“Shallow Graves For Toys” was my introduction to EarthGang as I imagine it was for many of our readers in 2016. They were hardly newcomers to the hip-hop scene though. Olu (aka Johnny Venus) and WowGr8 (aka Doctur Dot) had been working together since 2008. Given their Atlanta heritage and the increasingly divergent direction of Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s respective careers, an increasing number of people have wanted to dub EG “the new OutKast” representing for the SWATS and beyond.
Frankly “Mirrorland” dispels this narrative. Oh it’s not that Venus and Dot don’t represent the SWATS, but as far as Atlanta groups go they’re more akin to Migos or YoungBloodz — perhaps a mixture of both that in the end is entirely different from either. There’s more singing to an EarthGang track like “Proud of You” featuring Young Thug, than even Andre did in his heyday, but it’s not as tuned up as many of their contemporaries, and the self produced Olu track has HEAVY bass bottom and stylish swing. The song is an ear worm that will bury itself deep in your skull and not be dislodged.
This track reflects a great deal of the content on “Mirrorland” — pun definitely intended. Over their decade plus in the recording industry EarthGang has artfully built up a style and swagger unique to their regional birth but appealing to a national audience. They’ve now arrived at a unique position where their swag is actually transferable to previously better known artists. Case in point — it actually sounds like they are doing T-Pain a favor by having him cameo on “Tequila” instead of the other way around.
Cameo appearances on “Mirrorland” don’t feel like carefully cultivated cash-ins — they feel like creative decisions for purely artistic reasons. From X-Factor singer Arin Ray on “Stuck” to J. Cole’s production on “LaLa Challenge,” you could read the connections cynically right up until the moment you listen to the track. After that you get lost in the groove and forget whatever bitter pill you were just about to swallow.
There’s also humor in the mix as the unexpected breakdown of “LaLa Challenge” shows, with someone angrily ordering wings and fries and complaining “they were soggy last time.” At this point the track suddenly switches up to a double time rapid fire beat and delivery that’s as close to being OutKast as any song on the “Mirrorland” gets. I still don’t think that shoe fits though. EarthGang would be proud to wear those kicks and would probably vlog them too, but I think what they’ve developed is entirely to their own credit. As tracks like the apt Andre Harris produced finale “Wings” show, EarthGang can fly on their own without any comparisons. They are as much R&B as hip-hop and for them it’s an ideal match.