Iman Shumpert is not an unconfident man. We know this from the Knicks guard’s outsized on-court personality (he constantly refers to himself as “Shump-Shump” in the third person when trash-talking opponents) and his Twitter account, where he has attempted to popularize #swayyy as a less-annoying alternative to the played-out “swag.” But his supreme belief in his own abilities is never more clear than on “Progress,” the tenth track on his debut mixtape, Th3 #Post90s. The track opens with a sample of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Things Done Changed,” as ubiquitous a New York hip-hop classic as there is. There is a widespread, and generally accurate, assumption that athletes’ forays into music are little more than vanity projects. There are exceptions, but there have certainly been more Shaqs and Tony Parkers than Stephen Jacksons throughout NBA history. Shump was already facing an uphill battle to be taken seriously, which gets even tougher when you factor in the fact that he only has one season of NBA experience under his belt, and has yet to play this season after suffering a brutal knee injury during the first round of the playoffs last year. So for him to throw a Biggie sample onto his debut mixtape is truly throwing caution to the wind.
Fortunately, Shumpert’s talent backs up his hubris on Th3 #Post90s. I was really hoping this mixtape would be good, because I like him so much as a player and he seems like such a cool guy, but even my high expectations were blown away. Shump isn’t “a good rapper for an NBA player.” His flow is legitimately impressive. It’s simplistic at times, but it’s also varied, and is very intricate in places. I was hoping there would be a Rasheed Wallace feature, because Sheed’s comeback makes the Knicks the most fearsome team of rappers in the league. But Shump keeps the features to a minimum on Th3 #Post90s. The only one you’ve heard of is R&B singer Chrissette Michele, who’s worked with Nas, among other artists, and contributes a hook to “Supaphly.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this mixtape is the depth and diversity of the references to NBA players and coaches Shumpert drops. There are plenty of Knicks icons on the mixtape—it opens with props to Larry Johnson and John Starks. But he also name-drops Pau Gasol, Tom Thibodeau, and, most impressively, Greg Ostertag: ”I’m a mogul and a posterboy. Chuck, don’t let em get close to boy. I’m Jordan, they Ostertag. Don’t get put on this poster, boy.”
Shump isn’t a virtuosic technical rapper, but he proves himself capable of credibly handling subject matter of varying seriousness, from the traditional boasts of “Ridin’” to the moving “Pain,” a tribute to his late uncle. The latest reports have him returning to the court in January or February, and hopefully he’ll pick up where he left off in becoming one of the best young wing defenders in the league. But whatever direction his basketball career goes, Th3 #Post90s is an incredibly promising debut mixtape and proves that he has a solid future as an artist.