Trap beats and heavy 808 drums dominate contemporary hip-hop. But the three men who make up Oakland's down2earth — Azure, Clyde Shankle, and Dayvid Michael — are a welcome departure from the mainstream rap landscape. During a recent chat with the Express, the guys made themselves at home, sinking into a couch and joking loudly while discussing their new record, Fair Share, which is scheduled to drop later this winter. The thirteen-track album definitely contradicts the trappings of modern rap, and instead embraces all sorts uptempo beats, even jazzy rhythms and frenetic guitar. How to describe it? Perhaps both Azure and Michael put it best: "Barn music," they said, laughing — but "with Hennessy."
Despite the brooding and dark rappers that have historically ruled the hip-hop scene, these three musicians exude in contrast a bright, collaborative energy — a rare manifestation of successful group-rap in a soundscape today typically led by individuals. This camaraderie is the foundation for the group's funky, upbeat, and Nineties-inspired tunes.
Since Wildfire, down2earth's debut release last year, the trio has steadily gained traction as one of the most captivating in the Oakland hip-hop scene. And while features from Bay Area notables such as Kehlani and IAMSU! definitely helped bring them exposure, their synth-forward sounds, and catchy bass lines, are what ultimately sealed the deal.
Now, three years after first joining forces, they're dropping Fair Share. Highlights on the album include "Divisadero," with its memorable, syncopated-jazz high hats; and "DNA," with its Tribe Called Quest feel, each member of the group trading-off verses against a backdrop of funky synths. Other songs, such as "Lost In The Stars," simply play to what the group does best: beats that get you up on your feet, flows that get you swaying.
"I feel like, this time around, we've embraced the fact that people out here want to move," Michael explained of the new record. "They want to turn up."
He also shed light on the group's process and approach when recording Fair Share, touching on how the three have "experimented a lot," their goal being to strike a balance between helping each other shine and showcasing their own work as solo artists.
When it comes to recording, each one of them tends to fall into roles: Shankle digs for samples, Michael creates an over-arching concept or theme, and Azure brings it all together. But at the end of the day, the three aim to make it a truly collaborative project, to "push that envelope of people rapping together and sharing the music together," Azure explained.
Michael recounted a particular instance that demonstrated this balance, sharing how, on one of the album's tracks, he initially was a bit self-conscious about a refrain that sounded like scat music. But when he finally showed his idea to Shankle and Azure, "they embraced it," and the song made the cut.
"And I'm hella juiced," Michael said, with a big grin.
"It's one of the stronger songs on the project," Shankle added.
The album's title has several meanings: It speaks to how Shankle, Michael, and Azure share their art among themselves, but it also comments on how the industry delivers music, as well as the relationship the group has with their listeners, and how we consume sounds. "The biggest impact [of our music] is the impact it has on other people," Michael said. What matters most to him — and to the rest of down2earth — is when a song resonates with an audience, and fans add it to their playlists, or share a track with their friends. Or, more simply, when they "turn up in the car [to the music] on the way to something.
"That's sharing," he grinned. "That's the share."