In August 2017, I interviewed Dreamville’s EarthGang at their Atlanta, Georgia home. Our interview took place before they announced their deal with J. Cole’s Dreamville label or the release of their well-received EP trilogy Rags, Robots, and Royalty. Since then, the pair has risen in profile, every step leading them to the release of MIRRORLAND, their third studio album, and their official, full-length debut on Dreamville/Interscope.
MIRRORLAND has been a work-in-progress for roughly two years. During our interview, EarthGang played songs they felt were special enough to make the project. My reaction to those songs manifested into the headline: ‘How EarthGang Leveled Up to Make the Next Great Atlanta Rap Album.’ Admittedly, those are enormous shoes for a first, major-label supported project. But that’s the charm of EarthGang.
Both Olu (aka Johnny Venus) and WowGr8 (aka Doctur Dot) are the kinds of artists who naturally inspire starry-eyed belief. It’s their uniqueness that grabs you. EarthGang doesn’t sound like anyone else. This quality is standard with artists from Atlanta, something of an alien gene. It’s a quality that brought notoriety to OutKast and Young Thug, Gucci Mane and CeeLo Green. EarthGang has it—which is why MIRRORLAND is an album to be excited for. There’s a possibility Olu and WowGr8 could be the next big act to emerge from a music hub that has brought us so many great artists.
MIRRORLAND is EarthGang’s first big step on the main stage. What will they show with the spotlight on them? Let’s find out.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. “LaLa Challenge”
Instantly, this feels like a movie. Olu’s voice is magnetic. Is that an accordion? Man, this feels otherworldly. We aren’t on Earth anymore. There’s plenty of ear-grabbing quotes in Olu’s verse. WowGr8 has arrived. These two are setting one hell of a tone. WowGr8 with the Lil Wayne reference. They are truly kids of the ‘90s. EarthGang could easily be cartoon characters. Their voices are so distinct, which adds to their hyper rhyme schemes and abstract lyricism. Okay, a woman is talking. She tried to order The Falcon special, ha. She is asking for a ten-piece now. So Atlanta. The beat is going bonkers! These drums and the chanting! Olu came back with the supersonic double-time. My spirit is lifting out of my chair. Oh my, the breakdown. It’s so groovy. Your feet will tap until they fall off. We are at a church party. Olu could’ve been a preacher, man. This record is magical. How did they put all of this into one song? But it feels fluid. No pieces of this puzzle were forced. Crazy.
What a ride already. I’m so glad this is the song they decided to do for COLORS. Olu sounds like he’s summoning the ancestors on this first verse. He is a musical shaman. The production is so vibrant with color. And their voices! SO. MUCH. COLOR. Bright, fluorescent colors. “I go loco for my freedom.” The way Olu swings his voice, he knows when to add energy, add intensity; you never want to look away. Instead of a train wreck, Olu’s voice is a sports car. WowGr8 has a poet’s pen. The details in his stories. Every word creates an image. “Came up in the jungle, gotta get my partners out the zoo.” “When you come into some wealth you’re the type to let it change you.” WowGr8 sounds like he could rap this verse for a lifetime. They never sound winded. These songs aren’t long, but they give a lot.
3. “Top Down”
That bassline! Wobbling like a Chevy blasting Thug Motivation 101 down the block. Olu has lead the last three songs. Oh, this hook! It’s warm and energetic. This second verse is humorous. It’s so bouncy. I’m surprised “Top Down” wasn’t a single. It feels like a song radio would love. Very sing-songy. WowGr8 came in with the swift flow. Oh yeah, this is a good verse. I love the storytelling of his conversation with the woman. The flow switch is clean. “I don’t rap, I just say what’s on my heart.” That’s pretty much what his verses sound like. The monologues you have in your head. Three for three thus far. Atlanta is going to love this one.
Whoa! “Bank” is a big change. A trap banger. OOMP CAMP PRODUCTIONS! What? I don’t know the last time I heard that tag. That is classic Atlanta rap. WowGr8 is leading. He sounds great! His voice has a cool ass rasp. The trap textures are perfect for this tone. “I turn you to swiss for the cheddar, I do this shit for my ancestors.” He’s saucing. “Bank” sounds like music to soundtrack a bank robbery, not a deposit. Who is this on the second verse? Is that WowGr8, too? His voice can transform. He’s levitating like Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix. Fire verse. “Bank” is a party. A trap house party. This song is layered! Olu is a real-life alien. His voice has taken more forms than Frieza. EarthGang is Cell and Frieza teaming up to take over the world. I feel like “Bank” has seven different rappers on it. One of my favorites.
5. “Proud of U” ft. Young Thug
The first single. I love the guitar strums. It’s a pleasant, soft build-up. The gentle tone of Olu’s voice is a smart fit for the production. I like the way he switches his style as the drums drop. “Proud of U” after “Bank” feels like a sudden shift. I hate the single being placed in the middle of MIRRORLAND. I love how Thug pops up. “We having designer sex,” I still don’t know what that means, but it’s not for poor people to know. Man, Thugger floats. This song is structurally incredible. I need Dreamville to push this one next year during graduations. It’s a graduation anthem.
6. “This Side”
So far, so good. Each song stands out, and MIRRORLAND is moving nicely. Ha, Olu starting off saying he prays for everyone. “Sometimes I get overwhelmed.” I felt that. The minimalist beat is great. No drums, just chords. “They took Nip, they took X,” sheesh. Both died through gun violence. Oh yeah, this is the one. Introspective Olu is great. I imagine the hook will have a great reaction live. “3 AM is the only time I can hear myself think.” WowGr8 coming on strong. “Just because niggas cop your jersey doesn’t mean they’re on your team.” Big bars. “This Side” might be my favorite. It’s an enchanting song. WHOA! I wasn’t ready for the drop! The beat change and Olu’s rapping knocked the wind out of me. YES. Easily my favorite. A woman’s voice. Mereba? [Editor’s Note: Yes.]
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I’ve always had a soft spot for “Swivel” since hearing it on Revenge of the Dreamers III. Just the way WowGr8’s voice sounds. It’s like the spirit of Tupac crawled in his tea one day. The texture is just so rough, and it fits the words perfectly. “Promised mama she gonna see the day we’re all okay.” Man, he didn’t say rich or famous, just okay. “Trouble lurking around the corner” hits different when you say it in that voice. “Pray for me, please.” Olu’s backend verse is great. “Mama had to work, papa had three jobs.” I can’t imagine having three jobs. Rest in power to Olu’s late father. Another keeper.
Olu kicks off the record. A weird texture. Shaky. Feels like something Erykah Badu would do. The reverse texture is engrossing. “Avenue” is tight. “Sell your soul, sell your soul.” Man, Olu is RAPPING. There’s a focus to his lyricism. It’s so sharp. He doesn’t stumble a single word. What he said about eating diabetes and Cheetos took me out. “I got wants, I got needs, I got PTSD.” WowGr8 has some strong opening bars. The production is so good. The snares are hitting. WowGr8 hasn’t missed a step. “Avenue” is so abstract but in a digestible way. Another favorite contender.
9. “Tequila” ft. T-Pain
Oh yes! This production! The build-up! WowGr8 leads this one. He’s singing. These riffs are incredible. “Good God, more stress, a perfect day to drink Tequila.” His voice is strong. The vividness of his lyricism. “Life is full of catchy hooks and uppercuts.” The production is so layered and lush. I can’t imagine T-Pain on this song. It’s nothing like he’s ever been on. Olu is rapping his heart out. Who played the instruments on “Tequila?” They are going for the gusto. T-Pain! He’s rapping. “Tequila” is good. It’s so good to hear him. “How does it feel to stress yourself out?” I need a drink after this one. Keeper. There’s a great diversity of music here. MIRRORLAND does what it wants; you don’t know what will happen next.
10. “Blue Moon”
Olu is singing like he wants Disney to hire him for Lion King 2. I like this build-up. Man! This beat is funky. “I been hustling, I don’t get no rest.” “Blue Moon” is so soulful. WowGr8 star with the energy. I love this drum beat paired with the horns. “We not each other property.” WowGr8 rapping like he has ten jobs. “Blue Moon” might be the favorite; it’s blue-collar music. Olu just popped up full of soul. “The power is running through me.” The Six Flags bar is so Atlanta. Their home city is never far from their thoughts. Atlanta is always in hindsight, but it’s hard to believe these two are only from one place.
11. “Trippin” ft. Kehlani
How many songs on MIRRORLAND are under three minutes? This build-up screams Kehlani. It’s dripping with R&B soul. Olu isn’t playing. He went full singer. These guys are so diverse. I can’t believe they didn’t push this one as a single, either. There’s a quiet storm quality on display. I love the harmony between WowGr8 and Olu. Every song has benefited both of their styles. As far as duos go, they complement one another better than most. I would love for EarthGang to executive producer her next album.
12. “Stuck” ft. Arin Ray
I’ve always been a big fan of “Stuck.” The build-up is great. All of their ideas are fleshed out. They know what they want. There are no daring songs for the sake of being different. Olu sounds great here. MIRRORLAND has put their talents on full display. “The first time I spit this verse I did it half-ass.” I love WowGr8’s honesty, ha. I wonder how many rappers would admit that. He sounds like he cares, I’m glad to know we didn’t get the half-ass version. I would like to see more songs with EarthGang and Arin Ray. His bridge is gold.
Two more songs. Oh, this has a nice knock. A nice change of pace. Who did the beat? [Editor’s Note: Rahki.] I love the vibe. A strong bassline, but there’s warmth here. WowGr8 starts. Yep, he’s in a zone. The Cousin Skeeter bar, yes. The Lupita line, yes. Who is that singing? I’m not sure. “Fields” sounds incredible. BJ The Chicago Kid! Olu with the DG Yola homage. The horns are beautiful. Oh, yeah, this is Atlanta. So Atlanta. Ten lemon pepper wings should come with MIRRORLAND. Oh, yes! There are so many layers to this song, and each one is just as good as the last. Olu has placed his heart on the beat. “The only paper seen is paper cups.” GO OFF OLU. By far, one of my favorites.
Olu’s voice. Singing. Talking about Atlanta. Yes, yes, yes. These drums are swinging. Great bounce. “Before Hartsfield was Jackson.” Yeah, this is an homage to Atlanta. I need V-103 to play this every hour on the hour. “Going up for the city.” WowGr8 pops up clean. His verse is strong. “Bumping Yola The Great.” Man, if you know, you know. Olu reminds me of George Clinton but as a rapper. So much personality in his style. Both of their styles. Yeah, a beautiful close to MIRRORLAND.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on EarthGang’s MIRRORLAND
EarthGang not only wrote an album, but they also wrote a love letter. A letter to their blackness, to their musical roots, and to the city that raised them. MIRRORLAND isn’t T.I.’s Atlanta, or Jeezy’s, or OutKast’s. The album represents EarthGang, an exhibition of their talents, and a glimpse into their world as they see it. Olu and WowGr8 avoid the allure of being anyone else, confident in their cool; comfortable with their weird.
MIRRORLAND does get strange. It’s an album that warps and sways and is in a constant state of transformation. EarthGang blurs the lines between genres and avoids contemporary palettes. The sporadic energy is what keeps MIRRORLAND in motion. EarthGang has much to show, and they have to get these ideas out without overwhelming the listener and having found that balance shows how seasoned the duo has become.
Upon first listen, MIRRORLAND is one of the wildest rides of 2019. It’s like being at a carnival or a funhouse. The songs are vibrant, bursting with color, and dancing with style. EarthGang are Black artists—not aliens—from Atlanta. MIRRORLAND personifies that. Nothing is beyond their realm.
By Yoh, aka Yohirrorland, aka Yoh31