Release Date: May 19, 2015
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Electronic, Rap, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Club/Dance, Alternative Dance, Alternative Rap
Shamir Bailey was born in 1994, by which point I was 10 years old and already downloading shareware games using pre-AOL dial-up access. Neither of these details should matter in regards to Ratchet, Shamir’s first full-length record, except to explicate several points, namely that (a) Shamir is very young, (b) I am much less young, (c) the slope of technological advancement only grows steeper and steeper, (d) advancements in technology significantly impact culture at large, and (e) the concept of a millennial, defined as anyone born in the 20-year span between the early 80s and the early 00s, is a fucking crock. Even though I’m only 10 years older than Shamir, the generational differences between our ages are perhaps insurmountable.
If you pay attention to the sort of media that reasonably expects its audience to scroll through a list of 300 albums, you already know the fetching story of Shamir Bailey. A 20-year-old, male-pronoun-approving, gender-fluid African-American who grew up in Vegas and played country music until enough bizzers told him they didn’t know how to market it, Bailey found disco-house a more salable fit for his electric-fence falsetto, signed to professional game-changers XL and, in his un-minced words, made a scene. Last year’s Northtown EP was centered primarily on the wonderful opener “If It Wasn’t True,” already a relatively low-key banger in the Shamir catalog, which this week expands to nearly an hour’s length with Ratchet, a ten-track LP that’s wonderful throughout.
"Growing up in Vegas and being the weird one out, you kind of have to put on a tough face," Shamir Bailey tells those tuned into his Ratchet Radio playlist on Spotify. There’s both weirdness and toughness in droves on his debut album-cum-deliverance, Ratchet. Less than two years after sending a demo cross-country to Brooklyn's Godmode imprint, Shamir signed to XL Recordings—a label known for pop outliers like Dizzee Rascal, M.I.A., and FKA twigs—and got his face on a Times Square billboard.
After releasing the Northtown EP in June of last year, Las Vegas native Shamir dropped his debut LP, Ratchet, this week, an eclectic album from an underground fascination whose tastes cover a wide spectrum of genres and influences. He’s reminiscent of ’90s house music, DFA Records, and Grace Jones, but would be perfectly content to sing only country and folk: He’s a serious Taylor Swift fan who can deliver a knockout rendition of Brandy Clark’s “Stripes. ” Armed with a one-of-a-kind voice, Shamir often reaches an airy, high-pitched register that finds strength in its imperfections.
The pop industry machine ain’t dead yet, but it’s certainly wheezing. How else can you explain the death of American Idol, or how Wrap Fetty’s independently released “Trap Queen” has been dominating the charts through YouTube clicks and Soundcloud presence? Ok, maybe those are isolated incidents, but just imagine how the suits are quaking with the sudden rise of Shamir. Sure, there are probably conniving industry types working behind the scenes here, but the pop alien that is Shamir is unfiltered, loud and electric, brilliantly not giving a fuck on Ratchet.
Another year, another calculated, cookie-cutter pop star vomited up for mass consumption by the music industry’s hype machine. Every now and then, a vibrant peacock struts out from behind a flock of homogeneous pigeons into the mainstream consciousness, defying all the odds. Shamir Bailey is the chosen peacock of the moment. Like fellow queer artistes Le1f, Mykki Blanco, and Cakes Da Killa, Bailey’s delightfully androgynous image and sound, continue to disassemble the über-macho stereotypes that have dominated the U.S.
Preceded by the cutesy, meme-able singles “On the Regular” and “Call It Off,” Ratchet, the debut album from genre- and gender-bending hipster house singer Shamir Bailey, attempts to reconcile Shamir the Internet Phenomenon with Shamir the Artist. It's a difficult balancing act, but he executes it with a skewed grace. Whereas Shamir's 2014 EP, Northtown, sounded like a bedroom disco diva taking his tentative first steps into the club, Ratchet is an infinitely more confident and assured effort.
Though Shamir's Northtown EP made him one to watch, it was his single "On the Regular," a witty, charismatic, and almost unclassifiable mix of pop, dance, and hip-hop that truly put him on the map. It's also his only previously released music to appear on his debut album Ratchet, and it's still his defining moment. Full of dazzling wordplay -- "don't try me, I'm not a free sample" is catch phrase-worthy -- as well as gloriously cheap-sounding keyboards and a cowbell that might as well be tapping out "fun" in Morse code, it's a bold statement of purpose.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. 20-year-old Shamir Bailey seems like the ultimate millennial to the point where it's a shock that Buzzfeed haven't snapped him up as their official mascot yet. If it were possible, the most apt way to describe him would be through emojis (namely hearts for eyes, nail paint and hands in the air). A '90s kid through and through, right down to his Saved By The Bell style shirts, Shamir is the type of guy that oozes self-confidence and is completely comfortable in who he is.
Fittingly for a personality so erratic, Shamir Bailey’s first solo album is best described as patchwork. Stitching together the furthest threads of dance and pop music’s numerous incarnations, ‘Ratchet”s greatest achievement is maintaining its identity amongst all the madness - but in doing so, Shamir and his production cohort Nick Sylvester have created one of the year’s most accomplished, left-field pop albums. It’s considered but charming, the intricacies of Nick Sylvester’s production adding to the fun-factor, rather than drowning it in technologically minded bore.
For someone born in 1994, Shamir Bailey has managed to absorb a hell of a lot of the soulful plasticity of music made in the ‘80s. ‘Ratchet’, the Las Vegas singer’s debut, contains all the ingredients of vintage dance bangers: metronomic drum machines like Chicago DJ Jesse Saunders (‘Head In The Clouds’); melodic synth lines punctuated by bursts of dissonance reminiscent of Frankie Knuckles’ ‘Baby Wants To Ride’ (‘Make A Scene’); androgynous vocals that borrow from gospel like Prince on ‘When Doves Cry’ (‘Hot Mess’). For all that, this record still sounds fresh, full of warmth, spontaneity and spark.
You can see why Shamir Bailey is hot stuff right now. The Las Vegas native's debut LP is a luminously cool engineering of synths and beats that will no doubt furnish the dancefloors of hipster hangouts across the globe. Whether these throwaway future-pop numbers have staying power, however, is another matter. The zeitgeist is a fickle beast.
Shamir Bailey is as unique an artist as we get in 2015, a gender-rejecting 20-year-old with a shockingly high register who grew up across the street from a pig farm in North Las Vegas writing country music, but now makes bubbly disco-house that sounds like a custom DFA job. After being discovered in 2013 by Nick Sylvester, a former music scribe-turned-music producer and label boss, Shamir has risen at the speed of a rocket, thanks to last year's rapturously-received debut EP, Northtown, and its lead track, "If It Wasn't True. "Ratchet is a confident first album, demonstrating an extraordinary talent for mixing bangers with ballads.
Las Vegas’ Shamir is a bundle of contradictions. The schoolboy crooner warbles like a natural on country songs, yet he’s earning rent money by firing off candy-coated hooks over synth beats. The casual listener might not take his work seriously for the use of aggressively youthful slang, but ignoring his sharp lyrics would be unwise. No matter how cavity-inducing his nosebleed-register vocals are, the R&B wunderkind spits fluorescent acid.
Las Vegas newcomer Shamir works disco into a state of undress on his first full-length album. He isn't operating in the same romantic vein as, say, Sylvester, one obvious predecessor — just delivering a healthy dose of real talk, set to clean cuts of vintage Chicago house grooves. On "Vegas," the 20-year-old artist recounts the squalor of his hometown with lounge-like ease; for "On the Regular," he ramps up the drama with a string of sharp quips ("Don't try me, I'm not a free sample").
Shamir Bailey’s 2014 single, On the Regular, was a work of sassy urban pop genius, raising hopes for the Las Vegas native’s debut album. It’s fair to say that Ratchet delivers slightly more – and less – than Regular fans bargained for. Bailey’s refusal to be pigeonholed artistically is admirable, but frustrating. Darker is a blowsy ballad that proves Bailey has many strings to his bow, but that his strengths don’t lie along that particular one.
Not often does one get a glimpse of Sin City that doesn't involve a casino. Shamir Bailey's debut LP, Ratchet, evidences not a single grain of Sinatra swing in its electronic grit. The Las Vegas native cuts fat, luscious beats that tap into a Todd Terje electronic indulgence. As the slow thump of "Vegas" introduces Ratchet in an eerie haze, Bailey's smooth tenor punches above a nuanced build of horns and digital quips.
Shamir's latest release, "Ratchet." On the opening track of his debut album, "Ratchet" (XL), Shamir welcomes the listener to his hometown. If "Vegas" is sin city, he asks with the unhurried air of someone who's been out in the desert sun all day, does that mean he's already in hell? The album awakens somewhere around dusk, and rolls through the night. Shamir Bailey is a 20-year-old outsider who as a kid was often mistaken for a girl, with his high pitched voice and delicate features.
At the end of a terrific SXSW set, Shamir Bailey climbed over a partition and proceeded to hug random audience members. The looks on some of the male faces in the crowd, mid grasp, were priceless: a mixture of astonishment, hesitance, and thrill. By wrapping arms with rapt onlookers, the dance dynamo sealed his triumph with connection. A collective embrace happened onstage earlier, too, throughout his performance.
Shamir Bailey's casually supernatural vocals sometimes make you wish you could separate his music from his backstory, but at the same time, his songs are intrinsically tied to who he is: a flamboyantly androgynous 20-year-old from the rural outskirts of Las Vegas who's come up with one of the smartest modern reworkings of Paradise Garage-era underground dance music but had never heard house music until someone told him that's what his "electro goth-pop" demos sounded like. It seems too perfectly postmodern millennial to be true, but there's no question Bailey is for real. The proto-house production and high falsetto invite obvious comparisons to gender-bending disco hero Sylvester, but as on Shamir's 2014 Northtown EP, his mesmerizing vocals really shine on the slower numbers, making it clear that Nina Simone has been a much bigger influence.
At its most ideal, the act of dancing can render the person practicing it placeless — lost to the beat, moving in time with the surrounding music — which is why it probably makes sense that Las Vegas 20-year-old Shamir would craft an album of movement that reaches toward the sublime. His debut is as notable for what it doesn’t include as what it does. Beats are almost defiantly minimalist; his sparingly placed cowbell clangs, sax bleats, and synth-borne provocations belong to no particular era, and allow his voice to take center stage.
Holly Herndon, "Platform" (4AD Records). The San Francisco-based Herndon is a singular artist whose productions blend layers of electronically manipulated voice with beats, noise, sibilant textures and filtered sound to create eardrum-tickling joy. On her second album she manages to sound both ….
Androgynous. Thin, pretty. Childlike. Smart-aleck spazz. Post-gender. Most Likely to Appear on the Cover of Vogue. Even before Shamir Bailey, the twenty-year-old phenom behind Ratchet burst out of nowhere — I mean this as literally as possible: he hails from North Las Vegas, a suburb that ….