Pumpkin: The Original King Of The Beat
There are scores of D.J.’s, M.C.’s and musicians who contributed to rap music in its infancy, decades before it became a multi-billion-dollar industry.
These artists appeared too early to reap the riches, accolades and credits that some later artists did, but they built the foundation of the house that became rap music. Errol Bedward aka Pumpkin was one such artist who created templates that were used in the music decades after he created them, and they are still in use today. Pumpkin was known primarily as a drummer, but he was a multi-instrumentalist who also played keyboards, bass, synthesizers and guitar. Pumpkin produced, arranged and played drums and other instruments on some of rap music’s earliest hits and once the sound graduated from live bands to drum machines in the early 80’s, he was one of the earliest and most prolific drum machine programmers and the first to wear the title "King of The Beat."
Pumpkin was training on classical piano by six years old and his parents purchased a drum set for him by seven. Ten years later Pumpkin was an accomplished musician producing and arranging many of the first Rap records. Pumpkin grew up in the Northeast Bronx amongst many influential musicians and artists including Chuck Chillout, Christopher Williams, Steve Jordan (drummer on the David Letterman show), Vincent Davis of Vintertainment Records and Kool Kyle The Starchild. Kool Kyle The Starchild - the first solo rap artist signed to Bobby Robinson’s Enjoy Records developed a friendship with Pumpkin as he shared a mutual interest in the drum, and he often heard Pumpkin practicing in his garage when he walked by Pumpkin’s house. According to Kyle “everyone knew where Pumpkin lived because you could hear the drums. There were always large crowds in front of his garage listening to the music. Kyle would go on to release two records produced by Pumpkin on the Enjoy label – “Do You Like That Funky Beat” and “It’s Rockin’ Time”.
Within that crowd of listeners and on lookers were members of the legendary Bronx crew The Funky 4 +1. Group member Sha Rock says that the group admired Pumpkin’s drumming so much that they introduced him to Bobby Robinson who they had just signed a record deal with. Bobby Robinson whose Enjoy Records dated back to the 1950’s as a Soul label had just revamped his record company to focus on the new burgeoning “talking music” that his nephew Spoonie G and his son the late Ronnie D of the Disco 4 were playing and performing when they were in his presence. Bobby was so impressed with Pumpkin’s musicianship, that he signed him as the house drummer for the label. Pumpkin played the drums on Enjoy Records first Rap record “Rappin’ & Rockin’ The House” by The Funky 4 + 1.
Pumpkin’s work on Enjoy is extremely important to his legacy and is equally important to Rap as a genre. Bobby signed The Funky 4 + 1, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5, The Masterdon Committee, The Fearless 4, Spoonie G & The Treacherous 3, The Disco 4 and Doug E Fresh. Pumpkin would arrange, produce and play on most of the releases by these groups creating a distinctive and signature sound while providing Hip Hop D.J.’s a tool to display their talents and their M.C.’s a sound bed for their live performances.
With production credited to Pumpkin & Friends, records such as “Rappin’ & Rockin’ The House” , “Rockin’ It” and “It’s Magic” by The Fearless 4, “Love Rap” and “The New Rap Language” by Spoonie G & The Treacherous 3 , “Feel The Heartbeat” and “The Body Rock” by The Treacherous 3 and “Country, Rock & Rap” by The Disco 4 served as Rap’s earliest hits and the only real competition for Sugar Hill Records. Pumpkin & Friends consisted of Pumpkin and Poochie Costello (Spoonie Gee’s brother) on congas.
The Treacherous 3
Culturally and musically “Love Rap” and “Feel The Heartbeat” were of great importance to Rap’s early live performances. Hip Hop D.J.’s manipulated the percussive breakdown parts of Funk, Soul, Jazz, Rock and Country records to create instrumental back drops for their M.C.’s. Rap records weren’t used because there weren’t that many at the time, and there weren’t many drum breaks on rap recordings, which were mimicking popular records from other genres to begin with. Pumpkin’s drumming was so raw and reminiscent of the Funk and Soul breaks that D.J.’s loved, that these records became breakbeats themselves.
L.A. Sunshine of the Treacherous 3 reminisces “there’s no way that we didn’t sell at least gold on those records. Every D.J. had two copies. I was in the Enjoy warehouse once and I saw the paperwork for gold certification on those records”. Chill Will of The Get Fresh Crew echoes Sunshine’s sentiments “every D.J. has doubles of “Love Rap” and because we cut the record up so much we destroyed them. It was nothing for a D.J. to have 10 copies of “Love Rap””. “Love Rap” is such a part of the live rap performance that almost any live rap tape from 1980 – 1983 will likely contain it. If the D.J. doesn’t catch the beat in time you will hear the actual vocals of The Treacherous 3 interrupting The Cold Crush Brothers or which ever crew is rhyming over the beat.
Pumpkin played on more Treacherous 3 records than he did any other group, in fact he played on every Treacherous 3 record released on Enjoy. Kool Moe Dee of The Treacherous Three states “the tracks for “The Love Rap” and “The New Rap Language” were already done and we had no creative input on those, but Pumpkin was part of our camp for the next four records. “Love Rap” and “The New Rap Language” were both original tracks and weren’t based on any pre-existing songs. Pumpkin played everything on “The New Rap language except the congas”. “Love Rap” consisted of just drums and was the only stripped-down rap record in the pre Run-D.M.C. era. “Put The Boogie In Your Body” was The Treacherous 3’s version of “The Funky Penguin” by Rufus Thomas which was one of Moe Dee’s favorite break beats.
1980’s “At The Party” made some noise and was the start of the collaborative process between the group and Pumpkin with Moe Dee mouthing the drum pattern that he wanted Pumpkin to play based on the groups rhymes. It was “Feel The Heartbeat” which was based on Taanya Gardner’s smash “Heartbeat” that broke the Treacherous Three through to many new fans. “Pumpkin was extremely excited about “Feel The Heartbeat”. We recorded that before the original blew up. We heard it at Harlem World before it blew up and 2 weeks after it blew we recorded our version and we really caught the wave before the wave started”.
If you’ve ever listened to “Honey” by Mariah Carey, you were actually listening to a sample of “Body Rock” by The Treacherous 3 and Pumpkin’s powerful drums. According to Kool Moe Dee “The Body Rock” was originally a routine that they did over “God Make Me Funky” by The Head Hunters, and the drum pattern for “The Body Rock” is based on that. As the group mouthed the drum pattern that they wanted, the bass player played along and the guitar player added a rock guitar line making “The Body Rock” the first Rock/Rap collaboration on record. Originally the group wanted no instruments on the song, much like “Love Rap” but they were told by the label that no one would buy a record with just drums. Moe Dee says excitedly “when “Sucker Mc’s” by Run D.M.C. dropped and was successful, I said I told you”!
The drum pattern from “Love Rap” was actually Pumpkin’s interpretation of a song that he liked called “Squib Cakes” by Tower of Power. Pumpkin played this same drum pattern on “Million Dollar Legs” by The Outlaw 4 on Dynamite Pep Records in 1980. Rarely did rappers call out or mention the names of the producers or musicians on records. “Million Dollar Legs” starts with the chant “Pumpkin for all the foxy girls why don’t you get on the drums and rock their world”. Even though Pumpkin was the house drummer for Enjoy, he wasn’t contractually prohibited from working with other labels, hence his Outlaw 4 work. This early “label jumping” makes Pumpkin one of the first super producers in rap.
The Fearless 4
The Fearless 4 released their first two singles on Enjoy records, and in 1983 they became the first rap group signed to a major label when they signed with Elektra Asylum. Pumpkin played on and produced their Enjoy singles and their first E.P. on Elektra titled “Something New”. Fearless 4 front man Microphone Wizard DLB says “I first met Pumpkin and Poochie by going to the studio with the Treacherous 3. Moe Dee used to shout me and other people from our neighborhood out on the records and Pumpkin knew me from the shout outs. Not long after that my group mates Mike C and Tito convinced Bobby to let us get into the studio and Pumpkin immediately remembered me”.
The Fearless 4’s first single for Enjoy was 1982’s “It’s Magic” which was based on “Was A Dog A Donut” by Cat Stevens. DLB describes “It’s Magic” - “I told Pumpkin that we wanted the bassline for “Was A Dog A Donut” and he told us that he would play something close to that. He was much too prideful to play someone else’s stuff. He was a true musician. If you listen to “Its Magic” there’s a swing on the bassline that’s not on Cat Steven’s version. Pumpkin added his Afro Caribbean flavor and he played every instrument on it except the congas”.
“Rockin It” which stayed on the WBLS charts for 14 weeks and was added to the playlist by Frankie Crocker was also released in ’82 and was musically based on “Man Machine” by Kraftwerk.
Once again Pumpkin plays everything except congas and adds a swing to the melody replacing Kraftwerk’s staccato feel. DLB adds “his dexterity was incredible. He played the Oberheim 8 on “Rockin’ It ” and I would see those chubby fingers moving and wonder how he did it”.
The Fearless 4’s Elektra debut “Something New” contained “Just Rock” and “Got To Turn Out” with all instruments played by Pumpkin. “Just Rock” was a take on “Cars” by Gary Numan and “Got To Turn Out” would see Pumpkin play a slowed down variation of the “For The Love of Money” bassline by The Ojays and “My Jamaican Guy” by Grace Jones. “Pumpkin didn’t play any of those note for note. When we requested that he play something that already existed, he always put his own flavor on it”.
Founded by Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki in 1981 as a Dance music label, Profile Records eventually signed Run D.M.C., Rob Base, Sweet Tee, Special Ed, Dana Dane and D.J Quik. In the early days of the label they signed Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde as well as several acts that were originally signed to Enjoy. D.J. Al B of The Disco 4 says “Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5, Treacherous 3, The Funky 4 and Spoonie G went to Sugar Hill when they left Enjoy. We went to Profile in 1982 and we brought Pumpkin with us. The Masterdon Committee came to Profile too”.
Pumpkin was signed exclusively to Profile as a producer. By the time Pumpkin started producing records for Profile it was 1983 and the drum machine era was just starting. Musician and producer Larry Smith single handedly changed the soundscape of rap music with “Sucker Mc’s” by Run D.M.C. which he created on the DMX drum machine. The previous instrument heavy Enjoy and Sugar Hill sound had become dated and Pumpkin’s production of “Throwdown/School Beats” by the Disco 4 and “Gettin’ Money” by Dr. Jeckyll & Mr.Hyde helped to further cement the stripped down, mostly drum machine sound as the new sound of the genre. Pumpkin’s Profile output show cased his versatility as a musician. He would combine live drums with his drum machine beats and his programming of drum machines displayed a sophistication that would be mimicked for many years.
Pumpkin holds the distinction of being the first producer in Hip Hop to release a record as an artist. Released in 1983 “King of The Beat” was basically an instrumental with the only vocal being the chanted hook – “Pumpkin I’m King of The Beat”. The scratching on “King of The Beat” was done by Scratch On Galaxy – Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde’s D.J. When speaking of his introduction to Pumpkin Galaxy says “I was in a crew called The Ultimate 4 and one of our members was a guy named Tito who we called Centipede. Tito lived right next door to Pumpkin, so whenever we visited, we would hear Pumpkin in his garage. Me and my brother practiced our D.J.ing in our basement and one day Pumpkin drove by in a coffee brown 98 (Oldsmobile) with a beige leather top – it was a beautiful car and if Pumpkin hadn’t just come off the Treacherous 3 and Spoonie records I would have thought that he was doing something illegal. That wasn’t Pumpkin at all though, he was a musician who had just made several successful records and he had just signed with Profile”.
The distinctive scratch sound and pattern that Galaxy performed on “King of The Beat” would become his trademark and would appear again soon on another Pumpkin production. According to Galaxy “when Pumpkin drove by my house that day, he remembered me from being down with Tito. He told me that he had just signed with Profile and that he needed scratching for his new record. He wanted to take me to the studio, but I was only 17 so I told him that he needed to talk to my mother. My family is from Cuba and Errol (Pumpkin) was Costa Rican, so he held a conversation with her in Spanish. My Mother allowed me to record with Pumpkin and he explained that he had been producing and working behind the scenes up until this point and that this Profile situation was his chance to be out front and record as an artist. When we got to the studio he took out the Linn Drum and played a beat. I pulled out “Spoonin’ Rap” by Spoonie G and started scratching the whistle sound from the intro. Pumpkin loved the sound and we used it on “King of The Beat”. He liked it so much that he asked me to use it again 9 months later”.
In 1983 Pumpkin played a pivotal part in another record that is deemed a Hip Hop classic – “It’s Your Rock” by The Fantasy 3. “It’s Your Rock” was produced by Fearless 4 D.J. Master O.C. but Silver Fox of The Fantasy 3 says that Pumpkin was brought in to play all of the music. Master O.C. says “Aldo Marin edited the instrumental version with the crazy flange effect on the drums and all the breakdowns”.
Here Comes That Beat
In 1984, Profile records co-founder Cory Robbins assembled the labels biggest rap artists – The Disco 4, Fresh 3 M.C.’s and Dr. Jekyll & Mr.Hyde (Run-D.M.C.were unavailable at the time) to record a tribute to Pumpkin titled “Here Comes That Beat” under the name Pumpkin & The Profile All-Stars. Born Unique of the Fresh 3 M.C.’s speaks about the significance of the song being the first Posse Cut and the first dedication to a producer: “there had never been a collaboration of different artists on one track saying their rhyme and passing the mic to the next M.C. I also say that it’s the first of its kind where the sole purpose of the track was to put a producer on the map. The whole track was built around all of the artists collaborative efforts of pushing Pumpkin’s artistry”. With Profile’s best groups, a hook sung by Fly Ty-rone, a blistering Linn drum beat courtesy of Pumpkin and Galaxy’s “whistle” scratch from “King of The Beat” (Pumpkin liked it so much that he requested it again) “Here Comes That Beat” peaked at #57 on Billboards Black music chart where it stayed for 7 weeks – a huge accomplishment for a Rap record at the time.
Tuff City Records
Jack-O-Lantern, Beryl Edward, The Smokin’ Commission, B.Eats - those are the pseudonyms that Pumpkin recorded under when he was producing for Aaron Fuch’s Tuff City Records while signed to produce exclusively for Profile. This moonlighting of sorts would later prove to be a detriment to Pumpkin’s career in music. Aaron says emphatically “work was everything to Pumpkin. Making the next record. He had a studio downstairs in his basement, and I lived with him in a way at one point. He was married and had a newborn. There wasn’t a huge gap for him between work and life”.
Pumpkin was introduced to Aaron by Master O.C. Aaron recalls “even though O.C. emerged as a very distinct beat maker he still used Pumpkin a lot. When I was introduced to Pumpkin they were making “Wrong Girls To Play With” (one of the earliest Dancehall Reggae/rap collaborations) by Papa Austin and Peso. When I heard Pumpkin’s work, I knew that I had to have him as a producer. Pumpkin was Costa Rican and he injected that Afro Caribbean sound into a lot of his work – it came natural to him. Profile wasn’t as open to those kinds of things as I was. I’m led to believe that when he introduced those sounds at Profile, they rejected them. I remember Pumpkin saying that he made a track where he used the Cuica drum, and he was asked to remove it. He said that he needed another outlet for his creativity and that became me, but it all started with “Wrong Girls To Play With””.
During his time at Tuff City Pumpkin’s choice of weapons was an Emulator, DX-7 Keyboard and a Linn drum - a set up which Fuchs says Profile provided. This set up was responsible for records like “Wrong Girls To Play With”, “Crack It Up” by Funkmaster Wizard Wiz, “Count Basey” and “Mr. Bill” by Grandmaster Caz, The “Boogaloo” by Traedonya “Joe Blow” by Puffy Dee and “The Main Event” by Freddy B and The Mighty Mic Masters which Aaron says is the most successful Pumpkin produced Tuff City record.
“When Profile found out that Pumpkin was working with me, they suspended their obligations to him. Under that suspension he couldn’t mix, record, play, write or do anything that allowed him to make a living from his music. In a way that ran him to me in an underground way even more. That really cut off a great deal of his financial oxygen”.
Cory Robbins remembers things differently. “I would never reject a different sound. I never wanted Profile to have a signature sound. Motown and Philadelphia International had signature sounds. I didn’t want people to hear a record and automatically know that it was us, I wanted to be more like Atlantic Records. When you heard an Atlantic record, it could have been done by anyone”.
Cory says that Pumpkin was signed as an artist and a staff producer. The fact that so many groups wanted to be produced by Pumpkin was what led to Profile signing him and he was the only staff producer in the history of the label. “The first record that Pumpkin produced at Profile was “Throwdown/School Beats” by The Disco 4 which was their third Profile release. “Whip Rap” and “At The Party” were produced by Eric Matthew and he played all the instruments except the drums. He had a guy named Gary who was in a group called Gary’s Gang that played drums on those”.
“After a while we signed Pumpkin to produce for us exclusively. He had a weekly salary and royalties on the records that he produced as well as his earnings as an artist. I noticed a credit on a Tuff City record – Beryl Edward. At that point I knew that he had breached his contract with us. I never even saw Jack-O-Lantern or the other aliases that he was using. We ended our relationship with him. We didn’t prevent him from doing music, he just couldn’t produce for us anymore”.
The diversity in the records that Pumpkin contributed to is incredible. According to Eric McCaine of Entouch: “Pumpkin played on II Hype. He played some stuff and I sampled it and looped it into the track. He also toured with us”.
One of the last songs that Pumpkin produced was “Jail Bait” on Busy Bee’s 1992 album “Thank God For Busy Bee”. Pumpkin’s long time friend Tony Archer told David Hinkley of The New York Daily News in 1990 that “Pumpkin did a lot of work for cash, so he was sometimes uncredited. He played on records by artists as diverse as Alyson Williams, Johnny Kemp, Meli’sa Morgan and Keith Sweat”. Pumpkin died from pneumonia on August 24th 1990.
The Microphone Wizard DLB says “If he was around now with the technology that’s available, he would be in love. He loved the natural acoustic sound of music, but I know that he would thrive in this era because of his technical acumen and when he needed to go back acoustic, he could. The world of music is really missing this cat and they don’t even know how much because he isn’t here to show it. Music is missing a deity and I wish that I had a tenth of his talent”.
Pumpkin is truly an unsung talent whose music is heard daily in everything from samples in popular music to automobile and soft drink commercials. Though his name is far from a household one, his footprint on music and popular culture will live forever.