Thizzler Spotlight: The Members of Down 2 Earth Discuss The Evolution of Their New Album, ‘Fair Share’

Down 2 Earth. Photo by Shane Sumasaki

Bright guitars clang like heavy raindrops on a sunny day in Down 2 Earth’s single “Fair Share,” a lighthearted track that celebrates friendship from the group’s new album of the same name. In their back-to-back verses, Azure, Dayvid Michael, and Clyde Shankle are endearingly sincere, celebrating the good while acknowledging life’s challenges. When the sky is coming down/I’ll be there for you, goes the refrain.

“Just as in this past year, I feel like we’ve gotten closer than we ever have,” said Dayvid during an interview at Rooz, a coffee shop not far from the East Oakland home he shares with Wax Roof, the track’s co-producer. “We’ve seen each other at our lowest points, so now we don’t got shit to hide. So now we talk to each other as —“

“Brothers,” Clyde interjected.

“And that translates to the studio well,” Dayvid continued. “Normally in the creative process you never know what’s gonna happen. You might be feelin’ something, and you might not. And you might not have the type of relationship where you can express something you do and don’t like. Now we have conversations about expectations about ourselves, and the group, and each other.”

The members of Down 2 Earth come from different musical backgrounds and walks of life, but as they huddled together in parkas over mugs of tea on a recent cold afternoon, it was easy to see that they effortlessly gel.

Azure, a Korean American from Pinole, got into music as a high schooler taking classes at the music nonprofit Youth Radio. There, he met IAMSU and P-Lo and eventually became a founding member of HBK Gang. While the rest of HBK perfected hyphy-oriented party rap, Azure was more interested in making subtler, more lyrical hip-hop with an old-school sensibility. And when he moved back to the Bay Area after graduating from UC San Diego, he linked up with Dayvid, an Oakland native, when he came to record at Azure’s old apartment near Lake Merritt, where Azure had a studio set up in his room.

Azure and Dayvid bonded over Dayvid’s political lyrics in his song “Great America” and started hanging out and making music together. Dayvid and Clyde Shankle were already in a collective together called Cali Made, and one day, Dayvid brought Clyde over to Azure’s studio.

“I had a car at the time, so Dayvid was like, ‘Ay, you trying to take me to the studio?’” laughed Clyde.

Dayvid interrupted, deflecting any assumptions that he was simply trying to bum a ride. “I was like, ‘Bruh, this nigga tight.’ And then I was like, ‘This nigga nice!’” he exclaimed, cracking everyone up.

Clyde, who is from Berkeley, was already in a hip-hop collective with friends from Berkeley High, Shankle Mob, but he found kindred spirits in Dayvid and Azure. Together, they nerded out out over their love of obscure samples and rap battle videos on YouTube.

“[Clyde] digs hella much, and I sample in my production. So that was a crazy marriage of creativity,” said Azure, recalling how, early on, the bandmates geeked out over Shuggie Otis’ blues guitar playing. “I feel like [sampling] is Down 2 Earth’s turbo engine.”

Down 2 Earth debuted with its 2015 album Wildfire, a well thought-out, self-produced project with a backpacker vibe that called to mind earlier underground hip-hop acts like Hieroglyphics and Madvillain. Throughout it, the trio managed to be thought-provoking and poetic while conveying a sense of lighthearted fun. The project has features from standout Bay Area artists — such as Souls of Mischief’s Tajai, IAMSU, and Kehlani — but its most entertaining parts are Clyde, Dayvid, and Azure’s playful, motormouth verses.

Wildfire allowed the members of Down 2 Earth establish a workflow and foundation for their next collaboration. And with Fair Share, they developed enough of a rapport with each other to be more vulnerable in their lyrics. Their verbose flows bounce off one another like beams of light, casting rainbow reflections on everything they touch.

And their choices in production also got looser and more experimental. On “Decades,” which Kuya Beats produced, Clyde’s voice glides over an elastic bass line that evokes an upright bass in a jazz ensemble. And on “Lose Me in the Stars,” whose beat is a collaboration among Kuya, Wax Roof, and Mikos Da Gawd, a frantic guitar lick builds to a crescendo over wonky synths.

“With Wildfire, it’s a lot of pretty straightforward contemporary hip-hop shit, like soul samples, ’70s-era shit,” said Azure. “And then in this new project, [Clyde] was digging deeper into older stuff, like ’60s stuff, instrumental albums, that kind of stuff. There’s a lot of guitars on this album.”

“We want it to sound bigger, fuller in sound,” added Clyde, pointing out that the project has more emotional depth, as well. “It’s really heartfelt. We wanna hit you in the head and the heart.”

Dayvid reflected on the nerve-wracking but ultimately rewarding process of writing personal lyrics in front of the other members of the group, often in the spur of the moment. “When you’re in the studio with two other dudes who have completely different experiences and shit and you’re really putting yourself out there, you’re already doubting yourself  — like, ‘Is this what I’m trying to convey?’ — but you’re doing that in real time with two audience members.”

Clyde and Azure reassured him, explaining that the spontaneous, collaborative process behind Fair Share helped them push themselves. None of them did much pre-planning for the album: Instead, they wrote and produced it together in the studio from start to finish. “It’s everyone playing their equal part, we all have a role to play. And it’s like, ‘Help out,’” said Clyde.

“Yeah, do your fair share,” added Azure, giggling at himself for making the obvious pun.

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