Robert Diaz, the underground New York City rapper who performed as Pumpkinhead, died early Tuesday morning at the age of 39. The cause of death is unknown, though the rapper had been admitted to a New Jersey hospital earlier this week for minor surgery. The rapper’s death was confirmed to Rolling Stone by Graeme “GMS” Sibirsky, the co-founder of Diaz’s label MCMI Records.
“To lose such a great human being so early in his life, man. No words,” Talib Kweli wrote on Instagram. “There is a fraternity of artists who were around for all of this. PH inspired us all. He will live on thru us even though his physical presence will be missed. RIP Robert Diaz.”
With his humorous punchlines and gregarious personality, Diaz became a fixture on the New York hip-hop scene. A constant presence at rap battles, Diaz would compete in popular hip-hop competitions such as Braggin’ Rites and End of the Weak and was known as a tireless supporter of other rappers.
After releasing his breakthrough song “Dynamic” in 1997, he released a string of solo albums including 2001’s The Old Testament, 2003’s Beautiful Mind and 2005’s Orange Moon Over Brooklyn alongside collaborative albums. He also made numerous guest appearances, including Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary Vol. 1 and 2 and Jean Grae’s The Bootleg of the Bootleg.
“Pumpkinhead was as much a soldier for hip-hop as he was an artist,” veteran producer and radio host DJ Eclipse tells Rolling Stone. “It was his presence in NYC that I’ll remember most. In the Nineties, I witnessed his come-up as a formidable opponent on the mic at many MC battles. As part of MCMI, he helped organize shows that weren’t just events, but events you did not want to miss. You’ll be missed my brother.”
“He was one of those guys who would just freestyle in the street for hours, 20 round battles, of merciless bars, and he always had a box of CDs hustling,” Immortal Technique wrote on Facebook. “To say he was a legend was an understatement. PH always had jokes, man. He was never unprepared to tell you about yourself.”
The Brooklyn rapper became obsessed with telling stories through rhyme after hearing Dana Dane’s “Nightmares” in the sixth grade. After years of freestyle battling with New York crew The Plague, Diaz linked with fellow rappers Mr. Metaphor and Block McCloud to form the group Brooklyn Academy, whose singles “Blind Fury” and “Russian Roulette” became underground staples and appeared on countless mixtapes. In recent years, Diaz co-founded MCMI Records and continued to record, releasing 2011’s Know the Ledge under the name PH.
A popular fixture in the hip-hop community, many rappers took to social media to mourn Diaz, including Brother Ali, Minneapolis duo Atmosphere and El-P, with the latter calling Diaz, “One of the coolest, kindest people to walk this Earth.”
He is survived by his wife, who is expecting a daughter with Diaz, and two sons. Diaz’s family has requested that any info for tribute shows and fundraising efforts be e-mailed to representatives at the rapper’s label. The family has also started a fundraising site for donations for funeral and other expenses.