After months of extensive touring, expect EarthGang’s next album to sound like a movie.
Nobody is feeling more charged up than EarthGang right now. The Dreamville duo—comprised of ATLiens Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot (real names Olu O. Fann and Eian Undrai Parker, respectively)—is on a high. Possibly literally, judging by Dot’s low lids and Venus’ wide grin, but mostly symbolically. A few days prior to this interview, Venus and a friend were marinating in the sulfuric ice blue waters of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon—Gucci Mane, also tapped to perform at Secret Solstice Festival in Reykjavik, grinned like a Cheshire cat at the iconic attraction a day prior—getting chummy with fellow tourists. “That jawn was amazing. We really were making friends,” Venus recalls. “We were the only black folks there. The youngest folks there, too. We would just hop in there with everybody, drinking champagne, just talking. It was one family from the UK, but everybody else was from Kentucky, [Washington,] D.C., and they were just chatting it up with us.”
Dot, however, spent his afternoon a little differently. “I went out and met a bunch of people, sang some Viking songs,” Dot he says. “I went to this one Viking man’s house and he was giving me the whole history behind them. He showed me maps of his people that are over here. I just had a very drug-laced discovery of the world. It was very fun. Smoked weed and just learned the history of how the first people came over here. I love just learning the history of these places.”
EarthGang aren’t just jumping in and out of seasons (“We were in Australia in December and it was hot as hell. Now we’re in Iceland in June, almost July, and it’s cold as hell,” Dot notes), enjoying therapeutic swims and cultural exchanges at the grand finale of their two-part Never Had Sh*t Tour with J.I.D. They’re also soaking up all the world has to offer as they navigate it, opening their eyes and ears to a bevy of people, personalities and experiences they’d categorize as life-changing.
“It was an amazing experience after all this work this whole month, just to go and relax, talk and reflect on everything that’s been going on,” Venus says. “Just to be able to take that back home and be like, ‘Yo, everybody needs to come out [and travel abroad]. No matter what you do, you can do this. Make this joint happen because it’s so much out in the world that you need to do and you need to see. It changes your life, for sure.”
Naturally, the serendipity of their globetrotting provides the duo with plenty of inspiration for MirrorLand, an album they’ve been writing and recording the whole stretch of the trek. In fact, much like their Spillage Village cohort’s own Hollywood aspirations, the new project is poised to sound downright movie-like by the time they’re through with it. “We studied soundtracks and scores, not in any attempts to end up on anybody’s movie, but just in an attempt to make a project that feels like a movie. To make a project where the whole time listening to it is like, ‘damn this could be a whole Tarantino picture,’” Dot says. The LP, which follows behind February’s Royalty, the final installation of their three-part EP series, is slated to drop later this year.
During a candid conversation before their Secret Solstice set, EarthGang shares how touring has changed them for the better, sings the praises of Ari Lennox’s new album and lists the bevy of films that inspired MirrorLand.
VIBE: What are some of the things you’ve both picked up on since touring across Europe?
Johnny Venus: Over here people are more like accepting. People are just super nice. It’s still racism over here; we still have instances with folks [who] won’t let us in hotels because “y’all aren’t guests,” but it’s like, we’re coming up here to change. But they let some of the white folks who go on the tour with us come into the hotels, so we had to wild out on ’em and stuff. But everybody else, the people here are proud of who they are, and they’re trying to really reverse the look of racism over here. You can see that, individually, people are really like, “alright we know we get a bad rep,” so people are super cool. They just wanna be a part of society and a part of the world, you know? Especially in Barcelona with so many cultures mixed. Barcelona is my favorite city. So many cultures mixed and everybody is just out having a party, a blast, EDM festival, just meeting so many people from London and everywhere in Barcelona. Like, dang this is really like a global city. That’s basically what this tour has been like for me.
Doctur Dot: They never see us over here, you know what I’m saying? They don’t see black people. Whatever you wanna say or call it, they don’t see the type of stuff that they see on YouTube in real life. American hip-hop, American black guys from cities, they don’t see none of that. Just that alone is a phenomenon over here. It was even a big phenomenon when we were out in Australia because I guess it’s even more rare. Just that alone incites a different type of curiosity as to what we’re doing. We were able to make a lot of fans based off that. Like, “I’ve never seen y’all before,” and everybody’s jaws just drop.
JV: Even the black people that you meet over here. Their mouths drop lower than the white people. They’re like, ‘damn y’all over here,’ like you over here, too? It’s really dope being with the black folks. We met some folks over in Scotland right before we came out here just walking. We were just looking for food. I’m shouting down the street, “Hey bro! You know where you can get some food?” So he turned around—he kept walking for a minute—but he turned around and he was like, “by food do you mean weed?” I was like “Nahhhh bro, we hungry. It’s like 2 a.m., we’re trying to get some food. We’re out here performing, we’re EarthGang and we just had a show.” He was like, “You guys are EarthGang? Yo, I literally just started listening to y’all like last week!” His people were a block up, three other black guys, and they all came and we took pictures with them. I’m like damn this is so crazy running into y’all like that and just having this moment right there. That’s really what this tour is about—so many serendipitous moments of just being here and just letting things just come to you. So, I really appreciate this for sure. And being on tour is like being with yourself constantly, more than when you are when you at home. When you’re home, you’re running into people that you know. You can sit down and talk, exchange stories and stuff. On tour, it’s just so quick, like here, here, here, here, here, so the only thing that keeps you grounded is yourself, you know? So it’s like, damn I’m really out here.
You two have an album coming out. Was it wrapped before touring, or have you been recording as you go?
JV: Nah, we’re recording, talking about it, extending ideas. We’re still fully in the album process. Fully, completely immersed in it. It’s not gonna be done until it’s done.
Does the tour experience add to the process?
JV: Yeah, for sure. It adds to it—the stories, the people, the sounds that you hear. You learn how to continue to take in all this life and put this life into this album. I’m definitely glad we went on tour again before the album is done, because all this stuff is more things to put in the album, more experience of the moment and the now.
“I think hip-hop can be more dramatic.” —Doctur Dot
I feel like this is shaping up to be a takeover year for Dreamville.
DD: It’s gonna be a very solid year. [J.] Cole’s a genius [Laughs]
First Cole dropped his album, then you have the Dreamville Festival that’s happening later this year…
DD: We had J.I.D on the [XXL] Freshman cover. We had EarthGang’s first label album. Big sh*t poppin’.
JV: A lot of seeds coming up, a lot of seeds sprung.
DD: Ari Lennox’s project is amazing, too.
Yeah, I was gonna say where is it?
DD: I heard her whole album.
JV: Yeah. It’s so good, it’s so amazing.
DD: Well, you never know if it’s done but we heard it’s done. I remember the time I heard Cole’s album is done and then when it came out it was different.
JV: Different songs.
DD: We work all the time. The album that I heard is amazing. I’m sure the album that comes out is still amazing. I put it up against anybody. Not even just because I know her name, just cause she’s… If I ain’t never seen her in my life and heard that sh*t, it’s like…
JV: I want people to hear her really give it her all because she really puts herself into the moment. I’m like, “Damn you do this sh*t so effortlessly. I want you to continue to like get all this love.” Keep going and keep doing it. And this album will really…
DD: It’s gonna set her apart from everybody.
JV: And it’s gonna let her know that she is worthy of what she’s supposed to be.
— Tayler palmer (@taylerrpalmerr) June 19, 2018
During a tour stop in London, you two debuted “Up,” a song from your forthcoming album, MirrorLand. What made you want to tease it there?
JV: We like to get people’s perspectives out there so we decided, what other places than London to premiere one of the records off the album. We recorded it in a garage and it was really one of the last songs that we added to the project—I mean the project is not done so who knows what will be on there—but it was one of the last songs we added and it just has a great energy to it that we wanna push. It’s so kinetic and so like Mystery World Tour and just like a funhouse vibe, and I really wanted to put that on there.
DD: It was dramatic.
DD: Super dramatic. Definitely, this whole project will be dramatic and that’s okay. I think hip-hop can be more dramatic. I think if you wanna make something dramatic, you can. Who gives a f**k? Do whatever the f**k you want at any time. We very much studied soundtracks and scores and stuff, not in any attempts to end up on anybody’s movie, but just in an attempt to make a project that feels like a movie. To make a project where the whole time listening to it is like, ‘damn this could be a whole Tarantino picture.’ We are very, very big on Quentin Tarantino vibes, Michael Scorsese vibes.
JV: Spike Lee vibes. We want people to be pulled.
DD: This project is so cinematically inspired, more than anything. I think “Up” is a good representation of it.
JV: It’s gonna hit the people. We had a couple of things coming up with that record too that gonna give us a little longer life, but it’s definitely a theatrical performance.
What are some of the scores or movies that you looked at?
DD: Both Kill Bills.
JV: The Wiz.
DD: The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz. Sicario. Golden Compass. It’s a wide variety.
JV: Documentaries, too. Definitely a lot of documentaries. The Nina Simone documentary. A lot of this stuff just to see how people… because, I mean, even those you can see how people live their lives and the ups and downs in the documentaries. You wanna put that into the music as well because it’s not always a leveled approach. I’ve been watching a lot of interviews and documentaries and it’s like, you want that moment and that discourse to put that in a record. People are so forthcoming and honest and you wanna put that honesty in the record.
Some movie placement would still be great, though.
JV: Oh for sure! That’s definitely—
DD: That wasn’t the direction we shooting for though. We’re shooting—
JV: To make a movie.
DD: To make the album a movie. Anything that gets picked up and put on any movie—
JV: That’s beautiful.
DD: I would gratefully accept. [Laughs] Trying to get that check. Trying to get every check. Video games, movies, commercials, all that sh*t.
Will you be making videos to go with that, too? Your previous visuals have been pretty deep.
JV: The videos are gonna be crazy. We’ve been thinking about that right now. We have a lot of things coming, a lot of cinematic pieces. A lot of experimentation in what we got going on. We want it to be jaw-dropping. Jarring.
DD: It’s the most, like, true-to-vision project we’ve been able to execute, I would say, just because team-wise it’s pretty strong. And I’m not just talking about Dreamville, I’m talking about our team. Our core team. Our managers, our DJ–
JV: Our publicist.
DD: The directors we get in regard to videos.
JV: People from home.
DD: All that stuff. It feels like a presidential campaign. We got a team of people that are at the hub. Let’s say Dreamville is the Democratic party, you still gotta have your team. But we actually got a full staff right now and it feels good. Everybody’s in the same direction towards a common goal. Sh*t feels good. We finally got an engine, a team. This is a roster record. I think it’s gonna do a lot for the project because everybody is working to make it better.
JV: And it’s gonna give it that longevity, that life that we pride ourselves on with our albums. We want those to be like timeless pieces. We don’t want it to just be like ‘oh that’s cool, that album was fire. What’s next?’ Nah, we want it to be very complex, to have so many things in it that you can just pick out one thing and create a video of that. Pick out one thing and create a video of that and continue to put that out and keep this thing going.