The Freedom at the Heart of EarthGang

“promoting freedom; on the free-way of thinking and the free-way of life”

Individually they’re Johnny “Olu O. Fann” Venus and Doctur “Eian Undrai Parker” Dot. Two Atlanta hailing individuals, each with their own distinct personality, views and vision. Collectively, they’re better known as EarthGang and they’re making music on their own terms, more precisely, they’re “promoting freedom; on the free-way of thinking and the free-way of life”. It’s safe to say, while it sounds like a utopian ideal, EarthGang are living out their dreams.

While it’s drab and dreary in London, Olu and Dot are busy in sunny Los Angeles. After seeing in the New Year in Sudan, Venus is still on a high from the trip: “I didn’t want to go anywhere which would remind me of America. Before I went to Sudan we was in Australia, it’s beautiful. But even there I wanted to go somewhere with a traditional, ancient and historic feel”. Speaking to both over the phone, Venus paints me a perfectly vivid picture of their current setting, and from this description, it’s clear why he’s in the music industry, “We are in West Hollywood Hills, looking over this canyon… currently I see beautiful houses tucked away and palms and coniferous trees I see…”. Giggling to himself, Venus gets down to the nitty gritty, it’s not all play and no work, “we got like three studio set ups over here, we stay in this house, J.I.D and some of our producers. Our managers are here, it’s the SpillHouse West Coast edition. This is a super old house with 60’s nostalgia stuff around. But most importantly we here working man”. SpillHouse links directly to Spillage Village, which is a collective, a squad almost, of creative like-minded individuals. Formed of a group of musical mavericks, from EarthGang, J.I.D, Jordxn Bryant and Hollywood JB each with their own careers and sounds, but existing with ease under the guise of Spillage Village. Olu explains further, “it’s geared towards challenging the status-quo of what music is and also, just gearing up for freedom”.

By their name alone, it is clear EarthGang was created by the people for the people. A quick scroll of their Twitter timeline, you can see fan-stories retweeted. Tales of fans describing their experiences from their concerts, or a fan describing bonding with a random person in the library over their music. For Dot, this is further reaffirmation, that they’re doing something right with their music: “When I hear that it reminds me what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re just letting the music do that talking, I just let all the power flow through me and allowing people to connect through us… Whether that be people who wouldn’t normally have spoken before too”.

The global ethos of EarthGang extends even further than their fanbase and name, they’re inspired by the most random things, for example, Dot describes a recent experience where he forgot to wear socks to a recent studio session and only noticed once he took his shoes off: “I saw that I had my bare foot out, and it just inspired a whole wave of what it means to be bare and baring yourself… Some people take their shoes off and they’re like damn I ain’t wearing no socks, this day gonna be stupid. But to take it and put it into something that you can experience on multiple levels is what it’s about… That should be everyones exercise for the week”. Creativity for EarthGang isn’t something that should be tapped in and out of, it should be something that is thought of in everything you’re doing.

Cole didn’t force us to sign. He was just interested in the way we make music

In August last year, they signed to J Cole’s label imprint, Dreamville Records. This signing was a natural, organic connection one built upon years of the duo and J Cole knowing one another. EarthGang had been entirely independent prior to their signing to Dreamville, so after a solid 9 years of independence, signing wasn’t a move the pair took lightly. Venus goes on to add: “Cole didn’t force us to sign. He was just interested in the way we make music, he just wanted us around to have those moments in the studio where you’re being creative and pushing another… When it came time for us to make a quote, unquote, industry move, it made sense for us to sign to Dreamville”. Unlike most major label signings, J Cole was a genuine fan of EarthGang for around five years before signing them. In a video clip recorded in 2015, only released recently along with the signing announcement, you see Cole explaining why he feels their perspective is so important in the Atlanta scene. So, for anyone wondering, their signing was clearly not a rushed choice. A label founder who actually is passionate about your music, paired with a duo who know exactly what they want to be, sounds like a recipe for perfection. Venus further solidifies this as he explains the importance of legacy in music: “We was never trying to be put somewhere where you plug and play us, or make records where we could be substituted for any. other rapper. We never wanted to be those guys. Individuality makes for a longer legacy”.

While both Venus and Doc hail from Atlanta and are born and bred products of the South, their sound doesn’t adhere to syrup infused mumble rap or trap sounds – which are arguably the current defining sounds of the South.

And while this distinct sound is often associated with being the soundtrack to the southern city, it’s not the only style of music. It’s this illusion that EarthGang are trying to combat. After all, no one wants the sound of their entire city skewed to one particular genre.“There is a misconception. Because the whole, entire  picture isn’t being shown” Venus explains when I ask him about the current music scene in Atlanta. “There’s a magnifying glass on certain sections in the city [Atlanta], and that showcases those scenes very well, but we want the whole thing to be shown”. Johnny uses the Childish Gambino created tv show, Atlanta to exemplify his point further, “I really love the show Atlanta a lot. It gives you so many different backgrounds of these characters. As a place, Atlanta is not just full of people who are career trappers, strippers or real housewives of ATL. It’s a real community of people who have talents, families – they’re teachers. Children and co-existing with each other and learning how to live with one another and create”.

On paper, you could easily draw up the comparisons between EarthGang and Outkast, but doing so is so reductive to EarthGang’s craft. When I asked the pair how they avoid the Outkast comparisons, they both were quick to pipe in: “By being yourself! Me personally, I don’t avoid the comparisons. It’s beautiful because it gives you a chance to work on your artistry and be yourself over and over again. No body on this earth is like you. The sooner you realise that the better off you’ll be”. Venus’ outlook is so positively refreshing, it’s inspiring, he takes this and turns it into a positive: “One, I take it as a compliment first and foremost. Two, I take it as a foundation to build upon. You know. We have no idea how far we can go – so I say thank you or setting that level for me.”

Celebrating the growth everyday.. that’s what this project is about

For die-hard EarthGang fans, 2018 is the year they can expect a full length-album, a debut under Dreamville. Until them their, mixtape trilogy is something that can tie you over. Having released ‘Rags’ in September, then ‘Robots’ in October, ‘Royalty’ is the final piece of the mixtape trilogy. But the full-length, album, ‘MirrorLand’ has been long awaited. Speaking on the up and coming album, Venus is in the highest of spirits; “We will all be able to walk through the gates of MirrorLand. It’s free admission, everyone can ride the rides as much as they want. Popcorn is free, fried Oreos are free. It’s all fun”. This theme park metaphor takes us into the minds of EarthGang, and the fun, funky and celebratory nature of the pair. “You can expect celebration. Jubilation. It’s a triumphant return”. Channeling images of Lion King Venus adds, “It’s Simba returning to Pride Rock. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s just some things we’ve been working on, and the whole idea is just to celebrate your accomplishments and celebrate what you mean to people, yourself and things you’ve done and celebrate how far you’ve come… And continue to inspire each other. This is never the end. We need to push and inspire people to do more and push themselves and be the best they can be. Celebrating the growth everyday.. that’s what this project is about”.

It’s not long before we’ve been FaceTiming for almost an hour. EarthGang are so personable it’s easy to see why their fans gravitate towards them. While they’re collaboratively showing a different side to Atlanta, at the most simple level, they’re just being themselves and striving for creative and musical freedom all across the earth. For fellow musicians and listeners alike, the EarthGang vision remains clearer than every: stay true to yourself at all times.

Listen to the new single from Earthgang, ‘Nothing But the Best’ featuring Ari Lennox out now on Dreamville and available to stream here