We talk to the 20-year-old rapper slash singer about signing to G.O.O.D Music, melodies, and Xanax addiction
It’s the morning of Kanye West’s celebrity-filled Wyoming listening party and his wife Kim Kardashian starts her Instagram feed with a short video of a hailstorm. The next clip shows the Cowboy State’s rolling countryside filled with sunshine. Patiently waiting somewhere nearby is 070 Shake (real name Danielle Balbuena), the 20-year-old rapper from North Bergen, New Jersey. As the big unveiling of West’s 23-minute long eighth album ye approaches, Shake doesn’t even know if her two features have made the cut. But they do. Her unadulterated joy as she crowdsurfs along to her soaring voice on “Ghost Town” is all the more spine-tingling given that her lyrics encapsulate the numbness of a generation. Her haunting voice also steals the show on Pusha T’s “Santeria”, and post-Wyoming the internet can’t take its eyes off her – neither could Kim that evening, posting three videos of Shake.
Shake’s breakout moment is especially impressive as she notably didn’t step inside a studio until 2015, preferring to play basketball and write poetry, while harbouring ambitions to get into acting. Then she typed ‘Drake-type beats’ into YouTube, added her voice to it, and a few uploads later founder of 1am Entertainment YesJulz was sliding into her DMs, convinced the deep-voiced singer she discovered on SoundCloud was male. Now Shake’s manager, Julz used her hip hop connections to help Shake get noticed by West – she signed to G.O.O.D. Music in 2016.
Following The 070 Project: Chapter 1 mixtape she dropped with her New Jersey crew, named 070 after the local zip code, Shake, whose own moniker comes from a basketball move she made up with her schoolfriend, released her strongest statement of intent this March. The six-track Glitter EP swells with heartfelt meditations on depression, addiction, and love over an electronic hip hop production. Shake not only shows her range as a singer and rapper, but also demonstrates her uniquely compelling storytelling, veering from stream of consciousness to rapid fire one-liners. “I’ve never seen anybody approach the songwriting process like Shake, she will literally go in the studio and basically freestyle a song from beginning to end without stopping,” her manager Julz enthuses over the phone, before passing it to the softly spoken Shake.
You’ve received unanimous praise for your two features on ye. How are you feeling?
070 Shake: I’m feeling good. I’m just working and motivated. Honestly I didn’t think it was going to be as hectic as it was but I guess people really liked what I did on it. But yeah it kind of took me by surprise, just being in that environment was a surprise for me.
How do you mean?
070 Shake: It’s just made me look at things in a different way, it made me realise that things can get really huge and I wanna be able to reach every level that I can and just have no limits.
You said in previous interviews that if you were going to sign, it would only be to G.O.O.D. Music. What did you think you’d gain that you wouldn’t have gotten at a different label?
070 Shake: I felt like I was going to be able to be myself and I could be as weird as I wanted to be and Ye would understand. Because I’ve always been a huge Kanye West fan so just knowing how he was, it just felt right for me and I felt that’s where I needed to be.
You were quite hands on with the making of your previous video, “Trust Nobody”. How involved were you with “Mirrors”, which dropped a few days ago?
070 Shake: Honestly I was gonna tell Julz (Shake’s manager), I was gonna call her and say I need my directing credits because I came up with the whole car concept. The song is filled with emotion so I wanted to be in a place where it was kind of isolated and you could zone in on the emotions, so I thought a car would be a good idea for that.
Where was it filmed?
070 Shake: That was filmed in Malibu, about a month ago.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
070 Shake: I don’t go in the studio with a concept and I don’t really have concepts for songs. I just go with what I’m feeling at the moment, so every song you’ve heard is literally what I was feeling at the moment. And once I start thinking I can’t stop, it’s really fast. If I’m not around the studio I’ll just record myself on my phone because one thing that’s really important for me is melodies, so I’ll come up with melodies and then I’ll write to those melodies.
The way you use your voice almost feels like you’re projecting different characters.
070 Shake: I feel like people usually always stick to one thing, when you have a whole range of what you can do. So I really like to hit every point of skill that I can get to. If I wanna rap, I can rap, if I wanna sing, if I wanna sing higher, I’ll sing higher, if I wanna sing lower, you feel me? I see myself on a broader scale and it’s almost more fun that way because I don’t have to stick to something, I can go with however I feel.
Glitter was produced by New Jersey production team The Kompetition (J. Sebastian, Ether Phoenix, and Razsy Beats), who you previously said are responsible for “the most authentic” Shake. What did they bring out of you?
070 Shake: I think production is the most important thing when it comes to my music because it does inspire me when I hear a beat that I can just fly on and so they have a huge part of this project, we went 50/50 with it, so it’s like, without them it wouldn’t have been the same, the lyrics wouldn’t have been the same, it’s just a very important factor. And I feel like these days a lot of people complain about how artists are not being experimental or they sound the same, but really a lot of the production now sounds the same, so you only have so much to work with as an artist when you don’t have good production.
“Every era has its own drugs, you know the 80s it was crack or whatever and I feel like in our time now, the drugs we have to face is Xanax” – 070 Shake
In “I Laugh When I’m With Friends But Sad When I’m Alone” you sing “the whole youth is depressed”. What do you mean by that?
070 Shake: I feel like every era has its own drugs, you know the 80s it was crack or whatever and I feel like in our time now, the drugs we have to face is Xanax and a lot of antidepressants. And what happens when you’re taking those is it obviously makes you numb to what you’re feeling, but the aftermath of it is that you diagnose yourself with that depression. So if you’re taking them and you stop taking them you’re gonna get depressed. And I feel that’s what was happening with a lot of the youth. It happened to me, and after, I was finding myself relying on them.
How old were you when you got into that?
070 Shake: I was like 18 when I got into Xanax. I started doing different drugs earlier, the first drug I did I was 14 or 13, but when I got into Xanax, I was 18 and I literally took Xanax every single day for a year and a half after that.
How did you get out of it?
070 Shake: I was very into spirituality and being at one with yourself but I was also being a hypocrite because I wasn’t at one with myself, I was at one with drugs. But me knowing all this knowledge I knew about oneness and all that shit meant I was able to learn how to manipulate it and control it easier than most people. I definitely had people supporting me like my girlfriend and my mom through that time but yeah, it was really all mind (how I got over it).
You’re from North Bergen in New Jersey. How would you describe it to someone who’d never heard of it?
070 Shake: I would say, picture a bunch of kids in the street just doing crazy shit and becoming a family. It would just basically be all of us putting a dollar in to get a meal, pizza, chicken wings, and French fries, all that good stuff, and have a feast from all of our dollars.
Is it true you like musicals?
070 Shake: Musicals are my favourite. When I was last in London I went outside and I just listened to the Sweeney Todd soundtrack and just walked around.
What’s the last film that made you cry?
070 Shake: Oh shit, I love this question. Charlie Countryman with Shia LaBeouf. I watched that not too long ago and I was literally crying through the whole thing. You gotta check it out, you’ll see why I was crying.