How I Live: Shamir

XL Records’ resident angel on loving life in Las Vegas

February 18, 2015

Shamir, the 20-year-old rapper and musician who burst out of Las Vegas and onto XL's roster after sending pop demos to GODMODE's Nick Sylvester, is the most earnest human I've ever interviewed. Over the phone from a new apartment in Vegas, Shamir brings a shimmering positivity to everything we talk about, from stick-and-poke tattoos to rejecting gender binaries. "My nature is just very independent," Shamir chirps. "I like to do as much stuff on my own as possible. I'm super DIY; that's just innate." Here, the GEN F alum and rising star opens up: this is how Shamir lives.

STYLE

SHAMIR: "I was voted best-dressed in high school, but after that I really toned it down. I was dressed so crazy back then. I would have themed days, and dress like Fresh Prince of Bel Air one day and the next day like a greaser and the next day wear a dashiki. And I would wear my hair different every day; I remember one time I wore Mickey Mouse ears, and another time I put it in a bow. I feel like my style is super DIY; I'm all about finding your own thing. I like to go out of the norm, so I definitely thrift to find old vintage pieces. The thrift stores in Vegas are not nearly as good as New York, but we have a Buffalo Exchange out here which I go to a lot. Also I get everything from Topshop, where I work part-time."

LIFESTYLE

"I live with my two friends Andrew and River, and this is my first time living in an all-boy roommate situation. We just got an air hockey table. Before that I lived with four black women, and living with two white guys is a whole 360. It's fun. River's family used to own a music store, so he has an abundance of instruments, so I just write on guitar or on ukulele or banjo or mandolin or whatever he has lying around. Even though I would say I was 'popular' in high school, I didn't feel like I had a bunch of people to talk to. Everyone knew me as crazy Shamir. I really didn't have that many people to talk to because no one listened to the music I did, no one dressed like I did.

"Vegas definitely caters to the 21+ crowd, so a lot of times me and my friends will just chill at each other's houses, or sometimes we go downtown. We might go to the Strip to shop, but the Strip pretty much only caters to tourists. Downtown they cater to us though. Every first Friday of the month, there's a bunch of music and art and food vendors. A lot of people come out and play and show their art and sell their art—it's a really cool thing. There isn't a scene in Vegas where you go somewhere and make friends; you have to make your own circle and world and life."

COOKING

When it rains, we cook and BBQ lol
A photo posted by shamir bailey (@shamir326) on

"Next to music, cooking is probably the thing that calms me the most. When I was growing up, my early childhood home was me, my mom, her twin sister, and her twin sister's son. My mom worked graveyards, so she'd sleep all day and be gone at night; and at that time, my aunt had a tumor, and wasn't able to take care of us like she wanted. One day I was like, 'I've been watching them cook, I can totally do this.' I was like six, so it was totally dangerous, but we were hungry, so I just made my cousin breakfast. By the time they woke up, they were like so mad at me, like 'How dare you!' I'm like, 'Just taste it!'

"I cook all the time now. I'm gluten intolerant, so I experiment with a lot of gluten-free foods, like pancakes with rice flour. A slow cooker is a must, must, must. I use it to cook meats; when I make lengua tacos I slow cook them."

GENDER

"Growing up, I don't think I ever felt like a 'boy' or a 'girl'—I just always felt like Shamir. I never knew there was a certain way that I had to be because of the sex I was when I was born. It really didn't hit me until I started going to school and realizing all the other guys have facial hair and more masculine features. My voice never changed, and the older I got, the more I got mistaken for a girl. At first it made me really mad, until I realized that androgyny is a thing. Sometimes it's something that you can't choose, and it's good to embrace it. Once I embraced it, my life got easier and things started to fall into place. Everyone embraced that originality about me, and once that happened, it really made me happy. Once I started doing music, it was definitely something I wanted to put in the forefront.

"I think people just want to be put in a box. People find comfort in confinement. I think things would be better if people would let people be and not worry about all that unless you're trying to date that person—that's the only time you need to know. When I say I'm asexual, I'm kidding, but I'm also kind of not kidding. I feel like I'm too young to be dating, and at this point in my life, I don't have time. My career comes first."

TATTOOS

"I have four tattoos—I just got my fourth one last month. My first tattoo I got in summer of 2013. It's a rib piece that says 'Hold On To Your Misery,' for the CockNBullKid song. She's a British singer who inspired me to do more electronic pop music. Just the sentiment of that song: if something bad happens, I don't try to get past it or live in denial or in regret; I look at it as a positive. My second tattoo is a thigh piece; it's a stick-and-poke that Christina from Anorexia did it for me. It's an alien head, and underneath, it says 'AYY LMAO.' It's probably my favorite tattoo, to be honest. Every time I look at it, I just smile. My third tattoo is the GODMODE logo. I got it on my right arm near my elbow, and [GODMODE founder] Nick [Sylvester] has the same tattoo. Last month, I got the little cat from Beat Happening on my left arm, but that god faded because I was going through this phase where I was obsessed with Lush products and was taking baths all the time.

"My next tattoo is going to be Marina and the Diamonds-inspired, and I want to get a tattoo for my late great-grandma, and one of Helga from Hey Arnold! When I'm older, I want a tattoo on my ass that says 'Don't Put This Body In A Casket.' And I hope whoever buries me knows that I don't want to be buried. Go ahead and cremate me. I'll leave the ashes up to whatever; if they want to scatter me that's cool. Right now, I think I want to be scattered."

Lead Image: Paley Fairman. All other images courtesy of Shamir.

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How I Live
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How I Live: Shamir