Shamir Bailey (born November 7, 1994), better known by his stage name Shamir, is an American singer and songwriter from Las Vegas, Nevada. His debut extended play (EP), Northtown, was released in June 2014 to positive reviews. In October 2014 Shamir signed to XL Recordings and released the single "On the Regular." His debut LP Ratchet was released on May 19, 2015 in the United States.
Shamir grew up in North Las Vegas, an area that Shamir has called "cookie-cutter suburban." He was raised as a Muslim but describes himself as "more spiritual than religious, I don't believe in god per se, I kind of feel like god is the universe."
Shamir's aunt was in the music business and lived with Shamir and his mother while Shamir was a boy. Bass players and producers were guests at the family's home, helping Shamir's aunt with her songs. His parents and aunt introduced him to a wide range of music, including hip-hop, R&B, Outkast, Groove Theory, and singers like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Janis Joplin. At age nine, Shamir received an Epiphone guitar, and began writing his own music. At age 16, he formed a punk band with a friend, but the band ended quickly when his partner froze on stage at their first gig.
Shamir worked for a while in a day job at a Topshop boutique, while he recorded tracks in his bedroom for his first EP.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Shamir sent a demo tape to the Godmode label in New York City. The label founder Nick Sylvester contacted Shamir and called the music "kind of like an R&B 'Yeezus'." Godmode signed Shamir and released his debut EP, Northtown, in June 2014.
Shamir's Twitter handle describes himself as a "musician, comedian, singer, rapper, twerker, chef, writer, filmmaker, tumblr, skinny fat ass."
Style and influences
Shamir is known for his androgynous countertenor voice. Radio.com wrote that his singing voice, "like Joplin's, stops you in your tracks." Shamir has said that he does not mind having his voice described as androgynous, but notes that "countertenor" is the correct term: "It's not feminine, it's not masculine. It's a happy medium ... I feel like if the world was more like that, our problems would be gone."
Critic Jamieson Cox, writing for Pitchfork Media, wrote:
With a piercing countertenor somewhere between Prince masquerading as Camille and the cracking adolescent soul of the teenage Michael Jackson, the 19-year-old North Las Vegas native dismantles the expectations maintained for vocalists based on their gender, demanding instead that the focus be placed on his agile, fluttering performance.
Shamir's style had been described as a distinctive mix of disco and funk with hints of pop "laced with old skool house". Life & Soul has described him as "a dynamic young artist who successfully adopts the craft of his musical heroes Michael Jackson and Prince."
His debut EP, Northtown, was released by the New York label Godmode in June 2014 and is named for the Northtown neighborhood where he grew up. Shamir was 19 years old when Northtown was released. After signing to XL Recordings, he released the single "On the Regular" in October 2014 which went on to be used in a 2015 Android Wear commercial featuring tutting dancers Dytto & Strobe
In March 2015, Shamir released "Call It Off" as a single to his debut album, Ratchet, released on May 19, 2015. The accompanied music video was made and released as part of the YouTube Music Awards 2015.
Shamir and his debut EP have received generally positive reviews from music critics.
Jamieson Cox of Pitchfork Media called the EP's opening track, "If It Wasn't True" "a stunning opening salvo, one that plays on the tension between Shamir's slender vocal and lyrical naiveté and grimy, threatening instrumental tones before devolving into a chaotic mess, swallowed by a haphazardly firing synth corroding in real-time."
Jules Muir, writing for the music blog Pigeons & Planes noted that Shamir "continues to make a bigger name for himself with every new release and a unique new sound on each."
In a review of Northtown for NME, Eve Barlow wrote:
The disco-worshipping, androgynous teen might hail from Las Vegas but on the strength of these five songs (three funky-house stompers, one stupendous ballad and a heart-rending cover of Lindi Ortega) it's fair to say his spiritual homeland is late-'80s Detroit and his god an ill-behaved hybrid of Grace Jones and Frankie Knuckles... If this is the house that Shamir built, I'm moving in.
Lizzie Plaugic of CMJ called Shamir's music "amazingly unclassifiable," like a "souped-up Vegas Strip disco with a self-conscious pop bent," and wrote that Shamir's voice "limbers and stretches like a wad of pink Silly Putty dipped in glitter."
"Recommended Listen" called Shamir's EP release "a watershed moment for both the artist and the label" and described the opening track ("If It Wasn't True") as "one of the year's best dance singles."
In July 2014, Flavorwire named Shamir's "If It Wasn't True" one of its "25 Best Songs of 2014 So Far". Radio.com also included Shamir in its "New Music To Know: Best of 2014, So Far" profile, noting that "Shamir combines the honest songwriting of Taylor Swift with the theatrics of Lana Del Rey to make something that sounds far wiser than his 19 years."