California has a habit of producing some of the greatest rap collectives hip-hop has ever heard. Much like N.W.A and Cypress Hill began their journey decades ago, HBK Gang’s DJ Azure, 26, CaliMade’s Dayvid Michael, 22, and Clyde Shankle, 21, have combined their talent to form a new rap collective called Down 2 Earth. As IamSu!’s official tour DJ, Azure was already plotting his mission to put his easy-going lifestyle into words over some mellow yet provocative beats. Once he discovered Dayvid Michael and Clyde Shankle were on the same journey, it was an easy decision to form the trio.
“We all got together because I was working on my solo project called Frienemy,” Michael said. “I needed someone to engineer my records and mix and master it. I hollered at Azure because I heard that he could do that. (laughs)”
After that session, Michael brought in Clyde Shankle, who he’s known since 2011. Shankle brought in numerous samples of soul records from the likes of Shuggie Otis, Eddie Hazel and Bennie Maupin, just to name a few. Once they officially linked up in 2013, the trio spent countless hours in the studio crafting song after song until they finished their debut album, Wildfire. Rather than sticking to one lane for the production of the album, Down 2 Earth took an open-minded route which channeled their inner R&B, jazz and alternative rock influences like D’angelo, Jill Scott, Kendrick Lamar, and Foster The People.
“Dayvid listens to Radiohead. Clyde listens to Foster The People,” said Azure. “I think we have a lot in common but at the same time we have these weird kind of outlandish sounds that we were fucking with too.”
The trio depended on their in-house bond for the production. Even though songs like “Hazel” were difficult to complete, each of them participated in constructing every track like a family, from the sample selection to the final mixing and mastering. According to Azure, the mutual “feeling” that inspired them to make the album is something they want everyone to experience.
“I think [the album] was less of a concept and more of a feeling,” said Azure. “It was like nostalgia those first couple of days in the studio with each other. We all felt like the tracks we ended up making reminded us of a feeling. But it was all of us with a modern twist, modern day rapping, and concepts. I think just that feeling in itself is something we wanted to embody. It even came down to what loop of the sample we picked because it made us feel a certain way.”
The album also featured shining stars from their respective camps. HBK Gang chief IamSu! spit some knowledge about staying on track on “Para$ail,” rising singer Kehlani lent her beautiful vocals to the hook of “Merlot” and CaliMade’s Steve Shankle killed his verse with the crew on their collaborative effort “Only Competition.”
Down 2 Earth’s smooth vibes and soulful influence make them potential contenders for hip-hop’s growing band of modernized hippies such as Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, and Ab-Soul. Their stoner raps and deeply-rooted connection with their adolescent audience sets them apart from any rap trio to come from the West coast. The meaning of their name alone is enough to invoke plenty of open-minded imagery in your head.
“It’s a direction, a number and a planet but at the same time it explains us,” said Dayvid. “We don’t feel like we’re trying to be someone that we’re not. We’re trying to show that through the music so we felt like the best way to describe us is ‘down to earth.’”