Schama Noel knows how to pay homage.
The Haiti-born, Orlando-raised, Denver-based MC writes lyrics for other rappers and recorded a song, “Last Dragons,” with the legendary Brookyln MC Masta Ace that debuted in December. Noel also runs the popular Twitter account @raplike, where he delivers rhymes in the styles of other MCs, from Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj to the recently departed MF Doom; the up-and-coming rapper mostly hits the mark, and when he fails, fans let him know.
Noel's latest homage is to Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who died of cancer in August at age 43. Both the film and Boseman's performance as Black Panther have been beacons for the Black community, says Noel.
“I mean, the numbers that Black Panther hit,” Noel says. “It was an all-Black cast, and it was one of the only Black superhero [movies] to reach those heights. It was very hopeful and powerful to see someone who looked like me on that big of a stage. To find out he was sick the entire time just adds a whole other layer.”
The messages of the movie, says Noel, have the potential to bring about changes in the real world.
“It draws a lot of inspiration from Africa, Africa being the motherland,” Noel says. “It seems like obviously Africa can somehow come together; a thing like Wakanda is possible. I know it’s fiction, but if they come to those same ideals and just unify, it’s something that could exist to a certain extent.”
While Noel and director Luis Adrian Lara pay tribute to Boseman in the “Big Plans” video, the song opens with an excerpt from Malcolm X’s 1964 speech at the founding rally for the Organization of Afro-American Unity.
“I take it as it’s time to just do things ourselves, and we can’t depend on an oppressor, essentially,” Noel says of the civil rights leader's words. “It’s more of just putting the work in the community without having to rely on outside sources, creating your own harvests, creating your own businesses, and thriving off of the thing you are born with and creating opportunities.”
A single, short verse by Noel follows the introduction from the civil-rights leader.
The video for “Big Plans" goes on to borrow imagery from Black Panther and closes with a brief epilogue dedicated to Boseman and a nod to the concept of “Wakanda Forever.” Actor Ni Hunley appears in tribute to Boseman in the video.
“He’s supposed to be Chadwick Boseman,” Noel says. “In the beginning, he’s trying to find himself. That’s why he has this lost look on his face. And then we see the hands pulling him in all directions and just trying to figure out life.”
The song zips by quickly, yet lingers in the mind.
“I purposely made it short, almost like a ‘to be continued,’” Noel says. “But there is a lot of substance in it. I’m known for making two-minute songs. But I didn’t want it to be lengthy. After I finished the verse, I could have looped the beat again, but I felt like I said everything I needed to say for that song.”
"Big Plans" is the last track on his Eternal Feels Vol. 2 EP, which he released last year. The song asks people to find courage in who they are and to take their pain and find happiness and peace of mind through it all — “regardless of what circumstances and blocks are in your way and whatnot,” he says. “Also having vision to create a better world and leaving a better world before you die — just continuously growing.”
Noel says he wants people to hear “Big Plans” and feel empowered.
“Not just black people,” he says. “We have a lot of white allies. I want people to just reflect on what it means to actually live in a world that’s equal. I want people to be hopeful of the future, because there has been progress made.”
Inclusivity in high offices, Noel says, is important in the quest for equality, because the country can’t work for everyone if just one group holds the reins. Noel says that he has been feeling hopeful in recent days because Georgia, after 232 years as a state, finally elected a Black man, Raphael Warnock, to the United States Senate, and Kamala Harris is now the first Black woman elected vice president (and also the first woman and first person of South Asian descent to hold the office).
“Ten years ago, we couldn’t say that,” he says. “A woman of color has gotten into one of the highest positions in the world. I’m sure my ancestors are looking at them, smiling. It’s just representation; it’s hope. I believe wholeheartedly that it’s progress.”
Noel adds that he takes additional encouragement from the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
“There’s people protesting for BLM that weren’t even in America,” he says. “It definitely reached the height last year due to the George Floyd thing, as it should. It was great to see people from every race and culture coming together for just one cause, which is equality.”
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