EARTHGANG's Long-Awaited Mirrorland Reflects their Bright Future
Evan Dale // Sep 10, 2019
Two years is a long time, but it’s such a short span to have achieved what EARTHGANG have. Though their debut full-length, Shallow Graves For Toys came out in 2015, the Atlanta duo – Doctur Dot & Johnny Venus – also known as WowGr8 & Olu – really began their journey towards Mirrorland in 2017. To earmark their signing to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records, they released 5-track EP, Rags. And to continue quenching the thirst of their growing audience, they subsequently blessed the world of hip-hop experimentalism with 6-track EP, Robots later in the year and 8-track EP, Royalty in 2018. In combination with a never-ending stream of singles and feature verses stretching far beyond their native hip-hop, both Dot and Venus earned heavy acclaim for their explosive roles in Revenge of the Dreamers lll.
EARTHGANG could not have better timing for the long-awaited release of what is officially their Dreamville debut album.
Off the bat, Mirrorland is most standout for its complete lack of conformity. As EARTHGANG have grown and further refined their sound, they’ve unearthed something unheard. Built on a liquid foundation of hyper-lyricism and storytelling ability; on powerful vocal explosions and compositional breakdowns; on anthemic choruses and undeniable chemistry akin to only the best hip-hop duos in history, EARTHGANG are truly unique. And Mirrorland reflects that unending uniqueness at a mainstream hip-hop audience in need of a shock to their system.
Even when weighed against themselves, there is a vibrant lack of concentrated stylistic direction. Instead, in production, cadence, and delivery, Dot and Venus call home to a creative existence in constant motion. Each track, each verse, even the majority of the choruses on Mirrorland are wavering and unpredictable, composed of multiple parts and unexpected changes of pace. And why wouldn’t the Mirrorland vibe be full of surprises? An overarching thesis on an upbringing in West Atlanta turned mainstays on international hip-hop mainstage is bound to take a lot of turns and draw from a wide swath of inspiration. Slower verses exist; faster verse too; but whole tracks are nearly always multi-part compositions, leaving any individual piece taken from the project a vibrant standalone. And yet, it all draws akin. A larger storyline exploring a come-up alongside lifelong friends, collaborators, and members of Spillage Village: JID, Mereba, 6LACK, and Lute is a story to any fan of hip-hop and R&B modernism should listen closely to.
Case and point: Bank. A quintessential EARTHGANG track, it’s as experimental as hip-hop anthems can be while still being bound for mainstream charts, club dancefloors, and an abundance of remixes the most prevalent of which will likely feature unapologetically quick verses from J. Cole and JID. It’s a banger formatted with much more substance and lyrical intrigue than what the mainstream hip-hop audience is numbed to being inundated with when it comes to Atlanta rappers. It – like their most absurdist high-energy contribution to Revenge of the Dreamers – slaps. And followed by what has already come to be a global banger in Proud of You highlighting Young Thug – the meat of Mirrorland’s lineup is fiery while still maintaining a dichotomy of hot-headedness and kind-heartedness.
By the time listeners come to This Side, they’re completely unprepared for the softer touch of Olu and Wowgr8’s delivery on a buttery and poetic display. But, when the track finds its hard-hitting grip after a compositional change of pace, it’s dizzying but directional. It’s only one of many great examples of Mirrorland’s eclecticism. Stylistically, the album adjusts wildly, but it never feels derailed. And that’s due the fact that alone, Dot and Venus are incredibly wide-ranging modern hip-hop transcendentalists who seamlessly float between differing cadence, vocal delivery, and overarching style. Together, there is an endless expanse for their music to explore. And they take advantage of that reach.
Swivel taken from Revenge of the Dreamers, is another example of breadth, hosting opening verses from both lyricists before embarking on something more chorally anthemic. In coordination with the album’s other guest names, T-Pain, Kehlani, and Arin ray – all of which can be described as vocalists before anything else – EARTHGANG have no trouble contrasting their approaches or complimenting them. Johnny Venus in particular is a gifted singer whose auditory aesthetic dominates attention at every turn, and in harmony with Doctur Dot’s mellow calming lows, EARTHGANG are a harmonic force of their own. With world-renowned vocalists at their side, Tequila, Trippin’, and Stuck are insightful glimpses into the necessarily broad spectrum of modern hip-hop talent.
And just like the definition of modern hip-hop talent, EARTHGANG are largely indefinable. Both members can rap with the best of hip-hop’s lyrical forces – a prerequisite for their Dreamville signing. Both can sing, adjust their cadence at wild pace, and thrive within any reach of instrumental and productive boundaries. All of which is on display during Mirrorland. Vibrant experimentalists and impossibly cohesive with one another, EARTHGANG create with the kind of chemistry that Outkast once did, and Mirrorland is the keystone project to their canon thus far.