Shameik Moore just turned 28 in May, but he’s more than a decade and a half into his career as a performer. Inspired by the film You Got Served, he started out as a dance-battle sensation in Atlanta, which landed him in music videos, followed by a series of increasingly prominent acting roles, in films and television series from Dope to The Get Down to Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
“I want to deliver every time,” Moore says on a call from London, where he’s promoting his latest work, the second SV film: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, in which he voices Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino successor to Peter Parker. In the eye-popping CG-animated film, we find his character interacting with other Spider-People across the multiverse and discovering what it takes to be a real hero.
Shameik Moore wears a Louis Vuitton Men’s top and shorts, Givenchy necklaces, Miansai rings and an Audemars Piguet Watch. Stylist’s own durag. Photo by Keith Major for EBONY Media.
But Moore has never wanted to be defined by a singular medium. He recorded several tracks for the film Dope alongside Pharrell Williams, and more. The son of Errol Moore, a reggae musician, Moore has been in the studio recording hundreds of tracks, as well as directing music videos, which he hopes to start rolling out sometime this year. He’s also developing a lifestyle brand, as well as some of his own intellectual property (IP) for television and the big screen. There’s no one out there doing what he wants to do, Moore announces without pausing.
“I’m honored to be a vessel for positivity and change and evolution. I feel like I got bitten by that spider myself.”
Moore is short on neither ideas nor confidence, declaring that he sees himself as a cross between Denzel Washington and Michael Jackson. But to deliver on his ambition and propel the most fulsome form of his artistic expression, Moore says, he first had to find a true sense of self.
Here, we dig in to learn more about the brazen multitalent with the outsize personality.
EBONY: It feels like we’re in an era of Black superheroes.
Shameik Moore: This is what I feel like we’ve been calling for, for years. I’m honored to be a vessel for positivity and change and evolution. I feel like I got bitten by that spider myself. I like that Miles Morales was created long before the [diversity] trend. It’s not like, “Let’s make Spider-Man Black because Black Panther did well.” Miles Morales was [first introduced via] the comic books. I was probably 14 when I saw Miles Morales for the first time. He’s getting his shine now. I think original IP is the next step for diversity. It’s dope that we’re at this place. I’m looking forward to creating characters that were originally Black, and not changing characters who were originally white and making them Black so that we feel included. That’s where I think that we are going, and should be going.
What is it about Miles Morales that makes his story so compelling for people?
He’s just a guy you wouldn’t mind having in your life. He’s a stand-up guy. He has a big heart. He’s courageous. [He also represents] both the African-American and the Latin cultures well. As Spider-Man lovers, I think we take to the Miles story as a whole. We acknowledge Peter’s existence and importance in [Miles’s] story. We didn’t remove Peter. We didn’t recreate Spider-Man. We weren’t like, “Peter doesn’t exist.” This is a Black Spider-Man. This is a story about someone who is learning from Peter Parker as Peter is disengaging from being Spider-Man.
You’ve talked before about wanting to do all of these things — music, acting, dancing — and wanting to do them at a high level. You’re someone who has never been shy about your ambition and your belief in your own talent. How do you assess how you’ve done so far at becoming an expert at all of these different types of art?
The world only really knows me as an actor at this moment. So I’d say internally, it’s kind of a tough question to answer.
Wu-Tang, Dope, The Get Down, Spider-Man — these are all culturally impactful roles, and I’m absolutely proud of them. I feel like I am on a rock-star wave, honestly. And I think that my results have yet to really shine through, but I feel like we’re just moments away. Everything is really coming together on my end. It can be a little tiring sometimes, and challenging on my ego.
“The most important part of this whole thing for me was finding myself.”
Shameik Moore wears a Fendi sweater and Miansai rings. Photo by Keith Major for EBONY Media.
You’ve said you want to be a cross between Denzel Washington and Michael Jackson.
I am a cross between Denzel Washington and Michael Jackson.
But as you’ve said, people have seen more of Denzel in you than they have of Michael so far.
What’s your favorite Denzel performance? Which movie do you think of when you think of him?
I don’t even think of a specific movie. I just think of his impact. Of how people think about him. And why they feel that way about him. There’s American Gangster, there’s Devil in a Blue Dress; there are literally too many movies with Denzel — it’s not one. And that is the Denzel element I’m talking about. I want people to look back and be like “I don’t know which role was the best role from Sha! He killed this, he killed this, he killed this! And all of them were totally different characters and totally different lanes.” It’s got to be bigger than the movie. It’s got to be my actual impact on the culture as Shameik Moore. If I don’t dream big, then I don’t really know what I’m doing here.
“The first time I met Jay-Z, I went to his office building because I was meeting with someone at Roc Nation. Jay-Z walked in on the meeting. He sat there, and at the end he was like, ‘I only know one person with your confidence. Kanye West.'”
You said that you’ve been having success since you were about 13. What do you consider your first real success as a performer?
When I did Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. It was my first guest-star role — that was the first thing that really felt like, “Okay…”
Were you nervous about it?
I think the only time I get nervous is when I need to sing, because it’s an intimate act. Everything else is just expressive, but my vocals are the most intimate way of me expressing myself. Acting — I can be a different part of myself that I don’t embrace all of the time. Dancing — I’m expressing the moment itself; I’m not thinking at all. If my shoulder wants to move up, or both of my knees want to shake and then drop, it’s in the moment. Whereas singing, it’s very intentional and comes from my spirit.
You grew up in a musical household.
I wouldn’t say it’s a musical household, but my dad is a [reggae] musician. There was a lot of traditional reggae [in my house], so naturally I ran away from that sound. I love it and I appreciate it; it’s just that it’s very embedded in me, if that makes sense. I thought hip-hop was cool, and I thought R&B represented something new to my ears and my heart, and it’s what sparked me. My dad and I, we used to butt heads about that, because he’s like, “How can you not be tapping into your roots?” And I’m like, “Well, I like what I like.”
The music we’re going to hear from you soon, has there been any return back to those reggae roots?
I’m Jamaican and was raised in East Atlanta; there’s a lot of culture in that upbringing. Music about girls shaking, me catching a wine, having a drink — all of the music that we listen to already — that’s what’s going to drop first. I have yet to find that distinct “Shameik Moore” sound; I’ve just been making music that I enjoy listening to.
I might drop a single and a music video I directed like three years ago, or a mixtape; I might do that first. I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of songs on my computer, songs that people love.
Who in the industry do you see as friends and peers, and who is giving you advice?
One of my most valued memories is when we finished on set [of The Get Down] and Jaden Smith took me to his dad’s premiere for Suicide Squad. I didn’t expect to walk the carpet or anything, so while I was standing on the side, Will Smith saw me while he had Jaden under his arm, and he was like, “Yo, get out here! Come here!” So I walked over to him, and he put me under his other arm, and he was like, “This is the future of Hollywood!” That’s what he screamed out to the paparazzi.
Is there anyone people would be surprised to learn that you keep in touch with?
André 3000, Busta Rhymes…
“It was when I found [my own personal] identity that I found my rhythm.”
Shameik Moore wears Givenchy clothing and an Audemars Piguet watch. Photo by Keith Major for EBONY Media.
How’d you link with André?
He walked up to me at the Mercer hotel in New York and gave me his number. He loved my work. This was after the first part of The Get Down came out.
I never told him this story, but I remember when I was 13 and I was performing at these middle schools and high schools in DeKalb County in Georgia. André was in the car next to us, driving, and my dad pointed him out. André kind of glanced over but tried to focus on the road. So I put up my poster [to the window] and was pointing at it and all that, and André did a little smile or whatever. I’m like, That’s crazy! You don’t even know I was like 13 years old driving next to you with a poster of me.
Yeah, it must be crazy to get to meet and befriend the people you grew up admiring.
The first time I met Jay-Z, I went to his office building because I was meeting with someone at Roc Nation. Jay-Z walked in on the meeting. He sat there, and at the end he was like, “I only know one person with your confidence.” I asked him, “Who?” I want you to guess who that is.
I asked him who; he said Kanye West.
You are very confident! Do people ever try to frame that as a bad thing?
Absolutely. But only people who don’t want that life, though. When I’m talking to Jay-Z, I don’t have to worry about that. When I’m having a conversation with A$AP Rocky, I’m not worried about him thinking I’m too confident. When I’m having a conversation with RZA — or really anybody where it’s in them and not on them, anybody who knows who they are and is confident with themself to their core — there might be a competitive spirit that comes out, but nobody is feeling that, “Oh, he’s too confident.”
What would you say to a 13-year-old fan of yours, someone who’s driving next to you in a car holding up a poster, wanting to get to where you are?
The most important part of this whole thing for me was finding myself. In Atlanta, I was trying to become something, a version of myself that I saw — but I didn’t have knowledge of self. I was identifying myself with my talent and my success. [But look for] what makes you, you. There’s always something to prove, but prove it to yourself. It was when I found [my own personal] identity that I found my rhythm.
Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist covering issues of race, justice and culture.
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