If you want to see how the spin cycle of a song can really work, look no further than this jam. The dearly departed (depending on whether you read XXL or Rolling Stone) rapper Big Punisher (Pun, for short, because big men don’t have time for extra syllables) released an original version of this track, entitled ‘I’m Not A Player’ in the mid-90s. He then decided he’d ride it a bit further and got his mate Knobody to remix it for his debut album, interpolating another song in the process and flipping it into a smash. It would be one of Pun’s biggest hits, and indeed one of the few that he’d actually see in his lifetime. Unlike label mate Fat Joe, DJ Khaled and Rick Ross, all of whom are excessively overweight and yet inexplicably still alive, Pun succumbed to a heart attack before he even reached thirty. That made him literally and figuratively a Biggie-like figure for the Latino community, as the first solo rapper from a Latin American background to go platinum. In a way, we have him to blame for Pitbull. But we also have this song, which rings in a melting pot of influences including also-ran R&B singer Joe (way to make yourself SEO-unfriendly, mate) who hit it big reworking The Pharcyde with a Brazilian love song. And also the eternal line “I’m not a player I just fuck a lot.” Really, that one is up there with Yeats.
Because I’m weird, what turned me onto this track – aside from, you know, the easiest way out of being a man-whore this side of John Legend – was the sample. We say it a lot but it’s true; the vault that late-’90s producers raided for beats was top-shelf all the way. If I’m not mistaken, the original hook here, which is in the rolling piano, comes from The O’Jays and a lady called Brenda Russell, who wrote with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Earth Wind & Fire. It’s a brilliant, bouncing piece of work that I’m sure has been sped up and taken out of context but you can already hear where all the horns and vocals would have gone. In their place slides in Joe, who is like Fat Joe except not obese and in possession golden tonsils, to sing a hook that is exactly what you want it to be. It’s so hilarious when you get this kind of scenario happening. There’s a huge gangsta motherfucker who has grown up in council housing punching in walls for a living, going on about how he’s going to lay waste to every woman on the planet and right next to it is this gorgeous little R&B hook. It’s so incongruous, but it’s almost the new age rap standard. The curtains don’t match the carpet, so to speak.
What’s really amazing is given how immense Big Pun really was that he could spit all of those words out at all. Many of his contemporaries in his weight category have been reduced to saying ‘Whoomp!’ alot (Ricky Rozay) or stupid tag lines (Khaled), but Pun, true to his name, really punished verses. Listening to him go on ‘Still Not A Player’, regardless of what you feel about the lyrical content, it’s clear that he is superb at what is probably the only real job he held down in his life. He moves around the metre (i.e where beat one is) all over the beat, layering rhythms that buck and sway under the weight of his presumably massive influence. He also does that Cypress Hill thing where they drop into Latino street slang and it just sounds so damn good. Combine that with those great piano stabs, that click-clacking beat that sounds like graffiti cans shaking and the breakdown that has Joe singing entirely in Spanish and you have a hit, even if they’re threatening a real one. Big Pun; he may have peaked too early but the best rappers usually do.
Remember, he wasn’t a player. He just fucked a lot.
Big Pun ft. Joe – ‘Still Not A Player’