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Just to get it out of the way: Earthgang is not the new Outkast. It’s an easy comparison to make. Over the course of their three-EP journey to their debut album Mirrorland, listeners would be remiss not to notice the similarities. Both groups are comprised of genre-bending duos hailing from Atlanta, Georgia with Southern soul-drenched approaches to the city’s unique take on hip-hop. Both groups often look like their members got dressed in the dark — in a carnival funhouse. And there are a lot of Outkast’s sounds and signifiers in Earthgang’s music, from the funky, psychedelic presentation of their EPs and album covers to an eerily similar approach to melody and harmonic choruses in a genre usually defined by its rhythmic components first and foremost. But Earthgang is not Outkast, could never be Outkast, are not a replacement for Outkast, and to their credit, aren’t really trying to be Outkast.
Now, with that being said, it would be downright silly to write a review of Earthgang and not mention Outkast, because the two groups have so many parallels it’s not hard to imagine Jordan Peele casting both for the sequel to Us. They are similar — almost scarily so — but they are not the same. Going into Mirrorland expecting to hear Aquemini would produce a feeling vaguely akin to the times you asked your mom to purchase Froot Loops on her weekly grocery run and instead she brought home Fruity Pebbles and told you “it’s basically the same thing.” No, it isn’t.
Earthgang are their own, wholly separate group, with a list of individual merits a mile long and they’ve put in the work to prove it. For one thing, as the rap game circles further and further away from Outkast’s creative heyday, the sole remaining member of Outkast making music has put a lot of effort into separating himself from hip-hop’s modern, trap soundscapes. Earthgang, on the other hand, utterly revels in them, as content to rock alongside slippery-tongued mainstays like Young Thug (who is also heavily inspired by Outkast) on thunderous imitations of Southside and Metro Boomin’s 808-heavy snake rattles like “Bank” and “Proud Of You” as they are busting out gut-bucket moonshine with Arin Ray on “Stuck” and T-Pain on “Tequila.”
Not only do they have the wherewithal to adapt to modern sounds, they also have the versatility to make those sounds work with their throwback sensibilities — and vice versa. Take “Top Down,” the roiling ode to fast living that encapsulates them at their best. On one hand, you could easily imagine Lil Baby and Gunna sliding over the kick-heavy, aluminum-cans-in-a-bag beat, but rather than the (relatively) more restrained flows of their country cousins, Olu and Dot unleash sound effects, ad-libs, and a gospel-inspired choir to inject a level of exuberant energy their contemporaries have yet to draw out of their own recent projects. The effect works in reverse, too, as Earthgang updates and modernizes the jazzy sounds of their Dungeon Family forebears.
“Blue Moon” starts with an elegiac intro before slipping into a jaunty strut of a beat from The Antydote, over which the boys both lament and celebrate the hard work they’ve put in and the support they’ve received in the course of pursuing their rap dreams. “Trippin” is a turn-of-the-millennium, neo-soul ballad that finds them speaking directly to those supporters: “Problem is I’m not up to no good, baby / I been hustling’, hope you understand.” They even possess the good sense to cede space to guest Kehlani for a response verse, letting her play the counterpoint to their excuse-making in an era where that won’t fly. But even in doing so, they harken back to soul-rap mainstays like “You Got Me” by The Roots and “Mamacita” by — you guessed it — Outkast.
By turns brawling and ruckus-raising and introspective and observant, Mirrorland doesn’t quite paint a picture of a new place as it does thoroughly explain Earthgang’s unique outlook — and the history and locations that influenced it. You couldn’t have an Earthgang without Outkast, whose omnipresent essence permeates the Atlanta red clay every bit as much as T.I.’s indelible trap swagger, Future’s brokenhearted mooning, or Lil Jon’s infectious rambunctiousness. Earthgang is equal parts Ludacris, Bonecrusher, Witchdoctor, Gucci Mane, and Ceelo Green. Mirrorland is Atlanta — it’s just the way Earthgang sees Atlanta, through their own wavy lenses and strange sensibilities. It’s also a strong argument that they’re a worthy successor to Atlanta’s inescapable, inimitable legacy.
Mirrorland is out now via Dreamville/Interscope. Get it here.