“I know it’s hard to swallow, I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow,” sings 070 Shake on “Morrow,” a propulsive, eerily prophetic single off her debut album, Modus Vivendi, which came out earlier this year. As with many of her songs, this one, a hip-hop anthem refracted through a Pink Floyd prism, kneads together sadness and swagger so that you’re left feeling invigorated, a little harrowed, and kind of horny. Shake, born Danielle Balbuena in the North Bergen township of New Jersey, has been writing poetry since she was a kid. Music came a little later, in 2015, when she began releasing her songs on SoundCloud, which is where the dominoes of her discovery gained momentum. Soon, she was signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint via Def Jam, and began appearing on tracks by West, Nas, DJ Khaled, Pusha T, and Teyana Taylor. Last year, just before COVID-19’s global takedown, Shake wrapped a two-month European tour in support of her solo debut. As she tells the supermodel Bella Hadid, the world ground to a halt just when she needed it most.
070 SHAKE: You know what’s crazy, dude? Three years ago, I think, I met you. You’re probably not going to remember.
BELLA HADID: Wait. Tell me where, tell me where.
SHAKE: In Paris. I think it was your birthday because they got you a cake. It’s a blur.
HADID: Speaking of Europe, you went on a two-month tour right before quarantine, didn’t you?
SHAKE: It was kind of great timing. I went through all of Europe, and was able to really see the difference between Europe and America, and how much freer it is out there. I even noticed a difference in the way they use their phones. At the shows in America, everybody is on their phones. In Europe, there were no phones. Everyone was in the moment.
HADID: In America, it’s just a different audience.
SHAKE: If you can’t learn to find the satisfaction in what already exists, you’re always going to want more. That’s where I’m at now. I’m trying to find satisfaction in what is. I think we distort reality a lot. We create our imperfections.
HADID: Do you write poetry?
SHAKE: I do. I wrote poetry before I wrote music.
HADID: I can hear it in your songs.
SHAKE: Sometimes I have to adapt to the audience. I can’t always go as deep as I want to because I also want the songs to be understood. That’s really the difference between poetry and songwriting—songs kind of have to be brandable. What do you think writing does for you?
HADID: Girl! This is my interview! [Laughs] Honestly, it was an outlet for me. My family wasn’t about therapy. It was the only way I was able to express the shit I was going through, stuff that I wasn’t going to talk to my parents about—and my shit was so dark. I read it now and I’m like, “Damn.”
SHAKE: For me, the most exciting part is being able to relay how I’m feeling. Not everything is sunshine and butterflies. You have to speak your truth. There’s healing in that. I’m not just trying to say to people, “Everything’s dark. Fuck this shit.” I want to let them know there’s a way out.
HADID: There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
SHAKE: Exactly. There are enough people who are living at that low frequency.
HADID: We all, at times, dwell in our sadness. For a long time, I loved it. My only constant in life was a pack of [Marlboro] Red 100s. I loved being alone and sad, but you don’t seem to need to be that way at al.
SHAKE: I’m learning not to be.
HADID: Look at us! How are old you, Dani?
SHAKE: I’m 32.
HADID: Oh my god. Amazing.
SHAKE: No, I’m kidding. I’m 23. I just wanted to see if you would believe me.
HADID: We’re the same age. We’re babies, and we’re still fucking learning and evolving. We’ve both had to grow up quick.
SHAKE: It’s amazing to me that you can still be humble and have a conscious understanding of the world, having grown up the way you did.
HADID: Well, if we don’t have that, we have nothing. If you can’t appreciate what you have, if you can’t be humble, what does any of it even mean? I don’t get fulfilled in my soul through modeling. Never have. Maybe never will. Wait, we got so off track! Where were we? Your tour. I know how wild it is to be on tour. Was it crazy to go immediately from that into quarantine?
SHAKE: I was toxic on tour. Literally. I was drinking so much. All day, every day. I was so sick. And then when the pandemic hit—and I think many people can relate to this—it felt like the world stopped for me, individually, because I needed it to. I was able to be more in touch with my spiritual self. Picture something very big, stuffed into a capsule. That’s what my body is to me. I’ve always felt so much bigger than my actual body, and quarantine has allowed me to harness that energy.
HADID: I used to have this dream where I was really, really small, and my head was really, really big. And vice versa. And I’m running toward nothing. It’s like you’re trying to fit yourself into this bubble of what people think you’re supposed to be. Don’t forget who you were before people told you who you’re supposed to be.
SHAKE: That’s such a good thing to tell a child.
HADID: What’s a great memory you have from tour?
SHAKE: I always say that in my shows, it feels like I’m playing tennis with energy. You’re giving me something, I’m giving it back to you in a bigger form, and you’re just doubling that, and it goes back and forth. Have you ever been in church and seen when the pastor makes people faint? That’s what it felt like, because people would just be crying. And after every single show, I’d go talk to people because I don’t ever want anybody to idolize me. I’m not elitist. I don’t want people to think that I’m bigger than them.
HADID: People come with struggles, people come with emotions. When I first look at people, I see them the way that they were born. Having pure, unconditional love for everybody, that’s the way it should be.
SHAKE: There are monks who literally go into caves for 30 to 40 years to train themselves just to have loving thoughts. To have, like, every thought in their mind be loving. When you achieve that, it’s called “rainbow body,” and one day I want to achieve that.
HADID: You’re going to do that. I can see it.
SHAKE: We could both do it.
HADID: You’ve written some of my favorite songs: “Guilty Conscience,” “Morrow,” and “Divorce.” This is going to sound weird, but it’s almost like you wrote them from my brain. Or wrote them from my heart. You’re such a chameleon with the way that you write and the way that your sound is. I’ve posted about “Guilty Conscience” maybe 5 billion times.
SHAKE: You know what’s crazy about that song? I’d turned in the album without that song. I went to my weed dealer’s house in Jersey and he was like, “Yo, you got to come meet this producer. He has a Grammy.” And sure enough, he introduced me to the guy who made that beat.
HADID: Fucking incredible how the universe works like that.
SHAKE: Dude, it’s literally perfect. I used to say, “Nobody’s perfect,” and I was so wrong. Everyone is perfect. Everything is perfect. Everything is literally in divine order. Anyway, I wrote that song in his house.
HADID: What about “Microdosing”? People love a good microdose.
SHAKE: I’d been literally microdosing for days when I wrote that song.
HADID: What were you microdosing?
SHAKE: LSD, for sure. It’s a hell of a fucking drug, bro. That shit is crazy. But I don’t think that I need it anymore.
HADID: A lot of geniuses, a lot of artists, need to be able to unlock that side of them, and once they do, they can open up different portals, and then they never have to do it again.
SHAKE: It’s about knowing what you need and what you don’t need. I’ve definitely fallen victim to addiction. For me, it’s very important that I know the line. Where to stop.
HADID: Do you remember the first song you wrote?
SHAKE: It was called “Proud,” and it was the result of being very frustrated with authority and the school system. Me and my friends were bad kids. Suspended every day, doing bad shit. Smoking-in- fifth-grade–type shit. And then I wrote that song, and it became our anthem. It went, “We’re the kids that never made them proud. We’re the ones that break the rules, we live to stand out.”
HADID: What’s great about that is that it was with your homies. Were your parents supportive of your interest in music?
SHAKE: My mom has always been so supportive of everything I’ve ever wanted to do. I remember telling her I wanted to be an astronaut. She was like, “You could be an astronaut, but you could also be the rocket ship that takes you there.”
HADID: Was she responsible for your love of music?
SHAKE: No, she can’t sing for shit. But my uncle and my aunt, they’re pastors and musicians. I was always in the studio with them making church music. Damn, you’re really good at this. Have you done this shit before?
HADID: No, you’re my first. I just lost my interview virginity. Okay, I want to do a speed round. Who’s your favorite superhero?
HADID: Favorite cereal?
SHAKE: Fruity Pebbles, of course. Come on.
HADID: You’re stoned in the morning—what’s your favorite cartoon?
SHAKE: SpongeBob SquarePants.
HADID: Fucking love him. I heard he’s gay, too.
SHAKE: We’re connected on so many different levels.
HADID: Favorite video game?
SHAKE: Marvel vs. Capcom.
HADID: Favorite regular beverage and favorite alcoholic beverage?
SHAKE: I like water. I don’t drink soda. And for liquor, I like tequila, Hennessy, and beer. When I said, “Water’s my favorite,” I was talking about Henny.
HADID: We all have different versions of ourselves: what we want to be, how we perceive ourselves, and how we think other people perceive us. What do you want to be remembered for?
SHAKE: That question overwhelms me. When I’m gone, the only thing I’ll have left is what people have to say about me. That is something I think about every day. Obviously, it’s hard to live up to what people want, but I really, truly just want to be the greatest version of myself. I want to give people more than something that they can touch or hear. I want to give people something that they can feel. The other day I was meditating, and I felt so infinite. Ten years after you’re gone, people aren’t going to be like, “Her net worth was $100 million.” There’s so much more to it. Every time I wake up, I look into the sky and I’m like, “What the fuck is this?” I have questions every day. I want to figure it out.
This article appears in the Fall 2020 issue of Interview Magazine. Subscribe here.
Hair: Ashley Lynn Hall using Bumble and Bumble at Atelier Management.
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