Mid-Week Intermission Artist Edition: David Shabani

For those not in-the-know, Austin is a hotspot for hip-hop music makers. We’ve got several on The Drop-In docket this year, but we thought it would be extra great to check in with David Shabani ahead of his show (hint, it’s in June!). Performing with his band The Nu Leopards, read on to find out about his international influences — he comes to Austin by way of Paris, Canada, and his Congolese parents — upcoming projects, and more. Highly recommend turning on some Shabani tunes while you read.

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE DROP-IN 👉 With free music every Thursday, you might want a reminder or two. We can help with that.

1️⃣ Make sure you’re following us @longcenter wherever you get your news to see who’s playing next.

2️⃣ Sign up for weekly notifications so you know when RSVPs open.

3️⃣ Grab your lawn chairs and your buddies and prepare to Drop-In.

David Shabani, photo by Jay Ybarra

Long Center: A quick read through your bio is more like a world tour. With your international background, why create hip-hop in Austin? What brought you here and what keeps you creating here?

David: Although I’m from many geographic walks of life, Texas has been my home for the majority and most prominent moments of my life and will likely be my home for all of it. I feel most at home when I’m in Texas.

When it came to choosing a city in the state, I always had the confidence that Austin would be the most appropriate launching point for my music career. It’s why I came here and it’s why I stay here. And I feel like that feeling I had back then is starting to fall into place.

Long Center: It’s a big year for hip-hop, celebrating its 50th anniversary — where do you think the genre is headed in the next 50 years? What next steps do you see for hip-hop in Austin?

David: Hip-hop is already the biggest, most profitable genre in the world. I envision that in the next 50 years, it will not only dominate the music industry but media and culture at large. You’ll hear it in commercials, movie scores, clubs, etc., the way you would hear pop back in the ’80s.

For Austin, the same way Gary Clark, Jr., is the face of blues and rock that came out of Austin, I think Austin has the opportunity to give hip-hop artists a platform to put their art on display so that the genre can grow from within and so that a few of the faces that will influence hip-hop on a national and global scale can emerge and make their impact.

Long Center: Your sound is so versatile — one can easily hear it pounding in a club or lyrically spinning on a home turntable. Where does this fluidity come from? How do you describe it?

David: The way I’ve lived has given me a diverse outlook on music. I listened to dancehall, reggae, and gospel growing up, but I also tuned into artists like Michael Jackson and Tina Turner who were heavily influential for immigrants who were trying to learn about life in the West.

The hip-hop in Canada is different from the hip-hop in Texas, which is different from the hip-hop you gravitate toward in France. I try to stand out of the way to let those influences interact with whatever I’m feeling at the time. I think that’s what makes my music so naturally versatile.

The Nu Leopards, photo by Jay Ybarra

Long Center: You’ll be performing with your band at The Drop-In this summer — could you tell us about The Nu Leopards? Who makes up the band and what was the inspiration for coming together?

David: What’s interesting about The Nu Leopards is that there are different forms of The Nu Leopards. Jamal Knox (drums), Christian Callegeri (bass), and myself make up the core of the band, but I play with many different other musicians because The Nu Leopards sound is pretty dynamic. 

We often play with a 7-piece band, a 5-piece, a 4-piece — the essence of The Nu Leopards is there regardless of the format. That versatility is why we’ve been able to be booked locally, regionally, and globally. We can play in jazz clubs, put on hip-hop sets, join soul and R&B lineups, play at concert venues…

My inspiration for putting the band together was honestly watching Jay Z’s MTV unplugged with The Roots back in 2001. It took almost a decade to get the opportunity to find talented musicians and pair them with my music. So the inspiration was always there but the opportunity came in 2020 when everyone was at home. Once we were able to come back outside, we were prepared. I’m excited to be able to showcase The Nu Leopards at The Drop-In.

Long Center: For new listeners excited to see you at The Drop-In, what do you suggest they listen to to prepare?

David: I strongly suggest listeners start off with my short EP Shabani’s Smooth Sounds of the Summer. That album came out while The Nu Leopards and I first started touring. So those were some of the first songs we played live and they’re a core part of the set. After that, I’d say go bounce around the discography and find some of my earlier tracks like Globetrotter, which is a little more R&B and Three Years, which is more hip-hop so that you can get a sense of the genres we blend when we’re on stage.

Long Center: We’ve actually had Shabani’s Smooth Sounds of the Summer on in the office lately — what’s next for you? Any projects or collaborations you’re working on?

David: I’m releasing a new single on June 16, 2023. It’s called “Spirits.” It’s heavily influenced by me recently being able to tour with The Nu Leopards so the instrumentation is as prominent as the narrative and the lyrics. It’s a perfect merge between jazz and hip-hop, which is a bit outside of my most comfortable genres. I’m excited to roll it out very soon.

Long Center: We’re super pumped to have you out on the lawn soon! What can folks expect from your set? Any teasers you can leave with us?

David: Besides new music, if anyone made it out to the residency at Geraldine’s at Hotel Van Zandt, they’ll know that I like to incorporate surprise mashups to covers in between our songs. We go in and out and transtion with songs that might be familiar to a lot of people in the crowd. Some of those moments are my favorite because of people’s reactions. I hope everyone who comes out for The Drop-In will enjoy it very much.


Hip-hop’s 50th-anniversary year is only half way through! Keep your eyes peeled here and throughout Austin for other chances to celebrate, including Thee Phantom & The Illharmonic Orchestra coming to the Long Center on August 12th. When was the last time you witnessed strings, horns, woodwinds, and a pianist at a hip-hop concert??


At the Long Center, we’ve always got a new partnership or something cool we know you’ll want to check out! Find and follow us @longcenter on your social media platform of choice, and we’ll see you real soon.

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