After an outstanding rookie season, one that unfortunately ended with him needing surgery on a torn ACL, Iman Shumpert proved to every NBA fan that he can play basketball. What they might not know, though, is that the 22-year-old New York Knicks guard can rap, too.
“When I told my teammates last year, everybody sort of laughed,” says Shumpert, who raps under the name 2wo 1ne. “They thought I was going to go out there and rap like every other hooper-rapper. Carmelo Anthony, actually, was the first one to put his ear to it and listen. Like, ‘Oh, he can really rap.’”
A hip-hop head to the core, Shumpert, a native of Oak Park, Illinois, has been recording since he was young. What that means is, unlike some NBA players-turned-rappers, the 6’5″ guard has been honing his side craft for a very long time.
“It’s funny to me,” Shumpert says. “A lot of guys don’t rap ’till they get to the League; I’ve been rapping, and there’s a difference.”
After releasing Th3 #Post90s last week, his first official mixtape since putting out four in high school, Shumpert sat down with XXLMag.com to discuss what he listened to growing up, what music has influenced him, his rapping origins, his current tape and more. —Tzvi Twersky
XXLMag.com: So what made you decide to put your tape out now? Iman Shumpert: I would’ve put one out last year but my agent told me that New York is a tricky place. He said, “Yeah, I know you. You’re the big bad wolf, who’s fearless and will take on the whole city. You’ll put out music, cursing, doing whatever you want, and then not care and play the Miami Heat the next day.” He said that New York would appreciate if I went through a year, played, and in the offseason find the right way to put something out so people accept it and don’t think you’re doing whatever with your time.
In a weird way, it was actually a perfect time to tear my ACL, because now people know and realize that I needed some sort of outlet because I couldn’t even walk. It was almost like a good excuse, but honestly I was going to be doing that whether or not I was hurt. The thing is, I don’t fear what people think. If you don’t like the music, turn it off, turn on your TV and I’ll be back soon.
With the new tape, you’ve put out some heavy music, and yet the “Clique” Knicks remix seems to be getting the most burn. No offense, but that’s the corniest thing you’ve put out! That’s funny. That’s what’s funny about music period. People want something catchy that everyone can sing along with, that goes with something bigger, that’s piggybacking off of our team. It’s like, “Because it’s about my Knicks, now I can listen to a hooper that raps—but only because it’s about my Knicks.” Really in your head, though, you like my music and just don’t want to say it. That’s cool.
I thought about coming out under an alias. No one would know who I am and they could just appreciate the music. Just speaking with my people, though, it was like, No, this could be a game-changer. We should want people to know a basketball player is really rapping like this and is not even pursuing rap.
The other day they had Bernie Williams, the retired Yankee, play [guitar] before the game. I think if I played an instrument, everybody would be cool with it, and really, playing an instrument takes so much more time. You have to practice, and read the music, and write it out. That takes way more time than piecing together a simple verse about what I just did today. That’s so much easier, because I’m speaking on something so raw. How easy is that for me to talk about?! It’s just weird what people gravitate towards, but I think it’ll be dope to get this out there and let the people listen to the lyrics and judge me on that. Maybe that’ll buy me a week before people start asking me again about when I’m coming back [laughs].
One of my favorite tracks of yours is called “Progress,” where you go in with a couple of your homies, Ari Stylez and PhlyyB. It takes a lot of balls to sample Biggie. Oh, man [laughs]. I thought that song was dope because me, Ari and Phlyy have been doing this since eighth grade. When we kicked it, all we ever did was hoop and rap—Phlyy used to play football. I got a dude who used to hoop, rap, write poetry, runs a blog, does the fashion thing—everyone on our team is just into it.
So who’d you come up listening to? I came up listening to Jay-Z, Kanye, Nas, Biggie, Lupe.
That was on your headphones or were your parents bumping that around the house? Nah, nah, nah. Not my parents. This was more so my brothers. My mom and dad, they like The Temptations…
Motown music. You know what I mean? They want to hear Al Green. They want to hear all that old school, smooth with no bass sound. My dad is to the point where if you didn’t play that music with your own hands and sing over it, he doesn’t really think you’re that talented. My dad used to play the drums and stuff, so they appreciate music.
The cool thing about my parents is, they have an open ear for music. It’s like, we like Gnarls Barkley—I love Cee-Lo—so we played it and my parents couldn’t deny. They knew it was smooth.
So I’m guessing they’re not bumping Chief Keef. Nah, they hate Chief. But that’s another dude a lot of people look down upon but they don’t understand. 50 [Cent] came out with Get Rich or Die Trying. Yeah, it was thuggish or whatever. But the reason he told that story is because he’s sick of it. So, Chief Keef is telling you what he had to do to get to where he’s at.
You think he’s just getting it out of his system? That’s exactly what he’s doing. And what people don’t understand is, in five years do you think Keef is going to be talking about running around and beating people up? No! He’s gonna grow and he’s gonna be a lot smarter. What people need to do is really get off his back. People are talking about kids getting killed in Chicago and all that other stuff. It’s like, No, this is not the first year kids are getting killed in Chicago. My cousin got shot square in the head way before Chief Keef was here, so it ain’t have nothing to do with that.
Either way, the streets definitely connect to it, just like they connect to Meek Mill in Philly. Exactly. And I’ve been on Meek. Maalik Wayns, he plays for the Sixers, when I was in college and he was in high school, we were in Chicago at Adidas Nations, and Maalik was like, “My dude Meek is nice, real nice.” I’m thinking, I ain’t never heard of him, so I’m going to keep listening to this Lupe. He was like, “No, man. Listen to it.” I remember it was an “Indian Bounce” freestyle, and I heard this dude just go off for like three or four minutes. Maalik let everybody hear it, but I don’t think everybody heard it like I did. Everybody was like, “Yeah, yeah, but there’s no hook.” They weren’t really messing with him, but I remember telling Maalik how nice he was. I went and did research and ended up listening to all his mixtapes and saw him rapping on Youtube as a 12-year-old in dirty braids. I’m listening to all that.
Who do you think has influenced your sound the most? I think it’s geared towards a combination of Jay, Mos Def, Talib Kweli—but at the same time like Wale, almost. When I say that I mean, Wale has lyrics, can do poetry, but he also keeps things hip. Mos Def and Talib can sometimes care less about if you think they’re hip or not; they’re just really trying to get these words and messages out. What I’m trying to do is make sure I stay true to myself on what I want to do, but I still might give you a catchy hook—like maybe I give you a four-bar hook and 24-bar verses instead of 16. I just try to find a cool way to do it.
Is there anybody in the NBA you listen to? I support Stephen Jackson and Lou Williams and Ron Artest, though I don’t always like their music. Take Ron Artest: “Represented,” Ron’s new song, is horrible. But when I listen to it, I can tell how much he loves music. Even though it might not be my type of music, he clearly loves music and put a lot into it. And you don’t have to like it at all—he’s going to continue to make it because he loves music. He’s repping for his hood, and he’s doing what he wants to do, and I respect that.
Stack Jack (Stephen Jackson), the thing that’s so cool about Stack is that when he raps—I truly think he can rap—he does too much stunting on his tracks, but that’s what he wants to do. He’s almost like, “Yeah, I’m stuntin’. What you gonna do about it?” What I love about it is how he’s competitive. He’ll tell you in a second, “I rap way better than Shumpert.” I love that. I love that, though. I’m the same way. If you ask me, I’m not finna tell you somebody is better than me.
I’d say it’s the same thing in hoops. If I asked you who the best player in the League was, I’d expect you to mention yourself. Word. And some people are like, “He’s just crazy,” but I’m a killer. That’s what I’m trying to do. Carmelo Anthony is the MVP right now, right? I will make Carmelo’s life so difficult trying to score, trying to guard me, and he’s going to hear about it the whole time I’m playing him one-on-one. I can’t wait to play Melo one-on-one when I get back.
That’s what I love about Stack. He’s like that on the court, and off the court with rapping. Me and Stack are cool—he’s teaching me the ropes and everything—but he’ll diss me in my face, but you got to love and respect that. He thinks he’s better than you, and he’s ready to stand on those words, whatever he has to do.
I’ve heard some of your records with Maino and Chrisette Michele. How do you decide who you’re going to link up with? I actually did a whole mixtape with Billionz throughout the lockout and this summer—that’s probably going to come out whenever. But Billionz, he’s a rapper in Brooklyn, he had the connection with Maino. So Maino came to the studio and he heard “For The Win,” and he was asking who did the hook on it. They told him I did it; and he was like, “The Knick?!” He heard and realized that I really do music. Then, he heard my verse, and wanted to hop on the track. Maino is another dude, down to earth, chill, kicks it in the studio, talking for hours.
With Chrisette, I was sitting down for lunch with her best friend, who was supposed to throw a party for me, and Chrisette was coming, because after lunch those two were gonna go do something. So Chrisette’s walking in and I’m like, “So you weren’t going to tell me Christte was coming?!” She was getting ready to introduce me, so I told her I love her music, my momma loves her music, and Chrisette was looking like, “I truly didn’t expect you to be like that.” I told her I love music, but I didn’t tell her I rap, though. Her friend then told her that I rap, so Chrisette put me on the spot and she was like, “Oh, you can really rap.”
I sent her some music and she liked it. Later on down the line, she hit me up again and told me to let her know next time I’m in the studio so she can see me work. So she came one time, and she was just around the vibe. One thing led to the next, and I asked her if she would jump on a hook.
After the success of the “Clique” Knicks remix, are you going to do more toned-down stuff like that? Nah. That was more so a put on for the team. At first, that was a joke at media day, just to warn people that I could rap. People loved it so much they were like, ‘You’ve got to put out the full version.’ But there wasn’t a full version! Then the Knicks came to me, asked me if wanted to do a whole version and do a video and put it on the Jumbotron. I thought that could be cool, so I came up with something, shouted everybody out on the team, tried to keep it so that a 60-year-old Knick fan could understand it as well as little kids. I cornballed it out a little bit, but at the same time I put a little swag in it.
It was more about letting people know I love my team. This is the most fun I’ve played on. I love being around them, great group of guys, and I thought it would be cool to bring everyone to the light and talk some noise to the other teams. I can’t play right now, but at least I can give y’all something to get hyped to.