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When most people think of Iman Shumpert, they picture him as an NBA star, or the devoted father of daughter, Junie, and/or the enamored husband of singer Teyana Taylor. But we got to see a different side of the 28-year-old, who is preparing to put out his first rap album. He allowed us to get a preview of his upcoming release, This Car Ain’t Stolen, set to be released this summer. The rhymes are certainly impressive, the beats and sounds are very L.A. inspired, and the bass was strong enough to leave my laptop shaking its way to a near crash off the table.

It’s all a surprise for those who have only looked at Shumpert in one way or another, but as he told me after jamming out to his new tunes, he’s been at this rapping thing since he was in grade school with his good friend and hairbraider, Kia.

“I been rapping in that girl ear since like fourth grade,” he told me. “She had to listen to me at lunch, after school. She trying to jump rope, I’m over there rapping. I was always bouncing these ideas off of her.”

But it wasn’t just a lunchtime and after-school hobby for him.

“I sold my own mixtape in high school,” he said. “I made videos where to see them you had to be at my homie’s house parties. They were flagrant. I shouldn’t have been doing them. People were used to me doing stuff like that. So because they knew me, when they see me now they be like, ‘It’s about time. It’s about time this album comes out. You’ve been talking about an album and you ain’t put out one.’ An EP, mixtape here and there, but I hadn’t put out nothin’ that was a production, a cohesive project, visuals with a marketing scheme.”

That’s what he is betting on This Car Ain’t Stolen to be. After years of dropping singles here and there, he now believes that his music could have gone further by now if he’d put more money, time and effort behind it years ago.

“People would have been like, ‘Yo, he can rap his a– off’ because it would have been shared on a silver platter,'” he said. But instead it just looked like, ‘He’s just rapping. He’s just wasting money,’ because technically I was.”

He is hopeful, though, if not confident, that once people hear his full project, including singles like “Séance” and “Hello,” they’ll hear him and see him in a new way. He imagines the conversation will go, “‘Are we dealing with a basketball player that raps or has this been a rapper the whole time that just made it to the NBA?’  What are really dealing with here? How do you hear me?”

But one would be remiss not to wonder where going full force with music leaves his basketball career. The star was honest about the fact that he is fully committed to his album now because he’s not been able to sign a new NBA deal. Shumpert, who has been in the league since 2011 and won an NBA Championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, was most recently waived by the Brooklyn Nets in December. He hasn’t played in the league since, saying other offers weren’t up to par.

“I decided not to go back with Houston. I didn’t like the terms of the contract and we couldn’t come to an agreement, so I said, ‘I’ll sit out if I have to,'” he said. “I bet on me that the league is going to need me at some point to come back and play ball.”

“Music’s only in the forefront because I ain’t get a job,” he added. “If the Knicks gave me an offer like, ‘Here you go, Iman, the terms you want,’ let’s go! I’ve been preparing myself for that call. It’s not that I turned myself into rapper me if basketball didn’t work out. Rapper version of me is still there.”

He is broadening his horizons, though, including by appearing on Lena Waithe’s new BET sitcom, TwentiesHowever, this iisn’t his first foray into TV. He was a star on the VH1 hit reality show Teyana & Iman, which aired for one season in 2018. According to him, though greenlit for Season 2, they didn’t proceed with the series because of yet another situation where terms couldn’t be agreed on. However, he says that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal for that series.

“It’s a dot, dot, dot. It’s another thing where we didn’t say the show is done, we just couldn’t agree on the terms of what’s going on,” he said. “So it’s like, we’ll figure out the next move, but it’s not over. We’re actually in the middle of movement, it’s just, we can’t at this point, even with Junie, we can’t ask Junie to be on camera for free. She’s the biggest star in the house. I’m so serious. It’s so dope to see this kid. She knows nothing but love, she knows to give off a good vibe. She’s just a good kid, man. Now when we pull up people don’t even ask about us. We can be at the club and people are like, ‘Where’s Junie?’ She’s at home!”

While filming for the series is stalled, we were able to ask Shumpert, NBA star, rapper, actor, reality personality and officially a man of many hats, how he’s conquered family life and made a young marriage to Taylor work in the social media age. He admitted it can be rough at times, but as someone who has proven to be committed to the passions in his life, his marriage and family might be the most important passion project of all.

“We fight for it, man. Honestly,” he said. “We try to always give off a good energy and keep certain things private, but we never lie about how hard it is.”

The couple welcomed daughter Iman Tayla “Junie” Shumpert Jr. in 2015 and married in 2016.

“We’ve faced some tough times, overcome some tough stretches. Marriage is a constant body of work. You’re going to be proud of it. You’re going to step back and be like, ‘Wow,'” he added. “It makes you love somebody more because you can’t believe you got through certain things. You’re not glad it happened, but it’s a you are glad it happened type of thing because you feel closer. We constantly trust that no matter what we go through, we’re going to end up closer. You’ve got to fight for that. You can’t be weak about it. It’s going to be some stuff that can really scar you and really cut you deep. There’s going to be some stuff that you just, it annoys you and you just don’t want to be a part of. Your partner is going to be hurting and you as the other partner can’t fix it. It’s not for you to fix, it’s for you to be there, for you to be a rock. You’ve got to be a partner and say, ‘I’m going to hold it down.’ People will say they hold it down, but they don’t know what holding it down is. Really, holding it down hurts a lot of times and it’s because you don’t all the way have an understanding. But like I said, chasing the understanding between two people, especially once a kid is involved, I could live for that. I could live for that.”

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