You’re 20 years old, you’ve got some cutesy rap thing going on, and you’ve named your album after a decade-specific term that could go out of fashion at any moment. In spite and because of the support of On The Regular, if you were Shamir you might be worried about Ratchet being dismissed as a this year’s hipster novelty.
But this lad is a smart cookie (and XL ain’t no fool of a label). If the singles are all you’ve been exposed to, you’re in for a surprise. Limbering up with the ode to his home city, Vegas is a lithe introduction to this debut full-length. The influences across the record are pretty apparent – there’s more here in common with Grace Jones or the New York disco scene than there is with any flash-in-the-pan rap.
Of course, On The Regular has that instant 212 sort of blockbusting about it – and Call It Off follows that in fine form – but if you’ve sampled any of the Northtown EP, you’ll find more to mine in the glorious songwriting of a track like Darker. It’s a transcendent ballad that takes Shamir back to his singing roots, giving a depth to the youngster that you’d struggle to find in any peer of the same age. Or older, for that matter.
More importantly, it’s an album that’s just great fun to listen to, whether it’s in the zips and blips of production or the teen-leaning lyrics of a song like Make A Scene (“Girls are sad all of the time / because good guys are so hard to find”), or even the disco-diva histrionics of Youth. In fact, it’s quite telling that his most chart-friendly outing on Demon feels like a bit of a disappointment given how much more interesting the sound has been before it.
Shamir is better than a song like that. He’s also better than discussions on gender identity and whatever category you’re trying to lump him into; in fact, the discussions on androgyny yield no further insight on this album than the realisation that this is the confident work of someone incredibly comfortable in their skin. And above all, Shamir is certainly better than this album’s fleeting colloquialism of a misnomer, describing someone that’s essentially a bit of a scrubber. On the evidence of this record, and whether he likes it or not, Ratchet is practically the opposite of everything a modern-day diva like Shamir Bailey is set to stand for.
Ratchet by Shamir can be ordered here.