In a city bombarded with wanna-be-rappers, underground emcees on the verge of signing a deal, and full blown superstars, Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot are in the eye of the storm.
On a rainy Sunday afternoon at Atlanta’s M.Rich Center for Creative Arts, Media and Technology, Venus and Dot, who make up the rap duo EarthGang, hailing from the city’s notorious South side—known for birthing championed acts from Outkast to Future to Waka Flocka Flame—are relaxed, maybe a little too lax. “We were watching the Falcons game, then I remembered I was supposed to be here,” Dot admits. “I’m recovering from a Halloween party that was pretty intense,” he continues, stretching his limbs on a nearby couch while rubbing his slightly blood shot eyes. “I had some lean last night,” Venus chimes in with a smile.
However, despite their admission of Promethazine and THC-sponsored shenanigans, the two aren’t as lethargic like most would imagine. And as much as the emcees have endured during their rise on the Atlanta indie music scene, it’s pretty much expected at this point that Venus and Dot have mastered balancing life’s highs and lows.
“We were shocked with our first sh** and happy that people liked what we were putting out, but we were like, ‘f**k it, we’re going to go harder,’” Venus told us. “That’s how it is with everything we do.” And that’s the simple truth, no fronting. In 2012, the emcees earned bachelors degrees from Hampton University in graphic design and psychology respectively, but traded in their college education for a wild excursion of making their high school daydreams of becoming rappers a reality.
Five years, two EPs, three albums, and an special guest spot on Ab-Soul’s 2014 These Days Tour later, EarthGang has managed to spread their unique sound to audiences hundreds (even thousands) of miles outside of I-285 by collectively putting their penchant for providing good, spliff-twisting and chill vibes on wax and giving the city more than saturated trap rap and brazen bando bars. And you can forget about the Outkast comparisons people lazily stamp Atlanta artists with when hi-hats, booming 808s, Follies Strip Club and the dab dance aren’t the focal point. Nothing what the average listener would expect from two guys from the S.W.A.T.S, EarthGang has derived a sound all their own. The duo delivers sonically riotous and experimental sounds that set their own tones but still manages to pay homage to old school southern rap, flirt with the likes of golden age lyricism that boom-bap purists praise and nod to smooth, sometimey psychedelic vibes.
Although unaware of what impact their music is making on the Atlanta scene, Venus and Dot are ready to claim their stake from local come up kids to critically acclaimed emcees with their newly released fourth album Strays with Rabies.
“Those chairs are more star-worthy,” Dot says before the interview starts, pointing at two modern metal-back chairs. “I feel Simon & Garfunkel,” he continues, feet crossed ready to school us on EarthGang’s inspiring indie grind, their hopeful future in the rap game and more. –Ashley Monaé
VIBE: How did you guys meet?
Johnny Venus: We met in ninth grade at Mays High School.
Doctur Dot: We’d swap records and stuff, but I didn’t really know that he did music or was interested in it professionally. You know, I was just spitting in my car sometimes and I doing my own thing. Senior year we decided to put a group together. There were a few guys around school we knew that were free styling all the time and rapping. Johnny and I continued making music together when we both got scholarships to go to Hampton. So, we packed up our talents and went to Virginia.
Was it a conscious effort to go to college together or just a coincidence?
JV: I don’t remember applying together.
DD: Yeah, we didn’t. I didn’t even tell anybody I applied. I ended up telling him later because that’s my partner. I applied to one school to see what I could get and Hampton was throwing money so I was like I’m going to go there. I was so indecisive about going to college; I didn’t really want to go at all. I was 17 and you want to get the f**k away from Georgia.
Were you looking to escape the environment of Southwest Atlanta?
JV: No, but it’s ironic that when we left the entire creative Atlanta scene starting generating. Before we left we were recording with people like Curtis [Williams] and just recording raggedy ass songs. But once we were in school, we heard about A3C’s first year, which was like our sophomore year, and we couldn’t come down there. Hella stuff was happening in Atlanta, but we stayed focused and continued to hone our skills and find out who we were. We were basically in the wilderness at Hampton [laughs]. We were just out there going through it, but it definitely gave us a sense of self-identity to come back with. A lot of people get thrust into the whole industry so fast out here and you don’t even know who they are. I’m glad we got the chance to go through that without the extra.
So, how did EarthGang get started?
JV: It was around the end of sophomore or junior year. We were just kind of figured we should go ahead and create this group and see what kind of sound we cultivate on our own. Unlike our efforts in high school, this time around we put in even more time and were headstrong and everything came together.
Is there a story behind the group name?
JV: It originated probably in a dream somewhere. It encompasses the connectivity and relativeness of life. Everything is related; everything is intertwined. It’s kind of like when people say they’re cool with God, but it’s like you can be right with God but if you’re not right with the people around you then it’s still a disconnect. So it’s acknowledging the symbiosis of life.
That’s interesting. So nothing pertaining you guys love for greenery?
JV: Oh, always [laughs]. That seed was already planted.
DD: I’m geeked right now.
A lot of people outside of Atlanta group artists from the city as either trap rap or automatically try to compare them to Outkast. In your own words, what’s the EarthGang sound?
DD: It’s our own man. You can do the comparisons all day, but if you’re not willing to listen then you won’t understand. People of all types of backgrounds appreciate it. I think that’s one of the things that make the Atlanta music scene so great because if you’re doing something and the energy is right, anybody will show support.
JV: Our sound-to-be is rebellious in a sense that rebellion not as that bratty kid that wants to f**k sh** up, but in the sense that you have to find your own niche. A lot of times in this society it seems as if rebellion because everyone is told to follow the rules and do things a certain way, so it’s like automatically you’ll be stamped as rebellious. But if rebellion is self-expression then that’s cool and that’s what our music is. It kind of reminds me of the sh** that’s created out of the direst circumstances.
So, who are some of you guys greatest influences?
DD: Eldrige Cleaver. T-Pain, he’s got the gift. Everyone has a song they love by that man.
JV: I’d say Curtis Mayfield, Lauryn Hill, Gil Scott just because he’s so versatile with his art form and it’s always potent. It’s like being on drugs even when you’re not high. It’s like having an outer body experience so I f**k with Gil. I f**k with artists that make music that feel like it was made for a period in time and can’t be recreated.
You guys stepped on the scene in 2010, how has your rise been?
JV: It’s honestly been the rise that it’s supposed to be.
DD: For us, it’s been a completely organic indie grind. We started from scratch, dead ass. In the beginning, we couldn’t get beats from anybody. We ended up getting a bootleg copy of Reasons from the back of a Guitar Center. It was like starting from a piece of rock on a wall in a cave to learning how to make paint to changing your whole outlook on art. So it’s been a growing process and a real journey. A lot of artists had people that could fund them or push them, but all of our stuff has come from providing the right vibes and people seeing our potential and talent. I can’t even say what stage we’re at right now. It’s so weird. People act like they talk about us, but we can’t ever tell what our impact is.
JV: That’s fye though. It’s just like being in the eye of the storm right now. We’re focused though. All that stuff that people say about us on people’s radar and our music buzzing, that’s news to us because we try to stay ahead and to the next phase. All the stuff around us is only determined by what we do, so we can’t go out there looking for the answer.
You guys you went on tour with Ab-Soul last year. How did that come about?
DD: During our first time out in L.A. we ended up getting lucky enough to open for Audio Push at Leimert Park. Punch from TDE was there and told us he had heard about what we were doing. Coach K was there too, but he was already f**king with us just from being from Atlanta. He talked us up to Punch. Punch ended up getting in touch with our manager and asking us to send over music. He then told us Soul was going on tour soon and was like it could be a good look. I guess Soul was f**king with what he heard and that was it. It also helped that we were cool with Mac Miller too, I imagine, since they both are cool. There were just a lot of avenues that connected. The thing a lot of people don’t know is that we didn’t get any money off that sh**. That wasn’t even in the budget or the plan, and we agreed to it 100%. We had to borrow money from people; we had to do a lot of crazy sh** to make that tour happen. That was 50 dates and two months of traveling. Sometimes we’d have seven or eight n***as to a room. We were really out there, bruh. That first tour was a learning experience like a fool. TDE runs a tight ship. We put all our hopes for the future into that tour. That sh** was real.
And now Strays with Rabies is finally here.
JV: It’s a collection of 14 tracks, 98 percent written by myself and Dot. That experience right there helped us understand the gelling of creating music. It’s always such a communal process and we forget about that sometimes since it is such a personal form of expression. But being able to go out to L.A. and speak to different producers here in Atlanta who we know and maybe never had the chance to work with, and finally come up with that sh** and it work perfectly. It just further testifies to what we think the most important thing is when we create, which is the connection between the two people – not the names, not the money, none of that stuff.
DD: For this album we wanted it to be more about us. There are no features outside of the squad, just J.I.D and Marian Mereba. Maybe one day we’ll give the world the feature-filled project that they think they so crave. We’ve got a myriad of guys we met through a constant musical vibe doing production, too.
What’s the basis of the album?
DD: Manhood. It’s definitely a journey.
JV: Growth comes up in the project, too, as well as movement – you know, leaving, change, travel. With this day and age travel has become so accessible, not even physically. Information travels so much so it plays off of the name, Strays with Rabies. Rabies is the information in the sense that you can affect people and share things.
What do you guys hope to accomplish with your music?
JV: Free all my n***as who are afraid to be themselves, that’s what I’m trying to accomplish. I’m doing this for all the muthaf**kers out here who are being told that the person you are is not good enough, whether it’s in school, their parents, bully ass kids, whatever.
DD: It’s all about freedom at the end of the day. All I ever say in every record is about embracing as much freedom as you can because it’s some people who don’t get to experience the type of freedom that others get to. Whatever you do in this life, embrace your freedom and be true to yourself.
JV: That’s what the Gang goal is.
Other than the album, what’s next?
JV: We’re doing the second leg of Mac Miller’s GO:OD AM Tour.
DD: We’ve got some videos from Strays with Rabies coming soon, too.