With a name like Pumpkinhead, first-time listeners who are up on their horror flicks might expect the Brooklyn-bred emcee to be on some other-type hip-hop.
But the 28-year-old isn’t some lyrical demon out for revenge, just an underrated rapper ready to set the underground on fire.
“Ain’t no hardcore sh*t going on,” he says. “I’m just a regular-ass person with a weird ass name.”
His moniker doesn’t come from the movie of the same name, but from his mother calling him a “punkinhead” as a kid for his hardheadedness.
The Park Slope representer’s critically acclaimed EP, last year’s A Beautiful Mind, gave the fiend’s another taste of his creativity, versatility and potent flow.
However, the release of his U.S.A. (Underground Starving Artists) mixtapes with his DJ, Dp-One, hasn’t been enough to satisfy the appetites of hungry fans.
That’s all set to change in 2004, with his forthcoming full-length album, Hip-Hop: The Revival of ’95, his second LP.
“I’m trying to make this album top-notch,” says the rapper. “I’m trying to bring back that feeling when you heard Tribe and that (Midnight) Marauders album.”
While those in the know already recognize the wordsmith’s abilities, newcomers will be attracted to the record because of the presence of lyricists like longtime associate Jean Grae, J-Live, Steel (of Smif’n’Wessun fame) and his crew, The Plague, and production from the likes of Da Beatminerz, Toronto native Marco Polo and Pumpkinhead’s own Brooklyn Academy fam, which includes Will Tell, Block and DJ Black Panther, among others.
Further assistance on beats is expected to come from Geology, 88 Keys, and West Coast producers E-Swift from Tha Liks and Domino of Hiero.
He also wants to work with Virginia heatmaker Nottz—“He is sick with the beats”--, singer Vinia Mojica—“She’s got a voice on her—and his man from their elementary school days in Brooklyn, Talib Kweli.
“Hopefully that all comes to fruition,” says Pumpkinhead optimistically.
For the uninitiated, Pumpkinhead’s flow doesn’t really fit in any one category.
“My style is every style. I’m a multi-faceted rapper,” comments the Brooklynite. “I touch on all topics.”
He continues, “I can talk about the street because I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been shot up.” “People in the underground say, ‘He’s trying to be a gangsta.’ No stupid, I’ve been through it.”
However, the confident emcee says his lyricism causes the fans who respect street credibility more than a flow to label him a backpacker.
“Okay, I’m a backpacker–but f**k around and find out what’s in my backpack,” he cautions them.
And while he doesn’t call himself “necessarily a conscious rapper, I do speak about what’s going on.”
Influenced by artists ranging from Redman—“He’s one of the most consistent emcees to have that major label status”--to Stevie Wonder and Minnie Ripperton, Pumpkinhead got into hip-hop around the age of 12 as a b-boy.
“My first taste of hip-hop was breakdancing,” recalls the rapper.
After being inspired by a Dana Dane song, “Nightmares,” he “started making the transition from b-boy to emcee.”
“I already wrote poetry in school, so I just put two and two together.”
His addition was on point, as he eventually landed a deal with Makin’ Records, who released his first LP, “The Old Testament,” highlighted by his lead single, “Dynamic.”
The Puerto Rican lyricist has also hit the road, as his touring experiences include opening for rock group The Goo Goo Dolls in San Diego, on 2000’s Technology Tour.
“It was bugged out. They do things a lot different than we do,” he recollects. “While we’re puffin’ herb, they’re doing a bunch of other sh*t.”
“But the crowd was good…very receptive.”
Concertgoers’ appreciation for Pumpkinhead isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon, either.
“I was the first underground emcee to tour Australia,” he says. “I was the only one on the flyer. People were coming to see me only.”
“I was packing a house of like 2,000 people,” he says about the overseas love. “People were asking me for my shirt, to sign it.”
He’s also been on two Lyricist Lounge tours, the latter of which he formed a relationship with the Boot Camp Click that led to Da Beatminerz’ and Steele’s involvement on his album and him returning the favor with two joints on the Da Beatminerz’ next record.
Unfortunately, like most underground rappers, Pumpkinhead’s been caught up in a bit of label drama.
Makin’ Records didn’t get any distribution for The Old Testament, and he’s yet to see any change from Third Earth Music for A Beautiful Mind, although he claims “Third Earth is still cool…they did help me to get more of a name.”
As for the upcoming Revival of ’95, Pumpkinhead says, “I’m gonna shop this album and get a good deal.”
In the meantime, he’s been making appearances accompanying his buddy Jean Grae on her tour to keep his buzz alive.
“If Jean Grae is in town, you’ll probably see me,” he says.
Outside of that, the rapper spends a lot of time putting in work in the studio and at his home in Milltown, N.J., which is about halfway between Philly and New York.
Why the relocation from New York for the tranquility of Jersey?
“My hood was getting real crazy. People sleep on Park Slope (his original stomping grounds), but I lived next door to a crackhouse,” he says. “We’d have festivals on the ave, and people were getting cut from ear to ear right in front of my little sister.”
After his father’s death, he used the money his pops had given him for college to relocate his family to their current home, where he lives with his wife, mother, sister and newborn son.
With everything he has in the works—in addition to the album, he’s working on other projects, doing production for the likes of Immortal Technique—the man stays busy.
But he remains focused on making The Revival of ‘95 a project that turns heads.
“Prepare for the illest album you ever heard from me,” he says. “Definitely my defining moment.”
He adds, “If I lost any fans, they’re gonna come back home.”