ATLiens Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot are the left-of-center MCs who have captured hearts together as the buzz-worthy rap duo EarthGang. Buoyed by their 2013 debut album, Shallow Graves for Toys, and their 2015 follow-up, Strays with Rabies, Venus and Dot have amassed a large following of fans and tastemakers curious to latch onto their fierce individuality and fresh sound.
Though products of the South, both artists aren’t confined to trap or the syrupy drawl and bass of gangsta rap below the Mason-Dixon Line. They’re also not outwardly eager to recreate the Dungeon Family’s signature sound or present themselves as a clear derivative of any other established movement. These decisions say a lot when you consider Atlanta’s cushy positioning on the rap charts and the sheer amount of waves the city has been responsible for in the past two decades.
Instead, Venus and Dot took an olive branch offer from J. Cole to record at his Carolina digs and flipped it into a deal with Dreamville/Interscope Records. Between 2014 and 2017, they toured with Cole, in addition to Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, and Fashawn, turning their platform into a rapidly expanding fanbase, one that’s also been tuning into their frequent collaborators, such as Marian Mereba and the entire Spillage Village collective, which includes bona fide spitter and fellow Atlanta native J.I.D..
Now, EarthGang is poised to take rap by storm, and their impending ascent has left some fans speculating that their arrival could mirror the meteoric rise of west coast powerhouse T.D.E. While that remains to be seen, Venus and Dot continue evolving their chameleonic, otherworldly sound with the release of Royalty— the third in a trilogy of EPs ahead of their forthcoming full-length album, Mirrorland. In anticipation, we spoke to the duo about their past, present, and incredible future that lie ahead.
Dot on becoming Earthgang
We met in ninth grade on a field trip at Mayes High School — southwest Atlanta, Georgia. We formed a friendship really quick. We were just all about fun, joking. Whatever — doing crazy stuff. Actually, after the field trip, we came back up the hill, and the school was on fire. It was mayhem. Kids were leaving the school; school buses and parents were picking kids up. That was a moment for us. After that day, we kind of just started making music.
From there, it was whatever, just hanging throughout the years. In 10th or 11th grade, we started making music. One time we actually snuck into the school at night to play on some instruments and have a little jam session. After that, we went to college at Hampton. That’s where we met J.I.D. — a lot of folks — and formed Spillage Village. That’s where we just started seriously pursuing the craft and putting things in our lives into the music — getting high, getting by, whatever. All that stuff.
Fast-forward, we toured with Mac Miller, Cole, etc.
Venus on the Spillage Village Collective
Right now, Spillage Village is EarthGang, J.I.D., Hollywood JB, and Jordxn Bryant — we worked with Marian Mereba a lot. She’s been a de facto member for a long time. Initially, I think the whole premise for us as a group of friends was to push our sounds. We all like to experiment sonically; we like to do things to challenge each other. Just being around each other and feeding off of each other’s spirits in that kind of competitive environment was encouraging for everyone to try different things with the music.
Instead of just hopping in the booth and taking this flow because it’s the hot flow right now, then using it to jam your material down people’s throats. We want to present a new way of using and approaching sound. That’s what we try to achieve every time we go into the booth, and we get a little closer every time. As a unit, I think that the best thing about Spillage Village is that we all try so hard to push ourselves.
Venus on breaking the mold and the “New Atlanta” sound
I never heard that phrase before just now. I’ve heard “New Atlanta sound,” but I’ve never heard “breaking the mold and being leaders.” I think more than anything it’s just about pushing yourself. You can go in the booth and do the same thing over and over, but that just gets so boring. I think the attention span demands more. If you push yourself past that, people will see what you’re doing and catch on — people will admire it from the other side.
Dot on the importance of individuality and eclecticism in rap
I think that’s important for life. We all born on this Earth alone, and we’re going to die alone. That’s no matter if you was born a twin, if you’ve got siblings, or whatever. So it’s important for you to be able to express yourself completely and thoroughly through anything that you do. Whether it be rap, whether it’s being the most unique, influencing CEO possible — a writer or mailman. You ought to be able to do it to the fullest of your ability as a complete expression. I think that’s important in music, specifically, because it’s one of the greatest forms of expression throughout the world.
It’s important for us to encourage people to break the mold, challenge ideas, and push boundaries. All of the greatest people have gone in and done what they wanted to do, no matter how it sounded or how other people felt about it. They could listen to outside opinion and take advice, but at the end of the day, they had something inside that they wanted to push out — something that whatever higher power or higher spirit you believe in has put inside of them and asked them to give to the world. That’s a gift. You’ve got to give your gift. You can’t dress your gift up like somebody else’s. You’ve got to give yours.
Dot on their influences
Nina Simone, Basquiat, Jay-Z, Casanova, Mansa Musa —so many people. Nat Turner — so many that pushed boundaries — Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Otis Redding, D’Angelo, Prince. So many that made art and lived life completely in their own way.
Venus on growth from Shallow Graves… and Strays with Rabies to the present
I love it. I think what’s interesting is how we’ve gotten better at testing songs and conceptualizing and organizing themes of projects. One of the biggest things I’m excited for going forward — even with our rollout for our EPs — is having a team, having a theme, having a vision and a design with which to craft and communicate your music. I think a lot of artists miss out on that — especially a lot of young artists. We work with a lot of people in Atlanta and elsewhere. There are a lot of artists with raw talent.
If we’re keeping it a buck, everybody’s not going to make it. Everybody’s not going to make it to where we — past where we are, where Jay-Z is, and beyond. Where we have been able to excel is having ourselves organized and having a rollout. Having a plan and having a design. We know going in we’re going to make these types of songs, fill in this type of pattern, and present a project that people can take home with them and play indefinitely.
That’s the most important thing — having the long-play value on our music.
Dot and Venus on J. Cole and Dreamville
We met Cole on the Ab-Soul tour. We opened up for Soul, and Cole came to the New York show, which we didn’t know at first. He saw us perform and asked to meet us in the back. We’re chopping it up. He asked what we were doing and told us he’d seen us on the internet before that. He had just put together his house in North Carolina — the house that the neighbors thought he was selling dope from. He had just put that house together, and he said following the tour at the end of the year, if we wanted to come up and get some music done, we can. We’re like, “Okay! He’s cool.”
Next thing you know, we all hopped in the whip and drove from Atlanta to North Carolina. That was the beginning of spending time with him. Making music and getting to know him — getting advice. There’s stuff you do when you’re getting to know someone, especially a person that’s already done so many things that you would like to start to do. By the time we met Cole, he was already doing stadiums and selling them out. We kept making music with him and kept working in that studio, making stuff ourselves.
When it came time to decide where we were going career-wise, he asked if we were interested in signing, and we did end up signing with Dreamville/Interscope. It has been a pretty good relationship so far. They are two entities in music that can respect the artist for being the artist, and we appreciate that.
Dot on Spillage Village member J.I.D.
We met J.I.D. our freshman year of college. We needed somewhere to record, and we found out this dude named Pat had a little studio set up in his room on campus. We went in there, and J.I.D. had already been recording there. Pat told us about J.I.D. He said he was from Atlanta and super dope. We were like, “Who else from Atlanta up here?” So, he played us one of J.I.D.’s songs while he was in class, and we just hopped on the beat. He came back from class and heard two other people on his song. He was like, “What? Who is this?” That kind of forced the meeting.
From there, we became friends, and I also realized I had a class with J.I.D. I didn’t know at first because we sat on different sides of the room, but once we started recording, we would be in class cracking jokes and everything. The whole dynamic changed. By the time we were ready to leave school, everyone was headed back to Atlanta, and we made the decision to become a formal collective.
Venus on how the Royalty EP stacks up to Rags and Robots
The forthcoming EP is really a culmination of the two. This is us going up to the launching pad before we head off into this other world that we intend to take you into. It’s like being on the plane before you take off — the anticipation, the anxiety and restlessness, whatever you feel. It’s like let’s get there, let’s do this. This project really is us sitting in that space ready to free yourself from whatever is going on around you. This EP is the launching pad that is going to allow us to take that next step. We’re right at the edge, and all of 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.
Dot on the transition from Royalty to the Mirrorland full-length
We are taking you to a whole-new dimension of reality where gravity and time do not exist. Where colors change and all preconceived notions of rules, physics, and reality merge into one and explode to become something entirely different.
Dot on being disruptors and raising the bar
I’ve been a disruptor all my life. This ain’t nothing new. I don’t follow the pack. I’ve always had problems following the pack and doing things just because people say that’s what you’re supposed to do. I don’t ever live life like that, and I hope nobody else lives like that. I hope people challenge what others say to them and challenge why.
The reason we do what we do is because we love it. We have this unique expression that we’re trying to get out, that we’re constantly learning from and challenging other people to find in themselves. We’re not just coming out here putting out a certain type of music because everybody else is.
Screw what everybody else does. I don’t have no problem with being no disruptors — with being the black sheep, the white lion, whatever you wanna call it. Whoever has a problem with that, run it.
Dot and Venus on what’s ahead
We plan on bringing a different dimension to you sonically, physically, and remotely. We want people who are seeking what we are doing to join the process. We don’t want this to be another “everybody be down, everybody be zombies and follow” type of thing. We want people to be actively engaged with what we’re presenting and the world that we’re building.
We’re going on tour with J.I.D. right now, co-headlining the Never Had Shit Tour on the west coast. We’ve got some spot dates coming up in the summertime. A couple of things here and there — places that we’ve never been, so we’re really excited for that. We want to bring Mirrorland to everybody. We want to challenge your senses — how you think and feel and perceive things.
We want to do that throughout 2018. By 2019, we’ll be on to something else — something new. Something more enticing and another chapter in the EarthGang saga.