Atlanta’s rising rap duo EarthGang have been bubbling up for some time and now they’re about to overflow.
The up-and-coming rappers, a magical combination of Johnny Venus and WowGr8 (also known as Doctur Dot), have quickly become music’s next cultural trendsetters, even garnering comparisons to their predecessors, OutKast. But for anyone who has been listening to EarthGang since they’re Spillage Village days, it’s clear Johnny and Doc are charting their own territory on hip-hop’s soundscape.
After releasing several mixtapes and singles for nearly a decade, the duo caught the eye of J. Cole, who signed them to his Dreamville imprint in 2017. Soon after, they appeared on the flagship’s Grammy-nominated Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation album. EarthGang hit the mainstream with their major label debut album, Mirrorland, a psychedelic mesh of funk, soul, and trap, in 2019.
Now, EarthGang is slated to perform at the 20th annual BET Awards where they garnered a nomination for Best Group, along with Chloe x Halle, City Girls, Griselda, Travis Scott’s JACKBOYS collective, and Migos.
Ahead of their performance, here are six facts you should know about EarthGang.
Before they were WowGr8 and Johnny Venus, they were Eian Undrai Parker and Olu O. Fann. The two met in high school.
“We used to swap records at high school. We’d pull up and have a corner of the parking lot. Everybody knew not to come our way, not unless you were bumpin’ music out yo’ whip. One day we might be listening to Curtis Mayfield, next day we might be listening to Nina Simone,” Doc told Hucker magazine in 2018.
“There was a whole squad of us at the time, but we were the two who happened to rap and keep going with it.”
The duo would attend Hampton University, where they started to pursue music seriously. The seeds for EarthGang were officially sown at the HBCU.
Doc and Johnny started the hip-hop collective while they were attending Hampton University. Soon after, brothers Hollywood JB and Jordan Bryant joined. The posse then crossed paths with rising wordsmith J.I.D after coming across his Cakewalk mixtape. R&B’s 6lack and Mereba would eventually join the collective.
This is where EarthGang released some of their earliest work, including Shallow Toys For Graves, Strays With Rabies, Bears Like This, and its sequel, Bears Like This Too Much.
The moniker just came to him in a random moment of clarity, telling Creative Loafing in 2011, “it represents what we’re made of and why we do what we do. It’s for the people by the people. Our music is influenced by the conscious and subconscious, and we create it to influence the like.”
With their one-of-a-kind sound, it was only a matter of time until labels started expressing interest in EarthGang. They eventually landed on J.Cole’s radar, who was starting his own label.
“He reached out, unofficially, way early. He heard about EarthGang [but] we didn’t believe it because he didn't directly talk to us. He talked to somebody else who’d talk to somebody else who’d talk to us,” Johnny said while speaking to Mass Appeal in 2018.
Eventually, they personally became acquainted with J. Cole himself, and he signed them in 2017. EarthGang released their first EP, Rags, under the Dreamville banner that same year, the first installment of their Rags, Robots and Royalty trilogy.
While speaking to Pitchfork in 2019, Johnny shared that they were inspired by the idea of crafting a project that could capture the feeling of being swept away into another world. What better way than to reimagine a magical version of the 1978 film The Wiz?
“You know when Dorothy got swept away and she met the Munchkins? That was such a beautiful thing. You could see Quincy Jones on the piano, just playing away. It’s really colorful. It’s really dangerous. It’s really trippy. It’s literally Freaknik Atlanta in the summertime — folks riding around in cars with big rims with paint on their faces,”
Johnny added, “Atlanta is the Land of Oz. It’s Black people just being unafraid and unapologetically creative.”
While EarthGang is often likened to OutKast, the duo attribute their musical affinity to the homegrown sounds they grew up listening to.
“People don’t get that so much music has come from Atlanta, and it isn’t just rappers. Some of the greatest bands ever done came from the city. The S.O.S. Band is from Atlanta, and they got HITS,” Johnny said to Teen Vogue in September of last year.
“People just see trap music and they’re right, that’s there. But there are so many other sounds that come from the city and that’s some of what we are made up of creatively.”
Be sure to tune into the BET Awards ‘20 on Sunday June 28 8/7.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)