4 Wheel City
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4 Wheel City

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Norris Namel, 25, was celebrating his sister’s sweet 16. Namel, then 17, and his cousin were horsing around with guns when his cousin accidentally shot him in the neck. Ricardo Velasquez, now 30, was walking towards his building from a party on the night of June 8, 1996, when he heard gun shots. The next thing he knew he was on the ground bleeding and everything went dark.

Both Namel and Valazquez sustained spinal cord injuries (SCI). But it wasn’t just their SCI that brought them together. It was their passion for music, which, beyond inspiring friendship, also inspired them to form a rap group and nonprofit organization they call 4 Wheel City.

Namel, a.k.a. “Tapwaterz,” is the rapper and Velasquez, a.k.a. “Ricfire,” produces the music. After his injury, Namel didn’t think he could do much of anything. He had a T-2 level SCI. “For me it was like my world was flipped upside down and everything,” Namel said. He described the change “a big mental and physical adjustment.”

Namel was at Lincoln Hospital of Burke Rehab in White Plains, New York, from January to June 1999. He called it “a real humbling experience.” He was in shock at not being able to walk and the only person he could talk to was a fellow patient with SCI.

“I was at a place where I was trying to find myself because I was in rehab for six months,” he said. He was later transferred to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

Velasquez, who had a T4-level SCI, stayed at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx for a month, was transferred to Mt. Sinai Hospital for rehabilitation and discharged a month later. Finding a place that was wheelchair accessible proved difficult. “I didn’t have nowhere to go ’cause now I’m in a chair, I couldn’t get in [my apartment] ’cause there wasn’t a way to get in.” He eventually applied to the wheelchair-accessible Morris Housing Projects back in the Bronx, where he lives today. It’s also where Namel and his mother Vanessa live.

Parallel Lives

Namel was formerly part of another rap group with friends, but when he returned home, the group had separated. “For a while I was becoming like this wheelchair kid in the community with no real ambition,” he lamented.

Velasquez was waiting for a pizza at the projects when Vanessa asked him, “Would you mind being Norris’s friend?” He happily obliged because of a favor done to him when he was in rehab.

“I remember after I got shot there was this one guy out there for me that was schooling me, telling me how I was going to be,” Velasquez explains. “He was the first one who took me outside the hospital to get some fresh air . . . Now I’m going to be able return that favor to someone else.”

Valesquez supplied Namel with tips and how-to’s based on three years’ experience of being in a wheelchair. The two men soon realized they had a common interest: rap music. They began collaborating on music solely to have something to do during the day.

Since then, the pair have formed an independent record label, 4 Wheel Records, and have already put together two albums.

Velasquez’s apartment is his recording studio; most recording studios are not wheelchair accessible. He upgraded from a standard drum machine to the digital VS2000 and bought a synthesizer, keyboard, computer, and microphone with his social security checks. He sacrifices a lot to make his dreams come true and to take care of his 10-year-old son. He describes his sound as “a little bit of everything, being that I come from a Spanish culture they have little bit of Spanish flavor and hard drum with that Latin melody.”

It’s through music that they reach their audience— with a disability or not. They perform weekly at Mt. Sinai Hospital for patients. And they’ve performed at City Hall, Lehman College, and radio stations. Compared to the popular gangster rap and party music, the rappers say, theirs is more reality-based.

For some artists, it takes years to find a voice and message. After Namel was injured, he found something new to talk about on record—informing everyone about their disability and the injustices. He’s quick to note that his hook isn’t a gimmick. It is what it is.

It’s through music, the pair say, that they got back to living their lives. Namel went back to school and graduated from Lehman College with a B.A. in Business Management and works part-time for 311, New York City’s information line. Velasquez is designing a hip-hop clothing line and works hard on his music everyday.

More than anything, 4 Wheel City want to show that they’re just like anyone else. Their nonprofit organization, also called 4 Wheel City (www.4wheelcity.com), includes information on housing, jobs, living, and other topics. “We noticed that there aren’t a lot of people reaching out to the minorities—the blacks and Latinos in a wheelchair,” Velasquez says, “and we was like, you know what? If we start our own organization, they are gonna relate! A lot of time people come home from rehab and they don’t give you any type of - Action Online


It would be easy to label the members of 4 Wheel City as your average urban tough guys. Ricardo "Ricfire" Velasquez (producer) and Namel "Tapwaterz" Norris (vocalist) have the whole persona down to a T. Their uniform: baggy pants worn with expensive shades, pristine sneakers and a fair amount of bling. Their aura comes off at first as decidedly cool. So cool, in fact, that one almost forgets these two charismatic men command the presence of a New York photo studio from the seats of their wheelchairs.
Ricardo Velasquez was only 18 when he was accidentally shot by a stray bullet coming home from school in his Bronx neighborhood in 1996. He says, "I don’t know who did it. I don’t even know why. I woke up in the hospital, Next thing I knew they told me I wasn’t gonna walk ever again." His recovery process was long and slow, but he had a drive that kept him pushing forward- music. "At the time, I didn't know anyone in a chair, but I just took it one day at a time. I always had this passion for music. That's what kept me motivated." After coming home, he found that his days could be spent behind a beat machine, honing his skills and crafting rhythms that spoke of his experience finding new ways of survival. While Ricardo found solace in his music, he still felt isolated, but a collaborator was closer than he ever imagined.

Namel Norris was also shot accidentally in 1999. His strong features turn somber momentarily as he tells his story: "I also was shot accidentally by my cousin. He had a firearm in his possession and was handing it to a friend. It went off and shot me in the neck, which left me paralyzed from the chest down." Norris had been a member of a rap group before his injury, but found that the studio they had worked in was not accessible. "It was hard coming home to the same house where I'd been shot. I felt like a completely different person. I think I met Ric at the perfect time, when I had questions but I didn't have the time to be depressed. I felt optimistic."

Coincidentally, the two young men lived in buildings next door to each other, and a fateful meeting between Velasquez and Norris's mother, Vanessa, introduced them to each other. "This lady (Vanessa) asked me, would you mind being my son's friend," says Velasquez. "She explained what had happened to him. He didn't know anybody in a chair and I thought of when I came home and didn't have anybody so I said, "yeah, why not." I met Norris a few days later"

All of a sudden, Norris grins shyly and his cool façade drops. He looks at Velasquez, shaking his head. "Why do you keep calling me Norris, man? It's Tapwaterz!" He laughs as Velasquez reaches out to squeeze his shoulder warmly. Velasquez corrects himself jokingly, "Tapwaterz, Tapwaterz! Sorry, man." It is in this moment that their considerable bond becomes apparent.

Upon meeting, the two men became quick friends as Velasquez showed Norris how to adapt in his daily life. "Little things, you know? Tying my shoelaces, getting dressed, moving my chair around." Their friendship grew after the two discovered their mutual love for music and started developing tracks together, Velasquez creating the music and Norris rapping over the beats. "We found ourselves within each other in doing the music and we became like brothers" declares Norris.

"We started on a drum machine, then got a keyboard, mixer, microphone and 4 track to start recording," says Velasquez. Velasquez, who is originally from Honduras, drew inspiration from latin rhythms. He says, "I'll take everything from a Spanish guitar to a calypso drum to create a song." While Norris found inspiration from rap greats like Tupac and Nas, he found that a lot of the music in hip hop left him wanting. "Rap gets caught up talking about the same thing and I wanted my music to have a message." This shared passion for music and the desire to tell a genuine, personal story created 4 Wheel City.

What is 4 Wheel City?
4 Wheel City has grown to be more than just a hip hop project. Tapwaterz and Ricfire perform at Mt Sinai weekly, reaching out to newly injured individuals through their music and motivational talks. Norris declares,"The whole idea was to give people like us our identity because a lot of times we were treated like aliens. People don't think you could still achieve things in life."

Recently featured in XXL Magazine and part of the VH1 Celebrates Hip Hop festivities in New York City late last year, 4 Wheel City is on the fast track to fame and recognition. The duo has recorded an album, released a video directed by Tapwaterz, and is currently looking forward to a school tour in the south this February.

Says Norris, "By talking to people (especially young people) about our trials and tribulations, we can help change how people perceive disability. That you can still go out and achieve, and that you're not alone." It's reassuring to know that 4 Wheel City is a location ready to explode into a metropolis, but not become too - Disaboom.com


Performance: The "Welcome To Reality" High School Tour

In honor of VH1 Hip Hop Honors Weekend and Disability Awareness Month, 4 Wheel City will be performing an inspirational hip hop performance, combined with a motivational lecture by Namel "Tapwaterz" Norris & Ricardo "Rickfire" Velasquez, two hip hop artists confined to wheelchairs. Their mission is to honor hip-hop, promote disability awareness, and encourage teens to make responsible decisions in life.

TO READ MORE LOG ON TO:
WWW.VH1.COM - VH1.COM


Our latest New Yorkers of the Week are two wheelchair-bound hip hop artists who are making music to inspire people not to give up in life, no matter what happens. NY1’s Molly Kroon filed the following report.

Performing at the Apollo Theater Summer Stage, Namel Norris and Ricardo Velázquez are doing what they do best, using music to share their personal stories and to speak out for the disabled.

“People with disabilities, I feel like they’re looking for a voice, for somebody to speak up for what we going through or what needs to be heard from us, like not giving up on yourself and getting out and living your life,” says Norris.

Norris and Velázquez survived gunshot wounds earlier in life and were left unable to use their legs. As two young paraplegics living in the same Bronx neighborhood, they met eight years ago and found they shared a love for hip hop music.

At first, creating new beats was just something they did for fun, but about a year ago they realized their music had the potential to be something more, so they formed the not for profit group, 4 Wheel City.

“We started to see that, you know what, if we can incorporate this music that we've been making in the house for all these years and come and start performing for people also, then maybe they can get like the same feeling we get, by seeing us doing what we do, we could be like role models,” says Norris.

With that 4 Wheel City got rolling, and now, with frequent performances in area hospitals and schools, an upcoming clothing line and a documentary of their work soon to be released, they say it's no longer just music, it's a movement.

“What our goal is to do is to inspire people, educate, advocate and entertain, so we throw up the four fingers for that,” says Norris.

“I like the fact that we are inspiring other people, not only people with disabilities, but people in general,” says Velázquez.

“They’re strong, you know. They accomplished their goals. I'm happy to see a lot of people in wheelchairs, you know they want to succeed,” says 4 Wheel City fan Alisa Johnson.

So for creating music that inspires and serves as a public voice for others, Namel Norris and Ricardo Velázquez of 4 Wheel City are our New Yorkers of the Week.

TO SEE THE ACTUAL VIDEO CLIP LOG ON TO:

http://www.ny1.com/ny1/content/index.jsp?stid=34&aid=72761 - NEW YORK 1 NEWS.


s this one of those Thanksgivings when you're going to be grumpy and harrumphy? Shame on you! Okay, so a lot of us do not live in a Norman Rockwell world, but it is far too easy to forget all that for which we should be grateful. And there is much. If you seek proof, just look around you. Americans - New Yorkers among them - are a good and generous people, and they imbue this nation and this city with the same magnanimity of spirit. They revere the worth of the individual, and they revile those who would encroach on liberty at home or abroad. And, blessed with the greatest bounty in human history, they give their money, their time, their compassion - themselves - as they go about life usually unnoticed by the madding crowd. The Daily News is currently running profiles of 50 individuals, "Unsung New York Heroes," people "who make our city a better place to live." People who are a truly remarkable bunch of citizen volunteers. For example,
(A hip-hop bandwagon) In January 1999, Namel Norris was shot in the neck at his sister's birthday party in the Bronx by a cousin who was fooling around with a handgun - paralyzing him from the chest down. "I didn't even know I was shot at first," says Norris, 25, of East Harlem. "It was just noise." After "a lot of soul-searching," Norris met and befriended Ricardo (Ricfire) Velasquez, a fellow paraplegic who lived next door, and the men found consolation in their love of rapping. The duo now perform every week for ­other spinal cord injury patients at Mount Sinai Medical Center, where Norris is an outpatient program peer coordinator. They also started 4 Wheel City (www.myspace.com/4wheelcity), a resource program for paraplegics. Norris, aka Tapwaterz, also just earned a bachelor's degree in business from Lehman College. Says the rapper: "We remembered what the music did for us."

TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE GO TO:
http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2006/11/23/2006-11-23_50_reasons_to_give_thanks.html - NEW YORK DAILY NEWS




Dr. Sapna Parikh introduces you to Tapwarterz and Ricfire, two rappers who say their music has gotten them through some tough times as paraplegics.
MyFoxNY.com -- Dr. Sapna Parikh introduces you to a rap duo called 4 Wheel City. The MCs rap to kids about the scourge of violence because of what they have suffered. Both men were paralyzed in shootings when they were teenagers.

TO SEE THE ACTUAL VIDEO CLIP LOG ON TO:

http://www.myfoxny.com/myfox/pages/Entertainment/Detail?contentId=2804292&version=2&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=VSTY&pageId=7.3.1 - FOX 5 NEWS


FOR THOSE WHO MISSED IT, HERES A CLIP OF 4 WHEEL CITY ON THE GLEN BECK SHOW ON CNN. IT WAS AN HONOR TO BE PART OF THIS HISTORIC NIGHT. WE WONT STOP SHOWING THE WORLD THE TALENTS OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES AND THE POSITIVE IMPACT HIP HOP CAN HAVE ON PEOPLES LIVES.

LINK:

http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2008/03/25/beck.real.america.03.25.cnn


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TO READ ARTICLE.

LOG ON TO: WWW.MYSPACE.COM/4WHEELCITY - XXL MAGAZINE


Discography

- "FLOW IS CRAZY MIXTAPE" 1 & 2
2001&2004

- "PRESSURE" (EDUCATIONAL SINGLE FOR HOSPITALS)
2006

- "4 DA STREETZ EARZ ONLY" MIXTAPE

Photos

Bio

4 Wheel City is a Rap Group/Movement started by Ricardo “Rickfire” Velasquez (Producer) and Namel “Tapwaterz” Norris (Rapper) two talented hip hop artist in wheelchairs.Their mission is to use hip hop music to inspire people not give up in life no matter what happens. In addition show the world that people with disabilities can still have talents, dreams, and deserve to be treated equal.

The duo became friends 7yrs ago in the Bronx NY, after suffering spinal cord injuries caused by gun violence. A closecousin accidentally shot Norris in the neck during his sister's Sweet Sixteen celebration in 1999. Velasquez was shot in the back by a stranger on the way home from a party in 1997.

Though faced with many challenges the two found salvation in their love of hip hop music. They began recording music in Velasquez's home studio just to have something to do to take their minds off being in wheelchairs. In the process they realized the power their music had and decided to use it to give a voice to people with disabilities, and the movement soon followed.

They began making songs to inspire, educate, advocate, and entertain -informing people about disability and the injustices. It's through music
that they reach their audience— with a disability or not. They also motivational speak & perform for newly injured spinal cord patients in hospitals and kids in inner city schools.

It's also through hip hop music, the pair got back to living their lives. Namel went back to school and graduated from Lehman College with a B.A in Business Management. Velasquez is designing a hip-hop clothing line and works hard on his music everyday. The Tandem now co-own their own independent record company 4 Wheelz Records and not-for-profit organization also named 4 Wheel City (www.4wheelcity.com)

They've performed/appeared on CNN, XXL Magazine, VH1, The Daily News, Fox 5 News, News 12, City Hall, Mount Sinai hospital, and many more.

Compared to the popular gangster rap and party music, the rappers say,
theirs is more reality-based.