Among the current wave of popular rap saturated with emo autotune, hard hitting 808s and recycled subject matter, it can be hard to stand out from the masses of hip-hop artists that constantly get played at parties and on the radio.
While the Atlanta duo Earthgang is still flying under the radar, they have been rising in popularity, recently signing to J. Cole’s label Dreamville Records. Earthgang released a slew of EPs following their signing which increased their popularity in the underground rap game.
They collaborated frequently with other underground rap artists like JID and Mick Jenkins, which undoubtedly grew Earthgang’s fan base leading up to their debut album, “Mirrorland.” The group also appeared on five different songs on Dreamville’s “Revenge of the Dreamers III,” which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
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“Mirrorland” delivers on the gritty and unorthodox lyricism, as well as the beautifully funky and soulful melodies the group is known for. The production on the album is more complex and hits even harder than their past projects, with trap beats on songs like “Bank,” more soulful cuts like “Trippin,” beat switch-ups and pretty much everything else in genre-bending heaven.
On my first listen I could tell the album had a lot to offer as far as subject matter, but it took me a few times through to get accustomed to the group’s sound which is something different and easy to distinguish from pretty much any other musical group. The duo consists of Johnny Venus, who has the arguably more distinct, energetic voice and does a lot of the singing for the group, and Doctur Dot, who has a smoother, more flowing voice, but still sings quite a bit.
The album begins with “LaLa Challenge,” quickly introducing the listener to the eccentric style of the group with the lines “Place your head on the mat/ Place your feet to the sky.” The group is saying to throw your expectations out the window because this album is not going to be anything conventional.
Johnny Venus also expresses the lack of authenticity in popular hip-hop culture, rapping, “Everybody trappin’/ Everybody hard/ Everybody fuckin’/ Everybody broad.” The song serves to introduce the listener to the world that the group is trying to create within the album, which Johnny Venus said in a Pitchfork interview, they wanted to sonically rival The Wizard of Oz. “Atlanta is the land of Oz,” Johnny Venus said. “It’s black people being unafraid and unapologetically creative.”
The second track on the album, “UP,” sticks with the theme of a bizarre world filled with creativity and eccentricity. The track features spooky vocals from Johnny Venus, who sings “I make all your dreams and nightmares come true/ I’ve got all that I want now I want you,” along with references to zoo animals, and a exudes a feel of triumphantly parading through the streets while not taking anything at face value.
Speaking of parading through the streets, “Top Down” delivers an upbeat, celebratory vibe. The group raps with confidence about their position in life, all the fakers around them and not letting anything deter them. The song also features a gospel-inspired hook with ad-libs over it to drive the song forward and keep the energy up.
“Proud of U” is a track that many will probably gravitate toward because of Young Thug’s appearance. The song is an ode to significant others, and features a very heartfelt and unfiltered verse from Thugger that is a far cry from his usual trap banger style of music.
“Trippin'” puts Johnny Venus’s vocal talent on full display in what is an incredibly smooth ballad. Having such a clear-cut R&B song on the album is pretty much uncharted territory for Earthgang, but the group delivered one of my favorite cuts from the album with this song. The song addresses a failed relationship that still holds sentimental value for the ex lovers, and even has a verse from Oakland native singer Kehlani whose style fit the track perfectly.
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If you’re looking for a more trap vibe with braggadocious lyricism, then “Bank” is the song for you. If you want a song to celebrate and dance the salsa to, go ahead and throw “Tequila” on. If you like conscious lyricism, then the group has “Swivel.” Pretty much wherever you turn on “Mirrorland” there is a new vibe, chock-full with lyricism, wordplay and 90s references for true hip-hop heads that are tired of mumble rap.
Earthgang will invariably be compared to Outkast, and they do share many similarities. Both groups are duos from Atlanta with energetic upbeat melodies, unorthodox subject matter and psychedelic album covers. However, as the album title “Mirrorland” suggests, Earthgang has their own self-reflective, skeptical outlook on life but they don’t fail to recognize and celebrate all of the artists who have influenced them and laid the groundwork for their success.