With albums due from Canibus, Noreaga, John Forte and others, a reemergence of New York's underground sound--assaulting lyrics and bottom-heavy beats--seems imminent.

Big Punisher's debut is the most recent example of this mainstreaming of hard-core hip-hop. As heir apparent to the late Notorious B.I.G.'s throne, Punisher emphasizes the potency of end-on-end metaphors. Big Pun (as he's known) adds his own Latin-flavored, Bronx-bred lyricism, cramming in couplet upon couplet as his rhymes tumble like dominoes.

All-star guests including Black Thought, Fat Joe and, on the standout posse cut "Tres Leches," Mobb Deep's Prodigy and Wu-Tang's Rebel INS, help Big Pun further highlight his allegiance to listeners' yearning for the grittiest rap dispatches.--Brett Johnson


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).


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* Excerpts from Big Punisher's "Capital Punishment" and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/sound clips

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