"J. Cole believes. Dreamville believes. DJBooth believes. Give them seven months or less and I’m certain you too will be a believer." —Yoh ("EarthGang's Journey to Dreamville & the Release of 'RAGS'")
EarthGang promised their fans three EPs before their long-awaited sophomore album, Mirrorland. First came Rags, a strong five-track introduction to Dreamville’s latest signees: Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus. For old and new fans alike, the short appetizer was satisfying.
Just a little over a month later, the pair returned with Robots, a six-track project in the same realm of sound and musicality, but with a touch of elevation. The second EP was more ambitious, toeing a tighter line between ruminant rapping and soul-enriching singing. Robots is a deeper dive within, a failed search for authentic warmth in a cold, artificial world. Despite the quick turnaround, a step wasn’t lost; instead, the road of possibilities widened.
While Rags and Robots demonstrate EarthGang’s distinct uniqueness, it’s Royalty, the third and final EP in this strange yet wondrous journey, that conveys their idiosyncratic thinking isn’t just out of the box, but out of this world.
Similar to the EPs that came before, Royalty is split between full-length songs and short skits. Clocking in just shy of 30 minutes, the entire project flows as seamlessly as a '95 Big L rap. The third time is said to be the charm, and charming is a perfect description of the collected music―enchanting from start to finish. With Royalty, EarthGang brings to life an audio experience successfully displaying the best of their artistic palette.
The project's poduction is pure sugar for those with a sweet tooth for jazzy soundscapes. The beginning of “Cocktail,” the introductory track, starts with a saxophone solo fit for ancient Roman emperors or old English kings. The riffs and solos heard throughout the song are Godiva Chocolate on Valentine's Day, and the track that follows, “Build,” is the triple-layered red velvet cake of your dreams. The keys are filled with flavor, the drums swing harder than hula-hooping hips, and the nostalgic quality of the mellow arrangement brings forth the warmth and relaxation of reclining in your grandfather’s La-Z-Boy.
Diving beneath the production, Royalty is a canvas filled with vocal textures. The fun of Dot and Venus lies in their peculiar but enthralling voices. They are unafraid of using their vocal chords as unique instruments. Often, you’ll hear the pair making quirky noises, harmonizing in the background, or stretching their voices to hit a daring note. A zany inflection will coax their deliveries (Doc's "Build" verse), gospel-influenced singing adds soul to bridges and refrains (Venus taking us to the Lord at the end of "Lolsmh")—space is always being painted with sound.
Musically, Royalty floats in a pool of pleasant sounds. Lyrically, the EP has some of Doc and Venus' most personal storytelling. The project may be called Royalty, but the content isn’t centered around prosperity or wealth. Instead, the duo focus on past poverty and unforgotten struggle. If there’s any celebration to be had, it's that they have overcome trials and tribulations, that brighter days are ahead.
“We were in dem church buildings they were robbing us silly / Came home the only thing they left us was the ceilings,” Venus raps on “Off the Lot,” reminiscing on a painful memory from his adolescence. Reality raps. Another instant standout is Doc’s entire verse on “Lolsmh.” I caught a slight chill hearing, “Every funeral we just up the price for the feature.”
EarthGang's bar for lyricism has always been high, but it’s refreshing to hear more of their personal stories. On Rags and Robots, the duo began to open up to listeners, but on Royalty, they appear as their most transparent selves.
On the previous EPs, narrator DC Young Fly drove around Atlanta picking up random passengers, fulfilling Uber driver obligations. In a way, he was giving listeners a tour of the city with EarthGang supplying the soundtrack. But on Royalty, Doc and Venus are the passengers. The openness presented could be to exemplify that, as listeners, we are riding alongside them for the first time.
You can't just invite strangers to a sacred land. Trust must be built first. Especially a place so unbelievable that after thanking EarthGang for bringing him to this fantasy world, the final question DC asks is, “Am I dead?” Fair question, he did see a triple-nipple alien woman.
A wise man will tell you it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most. This wise man is right, but endings inspire adventurers to embark on any exploration―finish lines are created in order to be crossed. Royalty is a fitting end to an impressive trilogy. I will miss DC Young Fly’s commentary, FRKO’s album art, and being able to hear the consistent growth from one micro-project to the next.
For anyone who has been on this six-month journey with EarthGang from Rags to Royalty, I will see you in Mirrorland.
By Yoh, aka The Wonderful Wizard of Yohz, aka @Yoh31