Voted most likely to appear on the cover of Vogue by his high-school classmates, 20-year-old Shamir Bailey made it into the fashion bible just a year after graduating—but it’s his distinctive genderless voice, rather than his colorful 90s-inspired outfits, which has been grabbing most people’s attention lately.
The likes of Prince, Grace Jones and a young Michael Jackson are just some of the names that have been bandied around in relation to the man who also describes himself as a writer, filmmaker and comedian (see the Cave Dwellers Funny or Die sketch as evidence). But Shamir’s distinctive voice perhaps most closely resembles the exquisite testosterone-free tones of British soulman David McAlmont.
Not that the Las Vegas native, who has recently moved to New York after signing with XL Records, can be accused of simply emulating his androgynous predecessors. Named after the neighbourhood where he grew up, his debut E.P., Northtown – which his former Godmode label boss Nick Sylvester described as ‘the R&B Yeezus’ – positions him as an artist who refuses to play by the rules.
Indeed, if the swirling kaleidoscopic dance-funk of “If It Wasn’t There,” the squelchy acid house of “Sometimes A Man” and the Basement Jaxx-esque carnival electro of current single “On The Regular” initially suggested that Shamir was a one-man dance machine, then the haunting James Bond balladry of “I’ll Never Be Able To Love” and the stark cover version of Linda Ortega’s country hit, “Lived and Died Alone,” prove that the emerging star certainly isn’t interested in being pigeonholed as such.
There’s little sign yet of the punk leanings that inspired him to form a short-lived DIY duo named Anorexia, or to cite The Slits’ frontwoman Ari Up as his number one influence. But considering the eclectic nature of his output so far, we wouldn’t rule out Shamir pulling off any genre with the utmost style.