Kanye’s prodigal talent from Ye is beginning to live up to the massive, untethered potential we saw a first glimpse of four years ago on “Ghost Town” and “Violent Crimes.” After more than two long years of waiting, the New Jersey artist Danielle Balbuena, better known as 070 Shake, has released album number two, You Can’t Kill Me. Essentially featureless, the G.O.O.D. Music artist really gets into the nitty gritty of a conceptually consistent album in conversation with only herself. A striking pillar in the hip-hop world, 070 is stepping up to get her flowers and take her place among the greats.
Ever since I learned about 070’s improvisational writing style, I’ve been entranced by the music. In an interview she once claimed she shows up to the studio and just makes sense of what comes to her. Although she’s not the first to do it, the fact that 070 is able to impulsively impart meaning and spin lyrics into such robust melodies- essentially on the spot – is impressive. 070 Shake’s music is effortlessly cool, a style she invented and built upon in New Jersey as part of the 070 collective, with a drawling, humming voice that’s completely different than anyone else. Her moody, reserved, and slightly elusive persona is intriguing and the album cover for You Can’t Kill Me feels like an accurate visual summation of the undefined artist. In her video on the making of You Can’t Kill Me, Shake remarks, “we literally have to go off our intuition, and that’s what being a pioneer is, just going off feeling… and I have all my inspirations, I’m the evolved version of whoever came before me.”
Admittedly, at first listen of You Can’t Kill Me, I was disappointed that 070 Shake didn’t give us any textbook radio hits. I thought she needed something mainstream, if only for the sake of her upwards trajectory in music and to keep the ball rolling towards becoming a household name. However, what 070 actually puts out is the raw materials that deserve to be lauded as they are. Producers and rappers will continue to sample from her stock to create the high-energy radio hits and remixes from the baseline of 070’s artistry (see Tame Impala’s “Guilty Conscience” remix). 070 has music that moves easily between remixes in the electronic and hip-hop space, and does well in both. You Can’t Kill Me is the most pure, authentic version of Dani Moon. With this in mind, the album’s colorful production and thoughtful composition stands alone, a massive contribution from one of hip hop’s most innovative new artists.
070’s raw voice has a gorgeous clarity in it, like a boat cutting through a glassy lake. She then shuffles in vocals laden with her signature effects, adding a mix of chamberous reverb, an upward or downward pitch shift, and vocal multiplication. Other times she creates an organ, church-choir like sound by combining the same vocals pitched at slightly discordant degrees and combined. There’s also a persisting and delightful element of youthfulness in her voice, which is then countered by her complete vocal control. From a producer’s ear, it sounds like 070 and her engineers have taken every measure to record the vocals consistently on high quality mics, replicating the same sound over and over with uniform pre-amps, then neatly compressing them to get the cleanest sound possible. The only other artist who comes to mind as having a comparable brand of personal vocal alterations is The Weeknd, who has refined his signature sound on his singing so well that copycats are quickly outed (there was once controversy that Drake pulled The Weeknd off the original version of “Don’t Matter To Me” only to replace it with a sample of Michael Jackson’s vocals, pitched to sound similarly to The Weeknd’s special blend. If true, it’s a huge shade to both Jackson and The Weeknd, but it’s never been proven). What 070 has done to her vocals has allowed her to seamlessly integrate them into the music as an instrument, and create a powerful sonic brand out of her voice.
Another notable characteristic of 070’s voice is the ambiguity inside it. “I’m so androgynous, I keep confusing them” the singer declares in one of her lyrics. Referencing her sound and personal style (gelled curls, prominent bone structure, dark colors and layers of clothing), the artist toys the line between the gender binary. 070 creates a delicate balance of masculine and feminine in her vocals as well, essentially duetting herself and slipping between harsh and tender sounds. It’s unsavory, but in a musical environment where more than 70% of successful musicians are male, and men have been proven to listen to mostly other male artists, an androgynous female voice may be a key factor in winning over that demographic. With a gender-transcendent appeal, 070 Shake leaves the audience free to remove personal bias and decide for themselves how they feel about the music. 070’s music and persona is a positive example of the uniting force that a queer musician can have on their listeners as they choose to ignore the rigid binaries that straight artists often adhere to.
070 also seems to have an affinity for strings, keys, wind, electric and acoustic guitar, and a host of other instruments I probably missed. The cast of instruments is diverse and brilliant, dancing with Shake’s melancholy vocals in a beautiful partnership. A fan of power instrumentals, the R&B artist often uses squealing violins, crashing cymbals, hiccupping beats and vocal chop in a massive chaotic production that contrasts the simplicity and calm in her vocals. The chaos is intentionally orchestrated in each tumultuous breakdown. You Can’t Kill Me is an album that could sync into a movie about a war torn country or a tortured heroine-turned-villain (she even has a female Bruce Wayne energy about her).
Many critics see 070 Shake as an upcoming peer of the likes of Kanye, Travis Scott, Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, but I would argue that she already is. I suspect that, in retrospect, fans will look back at the moody singer’s discography fondly, and the fact that her music has been largely overlooked by many in her early career will be forgotten. Already working with the best in the business, the cast of superstar producers on the album includes Mike Dean, Wondagurl (another female force in hip-hop), Dave Hamelin and Johan Lenox. Mike Dean has more production credits with Travis Scott than any other producer besides Scott himself, and has gone on to work on largely successful projects with emerging talent like Fivio Foreign and FKA Twigs. Mike Dean’s creativity in his signature production style is unmistakable on several of the 070 tracks, and certain moments had reminiscent hints of previous songs Mike has produced on.
Going past production and songwriting, 070 seems to be a 360 tastemaker, as many of the greats often are. Her visualizers and fashion are equally brilliant and gothic, and her appearances on PAPER, Office Magazine and Vogue Scandinavia show her wearing brands like Saint Laurent, Aries, and Supreme. Her music videos showcase more of her androgyny, featuring the artist’s lanky frame in football gear, oversized boots, slacks, leather, and the colors black, brown, beige and occasionally red. Tattoos on her always half-closed eyelids can be seen in her recent music videos. Shake’s style is the embodiment and lived experience of the fashion-forward, gender-neutral clothing many brands have been pushing out in their recent collections.
In addition to a new album announcement was the tabloid buzz of a new romance in the queer music community. Leading up to the album roll-out, Kehlani and 070 Shake seemed to confirm they were dating with cute mirror photos and appearances at each other’s performances. Although Kehlani has had several public romances, this is her first relationship since coming out as lesbian in 2021. Of the queer woman power couples we currently have in music (G Flip and Chrishelle Stause, King Princess and Quinn Wilson) 070 Shake and Kehlani are the sauciest. The pair’s individual music goes together like oil and water (neither appeared on each other’s most recent albums, and I personally like that choice for them) but their core R&B fan base and aesthetics are largely synonymous. Essentially, they look great together, and they’ve been in no rush to broadcast it to the world. From the outside the relationship feels organic, and with a new power couple in music comes the eyes and ears of overlapping fan bases, and of course a new album from each of the singers since they started dating.
Back to the music. I thought I loved 070’s previous album, Modus Vivendi, but I’ve already listened through You Can’t Kill Me about nine times since the album was released on Thursday (I know). The complexity of the album brings new focal points to light with every listen. The thought and care put into the composure of each song deserves deep analysis, I feel like I could be reading Shakespeare as I listen to the album. Currently, 070 Shake is playing several sold-out shows in the Los Angeles area opened by Johan Lenox, an acclaimed classical artist and composer, also with credits with Kanye West, Travis Scott, Finneas and more. The theatrical production will go on for four nights until 070 and Johan Lennox part ways.
Stand Out Tracks:
A beautiful, album-opening song about meeting someone where they’re at when starting a romance. In the lyrics, 070 croons;
“Questions become answers /
Answers become lessons /
I think we should start here”
“Don’t wanna fuck it up let’s get it right /
I think we should start here”
With more simple production, 070’s vocals focus as the main instrument, leading the ear across the artist’s reflective thoughts on a lover. The final portion of the song ends with a triple-beam breakdown reminiscent of Travis Scott’s production sounds, and devolves into a spacey playback.
“Medicine” punches in with distorted spacey electric guitar strings and radio-static keys. The drawling, haunting vocals reverberate across this track. Although broody, there’s an element of inspired hopefulness in “Medicine” and a few other tracks on the album. 070 manages to go dark but never too dark, just when she gets too serious she jumps back into softer, uplifting high notes, and the overall feel of the project manages to feel elevated.
A simple, quick-bouncing beat and constant harmonies makeup the foundation of “Cocoon,” the song seems to be a more candid look at addiction and substance abuse, something 070 has been known to struggle with;
“What’s the last 4 digits? /
Painkiller, doctor says I’ll feel better /
Picking up a habit is a fucked up system”
This deep cut is beautifully written and is all about strength in contrast. A slow ballad, 070 sings over an acoustic guitar. The electric jubilees and heavy bass again resembles the newest of The Weeknd’s, Kanye’s or Travis Scott’s work, with slight electronic and hip hop elements brightening the melodies.
“Stay” is a heartbreaking, vulnerable look into a past relationship of Shake’s. She captures the feeling of longing for something that is over, and bargaining with herself and her lover for one last night;
“Stay ah /
Just one more time /
You loved me once, you can love me twice /
Showed that sign /
If looks could talk, I know your eyes won’t lie”
The final song on the album, “Sue Fue La Luz,” goes back to her Dominican roots as she sings the entire intro in Spanish. The translation goes something like, “Light, The power went out / Light of my life, When you went.” It’s a devastating choice, but completely on brand for 070 Shake to end the album with the saddest track imaginable. No closure here, just a beautiful symphony of horns in the background.