Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the fact that the album most likely to get America up off its ass this summer is by a kid from North Las Vegas. Shamir Bailey’s Ratchet, his first full-length record on Nick Sylvester’s Godmode label (a five-song EP, Northtown, came out last year), plays like a winner right from the start: There’s just something about the meeting of Shamir’s beguiling, Nina Simone-like contralto and Sylvester’s Chicago house-style beats that sounds like history being made. I can’t recall the last time I heard a dance-music debut so confident and artistically mature from an artist without “Jackson” or “Prince” somewhere in his name.
It’s an honest beginning, too. “Vegas,” Ratchet’s first track, is the kind of song we’ve been waiting for a breakout local artist to make—a Las Vegas love-hate letter we’ve all written thousands of times. Vegas, where sin is alright/at least at night, Shamir intones over slow, slinky electronica, before he adds the kicker that will prevent tourism officials from co-opting this one for TV ads: You can come to the City of Sin and get away without bail/but if you’re living in the city, are you already in hell? Shamir, who still lives in North Las Vegas, knows as we all do that the most remarkable thing about this town isn’t the fact that it exists; it’s that people actually live in this furnace to make it happen.
Above all things, Ratchet is about the sheer joy of making and listening to music, and I can easily see it as the bedrock of a career that will continue for years. Shamir will be a credit to this town. Hopefully, Las Vegas will continue to fascinate him, too.
Shamir is among the artists scheduled to perform at the 2015 Life Is Beautiful on Sept. 25-27.