Fiona Apple didn’t think she’d see Shameika again when she penned the track named after her grade school classmate for her widely-acclaimed most-recent album, Fetch The Bolt Cutters. “Shameika” was a musical prayer to the heavens, a long-belated “thank you” to the little girl who’d stood up for young Fiona when she was bullied. Shameika’s words of encouragement — “you have potential” — fortified Apple to face the challenges of life with bravery and resilience.
“She got through to me, and I’ll never see her again,” Fiona croons on her track. But delightfully, that turned out not to be the case. After their beloved third grade teacher, Linda Kunhardt, found out about the song “Shameika” from Emily Nussbaum's profile of Apple in The New Yorker, she sent it’s real-life subject, Shameika Stepney, a handwritten letter giving her a heads up.
“I don’t know if you remember this girl Fiona McAfee. You told her not to listen to bullies, and that she had potential,” Kunhardt (whose students called her Ms. Koony) wrote. “I wanted to let you know that your prophetic words have been turned into a beloved song titled your name…”
Here’s how Stepney took the news, according to Pitchfork, who just published an expansive profile of the real Shameika:
“At that point my mouth is, like, unhinged,” Shameika continues, gleefully animated by the memory. “I’m literally sitting there in shock, like: Are you telling me that Fiona wrote a song about… like, is that what you’re saying!?” She typed Fiona’s name into Apple Music, followed by her own. “And I see the song: ‘Shameika’! I was screaming!”—she demonstrates her shriek—“It’s such a humbling thing. You can’t believe that someone would honor you like that. And it’s not just ‘Someone wrote a song about you.’ It’s ‘Shameika said I had potential.’”
Stepney was so bowled-over by Apple’s recognition that it took her three months to reach out. But once the old classmates reconnected, “it was as though we had been together all of this time and talked every single day, like, This is my girl,” Shameika told Pitchfork. “We’re like connected spiritually.”
Stepney is also a seasoned musician, who’s been rapping for more than 30 years. Once they reconnected, it made sense for the duo to collaborate on something. The result is “Shameika Said,” an excellent rap track featuring Apple’s soaring, freshly recorded vocals. “It's Sha from the mecca the holy place / Fi gave you name now you know the face / Didn't know you had potential / Back then now you know your place,” Stepney raps in the first verse.
The real Shameika also spoke to the magic of Apple’s original track: “This is a white woman during Black Lives Matter giving a Black woman her flowers,” Stepney told Pitchfork. “That’s some real shit. That’s why it’s so powerful.”