3 mar 2021

The radiant R’n’B of Earthgang

Nominated in the 2021 Grammy Awards for best R’n’B track, the Atlanta music twosome EarthGang are on their way to conquering America. Turning their backs on bling, the 30-something duo appear in skirts, practise yoga and preach tolerance and open- mindedness. They’ve also founded a collective, Spillage Village, which brings together the most promising young faces in hip-hop, and whose stomping fourth album, Spilligion, came out last September on Dreamville Records.

In their hometown of Atlanta, Olu and WowGr8 are neither the most feared, nor the flashiest, nor the most commercial guys on the block. Unlike most rappers in the capital of hip-hop, EarthGang’s two members haven’t done time, haven’t spent weeks at the top of the charts, and are still a little bit underground – just enough to remain cool and avoid being written off as mainstream. In their videos or on Instagram, instead of appearing all blinged up at the wheel of throbbing sportscars with a bevy of buxom, barely dressed babes, Johnny Venus and Eian Parker prefer to share with the world their yoga and fitness regimes, or to protest Trumpist MAGA rhetoric, while in their texts they quote their favourite rapper, MF DOOM [in the track End of Daze on the album Spilligion]. For like the late British-born star, who quit this mortal coil on 31 October, and who made his mask a signature, the two Americans have also found an accessory that stands out from the crowd: their eccentricity.

In one of their two Colors sessions [Colors is a Berlin-based music platform that recreates studio sessions by filming artists in acoloured cube], realized to promote their third studio album, Mirrorland (2019), Olu and WowGr8 perform their track This Side. Against a purple background, the two members of EarthGang – so named from a desire to “connect people” – appear in turn against an entirely plain background in jaunty outfits that were evidently carefully thought through down to the tiniest detail. With a spider earring dangling from his left lobe, an ethnic necklace and a shirt printed with bright Gauguin motifs, WowGr8 appears as the mystic half of the duo, the calm force. Olu, on the other hand, pushes whimsy almost to the point of flamboyance: like an Atlanta dervish from the projects, he is dressed in a black-and-white turban and a white skirt so voluminous it looks like a crinoline. “It was important for me to be seen in a skirt: men wear them all the time in certain cultures, like Scottish kilts, Polynesian lavalavas or African kangas. You never see them in the US, but I wanted people to understand that it could be something normal and not exclusively feminine,” he explains. If we haven’t yet seen the duo, like their confrères Young Thug, Future or Gucci Mane, strutting their stuff in the front rows of luxury fashion shows, the relationship that WowGr8 and particularly Olu have established with clothes can be resumed thus: “For us, style is about being innovative, shocking, challenging norms and above all taking a stand.” A mode of expression that avoids formal discourse and also applies to their lyrics and melodies.

A heady mix of OutKast-style eccentric rap, R’n’B, gospel and Donna Summer grooviness, the made in EarthGang sound is a melting pot of all that’s best out there. Together since high school, the duo seek to express through music what they experienced growing up, what they’ve learned while travelling the world, and also to pay homage to their origins. “We’re attached to the African tradition. When we tour we get the chance to reconnect to our culture, and you can feel that in our music. But it’s the same wherever we go, from South Africa to New Zealand and even at home in Atlanta… This city influenced us the same way it influenced the world, with respect to style, language, music and even civil rights!”, declares WowGr8, proud of his hometown, which he nonetheless admits is very competitive. Audacious in their music, the Earthgang pair, who are also cofounders of the collective Spillage Village, seek to stand out, and enjoy collaborating with other artists – as long as they’re not rappers. Instead they might be rockers, like Brittany Howard, militant filmmakers, like Melina Matsoukas (the duo contributed to the soundtrack of her 2019 road movie about the African- American condition, Queen & Slim), or unclassifiable, e.g. Gorillaz. Because like their music, EarthGang can take on any form, theirs being a groove towards which all the sharpest influences naturally gravitate.



Spillage Village, JID and EarthGang, Spilligion (Dreamville, 2020), out now.