Atlanta hip-hop duo EARTHGANG fortifies its standing among rap’s most promising newcomers on its first major label debut, “Mirrorland,” with fun, bouncy bars over eclectic production with roots in funk music.
EARTHGANG, composed of rappers Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot, has been recording and releasing music on and off since its inception in 2008. Inspired by 1990s Southern hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk, the duo has drawn comparisons to Atlanta rap royalty such as Outkast and CeeLo Green.
In early 2017, the duo signed to the J. Cole-led Dreamville Records imprint and saw its stardom and impact begin to rise. Across 2017 and 2018, the pair released a bevy of EPs and singles, the highlight among which was “Meditate,” featuring fellow Dreamville signee J.I.D and putting both acts on the radar for casual and hardcore hip-hop fans alike.
After the duo’s contributions to five tracks off Dreamville’s collective record, “Revenge of the Dreamers III,” earlier this year, “Mirrorland” represents EARTHGANG’s first proper long-form release and introduces two new exciting voices to the eclectic and diverse hip-hop landscape.
The album’s single, “Proud of U,” featuring fellow Atlanta rapper Young Thug, perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the record. The Venus produced track reflects on the love and pride both acts feel toward the women in their lives. In doing so, each artist uses high-pitched vocal inflections to punctuate a hook featuring a choppy vocal rendition of the song’s title.
On the album, “Proud of U” is the final of a trio of tracks on the record with messages that spread fun and generate excitement. “Top Down” features a story of running away from the police and riding around the city unworried. In the middle of the tracks, “Bank” asserts both Dot and Venus’ aim for longevity in the hip-hop business, warning that their other contemporaries only look for short-term clout.
One key theme that arises across the album is Dot and Venus’ eschewing of the hip-hop mainstream. Any one of their songs features their trademark warped vocal inflection, strange sonic choices and unusual lyrical content that makes them easy to distinguish, much like collaborator Young Thug’s own outlandish but effective artistic moves.
Tracks like “LaLa Challenge” and “Blue Moon” do an excellent job of cultivating this unique sound while simultaneously calling back to the sounds of Atlanta funk and soul. By wearing its influences so clearly on its sleeve, EARTHGANG aims to act as a bridge between the sound of older generations and the music of the future in a way that few other artists have accomplished.
The latter half of the album is laden with features. The T-Pain assisted track “Tequila” is a party anthem with vocals reminiscent of something T-Pain would have released a decade ago. “Trippin” sees Dot and Venus riff about relationships gone amiss, featuring a Kehlani verse at the track’s closing. The rap duo benefits immensely from bouncing off the energy of its various A-list feature artists.
These tracks do well to break up what can at times become a monotonous listen. While EARTHGANG positions itself solidly at the forefront of the avant-garde in hip-hop music, tracks on the album, especially in the closing half, begin to bleed into one another.
While maintaining a distinct character throughout the record, the album forms more of a big-picture tapestry with each track contributing to the last in new and novel ways. Some songs would not stand well on their own, but combined with the others they form a more coherent, if at times repetitive, picture of the group.
In this way, the LP has a cohesive nature which is rarely seen in hip-hop today. Some of today’s biggest albums feature overblown track listings that seek to game the streaming algorithm, rejecting a cohesive narrative in favor of a massive album that will attract the most listeners.
EARTHGANG aims to break up what has become the status quo with hip-hop on “Mirrorland.” Its implementation of daring production choices and vocal inflections achieves the goal of distinguishing itself from the modern hip-hop zeitgeist. While the album does overextend itself at points, “Mirrorland” serves as EARTHGANG’s first introduction to the hip-hop landscape and situates itself as a power-duo to look out for in the future.