070 Shake is in a galaxy far, far away. One of fashion shows and Milanese architecture and, for the moment, extravagant hotel rooms complete with glistening chandeliers. It’s this latter setting that the musician calls in from with a champagne glass in hand. It’s a long way from Shake’s current residence in Los Angeles and even farther from the township of North Bergen, New Jersey where Danielle Balbuena became 070 Shake, the musician who manifested being signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label in 2016.
Invited to Milan for the debut runway show of Bottega Veneta’s new creative director, Matthieu Blazy, 070 Shake looks completely at ease as she slouches into a chair in her hotel room, and that’s part of her allure. Shake can best be described as “unbothered” no matter the circumstances surrounding her. Even in the midst of an explosive entrance onto the music scene in 2018, as she stole the show with a hook delivered entirely in Spanish on “Santeria” off Pusha-T’s DAYTONA and with her vocals on “Ghost Town” from West’s ye, the Jersey-raised artist has never become swallowed up in the limelight.
In the four years since breaking out, Shake released her critically lauded 2020 debut album, Modus Vivendi, and, more recently, a pair of singles, but beyond her musical output, news on the artist hasn’t amounted to more than a trickle. Shake has social media accounts, of course, but she rarely touches them, preferring instead to focus her mental energy on creating art. “I really don't think that I was even designed to consume that much of other people's lives,” she admits over our video call.
For Shake, the galaxy she’s built around her — orbited by family and the friends that make up her “070” collective — is more than enough. Even a move last year to Los Angeles didn’t shake up her world, though the weather is better now. “I'm like a hermit crab,” she says. “I adapt to everything. Everything is pretty much the same with me, to be honest. It's just about who I'm with and what it is that I'm doing. I've never been the kind of person that is too affected by where I am.”
It’s her groundedness, and elusiveness, that ensures that when Shake does decide to step out of her galaxy, the world pays attention. Every part of her that she shares is achingly honest – right down to her fashion. For Shake, clothing is “a way to speak without saying anything,” leaving music to be the way to say everything else. After spending time writing tracks and experimenting with her sound during the pandemic, Shake is ready to re-engage with the world via her follow-up album, You Can’t Kill Me.
As she sipped champagne and prepared to head out for an evening in the fashion realm’s glitzy world, we caught up with the musician as she reflected on her work with superstar producer Mike Dean, the benefits of living outside of the algorithms, and why she’s tapping into the part of herself that’s infinite.
You grew up across the water from New York in New Jersey. Did you go into New York often when you were a kid?
No, actually I never went to New York as a kid. I went to New York once [when] my mom took me to see Times Square. I was always in Jersey. I lived like 20 minutes away from the city so the tunnel to get to the city was just a 15-minute drive, but anytime I see that tunnel, it's like a tunnel to another world. I stayed in Jersey and I prefer it that way because I learned what I had to learn about New York later in life at a good time.
Your last album was in 2020. How did the pandemic impact your creative output as you were making your upcoming album?
To be honest, man, I'm really an indoors person. I'm more the introverted type; I have to drink lots of alcohol to be extroverted. I felt like I was in my habitat just biding my time. I like having time to write and be locked in and make a bunch of music so that's what I was doing. I was experimenting a lot more and making a lot of sounds.
What’s the biggest shift sonically with your new album compared to your previous work?
There's way more attention to detail; it's more of me and I'm more vulnerable. I even showed myself what kind of an artist I really am and what I’m capable of. It's so reflective. It's like, “Oh, this is different.” Not different for the purpose of it being popular, but for the purpose of it being real and existing. It’s a big leap forward.
Mike Dean tweeted a few days ago that he finished mastering your album. How was it working with him? He's worked on so many big albums, including Ye’s Donda 2.
Man. I love working with him. He's an amazing human being. Aside from the music, he has such a youthful soul and such a youthful mind. He's willing to experiment with me and also get weird. He's very accepting and he understands music at a very high level. Music is communication and he understands my language. It's always an honor to watch him play and do what he does. I'm very grateful to be able to make music with him.
You don't go on social media very often. How does that help you stay focused?
Instagram is somebody else's world that I'm stepping into. These are not the terms in which I would like people to get to know me. I would much rather do it in this way where we're speaking and having a conversation. I want to be as present as I can be. Instagram and social media is a slippery slope. You click it and the next thing you know, you've been on this for an hour. I don't like things that do that. It's a sneaky little snake.
It's really trying to trap you because it knows what you like and it knows what you want to see. That's why your algorithm is custom to you. I don't like feeling like I'm being manipulated.
It really rewires your brain because you're trying to get this dopamine fix from scrolling endlessly through all this content.
Exactly, and you become dependent on it. That is what I fear. I also fear looking back on life and being in this beautiful place with these beautiful people and seeing a visual of myself looking down at my screen. I would really want to fight myself. I want to be as present in this life as I can be.
What do you do when you're not making music or writing or anything? How do you relax?
I don't. I really don't do anything else but create. When I'm not working on music, I'm working on visuals and just learning. I'll maybe do some spiritual work, read, and play a lot of chess. I want to give this my all. Every day isn’t promised. I want to go as hard as I can. I'll have time to relax later in life. I know the importance of resting and I know when to be still, but that is only so that I can be 100% at work.
The working title of your new album was You Can't Kill Me Because I Don't Exist. What’s the story behind that title?
I was speaking to my friend and we were talking about my lack of social media presence and me being detached from a lot of things [and] never really being too hurt by anything. I see life as if it already happened. Whatever happens, it happened. I can't change it. My mom used to always tell me: “If you can change it, then don't stress. And if you can’t change it, then don't stress.”
So basically just don't stress as much as possible?
Yeah, so I have this mentality of being detached from certain things [and] not feeling certain things because I know better. I just said, “If I don't exist in that world, they can't hurt me.” A lot of people get hurt on social media mentally and emotionally, and they don't even know it. One day you just wake up depressed and you don't even know why. Especially for artists or for anybody that has a following, you're literally reading people's comments about you all day and it's affecting you – whether it be good or bad.
Even if they're saying good things, because now, that's something you feel like you need. It's like having chocolate for the first time. You were good without it, but now that you’ve had it, you feel like you need it. Now you're seeking approval because you're so invested in what people think. We've come so far from what art really is; art isn’t about making sure that people like it, it's about expressing yourself.
A lot of artists make art just for validation now.
Yeah and for numbers and shit like that. That's fine [if] that's your lane but I don't know. I just feel like the way that I make art – not to say that it's better or worse than how anybody else does it – but it's so freeing for me to be myself and to not be in the studio thinking about, "Are people going to like this?" That's when you become a slave to it.
I [said] they can't hurt me if I'm not in the world, because I don't really exist in their world. I know what I am and I know that I'm much more than this physical version of myself. Even real pain, it's not real. Deepak Chopra said [this quote by Bhagavad Gita] in a guided meditation, about tapping into the part of yourself that’s infinite – the part that water can’t wet and fire can’t burn. That clicked in my brain instantly. I'm so infinite. That’s another reason why I don't care to be part of this world.
When you're on your deathbed, you're not going to care about who dropped the hottest whatever. Life is so much bigger, man. I believe there's something even bigger after this and I want to prepare for that. I want to get my spirit right for that.