The goal of becoming “more than an athlete” has been added to the bucket list of aspirations for a number of sports figures, with amateurs and pros alike capitalizing on opportunities born out of embracing their star-power and influence. Over the past few years, Iman Shumpert has done just that. He’s raised his profile through various creative endeavors and added acting to his ever-growing list of passions.
First dipping his foot into the pool via cameos in music videos alongside his wife, R&B star Teyana Taylor, Shumpert made the full plunge into on-camera acting in 2020 and picked up the role of Quintrell in Lena Waithe’s comedic drama Twenties. Garnering favorable reviews for his performance, the 6’5 swingman officially crossed over with his Season 30 victory on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and became the first NBA player to make the finale and win the competition. Since then, Shumpert hasn’t looked back, adding to his resume as a thespian with multiple appearances in the fourth season of the Showtime drama The Chi. After joining the cast as Rob, an entrepreneur who finds himself in the center of a love triangle, Shumpert’s character will make his return for the show’s fifth season, which premieres on Friday (June 24).
While the small screen has played a pivotal role in boosting Shumpert’s Q-rating, it’s music that remains his first love, a fact he shared with VIBE prior to The Avión Listening Experience—an event the NBA champ partnered with Tequila Avión to MC and curate. Celebrating the occasion with bottles of Avión Reserva Cristalino, Shumpert, along with famed audio engineer Danny Keith Taylor and Carlos Andrés Ramirez of Tequila Avión, guided attendees through an immersive listening experience as samples were poured for the handful of guests present throughout the evening.
A pressed vinyl recording that captured the atmospheric sounds of the Avión Reserva Range’s agave fields where Cristalino is distilled surrounded attendees of the event. The pressed vinyl recording includes individual tracks and compositions that mirror the order of Avión’s manufacturing process. The exact vinyl is part of a limited-edition home kit that includes a modern turntable with built-in speakers and Bluetooth streaming, a bottle of Avión Reserva Cristalino, rocks glasses, and custom ice molds).
However, the crunch of leaves and agave being chopped weren’t the only sounds emanating from the pricey speakers that evening, as Shumpert also unveiled his unreleased single, “Drop Your Glasses,” during the occasion. The song is set to be on his forthcoming studio album—the first full-length offering since his 2018 debut, Substance Abuse— and has the makings of a feel-good summer anthem that finds Shumpert borrowing the vibes of yesteryear while basking fully in the present.
VIBE spoke with Iman Shumpert about the genesis of his musical journey, partnering with Tequila Avión for the Avión Listening Experience, his transition into acting, and what he’s got planned as his next play.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
VIBE: You recently partnered with Avión for the Avión Listening Experience in conjunction with the brand’s latest release, Avión Reserva Cristalino. How did that opportunity come about and how would you describe the Listening Experience?
Iman Shumpert: I think the cool thing about Avión bringing me along is I’m a person that delivers stories. People want me to do podcasting, music, anything like that. It’s for me to tell my side and my view or deliver a message that bridges the gap between whatever two groups or whatever groups we’re trying to get with a product. So, Avión came and got me for the listening experience knowing that I was gonna release an album. I’m doing a podcast and I’m bringing people together. Anytime you want to bring people together, most times in celebration, we’re gonna bring liquor along with it. So, I figured [it goes] hand in hand. It makes sense. Anything that got a rhythm is good with me.
How has it been working with Avión throughout this process?
It’s been cool. They’ve been accommodating. I had a lot of different stuff that I had to look out for contractually and they were good sports about everything. Very open-armed family over there. Upon getting here and going through this, I flew in from somewhere else, so it was my first time getting to take in the room with myself, but it was cool. Very down-to-earth guys and ladies involved. All [the] hands involved were straightforward, straight shooters sharing information, constantly willing to share information. Those are the best type of people to be with in the world.
Being that you’re working closely with the brand, I’m sure you’re a fan of Avión. How do you prefer yours served when you drink it?
Well, right now, I’m doing it old-fashioned. The Cristalino, though… I usually don’t like my tequila Blanco like that, but it’s pretty good. No hangover. I had quite a few glasses last night (laughs).
You’ll also be a co-curator for the event as the MC, guiding attendees through each aspect of the event. What are some of the things that attendees can expect throughout the evening?
Tonight? The sound system that we’ll be listening to the vibes [from] and also leading everybody here through a 10-minute audio compilation of the seven years it took to build this brand. [To] go chop the fruits that they need, [to] hearing their feet actually touch ground, [to] hearing planes take off. The understanding of the process taking a long time, but also being something that’s soothing and damn near meditation music. And when you really think about that, you think about the journey of trying to be successful. The journey of trying to get anything that’s worth anything done.
You’re talking about a long period of time that when you’re doing it, it could be chaotic. It can be a lot of noise, it’s a lot of stuff going on in your head. But if you was ever to slow down and really think about it and play it how they did that compilation, sh*t would probably be quite beautiful. You’d sit there and listen to it and like I said, on a half a million-dollar set of speakers, it’s gonna sound like you’re really out there. You really get to take a trip to Mexico, you know what I’m saying? So after hearing that, Avión was nice enough to say, “It’s listening experience, why not push the music and bring an audio track?” So y’all will actually be hearing my first debut single tonight.
You’re also an artist yourself, having released your debut album, Substance Abuse, in 2018. With June marking Black Music Month, what would you say music means to you?
Everything, really. I don’t really walk without rhythm. Everything about me since I was a kid had a lot to do with music because that was my way to communicate. I knew early on I liked numbers, but not to do [them] all day, you know? They crowd my head. Words never seemed to crowd my head. It always felt like an open door in a way. I never got tired of it. I can go with words, scramble them up, do this, do that, bend them. Use them [to] change people’s minds, change people’s feelings. I always loved words way more than numbers.
I rapped since I was young. I did spoken word poetry. It’s crazy, my relationship with music. I don’t even think I could have had the relationship I had with basketball without music. It’s weird, but it was like my only way to rest my mind. It was like, “Okay, I’m gonna do music now,” and I could rest my body from playing basketball. Otherwise, I would be outside dribbling until my pops wouldn’t let me anymore. My whole life’s been surrounded by music. I’ve been writing raps in notebooks since I was in like third grade. I’m talking about performing.
My uncle and ’em had this bar. You know, the little juke joint, little juke bar, or whatever. The illegal gambling spots and sh*t. They used to go down there and we’d have family cookout-type vibes. They’d go down there and go crazy with the alcohol and we used to go down there. They had this little stage for a band that never showed up and me and my cousins used to sit there and rap our songs, but back then, we didn’t know how to get no instrumentals. So, we’d literally play our song with our lyrics on it and everything. and I’m just yelling over the sh*t (laughs). Just performing for a bunch of drunk old people. I wish they had a glass of Avión (laughs).
That’s a fact. You mentioned your single that’s dropping. What’s the title?
It’s actually called “Drop Your Glasses.” It’s one of the only times that I’ve sampled something and wanted to put it on an album. That’s the reason my album got pushed back was because I had to get this sample cleared. Getting Eve to be a part of this, Scott Storch, [Dr.] Dre, getting all of them to sign off on me using a sample from “Blow Ya Mind.” And I feel like it’s more speaking on ownership and why a woman would drop her glasses at me. Growing up, there’s a lot of times you see certain women go past and you wonder what it takes to be visible, you know what I’m saying?
It’s a motivation piece. Young man, chasing girls, that’s your motivation. You don’t put on clothes for yourself, homie. You put them on so a girl will look at you. And it’s like, how do you get the right ones that you feel like you want to interact with? How do you get them to look at you? And the song is based upon that, making a girl take her glasses and go like that (lowers his glasses). That was the idea behind it and me coming into my own as a grown man. So, it’s probably this song and “Should Be Dead.” That’s probably two of the most honest leadoffs I’ll ever do, just because it’s like having my family around me again so much because I haven’t been on a team.
I got them around me constantly and I think a lot of that just having that mask comes off. And people resonate with [the] organic. It’s like the more they can get to feeling like “Yeah, I feel like I got my hand on his shoulder right now.” The more they can feel like that, the better.
Do you have a timetable for the album?
I don’t have that because we gotta wait on Apple Music to clear [it] or not. Well, all the streaming platforms, once they’re on one accord saying, “Okay you’re clear for this date.” We’re waiting, but I have submitted [it]. I’m just waiting now.
Would you say 2022?
Oh yeah, it’s dropping this summer. The moment I can press the button.
Definitely. What’s next for Iman moving forward on the entertainment front or otherwise?
The Chi is finna drop. Season 5 is dropping, I believe that’s [on] the 24th [June]. Me and my brother got a podcast Iman Amongst Men with Uninterrupted, which will be dropping soon. We just announced that. And we’re doing the promo for the Twenties whenever Lena [Waithe]’s is ready to get back on the Twenties. I shot with the Twenties. The album’s dropping. I gotta bring the clothing line back. I definitely got a lot going. Me and my wife are gonna get back to our collaborative efforts of doing projects. We kind of venture off to do our own thing. I ended up winning Dancing with the Stars, she did [The] Masked Singer. So, we’re just trying to fill up the house with as much as we can and keep our kids from having any excuses (laughs).