070 Shake – ‘Modus Vivendi’ review: with no features, the rapper’s vision comes across loud and clear

Nothing feels out of place on the rapper's debut studio album, released on Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music imprint

Danielle Balbuena’s talent has always served others. Having found prominence as part of the New Jersey-based 070 crew (named after their 07047 zip code), she signed to Kanye West‘s G.O.O.D Music imprint, becoming a highly-sought-after artist whose versatility made her the label’s most intriguing member.

She has since gained worldwide recognition, most notably for her distinctive features on a string of 2018 releases: ‘Santeria’ on Pusha T’s ‘Daytona’; ‘Not For Radio’ on Nas’s ‘Nasir’; and, most famously, her crooned vocals used on Kanye Wests’s ‘Ghost Town’, which appeared on his eighth album ‘ye’, shot her to superstardom. After that, she receded from the spotlight or appeared in collaboration with others – albeit usually as a feature. Whether it was on The Lion King soundtrack or with Lil Yachty, Jessie Reyez or DJ Khaled, Balbuena stole the spotlight and fans clamoured for more, but she never had the space to shine for herself. Now, though, the release of her debut album, ‘Modus Vivendi’, sounds like a definitive statement.

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Shedding collaborations entirely, the album consists solely of 070 Shake’s hypnotising hooks and shape-shifting vocals. It cements the 22-year-old as a unique artist, proving to everyone – and perhaps even herself – that she doesn’t need anyone but her voice to vault herself to success. On ‘Modus Vivendi’, she manages to craft a sound that’s anthemic, and built for festivals and clubs; but within the grooves, she’s precise. Nothing feels out of place. This is project sculpted away from current trends.

Her visceral lyrics feature prominently. A constant in Shake’s work, they usually consist of dark and heavy-handed subjects: substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. She doubles down on it here. But the production throughout the album keeps the darkness at bay.

On ‘Morrow’, Shake sings: “I know it’s hard to swallow / I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow.” Over sharp, snappy snares, this lyric – somehow – becomes sun-drenched and upbeat. Dark introspection and infectious hooks and beats dominate the first half of the album. It also helps that Shake is a vocalist whose range allows her to instinctively channel the depths required for emo, gospel or R&B while maintaining her songs’ catchiness. Take the chorus of ‘Rocketship’, on which yet her vocal delivery deviates entirely from that of the rest of the album, and which nestles so deeply that it becomes instantly contagious.

A gloomier sound starts to take over halfway through the album. On ‘The Pines’, Shake croons, “I need to let go / But I don’t want to go / right now I want to grow / but no one is going to do that for me”. It’s an introspective lyric that defines the album. Laid over a warbling bassline and glistening synths, her voice takes centre-stage. Snares, hand claps horn arrangements enter the track and exit almost immediately.

It’s her lyrics and voice that remain steadfast on ‘The Pines’, encapsulating the overall message of ‘Modus Vivendi’. She wants to hold attention, to make sure she’s understood, to establish why she’s here. Nearly three-quarters of the way through the song, the strings enter and the song comes alive. Shake’s voice barks indecipherable words atop the refrain “the pines / the pines / where the sun don’t ever shine” until the song ends dramatically.

This marks the point at which the album shifts on its axis from anthemic, festival-ready pop tracks to skeletal, sullen songs full of heartbreak and loss. she flexes her chops as a rapper over the hypnotic beat of ‘Daydreaming’: with wrenchingly intimate and sweetly playful lyrics, this is emo-rap without the cliches.

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Throughout this record, 070 Shake paints vivid – and often uncomfortable, or jarring – pictures, and it’s all on her own terms.

Details:

070 ShakeRelease date: January 17

Record label: G.O.O.D Music

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