Doctur Dot begins Royalty with an accurate assessment: “I’m the latest phenomenon you should be hip to, bandwagon seats going extinct.” EarthGang has been around for a while, but as late, their stock has been skyrocketing. After extensive touring and a deal with J-Cole’s Dreamville Records in August, the Atlanta duo promised an EP trilogy leading up to their third album Mirrorland. Six months and two excellent EPs later, EarthGang concludes the movement with Royalty.
Over a roughly twenty-five minute span, Doc and Johnny Venus somehow manage to revitalize the hip-hop trope being on the cusp greatness. The rhyming is complex, the production luxurious; the songs even transition together to form a cohesive narrative. The five tracks are interspersed with skits by comedian DC Young Fly, who reprises his role as an Uber driver slash narrator. Unlike the previous two chapters, Doctur Dot and Johnny V are the passengers this time around, travelling through contemplations fame as they steer towards Mirrorland.
I’ve always thought EarthGang as a more “mushroomy” version Outkast, but the group deserves more than an t-repeated comparison. Although the way that their camaraderie compliments each other is indeed reminiscent Andre and Big Boi, both Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus are incredibly talented emcees, experimental with both flow and cadence. Other than a moment or two when Doc sounds a bit like Chance the Rapper, or Johnny V adopts a bit a Kendrick-esque demeanor, it’s hard to draw many legitimate comparisons to their music.
Contradiction is one the biggest recurring motifs Royalty. There’s the contradiction in people’s behavior once they reach stardom. The contradictions in both values and faith that Doc and Johnny express. There are even contradictions and misconceptions in DC’s perception the duo when they first enter his car. The most major juxtaposition that Doc and Johnny seem to be experiencing, however, is the difference between the experiences behind them and those currently unfolding. As they stand at the precipice having their dreams come true, their lives and perceptions begin to rapidly change. Nothing is as it appears to be.
Contrary to what the title might suggest, most the album is actually cetered around poverty. The EP’s first half may feel celebratory, but the “royalty” described is largely a state mind. Even on a track like “Off The Lot,” which ostensibly covers the physical trappings success, EarthGang goes beyond a simple celebration consumer culture. Instead, they pose questions. Why do we covet the things we do? Why do bad people sometimes find themselves rewarded?
Like any proper journey, even the triumphant moments are tinged with tragedy. Album closer “Lolsmh” is about re-assessing one’s values after losing a loved one. Amidst fallen friends and the pervading threat poverty, it’s hard for Johnny V and Doc Dot to celebrate their wins without simultaneously recognizing how tenuous their success might be. Rather than letting that thought paralyze them, they resolve to meet the challenge head-on and deliver “Nothing But the Best”. And therein lies the triumph. Anything can happen at any given time. Despite that, all you can do is put out your best material and hope for the best.
Musical experimentation and the technical prowess aside, the complete sense intentionality and effortlessness exuded throughout is probably the most exciting thing about the EP. There’s an electrifying sense joy exuded throughout the project; despite whatever feelings jadedness the duo may be feeling, they should be genuinely proud themselves both pressionally and creatively.
In an interview with Consequence Sound, Johnny Venus described Royalty as being, “the launching pad that is going to allow us to take that next step. We’re right at the edge, and all those feelings are wrapped into one project. It’s like, the world is yours after that — after you take that next step and hit that next goal.” Mission accomplished. EarthGang is here to stay, and only time will tell how their styles will continue to evolve. Bring on Mirrorland.