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070 Shake Is Absolutely Free: ‘Your Words Can’t Hurt Me, Your Fire Can’t Burn Me’

Four years ago, 070 Shake made one of the most memorable entrances in recent music history. “I let go of everything that I know,” she belted, two minutes and 30 seconds into Kanye West’s “Ghost Town.” “And nothing hurts anymore/I feel kinda freeeee.”

That feeling of spiritual release, a sense of liberation by way of song, is what 070 Shake does best. And now, after making a thrillingly experimental solo debut with 2020’s Modus Vivendi, she’s back.

“I just want to heal people,” says the New Jersey artist, 24, born Danielle Balbuena. 

On a random Wednesday in March, two and a half years into working on her latest project and mere days after having finished it, she’s at Soho House in downtown Los Angeles. She throws on her oversized leather jacket, places her arms pretzel-style on the table, and looks firmly at me from between curly curtains of hair: “So, did you hear the new album yet? You fuck with it?” 

Her second album, You Can’t Kill Me, references the freedom she’s found from letting go of phones and social media, and the belief that the less people know about her, the more untouchable she is — a thought more pointedly detailed in the album’s original title, “You can’t kill me if I don’t exist.” 

Largely produced by her go-to collaborator Dave Hamelin, with mixing and mastering plus final touches by close Ye associates Mike Dean and Johan Lenox, the album is an emotional rollercoaster that theatrically explores the idea of love. On its first two tracks, Shake invites you into her world, and then ensnares you by way of Marza Wilks’ cello, along with layered vocals, heavy percussion, orchestral transitions and synths. 

“I’m in your world for the night,” she sings on standout “Invited.” “Don’t wanna fuck it up, let’s get it right.” From there, we travel back to the agonies of lost loves; release the weight of being someone’s medicine; explore the effects of dipsomania; and relish in the pleasures of love on smooth and subtly sensual tracks like “Blue Velvet” and “Purple Walls.” Overall, You Can’t Kill Me feels dark and light, uncategorizable and ahead of its time.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

You’ve explored different aspects of love in a very beautiful but also cynical way throughout your work. How would you define love in this moment of your life?

I always say, love is like carbon. It’s the base of everything… You can find love in all things. To me, it’s God, you know? And it is the same way I feel about God — finding God in all things. That’s how I feel about love. There’s even love in hate. That’s how powerful love is. 

What do you feel like you’re exploring on this album? In love and otherwise, what makes it special for you? 

I’ve never heard anything like it. That’s the purpose for me — I wasn’t trying to do something that people already know. I understand the sacrifice of making something new. People might not understand it at first, which is fine for me, because the purpose of it is the fact that there is nothing like it. It’s just doing something different with music. I’m not doing it for numbers. 

I’m fine living how I live, being minimal, not living above my means… I come from a place where I didn’t even know that Hollywood was a real place. I’m very grateful, and I don’t need too much. I want exactly what I need. With that, I’ma always be good. I’ll never fail. 

Does that mindset come from a place of spirituality for you at all? 

Oh, sure. Definitely. I mean, I just went to Brazil [for the South American leg of tour] and gave a kid $100 and he threw everything he was selling that day, hugged his dad, and they jumped around. We were watching them, literally crying, like, “Bro, why the fuck do I need a billion dollars?” That shit is crazy. I would never want a billion dollars to myself. Never. If I got a billion dollars, I’m not doing enough. I’m not giving enough in my life. 

Was there a moment in the studio that felt special to you?

Well, I actually made half of it in Arizona in the desert [over the course of 6 months]. That was probably the most special time for me — being in the desert and stuff, just away from everything. Out here [in L.A.], things are changing every day. I go outside and it’s different people walking by, different cars, and the sky looks different. Over there, every day is still. Every day I wake up and the trees are the same trees. So I was very at peace. 

You explore themes of balance at times, whether it’s the idea of keeping and losing your cool on your recent single with NLE Choppa, or referencing yin and yang and war and harmony on “Wine and Spirits.” Do you think that that balance is possible or necessary?

I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think that it’s important for me to put that out there. Well…it’s definitely possible. Music is frequency. Everything has a low and a high frequency, literally everything. Even food. Colors have low and high frequency… especially music. 

What’s important about music is it’s just something that’s in our everyday lives. Even when we don’t notice it. We’re in a restaurant, there’s music playing; we’re watching a show, there’s music in the show; we’re in a car, music [is playing]. Music is part of our everyday life, so we’re constantly being fed these frequencies, you know? Words have frequencies. That’s why we have things like curse words. 

For me, it’s important to send that message to start sending these frequencies to reprogram the mind. Because most of the songs, if you look at what’s charting, it’s very — not that it’s a bad thing — but it’s a lot of low-frequency music. I’m here to create that balance.

On “Body,” you say “I wanted your body but it came with your soul.” It’s a simple line but it holds essays in it, because I think it captures what romance looks like to a lot of our generation. What do you think of our generation’s romantic habits?

“Body” is the most physical song on the album. That line at the end, it’s just touching on the fact that nothing is really just physical…. You touch somebody and you’re taking something from them. You might be cleaning them or dirtying them with your energy type shit and we don’t see it… But even sex is such a spiritual thing. Even though the song was about the body, I ended with that line… “It came with your soul,” you know what I’m saying? Nothing is really just physical.

Most people are delighted to have you here on Earth. Who is the “you” you’re referring to when you say You Can’t Kill Me?

The “you” is basically humans, to be honest. I came up with it when I was talking to [creative director Bharata Selassie] about social media, and I was like, “Yo, if I’m not on social media, your words can’t hurt me, cause they don’t exist to me.” And I’m like, “‘You can’t kill me because I don’t exist.” It goes back to nothing really being physical even when it is physical. Because we’re infinite, you know? You know how people say they will save for a house? But what does saving look like for the afterlife? You know what I’m saying? We’re so infinite. 

When you realize that, shit really can’t hurt you. Not taking things personally is one of the most important things to go by in my life. When someone is trying to hurt you, that’s just a projection of their own fear,, and don’t take that personal, because they’ve had experiences in their life that brought them here. For example, I literally had a friend that told me that they thought about killing me. The next day, I invited them to my house to talk about it. Like, “Bro, why you felt like that?” You get what I’m saying? I didn’t take it personal. I genuinely wanted to help him through that. We can really be above everything when you have that mentality of, “You can’t kill me, your words can’t hurt me, your fire can’t burn me, your water can’t wet me.”

Freedom is something you touch on often as well. Tell us about what that concept means to you.

I’m put in this position for a reason. I am who I am for a reason. I have the message that I have and the beliefs that I have for a reason. And I have been put in a position where I have a place to really be heard by people. So I’m going to live my truth. I know I have a duty and I’m going to do whatever it takes to take that on and spread this freedom.

Do you feel that that’s part of your mission?

It is my mission. 

You seem so confidently in tune with yourself. Or is it more an example of following Rihanna’s motto of pretending if you need to?

When it comes to my music, I’m so fucking free. I don’t give a fuck, like, I really don’t. I truly don’t care what anybody’s doing. I got people calling my phone right now, big stars. And I don’t give a fuck, I’m just in my world. I’m confident in it for sure. In my music and myself. I’m ready for whatever is coming. I’m strong enough to handle it. I’m very advanced mentally and spiritually, because I know that I’ve done this before. My spirit has worked very hard to be where I am right now, so I’m like a million years old. 

There’s definitely parts where I’m insecure, which just comes with being a human being. That’s why I have such a lack of presence on social media, because it’s the only thing in this life that makes me insecure. The only thing. 

Why do you think that is? 

Because I really love people, and I’m a sensitive being. Like, I’m very sensitive. I really love people, and I know that people never love me like I love them, you know? So it’s like I’m doing all of this for humans. I’m not doing this shit for myself; I’m good. I’m not trying to be anything that I’m not. So l don’t want to hurt myself in that way. It’s self-sabotage, you know? People are mean because they’re hurt. I just want to heal people. But I’m not a therapist, you know? 

Right. I’ve read about the idea that narcissists are attracted to empaths because they feed on that energy. So it’s important to realize you can’t change people.

Yeah, and even empathy can be detrimental to you. There’s a blessing and a curse about being an empath, because you might live your life for somebody else. And then you realize 10 years too late, like, “Dang, I didn’t even care about myself. I didn’t even live my experience. I was too worried about everybody else.” 

We only live this life through our eyes, through our perspective. If everybody does that, we’ll all be OK. If everybody puts themselves first, we’ll all be good. Well, God first, and then us.

Where does that spirituality come from for you? Is it from childhood? 

I was raised in the church. I’m talking about not just a Christian church. Spanish Christian church. El evangelio…[Laughs]  And I’m not talking about just Sunday. I’m talking about Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, I was at the church. That’s one thing that I’m most grateful to my mom for: She made sure that I met God at a young age. At 11 years old, I was speaking in tongues. So I felt God at a very young age, and there’s no way that I can ever turn my back on that, ever. I do shit and I feel so bad. I pray before all my shows, but I also get very drunk before my shows.

Not after? 

Before. I don’t go on stage sober. 

But you still feel connected to the source.

Yeah. Because that’s me — God is in me no matter what. Even though I do bad things… he’s still there, you know? It’ll always be like that. God’ll never leave me. And as long as I always know that, God will always be with me. 

You sprinkled in some Spanish at the end of the album. How was that? Do you want to do more of it?

I do, but I want to go slowly and I don’t want to do it the conventional way. I want to be very genuine about it. People are always telling me about “the Spanish market,” and I can’t stand that shit, because I’m not trying to take advantage of people or manipulate people’s fucking ears and not be true to myself. I want to do it when it actually feels right. I grew up listening to Spanish music, so people be like, “Oh, you don’t know this song by Luther Vandross?” I’m like, “Never heard it before.” You know what I’m saying? Like, I grew up listening to Spanish Christian music. Marcos Witt. 

Jesus Adrian Romero. 

[Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. That’s all I listened to. I know every single Marcos Witt song ever. Every single song. 

What’s something you’re tired of people asking you about? Other than “When’s the next album coming out,” because I know you were probably getting that a lot. 

I’m tired of people asking me “How is it from being from Jersey?” Almost every interview. And “How was it working with Kanye West?” Obviously that’s one of the highlights of my career. I’m just tired of the question. You know what I’m saying? He’s obviously one of the most influential artists of all time. My biggest influence in music. I would not be here without him. But the question is just redundant. Like, just listen to the last interview and you’ll find out.

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