Writer: Kyle Wheelock
J. Cole has done a lot for hip-hop. Now, whether or not you’re a fan of what he has done is a different conversation altogether, but that’s not the point here. What IS the point is that one of J. Cole’s ventures includes the formation of his own record label: Dreamville Records, which currently boasts an impressive roster including Cole himself, Bas, Ari Lennox, J.I.D, and EarthGang.
EarthGang is rap duo consisting of members Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot (F.K.A. Sir Hobbes). They’ve been independently reproducing EPs and albums since 2010, so when it was announced that the pair had signed to Dreamville Records in 2017, some people had a general idea of who they were and what they were about. For those who don’t, fret not because they’ve been busy. Since signing in August, EarthGang has put out now three EPs in preparation for their upcoming album, Mirrorland (which doesn’t have a release date at the time of writing).
Being from Atlanta, their music contains a lot of southern hip-hop influences, perhaps most notably Outkast. They also incorporate other elements and flows occasionally; namely Chance and Kendrick (see the track, “Build”). But, they are of course their own artists, and these trilogies of mixtapes showcase that beautifully. Throughout Rags, Robots, and now Royalty, Dot, and Venus experiment with flows as they talk about a range of topics such as fame, death, and religion. In fact, being the last entry in this trilogy of tapes, fame, and everything to do with it appears on each of the five tracks on the list. They rap a lot about the road bumps they’ve hit over the years on their way to the top, as well as troubles they expect to face after they blow up.
When EarthGang raps, no matter if it’s a banging trap beat or a smooth, neo-jazz track, they bring bars with them. But being a skilled rapper doesn’t really equal fame here, a lot of big names need something special about them. Not a gimmick, but something distinct about their style that draws people to them and keeps them interested, and these two definitely have that. Earlier I said that they reminded me of Outkast, and to an extent, that’s definitely true, but they’re eccentric enough to separate themselves from the pack.
The track “Nothing but the Best” (featuring Ari Lennox) has a gritty baseline and authentic sounding drum loop that makes it sound like a track lost from N.E.R.D’s In Search Of…, a sound that not too many people chase (except for like, Tyler, the Creator on his Cherry Bomb album), and they made it work super well. I’ve heard more than a few singles from EarthGang here and there, but never a full project like this (even if it’s like 20 minutes long), and each time I’m always grabbed by how they manage to dance around different beats and tell a story in each verse.
Now, they aren’t here to remake “To Pimp a Butterfly” or anything like that, but they definitely have a level of lyricism that you would expect from two guys signed to J. Cole. The song, “LOLSMH”, despite its funny looking title, has a pretty serious verse from Dot about women, death, and a changing lifestyle that comes with fame and money. Again, not a tearjerker or anything like that, but it’s real, it’s life, and that’s what I like about EarthGang. There are many subgenres in hip-hop that each have their own appeal to different people; EarthGang dropped Royalty the same day 6ix9ine put out “Day69”, something that is a complete 180 in every possible metric. The only reason I’m bringing this up is to point out that EarthGang is different from what’s popular.
There’s something out there for everyone, including people who want something more, “traditional”. If you’re a fan of J. Cole, Bas, Mick Jenkins, and artists like that who put a more old school touch on their music while still making unique, then EarthGang should be in your music library. I’ll take it a step further, even if you don’t like those guys I mentioned just now, but you’re looking for something new, give EarthGang a try. Royalty is just over 20 minutes long, and it’s definitely worth checking out at least.
TL;DR: Pretty Good, give it a listen
Highlights: Come on, it’s five tracks, the whole thing is a highlight