Atlanta based hip hop duo EarthGang have been bubbling beneath the mainstream for a while. But this year, after the release of their latest album Royalty, they are due to co-headline a tour with J.I.D., following the support of Mac Miller on his national tour of the U.S., signing to J.Cole’s label Dreamville and the release of part of their much anticipated EP on said label entitled Rags, Robots, and Royalty. The pair, who go by the stage names Venus and Doc, originally began making music back in high school and in the five years since then, they have supported each other and come of age together as a unit.
We caught up with the enthusiastic pair ahead of their Mirrorland album release to discuss life in all its “dynamic and ugly” beauty.
You rap about socio-political issues, specifically about the plight and struggle of black people today. What do you guys read or who do you watch to help shape this thinking?
VENUS: I watch everything and everyone around me. We really just rap about life in general; things we, and maybe you, see and experience. Sometimes life is great, sometimes life is tough. Sometimes life is love, sometimes it’s violence. Revolution by Russel Brand, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, We Real Cool by bell hooks, Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane. To me these books tell the stories of Black people and not just Black people but humans in general and their complexities. Life is beautiful, ugly and dynamic.
DOC: We write about what we see and what we know, just like any good artist. Speak your truth. We not Public Enemy. We not gonna tell you who to vote for or what to believe. EarthGang is about the HUMAN experience above all else.
You’re pretty anti-establishment and anti-labels. How did you decide that signing to J. Cole was the right decision for you?
DOC: We were never anti label. We just never found one that fit until the Dreamville/Interscope situation was presented. Cole has been cool with us since 2014, and it made sense at the time.
VENUS: I’d say we are pro-artists, pro-creativity, pro-community. And we saw those principles in what Dreamville was doing. They opened the doors to us way before we ever had a deal with them. They encouraged and collaborated with us to keep developing our true sound. Authentic creative spaces.
Your videos – I’m thinking of ones like “Meditate” – are often parodies of old school videos where women were seen to be submissive objects. Is there a reasoning behind this? Do you hope to provoke change?
VENUS: The Meditate video was an ode to Oh Brother Where art Thou. The sirens had the power in that context. In our Voodoo video the women had the power as well. We’re playing our role in recognising that power shift in the universe. I’ve personally have gone through an intense self-transformation on how I’ve treated women in the past due to whatever reasons, peer pressure, media indoctrination, etc. Integrity and respect is my number one priority when interacting with women of all races or ages. Shoutout to all the women on and off social media constantly educating humanity on what it’s like to be, and treat, women. The world will be a better place because of y’all.
DOC: It’s unfair to say our videos have women solely presented in one way, when each of our pieces tells a distinctly different story. Like Venus said, Meditate was an homage to the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou. In that movie, the sirens controlled the men with seduction and hypnotism. Seems like they were more in control to me. Perspective is everything.
You’ve spoken out about the struggle you guys had trying to get people to listen to you and invest. What kept you motivated during all these years?
VENUS: I’m doing what I was born to do. We are blessed with a gift, one that will continue to inspire generations behind us. You can’t turn your back on the countless number of people who you impact just by being discouraged. It’s also a promise to keep believing in yourself and your offerings to the world.
DOC: When you know you’re the truth that’s all the motivation you need.
How important was it for you to continue making the same sound despite the perceived setbacks?
DOC: The main component of EarthGang music is to continue to push and try more ways to be creative. So, I’ll say we never made the “same sound”. Each project shows growth and each project is made with different musicians and circumstances.
VENUS: We always set out to continue to evolve and develop, and learn and implement these ideas. Painters don’t set out to recreate the Mona Lisa. You can’t rebuild the great pyramids of Sudan and Egypt and Central South America but you can create space stations and travel to Mars and beyond.
How has your relationship changed since your school days?
VENUS: We’ve grown a lot as men. Our life experiences before we met and after we met will continue that growth and change. We always make sure to bring that back to the music and use it to create and promote self-love and growth. Change is good, it’s the only constant of life.
DOC: As we grow we live different lives; it is what it is. We still have the same appreciation and love for music and we recognise what our unity represents to the people that support us. We still boys.
Do you feel a pressure now that you’re bigger to “represent” Atlanta?
DOC: I never feel pressure to represent where you are from. In every move I make, in every day I live, I organically represent the city. I’m a product of the Atlanta Public School system just like my parents. Live your truth and that will always be the best representation of where you’re from.
VENUS: I am Atlanta, just like Gucci is Atlanta, just like Migos is Atlanta, just like Donald Glover is Atlanta, just like Freak Nik, Hot Wings and MLK is Atlanta. My family has buildings in the city in our name due to the sacrifices my ancestor gave to our communities. I’m born to continue that legacy.
Atlanta is recognised as a pretty saturated area for hip-hop and rap. However, at the same time, it must have been good to work in such a musical hotbed. How do you think working in Atlanta helped or hindered in your successes?
VENUS: Atlanta has helped tremendously. It’s come full circle. From when we were leaving school to rap in Mercy’s basement off of Campbellton Rd to being on the thriving artist scene from Apache to EAV to the West End to Edgewood which has produced so many great musicians and talent. Atlanta has been a living organism of creativity since God knows when. And I love that shit. Zaytoven plays in the studio on Saturday night and Church on Sunday morning! That’s fye! That’s art, that’s living your purpose regardless of what anybody says. That’s what Atlanta is about.
DOC: Atlanta never hindered our success. I think with any entrepreneurs, the only thing that can hinder success is work and process. Personally, I feel like you’re only hindered when you’re not progressing and EarthGang is always progressing. Of course Atlanta always helped us, it’s the reason we even started this. We went to high school with Yakki and Johnny Cinco. D4L explosion happened while we were kids on our side of town. Not to mention all the grand scale stars we saw throughout our whole lives in the city. There is no better place to be inspired.
VENUS: On the flip side there’s a verse saying “No one can be a prophet in their hometown.” We had to leave Atlanta just like many people leave their hometowns in search of themselves; to grow, meet new people, experience new challenges. Simba left Pride Rock, Prince left Minnesota, Jimi left Seattle, Pac left Baltimore. Buddha left his hometown. It’s the natural way of things. But returning allows everything to come full circle. Using what we’ve learned with what we always have known.
Header Image by Faye Webster