Maybe you’ve heard of Shamir Bailey, better known as Shamir? The Godmode Music artist was discovered off a demo tape by God Mode label head Nick Sylvester, who had previously sworn never to recruit artists not from New York City. Not long after, the 19-year-old Nevada resident was flown from North Las Vegas to Brooklyn to record tracks for his forthcoming debut EP, which have started to slowly spiderweb out onto the wide world of people looking for better music. We chimed in. So did Vogue, Pitchfork, and more than a few others. So what makes this kid so special?
For one thing, it’s his sound. Think early-90s house a la La Bouche or Snap, blended through a back catalog of DFA Records deep cuts with touches of Harry Nilsson’s weirdest days of heartbreak for good measure. For another, it’s that voice: a silky, androgynous, otherworldly falsetto capable of hitting notes that Nightclubbing-era Grace Jones would be proud to call her own. And then, of course, there’s that whole ‘from Las Vegas’ thing that music journalists love to project upon for unwieldy, lame pronouncements about ‘the toxic neon American dream’ or whatever.
The truth is that Las Vegas doesn’t yield artists, let alone artists like Shamir. Las Vegas yields ‘acts,’ like The Killers (3/4ths of whom aren’t actually from Las Vegas) and Imagine Dragons—music that needs the sheen of hi-fi studio production and OD power chords like their lives (or publishing royalties) depend on it. And that’s it. It’s not really a matter of incidentalism. The fact is that Vegas is a boring city, filled with bored young people (just like any other American town), except its few artists suffer from the insularity of a place people assume to be impressive by virtue of the money poured into it. It’s not. Especially the part Shamir’s from—North Las Vegas—which those of us from the city refer to colloquially as ‘Northtown,’ the name of that debut EP of Shamir’s arriving in June. And this is why he’s exceptional, and exceptional for being from Las Vegas: because he isn’t just making beautiful music, but beautiful music that comes from a place that supports the exact opposite of what it is he does. It’s the same city that’s currently driving the obsession of celebrity EDM DJs whose 128BPM power-chorus anthems are enough to move a room full of people, but only that. Shamir’s music moves bodies, sure, but it also does something far more intimate.
Maybe it’s his voice, or those oddball lyrical quirks (“Don’t have a cow,” for one), or the faint notes of gospel and agnosticism. As he demonstrates on “I’ll Never Be Able To Love,” there’s a desperate desire for redemption from such a simple chronic condition as lovelessness because, as he was taught, “crying means you’ve lost the game,” not even looking to be absolved from it, but simply at peace with it. It’s the kind of thing that reaches deep inside the cross-section where wanting to have a completely cathartic breakdown and also throw a raging dance party meets in the middle. To call it rare would be to massively understate the case. Assisted by the brilliant production of Nick Sylvester, Shamir’s music is coalescing into a sound that’s familiar in the way things we’ve never known we’ve needed until they’ve arrived—at which point they feel like we’ve always had them—always somehow are.
Complex News caught up with Shamir a couple of weeks ago at Sound City in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Shamir and Nick Sylvester were putting the finishing touches on Northtown. Shamir spoke with us about being from Las Vegas, what kind of breakup song “If It Wasn’t True” is, and some influences of his you might not expect. Take a look above, and don’t forget to check out Shamir’s Northtown EP coming via God Mode Music on June 14.