INTERVIEW – Pumpkin: « Being an indie female rapper outside the mold is political in itself »

You say you discovered hip hop with French rapper MC Solaar, without understanding it was rap. Which other artists made you want to become a rapper?

IAM, NTM, Oxmo Puccino, Triptik, Raggasonic, Les Sages Poètes de la rue, Diam’s, Mélaaz, Alliance Ethnik, Ménélik, Fabe, Sens Unik, Nas, The Fugees, Warren G, the artists of the cassette La Haine… And secondly, Blackalicious, Common, Mos Def, Bahamadia, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest influenced me a lot.

You come from Brest in Brittany, but lived in Barcelona for several years before moving back to France in Nantes. What did you learn from this Catalan experience from an artistic point of view?

I met a lot of hospitable and benevolent people, with whom I collaborated, recorded my first solo demos and did concerts. I was doing back vocals for a hip hop group with musicians, a kind of collective of a dozen people, where I was the only girl. For six years, all these experiences away from the French scene allowed me to begin to shape my solo project Pumpkin and understand what I wanted to do and how. At the time, I said yes to almost all collaboration opportunities because I thought it was a good way to learn. It was very educational. I kept great memories and a few shitty tracks too.

How and why did you cofound the associative organization Mentalow Music with your partner Vin’S da Cuero ?

Having an associative structure is the first step that makes a difference when you start producing records. We wanted to release projects freely without having to wait for a label to want us. Since the beginning, we have been very involved in all the aspects of the projects, from their creation to their release. We had to learn how many things worked, such as the Sacem, (French equivalent of PRS for Music), ISRCs (International Standard Recording Codes), how to manufacture vinyl records, make newsletters, websites, distribution, the accouting and contracts… We learn every day, at our own home-made structure pace. Our current priority is to release our own projects and this takes a lot of time and energy. But in the future, we would like to be able to release albums of other artists that we like.

On your first album Peinture Fraîche, you worked with 20syl of C2C and Hocus Pocus and Dynasty How did these collaborations go?

I met 20syl for the first time in 2007 in Madrid at a hip hop festival. We kept in touch ever since. He produced the track “Play” on my EP Silence Radio but I really wanted to share the mic with him. It was rather natural for Vin’S and I to invite him on the album. He coproduced the beat, co-wrote and rapped the lyrics with me. We produced it via internet and wrote and recorded the track together in two days at his house in Nantes. It was really a cool experience.

I met Dynasty in Nantes where we both performed at the Festival Hip Opsession. She’s a great rapper and a very nice girl. Then we worked on the track via internet. She is based in Florida.

Words are central in your work. How does the writing process go? Do you have any rituals? What are your favorite topics?

It’s true that I attach sometimes too much importance to writing. I would like to be more of an emcee and less of a rapper, more spontaneous and less cerebral. Writing is both pleasant and painful, it’s kind of a strange relationship. Throughout the years, my brain got used to being on alert, which means I often have ideas, words, puns or themes in mind, and use them during writing sessions. I’m quite uptight, even though I’m working on it, and need to gather several factors in order to feel ready to write. I must have my mind freed from all these “must-do stuff”, that parasitize me and prevent my mind from being completely available.

I’m getting sort of spaced out and like to remain that way for hours, sitting at my desk with my laptop, my headphones, my speakers, sheets of papers and colored felt-tip pens. I use Word and paper, they are complementary to me. I often change the fonts on Word and the colors on paper to keep my work process less routine. I listen to a track in a loop for hours and I write. Sometimes I turn down the volume to write without music. I spend a lot of time on my text and when I’m satisfied, I record a demo to see if it makes sense and make modifications if necessary. When I’m not inspired, I hang on and always end up with some ideas. And even if they seem really bad at the time, they can turn out to be useful a few days later in another context or state of mind.

In France, female MCs are given very little media coverage and remain underground. Why is that? And what should be done to change it?

I think it is a mix of several factors. To begin with, a very simple thing: we remain in minority in France so proportionally there are fewer chances to see women go public. Then, the real development of artists no longer exists. Record companies keep a watch on the internet and young people’s behavior (rap has become a music for kids, it’s kind of sad). They release “hits” and think in the very short term, which the media always call “the new rap sensation”. Also, there is a certain idea of what rap should sound like and by whom or how it should be made. Even for men, it is quite rare to see complex and singular personalities emerge beyond niches. Besides, we’re talking about a musical genre that is still attached to some values, while the industry puts pressure on us and tends to misrepresent the essence of our art. A lot of talented and interesting artists don’t get past some stages that could make themselves known because they make other choices that prevent them to. It is a way to protect or pull the rug out from under themselves, it all depends on where you stand. As far as I’m concerned, I was offered deals that could have put me in other places, but it implied doing things that weren’t me. Besides, we’re often referred to as female rappers to highlight the fact that we are women, we’re not always treated as full artists. Anyway, music in general is a male-dominated environment.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why?

YES! Since the day I read the definition of the term. How can you not want equality between women and men? It’s true that I don’t say it on all my tracks and I’m not a hardcore activist, but I am a feminist through my daily approach. Being an indie female rapper outside the mold  is political in itself and a committed approach, which, I think, can change the way men consider women’s role and help young girls see outside the boxes society puts them in. I have very interesting discussions about it when I do workshops. I talk about gender with both girls and boys and make them think about their conditioned behavior. I push them to permit themselves to be free.

What are you listening to these days? 

James Blake, Anderson Paak, Hiatus Kaiyote, The Dø, Oddisee, Kendrick Lamar, Beatspoke, Alltta, Supafuh

What are your upcoming projects?

An EP with Vin’S da Cuero for the end of the year with a series of concerts, a few collaborations here and there and an album for 2017.

What do you think about Madame Rap? What should be changed or improved?

More than a Tumblr, I’d see a clear, user-friendly and simple website, with an intuitive system to organize the content. That would make it more playful. It would also showcase the quantity of information and the former posts wouldn’t be lost in all with time. Also, an “artist” database with a search engine, interviews, video clips and a basic information: country, city, small bio and links. In English and French, it would become a real database and an international reference on the subject.

Find Pumpkin on Facebook, Soundcloud and her website.

Photos by © Singe and © Bastien Bdm

Éloïse Bouton

Lire l’interview en français ici.