Atlanta has become a hot spot for innovative up-and-coming rappers over the past few years. From Playboi Carti and 21 Savage to Young Thug and Future, the city has delivered some of the most original and creative rap projects of the 2010s. Dreamville Records’ Earthgang are no exception.
On their major-label debut Mirrorland, Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot want to show everyone their side of their hometown. They take listeners through their streets, riding around with the top down, trying to avoid getting into trouble while finding their place in the world. Most importantly, they present themselves as a confident, fun new voice that is a blast to hear.
The intro “LaLa Challenge,” quickly sets the tone for the rest of the album. Starting with a simplistic beat, the theatrical song draws listeners into the duo’s world. “People of the land, won’t you take my hand?/Come inside these walls, hundred round applause,” Venus raps, wanting to be the host that tours visitors around his town. Halfway through, the beat changes into something more frantic and joyous. It sounds like a party has spontaneously broken out and everyone is sucked into the madness it devolves into.
Many of the songs off of the project are filled with the duo’s bouncy and active personalities, even when it deals with a more serious topic. “This Side” deals with Venus and Dot’s anxieties with fame, specifically talking about the murders of other rappers Nipsey Hussle and Xxxtentacion. “They took Nip, took X/Just a hatin’ ass n**** hope that I ain’t next/ But if it pleases God, I hope the shooter aim best,” Venus plainly states over a bass-driven beat. His hook says that he and Dot are enjoying the lifestyle and know that others want to join it, but the contradiction is clearly heard in his voice
On “Tequila” featuring T-Pain, Earthgang creates a festive centerpiece that shows off their infectious hooks. The Latin inspired track is filled with roaring horns and talks about simply taking the day off from the stress and pains with some tequila. With a Spanish guitar driving the song forward, the production paints a picture of a bright and sunny day. It’s a song destined to be loudly played during summer hangouts but the lyrics depict a more dreary situation. “Seen lil’ boy take his last breath/Where my lil’ brother took his first/it f***** me up/Life was full of catchy hooks and upper-cuts,” Dot raps on the first verse, detailing his life filled with music and violence. His chorus sounds like he’s done with all the struggles he’s faced and simply wants to drink everything away even if it’s just for the moment. Venus talks about drowning in liquor to avoid any problem he has, adding to the carefree vibe of the track. The lyrical themes and cheerful production make it highly replayable and catchy, quickly getting stuck in listeners’ heads.
Both rappers manage to stay consistent throughout the almost hour-long album but only a few of the features remain as good as the duo’s verses. Young Thug glides over the beat to “Proud of U”, changing his flow multiple times and sounding like he was enjoying every second of recording it. T-Pain contributes to “Tequila” with a short verse that builds until the chorus comes around with a more full and lively sound. His auto-tuned singing fits perfectly on top of the softened guitar playing as his voice rises along with the cascade of horns. The relationship song “Trippin” features R&B singer Kehlani whose voice complements the easy-going production. However, her verse is only decent compared to the duos. Arin Ray’s bridge on “Stuck” doesn’t take anything away from the song but he also doesn’t stand out on it.
The song “Bank” is the one mediocre song out of the other 14. The production is the most similar to typical trap beats, and while Venus and Dot are fine over it, there’s not much to go back to here. The hook is borderline grating with Venus’s “stop and go” flow and the verses do not show off what makes the pair so enjoyable to hear. Even the ad-libs scattered throughout the song make it seem like they wanted to follow in the footsteps of popular trap rappers instead of paving their own path. Venus on the third verse sounds like he’s imitating fellow Atlanta rapper Young Thug, who appears on the single “Proud of U.” If they were aiming for a more mainstream sound, the latter song does a much better job of being accessible and fresh compared to “Bank.”
Despite its minimal flaws, Mirrorland displays Earthgang’s energetic delivery, infectious hooks, and above all, their originality. Unlike the trap-influenced production and overall sound seen in almost every popular rap album, the duo created something distinct from today’s scene. It’s a break from the repetitive formula that dominates radio play and gives a glimpse as to what Venus and Dot are capable of as they continue to improve.
Recommended Tracks: “Tequila”, “This Side”, “Swivel”, “Wings”
Album Rating: 7.5/10
Review by: Tyler Zucker