Although their major-label debut Mirrorland only came out this past September, Atlanta hip-hop duo EarthGang has been putting in work for years. A steady stream of mixtape releases beginning in 2013 culminated in the group’s joining J. Cole’s Dreamville Records in 2017. They’re the architects of Spillage Village, a hip-hop collective featuring a wide range of Atlanta sounds, including JID and 6LACK.
After only six months, EarthGang returns to Eugene to perform at the WOW Hall Nov. 13. They had previously headlined Willamette Valley Music Festival on the University of Oregon campus in May.
A lot can happen in six months. EarthGang’s debut album was loved by hip-hop critics, and they just got done headlining their first European tour. From the production to sheer vocal range, everything about them feels bigger this time around.
New fans will probably recognize EarthGang, composed of high school friends WowGr8 and Johnny Venus, from a slew of show-stealing features on J. Cole’s collaborative project Revenge of the Dreamers III earlier this year. Together with fellow Atlanta rapper JID, EarthGang has come to encapsulate everything I find interesting about Dreamville Records. It’s high-production hip hop with an experimental bounce. You can never fit them into a single box.
The comparisons to Outkast were inevitable. Both EarthGang and Outkast are from Atlanta. They both formed in high school as the result of two friends making music. Both groups feature two emcees that seem to build off each other. Both groups manage to exude a kind of vibrancy. It’s dark music that feels colorful and optimistic, even though the desperation is clearly there.
However, this juxtaposition is shortsighted. Enough personality exists between WowGr8 and Johnny Venus to let their work stand-alone. EarthGang avoids cheap comparisons by being themselves. By paying homage and expanding on the musical tradition created by ATLians’ like Outkast, Goodie Mob and the Dungeon Family, they’ve managed to distinguish themselves from a long line of hip-hop royalty.
EarthGang hardly misses a beat when switching from jazz to trap to neo-soul, all in the same song. This reminds you that these genres sprang from the same artistic well. It has an air of protest. EarthGang has found meaning in the act of uprising against the tiny box that hip hop and blackness live in. It’s this spirit of risk-taking as rebellion that EarthGang has in common with Outkast: the ability to be more than one thing as a celebration of blackness.
Having freshly toured the world, EarthGang’s live performance is sure to maintain that same level of optimistic protest. Speaking with hip-hop magazine XXL, EarthGang described Mirrorland as “cinematic.” It’s telling the story of Atlanta through the lens of hip-hop superheroes, who are coming to save Atlanta hip hop from gentrification and corniness. It has a little something in there for everyone. I can imagine the show will be the same.
Opening for EarthGang is Oakland’s Guapdad 4000, fresh off the release of his own debut album, Dior Deposits. Guapdad 4000 made a name for himself a few years ago for recording songs about credit card scams and internet fraud. The subgenre of hip hop concerned solely with scamming gained traction this year with artists like Teejayx6 and BabyTron, with millions of views on Youtube.
EarthGang performs with Guapdad 4000 and Benji 8 pm Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the WOW Hall; $21 advance, $26 door, $79 meet & greet, all-ages.