It’s hard to choose a best track from Fiona Apple’s masterful new album Fetch the Bolt Cutters, but one of the highlights is certainly the anxious piano banger “Shameika”. Apple recounts her childhood coping mechanisms to deal with bullies, along with her lone defender Shameika, who “said I have potential.” Well, Shameika is based on the real person Shameika Stepney, now a rapper who has used the monikers Dollface and Chyna Doll. After the release of “Shameika”, she and Apple reconnected for the first time since elementary school. They’re even collaborated: Stepney’s voice appears in a music video for Apple’s “Shameika”, and Apple has contributed to a new track from Stepney called “Shameika Said”.
In an interview with Pitchfork, Apple noted that with her original song, “It’s sort of like I’m trying to send it back to her telepathically, like I’m trying to put a song out there so that maybe, somewhere in her brain, she gets a return… a vote of confidence. Or just a thank you.”
Well, the intended message did reach Stepney’s brain, though it did so not telepathically, nor through her ears, but instead her eyes. In April she received a postcard from her third-grade teacher, who wrote, “I don’t know if you remember this girl Fiona McAfee. You told her not to listen to bullies, and that she had potential. I just wanted to say thank you. And I wanted to let you know that your prophetic words have been turned into a beloved song titled your name…”
“At this point,” Stepney told Pitchfork, “My mouth is like, unhinged.”
The teacher, Linda Kunhardt, is a formidable writer in her own right, and her poems have been published in the New Yorker. She helped put Apple and Stepney in touch with each other, and they eventually FaceTimed in July. “We both cried,” Apple said, “The word ‘magical’ was used a lot.”
Apple sent Stepney recordings from the “Shameika” sessions with permission to use them. The result is “Shameika Said”, a remix and companion song that offers a similar message from the opposite perspective. Stepney raps, “It’s Sha from the mecca, the holy place/Fi gave you the name, now you know the face.”
As if that weren’t enough, Apple has released a new music video for the original “Shameika” that includes Stepney’s voice. The rapper can be heard saying, “Take a moment, take a moment, take a moment,” before the track begins. The visuals involve a black-and-white animation of a mouth that swirls and morphs against a shifting background. Check out both tracks below.