Just a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday, Namel Norris was accidentally shot and paralyzed from the waist down. But that didn't stop Norris from pursuing his dreams of being a rapper.
At 17 years old, Namel Norris was growing up in the Bronx, dreaming of landing a record deal as a hip hop musician after graduation. But during a party for his sister, Norris was accidentally shot by his cousin and paralyzed from the waist down.
While adjusting to the "wheelchair life," as he calls it, Norris met Ricardo Velasquez, who had been shot and paralyzed several years earlier. The two shared a love for hip hop music and together they formed the group 4Wheel City, producing music that encourages people with disabilities to live beyond their physical limitations.
The duo performs and speaks at rehabilitation facilities, high schools and conventions to share their messages of support and empowerment for people with disabilities.
Music: I'm a gangster, I'm a I'm a gangster (repeat)
Namel Norris: You think you can be me, go ahead roll in my shoes. Push yourself around every time that you move. Run out of money from paying your dues and then try acting like you've got something to prove.
You shot by your cousin in your own room, and then have a doctor tell you that you're never gonna walk, and the messed up part about it, it wasn't your fault.
I just remember just falling to the ground, fast. Like, I heard the gun shot and then I didn't even realize I was on the floor already. I just know I heard the sound.
When I first started rapping again like this I was rapping about like killing people, shooting people, selling drugs.
So I didn't know what it was like to live and meet other people in the chair and what I was gonna have to go through.
These songs that I be making, we're gonna put em out, we're goin' sell them and give them out to the community and we gonna put them on 4Wheel Records, came up with our own label, 4Wheel Records
Woman: Hey guys, wanna race?
Title card: Namel and Rick, his music partner, attend the Abilities Expo to promose 4WheelCity's music.
Norris: It's for us, check this out, check htis out. 4WheelCity. You like rap music?
(Man shakes head.)
Norris: Got your hat turned back so you probably do. (laughing) We both paralyzed but we been doing music for us, you know, trying to inspire people not to give up and show them that no matter what you go through, you still got life to live.
Norris: It's good for people to see people like us doing positive things and also folowing their dreams and trying to make a difference out here like we're doing.
Norris: I always look at Stevie Wonder as somebody with a disability being that he's blind. And people love his music for ages. Just cause I'm in a wheelchair don't mean I can do a song like that, you know what I mean?
He gives me inspiration to still do typical rap songs too.
Behind the Scenes:
I met Namel Norris on a cold weekday at his apartment in East Harlem. He seemed far more interested in my camera gear than telling his story to the stranger in his living room. As an amateur filmmaker, Norris couldn't stop asking questions about my lens and my wireless lavaliers and light kits. At first I though, is this going to be a problem?
It actually proved to be a great starting point in the many conversations we would have as I continued to film him over several weeks, following to his old neighborhood in the Bronx and to a convention for people with disabilities in New Jersey. After the requisite conversation about camera equipment and video editing software, Norris would open up about overcoming his disability and pursuing his dream of making hip hop. I found Norris to be surprisingly candid and a great video subject.
Loading more stuff…
Hmm…it looks like things are taking a while to load. Try again?