EarthGang’s past albums have been rooted in the energetic streets of their native Atlanta home and the esoteric virtues of being connected to a higher calling. Widely respected for their consistency, championing of Black excellence, and lively stage show — the inventive hip-hop duo of Olu (also known as Johnny Venus) and WowGr8 recently impacted the Coachella state in Indio, California, with their own set and alongside fellow Spillage Village member, JID.
And to see them all together truly means it feels good to be outside!
But during the apex of the pandemic, everything stopped. From chances to be around loved ones to halting concerts all over the globe, EarthGang, a group associated with imaginative stage presence, had their great energy transferred into a new medium, which at the time was called #NamasteAtHome.
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Independent artists, much like many undervalued Americans, have faced dire healthcare woes with the likes of XXXTentacion, JuiceWRLD, and others losing their battles with mental illness. Meanwhile, EarthGang, which has built up their reputation as able to balance the industry with having a healthy lifestyle, began the lifestyle and yoga practice as a way to “co-create with the things around them,” and “intertwine their main inspirations.”
With BET.com encouraging its readers to focus on having better health and wealth practices, we speak with Olu, also known as Johnny Venus, about the future of the practice, the importance of checking on your strong friends, and how the group manages to maintain their self-care routine while on the road.
BET.com: During the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, EARTHGANG showed audiences just how important exercise and fitness were during your #NamasteAtHome sessions. How did that come about? Do you all still practice with other Dreamville members? And what impact do you think that made on younger hip hop stars who want to have a long career?
Olu: Zaineb and I arranged a yoga session while on tour for our crew and acts in [Washington,] D.C., before the pandemic. The session went well for us considering all the strain our bodies go through while on the road. We wanted to keep the momentum going during the pandemic and extend that to EARTHGANG and Dreamville fanbases. I think the younger generation is realizing how important health, wellness, and overall happiness is in their lives. For us, [artists], we’re constantly putting the wants of others before ourselves. But making sure our minds and bodies are in the best space helps us make our most authentic music.
BET.com: One of the most re-shared songs from Ghetto Gods is “Strong Friends,” where EARTHGANG delivers another authentic Spilligion record. What inspires these verses that can also serve as life instructions for listeners to learn from? What were some memorable reactions from people outside of the camp that surprised you all? And why is important for artists to have songs that advocate for better health?
Olu: All of the verses are [based on] real-life experiences — our friend was locked up about a month before I wrote that verse. His partner at the time called the police on him and had him sent to jail. He was in there for a month waiting to see a judge. He hadn’t even been charged. I’ve known him since high school and he’s always been an even-tempered person. He was separated from his family which many incarcerated people experienced during the pandemic.
He was released without further incident, thankfully, but that whole situation was f****d up. As artists or content creators, it’s easy to feel that your worth is determined by the output or engagement you get on social media. Some people put that before their own mental well-being, and that’s the worst place to be. People are suffering but still feel the need to be perfect for their “brand” or “followers,” and no one knows what’s wrong until it’s too late. So, we wanted to write about that and tell our stories.
BET.com: What is some self-care advice or tips that EARTHGANG has acquired over time that can be shared with the BET.com readers? And is there anything next to come from the #NamasteAtHome sessions?
Olu: The #NamasteAtHome sessions will return soon! And we hope all of our supporters will join us, especially those from our African American, Black, and People of Color communities. We often don’t have the time or tools to prioritize our mental and physical health, so we want you to take that chance with us. I personally make sure that I rest, and not grind myself into the ground. Have fun! Do things you enjoy, go outside, and unplug. And continue to build strong bonds with trusted family and friends. Pamper yourself; spas, messages, send flowers to yourself, pray, and take it slow.
BET.com: Have you or anyone in Spillage Village begun to talk about plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip hop? What is everyone’s fondest self-care moment in hip hop?
Olu: [Laughs] I’ve never heard of “self-care” moments in hip hop. I think my most memorable moment was Ms. Lauryn Hill taking a hiatus for a while. Or Gucci Mane losing all that weight and being a healthier version of himself. As EARTHGANG, we’re going to celebrate by continuing to create new dope things while appreciating the creativity that inspired us to get started in this.
BET.com: With there becoming a more crystalized focus on championing Black health and wealth in music (see: Black Music Collective celebration) — how does EARTHGANG see themselves adding to the action? What is next for the group while on tour?
Olu: While on tour, we’re focusing on staying healthy and remaining in the best shape. Tour life gets crazy… the liquor, the schedules, extra-curricular activities [laughs], and all of that can take a huge toll on the body. We want to have balance but also have the time of our lives. Life is already chaotic, so our goal is to enjoy it to the fullest and be as healthy as possible. Look out for the EARTHGANG brand, creating new spaces and businesses for the health and wellness community very soon.
Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @KevitoClark.