ACHIEVEMENTS Twenty-year-old Shamir (born Shamir Bailey) is already a hit with the critics: Pitchfork, CMJ, NME and several other key music publications named his EP Northtown and its debut single “If It Wasn’t True”—a relentless episode of classic, Detroit-style electro house—among the best records of 2014. Now, the North Las Vegas born-and-raised talent need only put the finishing touches on his debut full-length album Ratchet (due this spring) before taking the next step of turning that under-the-radar buzz into superstardom. It feels like a natural next step for someone who learned the guitar at age 9 and formed his first group, a punk band called Anorexia, at 16. “This is something I’ve been perfecting all my life,” he says.
RE-ACQUIRED TASTE Shamir is the kind of performer we’ve not seen in a while: an androgynous dance-music powerhouse, with a vocal delivery that evokes early Michael Jackson and songwriting chops that one could favorably compare to early Prince. It may be a challenge for Shamir to bring his beats to an audience weaned on far less idiosyncratic stuff, but if they don’t bite, he’s got ambitions that transcend the dance floor: “(Dance music) was really just an experiment for me,” Shamir says. “I didn’t think it would turn into all of this.”
THE UNEXPECTED “I sent out my first song (‘If It Wasn’t True’) in January, and it was featured in Pitchfork in February. I didn’t know overnight success was, like, a thing.”
MINTING A CATCHPHRASE His current single, the addictive banger “On the Regular,” contains a smart, funny bit of wordplay that’s making the rounds in social media: “Don’t try me/I’m not a free sample.” Shamir is surprised it’s caught on: “It’s just something I say when someone gets on my nerves. When I say it, I’m super serious; I don’t think of the comedy aspect of it.”
ON NAMING NORTHTOWN “North Las Vegas is the best part of Vegas. It feels very diverse. And we’ve had so many artists coming out of Las Vegas, but no one really repping North Las Vegas. I want to represent it as much as possible.”