by Daniel Paskowski
EARTHGANG members Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot, otherwise individually known as Olu and WowGr8, have been steadily churning out a number of projects seasoned with their distinct flavor of southern hip hop since joining forces 11 years ago. They injected fresh capital and newfound promotional ability into their enterprise by inking a deal with Dreamville two years ago, which led to a trio of mixtapes and an appearance alongside labelmates JID and Cozz, among others, on the intensely collaborative Revenge of the Dreamers III released earlier this summer. Taking back the wheel for their full-length major label debut, Mirrorland is a faithful representation of the raw skill and potential of the rappers whose careers have been elevated through this major milestone.
Over the years Venus and Dot have successfully carved out a lane for themselves, which they have largely accomplished through playful and varied delivery, an arsenal of beats acutely matched to their style, and by drawing heavily to the cultural roots of their hometown of Atlanta. It is no surprise that the group has been compared to the legendary duo Outkast in numerous articles, reviews, and tweets, like one from social media power user YesJulz who claimed that EARTHGANG is “the OutKast of this generation only with two Andre’s.” It does a disservice to both groups to introduce such a sweeping comparison. EARTHGANG is not on Outkast’s level, or most generously not yet. Given that Outkast had released their first five studio albums, each arguably a hip-hop classic, within 11 years, Outkast’s level is likely out of reach.
That being said, while it is overbearing to compare these groups in broad strokes, one can definitely see parallels in the fine brush technique of these artists’ works. Mirrorland opener “LaLa Challenge” has a dramatic breakdown concluding the song that reminded me of Outkast track“B.O.B.,” except I found it rather grating compared to the psychedelic sweetness of Andre and Big Boi. Venus seems to be the more spirited of the duo. He particularly showcases his ability to slow down and speed up his flow just as a car would in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but both employ an irregular cadence as practiced by André 3000.
Despite EARTHGANG’s penchant for eccentric emceeing, some of the more notable songs could be considered the more conventional. A standout in the middle act of the album is “This Side,” where Venus and Dot carefully consider the negative implications of fame over a plucky bassline. The listener is adequately primed for the explosive beat switch and energetic verse from Dot that closes out the song and alludes to the intoxicating nature of fame. The set of introspective tracks that follow return to mellow form and feature the duo exchanging verses where they ruminate on the hardship and paranoias they grew up with.
Most of the final tracks of the album are more melodic and pack most of the album’s features into songs with greater potential for commercial success, though not all meet the mark. Songs like “Trippin” and “Stuck” may find some appeal, but are more forgettable than the songs comprising the first two thirds of the album. “Tequila,” an ode to the alcoholic beverage over Latin horns, bucks the trend and is a tempting exit point for abridged repeated listens with its flavorful beat and excellent T-Pain guest verse. The puzzling decision of incorporating a recurrent scream in the background of the beat for “Top Down” make the strong start imperfect as well. Ultimately a well-put together project, Mirrorland reflects a solid continued output from the Atlanta duo and bodes well for their future projects under the Dreamville partnership.