The NBA’s relationship with hip hop comes with enviable scenarios. The camaraderie between players and rappers is replete with sparkler-adorned bottles of Ace of Spades, red carpets at the ESPYs and GQ parties, and courtside congeniality during game timeouts. While both industries are attached to flossy lifestyles and that unity produces odd pairings like Tyler, the Creator hanging out with Lakers power forward Metta World Peace, there’s also a completely mediocre part at the other end of the spectrum: When ballers decide they, too, want to rap. Last year, World Peace, fka Ron Artest, unleashed “Represented,” a globby hodgepodge of too many rap styles. You know when you first figure out that when you mix blue with yellow you get green or red with blue you get purple, and so on, so you try to see what happens when you mix all three? You end up with a muddy non-color and it totally bums you out. That’s what it’s like when World Peace raps.
There’s a grip of equally as befuddling releases that came before from hardwood superstars like Allen Iverson, LeBron James, and Jason Kidd. Shaquille O’Neal is really the Jay-Z of NBA rap, with five studio albums and a Michael Jackson collaboration under his belt, but his output only has the patina of rap authenticity. There’s a case to be made for enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake — you love the player, you feel like it could be worse, you’re a nice person who just wants people to be happy — but there has barely been a real case for non-novelty crossover. So where does that put New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert, who released his own mixtape, The3 #Pro90s, just before Christmas?
A small note before we get into the nitty-gritty of #Pro90s: If you read my introduction post, you may recall two things I said I care deeply about are the Knicks and ’90s New York rap. But I haven’t locked Tom in some cabinet to take over his column and espouse the glory of Shumpert with a fan’s ear. Tom’s just a really nice co-worker who lent me the keys to the MOTW car this time around. Thanks, Tom! But I suspect there is another reason why he let me do this: This tape has some really impressive moments.
Shump, or as he calls himself in this instance, 2wo 1one — a clunky nod to his jersey number — has been a part of the new (and now new-new) Knicks and their appropriation of rap nomenclature. Last year, their beat reporters were referring to the bench as Mob Deep — a compliment as to how impressive the guys filling in for the starters were and also a reference to Queens duo of the same — albeit with two Bs — name. Anyone who follows basketball fans on Twitter, especially those who love to see the orange and blue win, know that #KnicksTape is the marker of greatness or winning for New York’s original team. That touchstone was germinated from young Shumpert, who compared the 2011-12 roster to a perfect mixtape on the MSG Network:
“The Knickstape is a mixtape of personalities all wearing the Knicks jersey… on a mixtape, you got the club song, the sophisticated song, the new song, her song that was on the last album but since it was so hot, we’re gonna put it on the mixtape anyway. You got a collection of dudes — this dude got ten years in the league, [Baron Davis] got thirteen years in the league, this dude’s a rookie.”
Th3 #Pro90s begins as a much more cohesive collection than the cliched list Shumpert rattled off in that video. The beat curation is extremely traditionalist, most feeling like forgotten or unused relics from recording sessions that ended over twenty years ago. There’s a polish lacking from them, but they’re refreshing if you feel overly inundated by tapes racked with Mike Will and Harry Fraud productions. But that’s not to say the ever-evolving current rap landscape should be squandered by nostalgia and traditionalism and it’s evident that what’s new is just as important to Shumpert as the music he grew up listening to. On “Cut Throat,” Shump nods to a pretty standard sentiment of feeling like you were born in the wrong era, rapping “I feel like I should have been 21 in like 94″ — which is totally obvious to anyone who has seen his recent Kid ’n Play haircut — but then ranting about the absurdity of blaming teenage problems on Chief Keef. These poles exist throughout: An A$AP Rocky reference on “Ridin’ pt. 1″; the use of Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” as a backing track on “Post 90s.” It’s really easy to forget that you’re listening to someone who is technically in his sophomore season as a professional basketball player — although, that he’s been out with a torn ACL since last season’s playoffs and no new stats to consider helps to build the illusion.
The only glaring problem with this tape is that it’s just too long. It comes in at twenty-one tracks when it could have been a very impressive EP, helping to solidify Shumpert as someone who not only made a splash in the NBA, but was the first one to put out a mystifying-in-its-solidness rap effort. Once you get to the Chrisette Michelle collaboration “Supaphly,” the curtain drops and there Iman is standing in full jersey regalia, reminding you that he is a basketball player first and one who took his injured time off to do a cringeworthy, team-themed remix of G.O.O.D. Music’s “Clique.” Still, Th3 #Pro90s is not “K.O.B.E.” and is definitely worth giving a stream.