You’re probably reading this and thinking it’s a joke. What kind of rapper would call himself a Pumpkinhead on purpose? That’s the kind of thing little kids would say to other little kids to be mean: “You big ol’ pumpkinhead! You ain’t nuttin’ but a stupid pumpkinhead!” A pumpkin is not a very good looking fruit to begin with – it tastes great in pie and makes a wicked Halloween decoration when carved, but it’s kind of fat and ugly otherwise.
For Robert Diaz though, Pumpkinhead has a different meaning: stubborn, unwilling to compromise, and tenacious. It’s a reputation that followed him THROUGH childhood all the way up until the day his bizarre rap song “Dynamic” with the backwards beat shot all the way up to #1 in the College Music Journal in 1998. The crazy name and his intelligence combined with fearsome punchlines capable of hanging with anybody from PackFM to Mad Skillz grew him an underground legend as tall as a sequoia tree. Then after mad critical praise and an album (“The Old Testament”) on the indie imprint Makin’ Records, someone seemed to chop the tree down. It’s been almost five years dawg – whatever happened to Pumpkinhead?
The EP “A Beautiful Mind” proves that he’s still a wicked MC whether cats still remember the name or if this is their first introduction to his steelo. Vocally, think of him as a cross between Chino XL and Nas, mixing latino roots and smooth breath control into a gritty rap flow with bark and lots of bite to boot. “Blacklisted” is a warning to lesser rappers not to fuckwiddis:
“Take me serious man, I’m no joke on the mic
I say lines that’ll make you choke on your Sprite
I’m no longer layin in the cut, I’m upright
You uptight cause you whack as fuck – right, right
No deal; you don’t appeal to the fans
This is how I feel – you best to kneel, kiss the hand
Your new name is Custard, and this yo’ last stand
I used to bag grams and push ’em, out of Trans-Ams
Now I rap, maaaan better than you do
I do it for the love, you do it for new shoes
Who are you? Your name don’t hold weight in this game
Your whole steez, is bout as fake as your chain
Let’s get this straight for once, I’m a prime-time movie
+All Eyez On Me+ like the face of ‘Pac was on my jewelry
I’m sick of this foolery, and playin the back
I’m out of the cage, and I’m tired of playin with rap
You’re a thug?! At least that’s what you say in your rap
But you’re a faggot, with a tattoo of Mase on your back”
Brutal. Lyrics this hard wouldn’t work without a good backdrop though, and the smooth piano loop and scratched M.O.P. samples in the hook bring it all together perfectly. You may find “Supahstar (The Anti-Bouncers Theme)” to be equally impressive though. Produced by Kimani of the Masterminds, the song is very true to it’s title – not taking any shit from overzealous club security. Pumpkin does double duty as the MC trying to get in and the guard trying hard as hell to keep him out:
“Yo I swear we on the list, look right there, it’s official
IT SAYS P.H. – Okay genius, that’s my initials
AND WHO ARE DEY? – That’s the act, I don’t see what’s the issue
You actin like we gon’ wild out in the spot wavin pistols
You can check us, trust me we clean as a whistle
THAT’S NOT THE PROBLEM – I know we can resolve this
The answer is simple – NO IT’S NOT, YOU GOT ON JEANS, YOU ROCKIN TIMBOS
NO DOO RAGS OR T-SHIRTS THAT SAY DO YOUR THIZZLE?
Word? I thought this was hip-hop driven
NOT IF YOU DRESS LIKE A NIGGA AND YOU SCARE AWAY WOMEN
What did you say? Cause to me, that sounded real ig’nant
Don’t think cause you a bouncer and big you can’t catch a whippin
Matter of fact, fuck that, get me the owner
Before we shut the shit down and you’ll be needin a donor”
Unfortunately with rappers such as Pumpkinhead, their ability to rip on the beats often exceeds the capacity of the beats to keep up with their flows. “Pumpkin (Pause!!!)” is a mediocre and uninspired beat at best, and sounds like it belongs on a reject demo tape. “The Beginning (One Verse)” is much more inspired and less tired, but on such a short EP it can’t make up for the recycled beat of “Park Slope” or banal and overly synthesizer friendly “Brooklyn Academy” featuring Immortal Technique. The latin/carribean feel of “Mujer Triste” allows Pumpkinhead to craft a smooth and suprisingly sensitive track about his relationship with a fly woman though; it’s a totally unexpected move for such a hardcore rapper but ultimately shows him to be more versatile than he was typecast to be.
A longer album with a better selection of beats (possibly more guest producers of Kimani’s underground caliber, say Blueprint or RJD2) could push Pumpkinhead back into the stratospheric heights his early career reached. “A Beautiful Mind” tends to be more like the movie it draws it’s name from than it intended though – brilliant in places, boring in others. It’s an uneven effort that will garner critical praise but still leave Pumpkinhead fans hungry for the raw and effortless flow that got them open to begin with.