MUSIC

EARTHGANG Struggles with Fame on "Mirrorland"

The duo gets vulnerable on their newest release.

There has always been something ethereal about EARTHGANG.

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Buzzing off the success of their impressive debut mixtape, Shallow Graves For Toys, the Atlanta duo's 2015 follow-up, Stray's With Rabies, glued itself to the back of rap's subconscious. It was easy to draw comparisons to OutKast and The Pharcyde, and, thematically, the duo brought a unique and unsettling exploration of the culture of the outer fringes of Atlanta. "Your mind still kinda childish, but you pushin' 6 feet, so mommy's daddy put the shotty to your face at 16," Doctor Dot warbles on "A.W.O.L." as he describes his mom's boyfriend putting a loaded shotgun in his face at 16.

Alternating between stark observations ("I been around killas and good n***** who live independent, the only difference is the depth of your vision") and spoken word poetry ("I'm America's freaky little fantasy, I'm society's dirty obsession, cuz my eyes seeing what the world can't"), EARTHGANG was of a different breed in the over-saturated Atlanta rap scene. Their work caught the attention of J. Cole, who quickly signed them to his astute Dreamville label in 2017 before plastering them all over Revenge of The Dreamers III. The vocal flourishes of Johnny Venus brought diaphanous energy to everything he touched, while Doctor Dot served as the equalizer—with his vibrato and delivery being more in line with an Atlanta hip-hop purist—and perfectly contrasting Venus's unwavering experimentation. Then, their steady momentum suddenly exploded, EARTHGANG became one of 2019's most lauded duos, and their debut, Mirrorland, was one of rap's most highly anticipated fall releases.

"3 a.m. the only time that I can hear myself think," Doctor Dot raps on "This Side." "Why is every waking moment feeling more like a dream?" Mirrorland shows the duo in complete disbelief. They're famous now, at least by rap standards, but does that make them sellouts? "Sometimes I get overwhelmed," Venus admits earlier on "This Side." "I'm in, in over my head, put my life online for sale." Mirrorland, which was inspired by The Wiz, describes the journey to find creative authenticity in the age of quick fame via Tik Tok and streaming. "I got wants, I got needs, I got PTSD," Doctor Dot says almost hysterically on "Avenue." "I got suicidal thoughts beneath these masked fantasies."

"How's your mental? How do you cope with what you been through?" a lover asks Doctor Dot on "Top Down," to which he has no answer. Yet EARTHGANG is happy to share their faults with us. They view their indiscretions as strengths, not weaknesses. "Cause I'm lost don't mean you found," Venus reminds the skeptics on "LaLa Challenge." The duo is no doubt caught in a crisis of faith, with the album title itself indicative of a state of reflection. How can you maintain your humility and creative independence without losing yourself to fame? "I pray for the hunger to be permanent, no matter what that make" Doctor Dot raps on "Swivel." The appeal of EARTHGANG will forever be their authenticity. Now they just need to figure out where to take it.

Mirrorland

Larry Kramer, AIDS activist and artist, passed away today at 84.

Kramer was known for his books Faggots and The American People, as well as climate-changing plays like The Normal Heart. His close friend and literary executor, William Schwalbe, told CNN that Kramer died of pneumonia."Larry made a huge contribution to our world as an activist but also as a writer," said Schwalbe, who had known Kramer for 57 years. "I believe that his plays and novels, from 'The Normal Heart' to 'The American People' will more than stand the test of time."

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MUSIC

"Revenge of the Dreamers III" Is a  Hip-Hop Experiment Done Right

This Dreamville Records mega-compilation showcases both amazing talent and the spirit of hip-hop.

343 elite hip-hop artists were invited to appear at Tree Sound Studios in Atlanta, Georgia for 10 days of nonstop music-making. 142 songs were recorded in that time, 257.65 GB of music.

This is what the Revenge of the Dreamers III sessions looked like: one-part chaos, two-parts competition, and a whole lot of creative fun—at least according to the project's coinciding documentary. During this 10-day marathon, there were 12 separate studio setups for artists and producers to wander in and out. Each recording space functioned as its own unique and constantly shifting world. With so many talented individuals roaming the halls and feeding off whatever energies pulled them in, everybody felt an unspoken pressure to step their game up, vying not only for artistic space in a packed recording session, but also inrying to write something dope enough to make the album's final cut. This pressure appeared to stoke, rather than stifle, creativity.

"It's a frenzy," Dreamville artist Omen said in the documentary, addressing the sessions' vibe of healthy competition. "First of all, you gotta find your room, your spot, where you're gonna set up—whether that's writing, making a beat—because it's so many people coming through, and them spots get snatched up…And it's studios all around here, but, I mean, within probably 30 minutes, they might be all taken."

Once the creative frenzy finally came to an end, 18 songs were chosen out of the 142 recorded to appear on the final cut of Revenge of the Dreamers III. The end result featured 34 artists and 27 producers. Of those 18 songs, not a single one flopped or felt like filler, but this should come as no surprise. When you start with such a massive mountain of music inspired by such a uniquely dynamic and collaborative process, success is almost inevitable.

In addition to Dreamville co-founder and veteran emcee, J. Cole, ROTD III also showcases the breadth of the label's eclectic and talented roster: J.I.D., Bas, Omen, Cozz, Lute, Ari Lennox, EARTHGANG, and in-house producer, Elite. Since the album is a Dreamville Records compilation, these artists are the glue that holds everything together, offering a sort of stylistic motif in a crowded list of features that would otherwise risk sounding chaotic and without direction.

ROTD III also features Reason (of Kendrick Lamar's Top Dawg Entertainment fame), Young Nudy, T.I., Ski Mask the Slump God, Smokepurpp, Smino, Ty Dolla $ign, Saba, and Vince Staples (to name a few). So, this album is star-studded as a summer blockbuster, but what really stands out about this impressive guest list are the creative opportunities born from putting all these artists in one building for days on end—we get collaborations and truly fun moments that, had this album been recorded more traditionally, may have never been possible.

One such standout moment comes in the form of J.I.D. teaming up with T.I. for one of only two duets on the record (the other comes in the form of J. Cole with Young Nudy). Their track, "Ladies, Ladies, Ladies" is a buoyant spin on the Jay-Z classic, "Girls, Girls, Girls," in which J.I.D. runs through a list of the diverse range of women he's been with and the unique issues each one presented him. Then T.I. takes the second verse, prefacing it by playfully nodding to how much longer he's been around: "Young n----, you don't know nothing 'bout no bitches. Listen…" The track is a collaboration that we never knew we needed, and the two emcees bridge this generational divide smoothly.

Another powerful collaboration comes in the form of Reason and Cozz at the end of "LamboTruck," as they plot to rob their respective label-heads. Reason throws the idea out, rhyming, "Cozz, look, I done been broke too long / n----, bills too long, can't hide that, n---- / Cole just pulled up in a Lamborghini truck / On the homies and God, we should rob that n----." After Cozz takes issue with the plan, citing his allegiance to Cole, Reason offers another solution to the problem: "Look, let's make a deal / While I go and rob Cole, you go rob Top / Cool," Cozz agrees. This back and forth is the rare collaborative fire that ROTD III opens itself up to in its unprecedented approach to making a mixtape.

At the heart of this album is something that is at the heart of hip-hop itself: an element of fun and mutually beneficial competition for the greater good. The recording sessions at Sound Tree functioned as a microcosm of what it's like to try and make it in rap—throwing hundreds of talented people together into a shared space, all of them vying for their chance to shine. In the end, everyone grows creatively by their desire to surpass the bar set by their peers and predecessors. The whole of the culture is pushed forward every time one artist takes a step toward greatness. And in mirroring this, ROTD III translates into one of the most organic, enjoyable, and authentic hip-hop albums of the decade.