Review | EARTHGANG - Mirrorland
Atlanta duo EARTHGANG welcome us to the loony Mirrorland, their Dreamville album debut.
EARTHGANG are the proudly Southern duo consisting of Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot. In the past two years, the two signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records, released their trilogy of EPs including Rags, Robots, Royalty and heavily contributed to the label compilation Revenge of the Dreamers III. Now, their highly anticipated Mirrorland has landed, taking us through a 14-track journey of eccentricity and ambition.
We enter Mirrorland through “LaLa Challenge”, a soulful trap epic with both Johnny and Dot delivering smooth first verses from outside of the world we’re set to enter. Though a cleaner transition than an annoying interlude would’ve been preferred, we officially enter Mirrorland with their second verses being energetically chaotic and faster-paced. The energy continues with Johnny Venus on “UP!”, whose intensity is always colourful and perhaps even overwhelming at times. Dot does a fantastic job bringing a calmer sense to the song with his poetically vivid lyrics. Their chemistry is a notable highlight of the whole project and it seems like they know exactly when to contrast and when to be similar. Their contrast continues on the bouncy “Top Down”, where the hook is infectious and their humour shines through lines like “Ben-10 with the bustdown.” “Bank” is a change of pace with the Atlanta trap scene influence coming through more. It’s not as exciting as the previous, but “Bank” would be the perfect track to remix with verses from the rest of Dreamville or associates like Smino, Guapdad 4000 and Buddy.
We begin to settle into Mirrorland with “Proud Of U” being a simpler summer Trap song. The hook is memorable and Young Thug performs well as a feature as usual. This could’ve been a huge song if the beat wasn’t stripped down more on Dot’s verse, as it stops the flow of the song a little too much. “This Side” is an introspective change of mood that has the real world creep into their music but doesn’t take us out of Mirrorland. The beat switch almost works as a flashback to reality, with Johnny and Dot discussing more typical rap themes before it switches back to the hook, one that’s a personal favourite from the project. “Swivel” was initially released as part of Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III but it works much better in this context. “Swivel” is definitely Dot’s moment to shine but Johnny gives a great insight into his upbringing. At this point, the adrenaline of the first couple of songs has worn off and the album has slowed down. “Avenue” tries to bring us back up but the content of the previous songs still bleeds through the track, giving it a shaky and nervous texture.
“Tequila” includes a Latin influence, creating this cinematic suaveness that evokes a James Bond soundtrack feel. T-Pain’s feature is nothing too crash hot and takes away from that initial feeling but brings in an element of R&B that’s still reasonably enjoyable. “Blue Moon” is a jazzier cut, and it’s refreshing to see Doctur Dot take on some of the singing. Though maybe not as soulful as Johnny, Dot suits the beat a lot more. Kehlani joins the boys for the R&B heavy “Trippin”. One of the bigger flaws of the album would have to be its features as most of the time, they don’t add anything valuable that wasn’t already there before. “Stuck” and “Fields” support this too, but thankfully the features of Arin Ray and Malik respectively don’t make the tracks any less soulful, smooth and successful. “Wings” as the closing track is a little underwhelming, and it's clear Mirrorland starts stronger than it finishes. The angelic theme of wings reminds me of Mac Miller’s song of the same name and it does feel like somewhat of a jazzier and soulful ode to him.
EARTHGANG’s Mirrorland is one of the more satisfying projects of 2019 where their ideas are fully-fledged out both thematically and sonically. Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus once again deliver an extreme promise of character and talent that they mostly fulfil, and it’s great to hear their jumps between the more grounded Atlanta Trap scene and their more soulful and experimental side. A lot of people have compared the duo to their Atlantic predecessors Outkast and while it should be taken as the highest compliment as the similarities are there, you should be careful to label them. EARTHGANG are proudly themselves and could successfully venture into a lot of different Hip-Hop styles. Only time will tell what’s in store for EARTHGANG and whatever it may be, make sure you’re watching.
Best song: Proud of U, This Side
Worst song: Fields