The New York hip-hop community was hit with tragedy earlier this month when Park Slope rapper Pumpkinhead, who had recently changed his rap name to PH (real name Robert Diaz), died at the age of 39 on June 9.
While his cause of death has still to be made public, the vibrant music community he nurtured and influenced so greatly quickly assembled to do what they could to assist the late rapper’s family, including his wife and two children, with a third on the way.
Diaz burst onto the New York rap scene just as the do-it-yourself method of independently releasing singles was beginning. With his first single “Dynamic” in 1997, he flooded the five boroughs with his own stickers. His one-man promotional efforts turned him into something of an icon of the underground rap hustle. Through all of the city’s rap scene changes, Diaz was the one constant, helping new artists discover their voice and keeping a level of communication with the superstars who went global. The day of his passing saw memorial tweets from such rap royalty as Talib Kweli, Immortal Technique and El-P of Run the Jewels.
The night of his passing, Diaz’s closest friends tended to his family. The next day, it was announced that the installment of the weekly Legendary Cyphers rap circle in Union Square on June 12, would be a benefit to raise money for Diaz’s family. His lifelong friend, rapper Poison Pen, described the start of these benefits for Diaz’s family as coming together organically.
“PH is a big part of this indie hip-hop community,” Pen said. “Pretty much anybody we dealt with that wanted to do something, we co-signed it.”
The massive Union Square gathering saw dozens of indie-hip-hop luminaries who’d rapped alongside Diaz over the years, as well as Diaz’s family.
Another benefit and celebration of Diaz’s life came two days later at a show where the late rapper had been set to perform. The End of the Weak’s MC Challenge rap competition was to be Diaz’s return to a game he’d previously won four times years ago.
In his place, four of Diaz’s closest collaborators took turns filling in for him, rapping their favorite Pumpkinhead verses from his extensive catalog while Diaz’s contemporary Shabaam Sahdeeq live-painted a tribute painting.
MC Challenge organizer Majesty said, “There were definitely somber moments throughout the night, but at the end of the day, it was about celebrating his life and celebrating those contributions.”
Pen tells us there’s going to be more benefits announced soon. The YouCaring page set up for Diaz’s family has already raised more than $34,000.