. I’m actually writing a book.
I’m sure lots of people want to read that story. How much older than you was he?
He’s only like a year and a half. I’m born in February 1973, and he was born November 3, 1971. Right now I’ll be 42 and at the end of the year he’d be 43.
I understand that when you first met him he was actually a very slim, fit guy.
Yeah, he was about 5’11” possibly like maybe 215–220. You know, he fluctuated to 230, but he was athletic. He was all solid. He knew how to ball. I got pictures actually of him dunking. He was a baller. He’s stay at the basketball courts for hours, the ones we have over here. I got pictures of him clean off the ground. Dudes would be shocked.
Especially in the Bronx, usually basketball would be dominated by a lot of black guys and you see a Puerto Rican cat coming onto center court with a face like “Yeah? What you gonna do? We ain’t scared of you!” And he had his little girlfriend besides. I already knew what to expect. He had me handling the ball, you know, the little chick. He had the power. And that jump he had… People were shocked.
And he did boxing for a little bit too. Somebody wanted to work with him, but that’s the time when I came back from Long Island. And his grandmother was leaving to Florida, trying to take him and he didn’t wanna go. Cause he wanted to stay here with me. After a while he ran back into the boxing a little bit. But he was already heavier—you know, a couple of hundred pounds. And when he was trying to lose the weight and get back into boxing he was 24, 25 years old. And he was dealing with the music. It was just a choice of whether to get serious with this music or the boxing, and he chose the music.
Do you remember the first time you ever heard him rap?
Yeah. I can’t remember the first rhyme, and that’s crazy. I can’t even remember what it was. But it was like 1991 cause my daughter was almost one. Yeah, she was born 1990, so it was like in the middle of ’91.
He just came home one day, and he was like “Yeah, Ma. I’ma do a rap group.” And it was like, OK. At the time I didn’t know about hip hop or rap. Most of my life I was brought up in the Pentecostal church, so a lot of my years was cut off from the world as far as music and movies and all that type of shit. So I was like “All right.”
And then one day he comes home with Triple Seis and Cuban. Cuban Links was like 16.… I was like 18 years old. Pun was like 19. They would come to the house and write. He said he could be a rapper and I supported him. I had no idea exactly what that entailed. There were some doubts and some concerns I had but at the end of the day that was his dream and I was very supportive regardless, at all costs.
What were your concerns about the rap game?
The only real concern for me was with the whole female aspect—especially after I knew what was going on with these shows and females. Like, you’re gonna be out and at the video shoot or whatever. Would we have infidelity? That type of thing. As any other woman would. But I didn’t let my fear interfere with him. I loved Pun for who he was, and that’s what I think he loved the most. I never once tried to change him. As ugly as he could be, or as funny or beautiful as he could be, I accepted him for who he was. At the end of the day, whatever came along the line we’d deal with it. I wasn’t gonna have my personal feelings or insecurities get in the way of him accomplishing his dream. Music was his first passion. He wanted to leave a mark on this earth. It’s his right so I supported it.
When did he realize that he had made it as a rapper?
I think once Capital Punishment went double platinum his confidence definitely shot up. He was like, “Yeah, I can do this.” And he definitely had dreams of going forward. He wanted to get into many things, he wanted to get into movies, he wanted to get into whatever—you know, do a lot of other things. But that weight, man, was a motherfucker. That just beat him to it.
How did Pun’s weight impact his day-to-day life?
His body weight stopped him from living and doing what he had to do. He was so limited with the weight. He could have done so much more if he would have been at a normal weight, and he was a little bit more healthy, he would have done so much more in that same amount of time. But the weight really hindered him in a lot of different ways. I’m like 50 pounds more than what I should be, and it’s a battle. So I can imagine being 600 pounds. That’s just a lot of weight, you know what I’m saying? And that can fuck with you. So that’s definitely hard. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to control his psychological situation.
So you feel like his weight was more than a physical problem?
I mean of course the weight situations wasn’t just phystical… It’s very psychological when you look at it. Everybody does something for a reason. When you look at the most traumatic experiences in our childhood, what happens in childhood is how we play out through adulthood. For him he had a very hard upbringing. He was a kid that was abused. He didn’t have the mother to look after him. And the fact that he didn’t have a father, or his father wasn’t around. So the streets really raised him. And he had a lot of anger and hate—his personal demons. It was something that he wasn’t able to beat.
Some people have the option to recognize and deal with it and become a better person, or else you become that person that you hate, become that person who hurt you all your life. So he went that route. He had a lot of anger issues and he became that person where he hurt himself and he was abusive. We had an abusive marriage and he didn’t do too well with the kids sometimes. And that hidden anger with his mom… He wouldn’t talk to his mom to express the fact that she’d abused him. It’s hard as a parent to raise… It’s hard just to get through life and survive and deal with the emotional issues—especially when you’re a young parent. It’s not easy. As a parent it’s not easy to own up to fuck-ups. She never owned up to it. She would turn it onto him and make it look like he was the nut, and that would infuriate him more. So he really died with a broken heart. He wanted his mom’s love. He wanted his mom’s accountability, which he never got before he passed.
So that psychological torment, it’s a cycle. He gets upset, he’s angry, he abuses, he abuses himself, and he eats. He’s an emotional eater. If he gets angry or he’s happy—everything is connected with food. It’s like the drug of choice. Like you know how people go through survival experiences with crack cocaine, or crystal meth or hardcore drugs, alcoholics? And when you dig into their life and it’s because something happened when they were a child. Either they’ve got mommy issues or daddy issues—something. So his drug of choice was food. It was literally like a drug, like he was a drug addict.
Cuban Link told us he went to a fat camp and he actually lost some weight there.
Yeah, but for me it was a half-ass attempt. The people who were trying to help him, it was a half-ass attempt. At that time, I was so tired of the abuse that I left. And when I left he stopped production. He stopped everything. He had to search for me. He didn’t want to do nothing. So I had the label calling me. I had his management calling me, telling me to please come back, blah blah blah blah. They were gonna put him in the hospital where he would be monitored and they were gonna put me up in a hotel. So I’m like, OK… All this shit had taken a toll, where there was like no return. But at the end of the day it was like, I loved him dearly, I loved him unconditionally. And if there was any way I could help him… He’s the father of my kids. I risked my life by coming back, basically. Cause if you know, with an abuser, when you’re coming back… there’s a chance that I coulda lost my life. But I came back to try to help him.
And what happened was they took us to North Carolina, Durham, and they put us in a hotel, both of us. He wasn’t in a hospital like they said he was. He was supposed to go to this fat farm center, which is a facility where a whole bunch of people—older people, white people—would sit there in a crowd and talk about his feelings. And there was this horrible-tasting food, like little cups of shit that don’t taste like anything.
Even I got on a diet. I said, “I’m gonna support you, I’ma eat what you eat.” And everybody else was trying to do it for a little bit… but then everybody else stopped. Eventually, to make a long story short, he was able to manipulate that whole situation. And he was able to tell them “I’m not gonna come in every day and weigh myself in… I’m gonna come in once a week.” And he’s not going to sit in no therapy sessions with lots of people talking about his feelings. He was not gonna be doing that. He said, “This is how it’s going to be,” and that’s how it was done. Nobody over there is gonna tell him “Oh no, you can’t do this” or “You’ve got to do it like that.” They accepted whatever he was going to give them. So that’s exactly what he did.
Was he getting any exercise?
You know, the little walk from the bedroom to the elevator and back down—and we had him in the pool a lot. Eventually he lost 100 pounds. Now you look at it, he was 600 pounds when he went in. At that time you lose water weight. That hundred pounds was just water weight. That’s not really your weight. Anybody that loses weight, you lose your first 10-50 pounds—according to how much you weigh, you lose that much just in water weight. And then after a while it goes on to real weight.
And when he lost the weight, Fat Joe gave him the high five, like “Yeah you did good.” And that’s because now he was definitely going home to finish recording. Cause he was recording in North Carolina. And he was scheduled to do that Felix Trinidad x Oscar DeLaHoya fight. Back then when they fought, Pun performed inside the ring. And Pun was, like, a little stressed because he didn’t know if he could walk. He was just stressed because of the weight situation.
For me that was a half-ass attempt because shortly after he left—within two, three, four months—he shot back up to 700 pounds, his body started shutting down, and he died. If these people wanted to really help him, why didn’t they get real resources? Why didn’t they contact his old trainer Mitch, the only guy he really respected? They coulda called him, paid him whatever. He could really train him for a few months. Getting him up early every day and walking and exercising in the pool and teaching him and teaching me how to cook. To really take care of his health and your longevity. Not some little band-aid. Let’s just put the band-aid on and get his wife back, put the little band-aid and see if we can get him to record. That’s exactly what happened. The fat farm didn’t do any justice. It didn’t really do anything.
When you say “These People” are you talking about people at the record label?
The record label, yeah. The people who personally called me to come back and deal with the situation were Fat Joe and Steve Rifkind. They were the two people that called me when I had disappeared, when I had left for those two weeks. And I came and they told me that it was going to be this situation, and when I agreed to come back it was a totally different situation.
And it was supposed to be a situation where Pun couldn’t even manipulate, which he did. And it was something where he was left too short of a time. He shoulda not left when he was 500 pounds. He should have left when he was like 300 pounds, at least 400 pounds. And still keep his trainer after that.
If you’re gonna go to a fat farm, at least leave at 400 pounds. And at least give him a guy in the program so you could work out and keep dropping another 200 pounds. There’s no way he shouldn’t have been no heavier than no 300 pounds. Cause he was a big dude, and he could hold the weight pretty good. At 300 pounds he was still mobile, he could do for himself, he could do whatever. But at his weight he couldn’t really do anything. I had to take care of him like he was a two-month-old baby.
If they really cared or they really gave a fuck about him, they would’ve put him in a program where he was gonna be successful, and not something like that. A hundred pounds is not really enough. He went in at 6 and came out at 5. That’s still obese. You can’t do nothing. You’re still one cheeseburger away from a heart attack. So it was not really a good effort.
They got what they wanted—got him to finish recording the album. He really didn’t even finish recording the album because he died before he was able to put it out. It was a few tracks he had to do, and I remember at the time we were in the studio, he would be in there recording for like a week straight. We had the whole downstairs blocked out. We had a bed in the back for the kids. And I was living in the studio.
Even though he was obese It wasn’t like he was eating seven loaves and 20 dozens of eggs and a pound of bacon at one serving. He wasn’t that type of person to eat that much. He was eating even less. When it was time to eat his food he was constantly throwing up and his skin wasn’t looking too good. I knew his body was shutting down and sure enough after two weeks he passed away. And they had to put out the album without him. He didn’t get to finish the album, the few songs he had left, and put his mark on it.
I remember the weekend before he passed away I said to him, “Something gotta give. You’re gonna die. I don’t know what I gotta do if I gotta put a gun to your head and drag you somewhere, but something’s gotta give.”
And I remember that weekend before he passed, he had his sister Penelope come down to visit. It was so odd, he was reaching out to everybody. He was very emotional, ike he knew that he was gonna die that weekend. And he was reaching out to people that he hadn’t talked to in a long time. He wanted everybody to come—“Have my mother come down, have my brother come down for the weekend.” He wanted everybody to stay over, but unfortunately not everybody could stay over cause they had to work.
I found out after he passed away that he told his sister he wanted to have some kind of surgery. And he wanted to see if she would help support him, and if she was available. She said, yeah definitely and we’ll go to Florida and that me and her would take care of him. And then she went to Florida and started researching where he could go and what kind of procedures he could take.
At the same time that weekend I was like “This is it, something’s gotta happen.” I was on the phone that morning with my doctor, like, “My husband is this much weight, how can I help him?” They offered no help, and I kept researching and it was that morning when I was researching that he passed away on me in the hotel. It was definitely surreal.
Without getting too personal, were you with him when he died?
Yeah, I was with him. We were at the hotel. I felt bad afterwards ’cause I was kinda running late and I sent the kids off to school really quick, and I didn’t give them a chance to say goodbye to their dad. I was like, “Hurry up, you’re late, you’re late.” And when he woke up he was overly thirsty. He kept asking for water, water. I brought him two glasses of water and he was drinking and I got him some food that morning but he didn’t really eat it. He didn’t seem well. I was doing research and writing checks out to bills and at one point he called me over and he looked at my face and he was really peaceful and he looked into my eyes and he asked me, “Do you have my back?” And I said, “What? What do you think?” And he said, “Do you have my back? Do you have my back?” I said, “Of course. I’ve always got your back.”
And in my mind I was thinking, “Why is he asking me this?” And I’m looking at him sitting there with no shirt on. And I could see his whole chest was moving, and I’m like, “Oh my God!” So I knew something was going to happen. And right there at that moment he had a seizure. He started shaking and having a heart attack. And so I came and I grabbed his arm, both his arms, and he was just shaking. Like, he was shaking, I was shaking. I swear I saw his life flash before my eyes. And then after that I grabbed the phone and I called downstairs and I said, “My husband’s having a heart attack. You gotta call the ambulance.” Then after that I called Joe and said, “You gotta come down now, he’s having a heart attack.” And then I called the assistant who was across the hall from me.
And then as I was holding him, a dude knocked on the door and I had to let go of him and run over to open the door. By the time I let him go, and I came back to him, his eyes were already rolling to the back. His tongue was already like sticking out of his mouth, and he was sliding off the bed and laying on the floor. So I remember I actually lifted him up and I sat him between my legs and I just waited. I had my hand by his pulse and the ambulance came. They were working on him. I gave space for them to come in, ’cause he’s a big dude, and they’re all on top of him, trying to do their thing. But I knew he died in the room.
I went to the bathroom and I was just screaming and screaming and screaming. The first person I called was my mother, and I was just screaming hysterical. And then after that I went back to the bed where he was at. And I knew at one point he was gone. I just felt it.
And then after a while we had to transport him and they had that breathing thing—you know that little bubble they squeeze? And he was butt-naked at the time so I’m grabbing stuff to cover him up. I’m grabbing sheets from the bed. And I’m ripping sheets cause now we have to tie his arms and his legs together cause he’s really wide. And then we had to get a dolly to put him on. Then we had to put sheets under him so all the guys could come and lift him and put him on the dolly while I’m carrying his head.
And then after that we went to the back, ran him through the back of the hotel. Then when we met the ambulance they had to take out some of the equipment so they could put up the dolly cause he wouldn’t fit in there on the regular bed. And I knew already he was gone. But I was still praying and I was just so hopeful and I prayed so much in that ride to the hospital. I kept on asking God, pleeeeeeease.
Once we got to the hospital, Cuban and Joe got there real quick. And they were getting phone calls. News travels so fast. That was the first time I realized how fast news travels. By the time we got to the emergency room, Cuban and Joe were getting calls, like, “Did Pun get a heart attack?” People from the hotel, and they were already calling us.
And that was the worst feeling, the doctors called me into her office. I knew once they called me into the office it was gonna be a different ball game. And once they said, “I’m sorry to tell you,” I just broke down. I told her a whole bunch of shit in one breath. And then they took me to the back and it was just laying there. It was just…laying there. And he was still warm, and he had a lot of liquid coming out of his nose.
And I was hysterical, but outside I was still holding it together. But inside I was just like buggin’ the fuck out. Back of my mind I’m like, “I gotta tell my kids.” There’s so much that was going through my head. I came out to the waiting area and told everybody that he passed away and everybody was upset and crying. And then I had to go back in there with Cuban and his wife. And that was really hard.
My mother was the first person I called and the second person I called was Pena, which was his closest sister. That was really hard telling her. I could hear her scream on the line. And the hardest thing for her to hear was for me to tell her, “Now you gotta tell his mother.” ‘Cause there was no way I was going to talk to his mom and tell her that her son died. I don’t know how you tell a mother that her kid died. I already had enough on my plate to deal with my family and my own kids—to tell them that their dad died. I can’t do that. So I left that with Pun’s sister. And I could really hear her banging her head on the wall over and over again. It was fucking crazy.
And then telling the kids, I remember driving…I had the two trucks—I had the Expedition and then I had my husband’s Benz at the hotel. I jumped in the Expedition, and I was on the Bronx River Parkway. Now, if you know the Bronx River Parkway, it has a lot of curves. It takes a minute to drive that. And I was literally going like 100 miles an hour down that parkway with no cares, just like zoned out. Now, I’m an amazing driver cause my husband told me how to stick behind the wheel. I put fear in most men. [Laughs] I teach niggas how to drive.
Yeah, I got home and I told the kids, and they were all sitting there, and they looked at me like, “Where the hell is dad?” ‘Cause me and him was like, we was attached at the hip. So they were like, “Where the hell is dad?”
Normally, what happens after school, they get picked up by the assistant and go back to the hotel. But that day when I felt something was going on, I called the assistant, literally an hour before it happened, and said, “Please don’t bring my kids here. Bring them to my mother’s house.” ‘Cause I just knew something was going to happen. “Don’t bring the kids here.” So they were at my mother’s house.
He passed on and I think the hardest thing for my family was that I had to tell my brother. And that was hard for him because my brother was like Pun’s little brother. And I had to tell him not only that he had passed away, but I had to tell him to act like nothing happened because I wanted to tell my kids. So he had to act like nothing happened and he had to keep my kids away from any TV or radio. ‘Cause when I was in the hospital, Steve Rifkind called me to ask if he could announce that Pun had passed on to Angie Martinez. So I said, “You gotta keep ’em away from the media, from all TV, from everything. And you’ve gotta act like nothing happened until I got there.” I got there in no time. And they saw me and they were like, “Uh, where’s dad?”
And I told ’em. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. You’ve just got to say it. So I looked at them I said “I’ve got some bad news for you. Your father died today.”
And they looked at me and they started laughing. They literally started laughing. ‘Cause they were like, “Aw, that’s just Dad doing one of his little prank jokes. He’s always a prankster.”
They couldn’t believe it. And for a while, and then one of them started tearing. And the other one, my son, he wasn’t sure until he saw the body. He thought we were joking around. He thought his father was playing some long-ass fucking joke. He thought he was gonna pop up somewhere. And finally when they actually saw the body it was like another thing. It was like, “Yo, this thing is fuckin’ real!”
What do you remember about the funeral?
The funeral was public. It was like a spectacle—people driving in from all over the place. People calling me from L.A. It was a 3-day funeral with crowds of people trying to get in. A lot of artists came through to support. But his fans went in. I remember one day coming outside just to get some air. And there was this little kid, he cut school, and it was already dark outside. And he was still outside and it was cold. And I was like, “Oh my God, what are you doing?” And I was telling the security, “Yo, please let this kid in. Let this kid in so he can go home. ‘Cause his mom is somewhere terrified wondering where the hell her son at. And he’s out here at a funeral.
You’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in the years since. What was the hardest thing you’ve had to face since he passed?
The hardest thing to face was the financial situation. The situation as far as dealing with him not getting any money, and me trying to prove it, and going through all of that. It was really hard, me getting blacklisted in the industry. The money that I’m supposed to get has been intercepted now. So over time it was hard—me dealing with lawyers that were not really loyal or really working for my best interest. Losing a lot of money.
And the hardest thing was not being able to provide for my kids. Not being able to tell em “No.” Pun never told them no. Pun didn’t use the language “No” around the kids. They got everything and anything that they wanted. And at some point, I finally had to do what I’ve always known. But there was a time when I lost everything and I became homeless and I had to go into the shelters. So it was hard having to feel like a failure. At the end of the day, I was focusing so much on trying to prove whatever my husband’s situation was I didn’t put enough focus on what I could have been doing on my own. You know, other things. I was just so consumed about trying to defend his right to get what he’s supposed to get and what the kids are supposed to get.
You would think there was a lot of money there, considering how many records have been sold and how much love he still gets.
There has been a lot of money, but it just hasn’t been handed down the way it was supposed to be handed down to me. Or I didn’t get it, whatever the situation may be. And the way I have spoken out over the years the industry has come for me. You can see the media where I’ve spoken about the situation and being abused. And Joe has made his responses on that. And I’ve reached out and I’ve never gotten any answers or any, like, “Hey, you know: this is what it is.” The typical thing. All I’m asking is what’s in and out, what’s owed, what’s not owed. All I want is an accounting. What’s going on? I know I’m supposed to be getting stuff. Where is it? No one has no answers. No one can point me in no direction.
And I know Pun is selling. Right now I get ASCAP checks and I get the digital royalty checks. And they come pretty good. So Pun is selling. He’s making money. Where is the other money that I’m supposed to be getting? Where’s that going? That’s always been my question.
But yeah, it’s been a difficult time, taking accountability. Being like, “Damn, I fucked up with these kids.” That was really hard for me to get out of that and just really find myself. Pun was my first boyfriend I’ve ever had. I didn’t have too much experience about life, about anything. And being in an abusive surrounding is not easy.
When he passed away I just didn’t know who the hell I was. All I knew was the music and stuff I did for him. It took many years for me to dig out of that hole. To not listen to the negative voices and the put-downs and everything that goes with the verbal and emotional abuse. To get out of that and to know who I am and to love myself and to know that I can do.
I’m 43 years old and I just got tot he point where I get it. And I’m happy as shit. It’s really true you find the happiness within yourself. There’s not too much that’s changed on the outside, but just making that choice and day by day the universe starts shifting and you start vibrating that positive energy. I’m just happy. I’m a happy fuckin’ camper. Things are good. My kids are healthy. I’ve got a beautiful grandson. I’m happy for the good and bad times that I’ve experienced with Pun. I’m happy to be alive, but it wasn’t easy getting there.
How were you able to bounce back from being homeless?
At the time I had a house. Pun had bought a house but he didn’t buy it outright. There was still $160,000 on the mortgage on the house. It was going into foreclosure and I didn’t have no money to pay it. And I didn’t know much about real estate or foreclosures. So I’m like…I gotta get out of this and get what I can get and just go somewhere else. So I ended up selling the house and I ended up moving to Yonkers, into a more expensive rental. Which was my fuck-up. Me as a parent always wanting to give the best to my kids and not knowing how to say no. I really shoulda probably got a two-bedroom apartment and had people shack up in bedrooms. But in trying to please them, I sometimes made the wrong financial choices. So it wasn’t the smartest thing for me to go to Yonkers. At the time, I had a T-shirt licensing deal where I was making money, but after a while no money was coming in at all, and there’s money going out paying bills and taking care of three kids and stuff like that.
So eventually I got evicted and I left on Pun’s birthday, it was November 10 of 2007, which was ironic because it was Pun’s birthday. So I was like, “I’m a fucking trooper. You either got two options: either lay down and die or keep it’ moving.” So I was like, “We’re gonna keep it fuckin’ moving.” So we kept it moving. We were all scattered. My son was at my cousin’s house, the one who manages him now. And my oldest daughter was at my brother-in-law’s house. And then my youngest was with me at my mom’s house. And then eventually my oldest daughter couldn’t stay with my brother-in-law’s ’cause she was with her boyfriend, so that didn’t work out. She ended up coming with me and my youngest daughter at my mom’s house.
And then my mom was coming back from Florida—and my mom has a very small apartment. So I ended up at my cousin’s house where my son was at. So we ended up all cramped up there and grateful for my cousin that he opened his doors. And my son would sleep in the room with my little cousin, and me and my two daughters was in a small little room that literally held two mattresses. So for a while I was still back and forth with the lawyers giving me the run-around and a whole bunch of dumb shit.
I’m like, “Where do I go from here? I can’t get any lower than this. Where am I going and what am I doing?” At one point I figured, “Let me go into the shelter system.” It was something that I didn’t want to do. It was something that I did years ago with Pun when we first got together, and it was brutal. That shit was dangerous. I was worried about the kids. And then of course people knowing that we’re Pun’s family. How is that gonna work? The pressure—shit like that. I thought about it when the new year came in 2009. It took me until May to really convince myself to just get up and go do it.
You know the Rapper’s Wives True Stories? I did the True Hollywood Story for that, and in the interview the last thing that I said was, “I just might be going into a homeless shelter.” And when that True Hollywood Story dropped, a week later I was at a homeless shelter.
But it was a great experience though. People would not think so, but it was one of the best experiences I ever had. You want to see the kindness of people? They set me up with a nice place, and because I had younger kids who were minors they put us in a facility of families where they had security. So I wasn’t in some place where there was a bunch of people confined and you have fights. That was my concern. The last time I was in the shelters, that’s exactly what it was: You had to stay up all night and fight for your spot. Niggas robbin’ shit and women getting raped in the bathroom. It was serious.
We were in a 3-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor with security and everything. And I went with the program, whatever I had to do. I was on a fixed income and that was it. And after four or five months’ time of doing what I had to do, I was able to find a place where the city would pay the rent for a year while they give me Section 8. But then everything got shut down: there was no Section 8. I was in the middle of going to hair school and I had no income, so I was working at salons just making ends meet. And then I came across Sound Exchange. Sound Exchange is a digital royalty, and that shit’s been there since 2000 without being touched. And once I claimed it, which I was the only person who could claim it, it was good enough for me to get a new place. We got a 3-bedroom apartment. Everybody got their own room and it’s pretty pricey but I’ve been able to manage it. We’ve been good.
So the money actually came from Pun.
You have some legal action going on right now. What is the status with that?
Well, all I can really say is that we’re in a lawsuit with Fat Joe and Jellybean Benitez, who is the publisher. And we’re in the middle of court proceedings. That’s all I can really speak on. When everything pans out, give me another call and we can talk again. I’m confident. I have no worries.
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