The 22-year-old North Bergen, New Jersey, rapper-singer 070 Shake, a.k.a. Danielle Balbuena, hit mainstream radar via Kanye West’s Wyoming sessions, functioning as fluid spirit animal/superego on Ye’s “Violent Crimes” and “Ghost Town,” and Pusha T’s “Santeria.” Born to a Dominican immigrant mom, Shake grew up on Lauryn Hill and My Chemical Romance. The flows come hard and soft, in English and Spanish, with verses suggesting a fierce, strong, proud, brave, spiritual being who’s also hungry, searching, scared, self-loathing, and self-destructive. Like plenty of humans, especially in their early twenties.
Shake’s enveloping debut LP, Modus Vivendi, charts desire and space —outer and inner — it’s an emo-rap Dark Side of the Moon. Songs address a lover (possibly model Sophia Diana Lodato) and perhaps Balbuena, too, looking into the mirror. The delivery can be slurred and druggy, and past verses allude to depression and suicide (see “Mirrors” and “Sunday Night,” the early track that caught Kanye’s ear). On Modus Vivendi, the vibe’s provisionally hopeful, even blissful. Amid synth clouds on “Under the Moon,” Shake hungers for a buzz while savoring someone’s “killer two-piece.” The neurochemistry of “Microdosing” may be hormonal or psychedelic. “Daydreaming” imagines a “mini-retreat” via a “spaceship in the back of the seat.” The beats, such as they are, conjure the proto-new age electronica of Synergy and Tomita, whose Debussy-channeling “Gardens in the Rain” flickers through “Rocketship,” Shake affirming “the moon feels better than the sun” in vocoder fractals.
As Afrika Bambaataa retooled Kraftwerk LPs and Ye sampled King Crimson, it shouldn’t be surprising that Modus Vivendi suggests Enya and Pink Floyd as much as Frank Ocean. Even so, Shake digs deep. “Come Around” is seeded with the theme to the 1975 Bollywood gangster hit Dharmatma, the lodestone sample of Jaylib’s “Champion Sound.” Here, it’s barely a skeleton within a multitracked chant imploring “baby, I’m in need.” A Spanish guitar flourish breaks dawn on “Morrow,” while “The Divorce” flips turbulent rhythms by master Cuban conguero Patato (“Rumba Pa’ Paris”), with hot fusion licks by guitarist Justus West alongside keyboardists/co-producers Mike Dean and Dave Hamelin (of Canadian indie rockers the Stills). Most striking is “The Pines,” a bloodletting of jealousy-toxins that repurposes the murderous folk traditional Leadbelly recorded as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and Nirvana released as “In the Pines.”
While it can often go dark, the vibe is empathic; Shake’s said the record was designed to comfort, and counter hate. Even the scar-fingering single “Guilty Conscience,” as it rewinds a betrayal, sounds like a synth-pop hug. But ultimately, this is cleareyed music. After pondering mortality on “Terminal B” and accepting “really nobody’s safe here,” “Flight 319” gets intimate in a 3 a.m., four-drinks-in way you can imagine at arena scale. “Lost her only son, and he wasn’t even three,” Shake rhymes, embodying an astronaut “being held down by gravity,” and trying to offer consolation that’s cut off in mid-sentence. It’s the sound of a realist and fantasist sparring, and it’s obviously where Shake lives.