Life According to 070 Shake

Over some Indian cuisine on Friday the 13th, 070 Shake talks about her philosophies on life, the status of G.O.O.D. Music, and her new album ‘You Can’t Kill Me'

070 Shake press photo by Eddie Mandell

Photo by Eddie Mandell

070 Shake press photo by Eddie Mandell

Danielle Balbuena fears very little, even on one of the spookiest days of the year (and even when a subpar Yelp rating is staring her right in the face). 

Balbuena, better known as 070 Shake, is sitting across from me at Vaibhav Indian Spice Journey, a restaurant in Jersey City. Dripped out in a white button-up and tie, she’s situated herself behind one of two tables she reserved for herself and her entourage of 10 crew members.

The 24-year-old artist has spotted lackluster Yelp reviews for the restaurant, which is not far from her hometown of North Bergen, New Jersey. Customers have given it a measly 3.5 stars out of 5, but she’s been here before. She knows the staff. And on this Friday the 13th, which just happens to be a day she was born on. “My mom wanted to hold me and wait, because she didn’t want me to be born on Friday the 13th,” she says. “Can’t run away from it.” Today, she promises me some good-ass chicken tikka masala. 

Some things, Shake tells me, can’t be determined by outside judgment, or Yelp reviews for that matter. As we start talking about her upcoming sophomore effort, You Can’t Kill Me, she explains that music is one of those things. “To put it out in the world, it’s a very vulnerable thing, very vulnerable for sure,” she says. “Music is expression. Having to see it be judged, I don’t think that’s what music’s about. It’s just very precious to you.”


070 Shake is the sound-shifting musical acrobat, responsible for 2020’s critically-applauded Modus Viviendi and stand-out features on G.O.O.D. Music releases near the end of the 2010s, including “Ghost Town,” “Santeria,” and “Violent Crimes.” With co-signs from Kanye West, and now Madonna after their unexpected new collaboration “Frozen,” Shake is becoming Jersey royalty, sitting at the throne of the 070 musical collective she helped form. She got here by making sounds for a loyal, somewhat underground fanbase, and by the looks of it, she’s on her way to cementing herself as one of Def Jam’s most consistent artists. 

Just a few weeks away from the release of You Can’t Kill Me, Shake is just as focused on making sure I’m enjoying my food as she is on delivering thought-provoking answers to my questions. Frequently looking into the distance as she gathers her thoughts, she’s unafraid to get deep, even revealing how she views her own existence on this planet. Coming across as friendly and nonchalantly funny, she debates with her crew about all the leftover Indian food they still have on the tour bus, mimicking a somewhat inauthentic-sounding IG story that Lil Baby made in promotion of the Billboard Music Awards, and laughing about an old video of her and XXXTentacion that someone shows to her on a phone. Despite the lighthearted energy, though, she says she’s feeling some pressure over seeing her new album be critiqued and consumed by audiences. Before we chow down on garlic naan, she tells me that the LP, which is set to arrive on June 3, feels closer to her than any body of work she’s ever touched. 

“I always feel that pressure, because I’ve created this from scratch, and spent a lot of time on it. Most of my attention in life has gone to this,” she explains. “It’s deep. It actually feels even more deep this time, because I spent more time on it, and it was way more detailed this time. So it’s just a part of me.”

“I don’t like when things don’t change. Especially in music.”

Things are different this time around for Shake, who made a name for herself as a G.O.O.D.-backed genre-dismantler after signing to the label in 2016. When our conversation shifts to continuing the label’s legacy as one of the handful of artists still signed to it, she tells me that the once-mighty force founded by Kanye and run by president Pusha-T is no longer its former self. “To be honest, just to keep it real with you, G.O.O.D. Music is not really a thing,” she reveals. “Like, nobody works for G.O.O.D. Music. They don’t even exist. To be honest, I worked with Def Jam. Nobody works at G.O.O.D. Music, you know? So it’s really Def Jam, which has a legacy in itself.”

The album is being released by G.O.O.D. and Def Jam, and the latter’s legacy is just as important to Shake. But even though she has a powerful label behind her monster of a project, she tells me that those who are overseeing the process trusted her enough to let her shine and stay relatively hands-off with You Can’t Kill Me.

“I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about their labels and stuff,” she says. “I think that’s why I get the support from the label, because a lot of people go to labels and expect them to figure their artistry out for them. But for me, I know what I want and who I am, and I stay true to that. So they gotta follow me where I’m going. I’m not waiting around for them to tell me where to go.”

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Two and a half years of work have gone into the new LP, which was originally titled You Can’t Kill Me Because I Don’t Exist. Produced mostly by Shake’s go-to collaborator Dave Hamelin, with finishing touches and added genius from Mike Dean, who Shake calls the album’s “final boss.” The legendary producer and engineer started working on the project back in August, and his fingerprints are all over the record. “Once we get to a solid place with the music, we go see him and he takes it to where it needs to be,” Shake says of the self-anointed Synth God, Mike Dean. “I’ll be making something and people will be like, ‘It’s OK. It’s not that crazy.’ Then I’m like, ‘Just wait until Mike works on it. Let’s wait for Mike.’ You know what I’m saying? I don’t judge anything until after Mike touches it. I know that he’s always gonna take it out to the next level.”

Shake explains that the two-plus-year journey behind her upcoming record left her with far more songs to narrow down into the 14-track package than usual, but she was still searching for the same feeling as she was when she completed Modus. The specific type of feeling? Well, that’s more difficult to describe. “It’s a feeling,” she says. “Once you make a song that carries this feeling, it’s just undeniable, and that’s what I’m searching for when I’m making music. When I make a song, and it carries that feeling, I’m just like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna put this one to the side.’ And we make a bunch more like that. Those ones that feel right.”

The album is a behemoth of flashy synths, vocal stacking, and in-your-face emotion. The music is guided by unexpected but recurring tempo changes, heart-wrenching melodies, and theatrical elements, which can be felt viscerally on the goosebump-inducing ballad-turned-electronic-bop “History.” Other standouts include the stirring dance number “Cocoon,” and Auto-Tuned closer “Se Fue La Luz.” Shake explains that the twists and turns on You Can’t Kill Me mirror her unique perspective on life.

“Just to keep it real with you, G.O.O.D. Music is not really a thing. Like, nobody works for G.O.O.D. Music. They don’t even exist.”

“It reflects me as a person,” Shake says of the record’s constantly-shifting dynamic. “I don’t like when things don’t change. Especially in music, like, I can’t hear the same boom bap drums. Your bars got to be crazy. I love when things change, and new things come in, because my mind is always different. I have ADHD. Like right now, I’m trying to balance everything out that’s happening. I think the ADHD does help me when I’m making music, though, because I’ll be here and then the next second, I want something else.”

The jarring title of You Can’t Kill Me and corresponding theme fall in line with Shake’s ideology on life. Modus Vivendi was named, as Shake has shared in interviews, as an ode to “coming together,” but this one is all about the opposite: “Disassociating.” She has removed herself from social media for the most part and focused on life, which to Shake, feels like it’s already happened. Over dinner, she explains how she feels about the passing of time, and with the level of sincerity she has in her voice, I start to feel like she’s already seen me finish my food. 

“Just the way that moments go by, we’re already here,” she tells me, explaining that she often sees life as if it already happened. “I can remember myself being a kid, and now I’m here. And I’m gonna open my eyes again and I’m gonna be over there. So it’s preparing yourself for the inevitable, which is life. Life is inevitable in general. Time passes, and we’re going to be somewhere else. I just feel like in my mind, I’m already there. Going through the moment, slowly.”

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Listening to You Can’t Kill Me, you get the sense that Shake and her music could have, in fact, been sent from some futuristic alternative reality. Her expansive sound is growing more ambitious with each new record, much like her fashion sense. On 2021 single “Lose My Cool,” she opened with the line, “I’m so androgynous, I keep confusing them,” and when she exits the woman’s restroom at the restaurant, someone corrects her and points to the men’s room. She laughs it off. “He’s gonna have a fit when he finds out I’m a girl.”

Shake embraces the confusion. And when she makes her way onstage at Terminal 5 in Manhattan the next night—about a week after girlfriend Kehlani, who just tapped her for the heartwarming music video “Melt” that confirmed their relationship, surprised her onstage at another show—she’s performing an album that the sold-out crowd of 3,000 fans hasn’t even heard yet. Those surprised reactions from fans who hear the new material for the first time in a live setting, make it all worth it. 

“I think it’s a beautiful experience,” she says. “Because artists don’t really do that. They don’t tour the album before the album comes out. It’s a different experience to be receiving. It’s not like a regular energy when you’re playing a song because the people are singing along to it and you’re receiving a lot. Now it’s just, people are looking and they’re observant, and they’re really paying attention. They’re quiet and just listening.”

As her silhouette appeared onstage around 10:15 p.m. at the March 14 show, surrounded by five rows of blaring strobe lights, all she had to do was utter two words to make her audience lose it: “I’m home.”

Throughout the show, Shake controlled the crowd noise by simply raising a hand, facilitated an onstage proposal between two major fans, checked in on the well-being of fans in moshpits, and gave Terminal 5 the same rush of adrenaline that runs through the entirety of You Can’t Kill Me. 

“I was just free from the beginning, because it was like, ‘I have nothing to lose.’”

​​​​​​​Selling out a homecoming show is a major accomplishment for an artist who still is introducing herself to mainstream audiences, but Shake doesn’t approach success and becoming a household name like it’s a race. A career in music was never even a goal for her growing up. It was merely a form of expression—one that’s brought her back home with a following far larger than anything she anticipated when she started writing poetry years ago. Back then, her main focus was playing hoops for the North Bergen High School basketball team. That’s actually how she earned the Shake nickname, thanks to her moves on the hardwood, but once she started casually recording in 2015, things accelerated quickly.   

“Since I didn’t come in, like, ‘This is what I have to do and this is something I’ve worked for my whole life, I need to make it in this,’ it was always since the beginning such a free thing,” Shake tells me. “I definitely didn’t think this was gonna really become a thing. I was just free from the beginning, because it was like, ‘I have nothing to lose.’”

As Shake and I finish our table-side conversation, I remind her that the release date for You Can’t Kill Me is fast approaching. And while we’ve already established that the only real fear that Shake might have on album release day will come from seeing how it’s received, I ask her what she does want to feel on June 3. 

“I don’t want to feel nothing,” she says, dismissing the idea of having predetermined expectations about how she’ll feel on release day. “It’s gonna be weird [putting this album out]. This thing consumes your whole life.”

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