Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot, otherwise known as Atlanta super duo, Earthgang, are here to whisk you away to another dimension. Now signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville roster, the two just released their third EP in the past year, Royalty. Acting as the final piece of their Rags, Robots, Royalty trilogy, the EP is triumphant finale through the journey of the self.
Over the course of a phone call, I chatted with Dot and Venus while they caught their breath in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Near the halfway point of their Never Had Shit Tour with J.I.D and Lute, the two explained to me the origins of the trilogy and their upcoming album Mirrorland. We spoke about the growth the two have seen over their ten-year career and how and why it's always okay to feel lonely.
Peep our conversation below, lightly edited for clarity.
EM: You guys are currently on tour with J.I.D and Lute. Where are you today?
Earthgang (together): Albuquerque, New Mexico!
EM: Nice, how's the tour been?
Doctur Dot: It's been going crazy, man. We've had a lot of sellout shows. Just got word that we sold out in Dallas. The tour has been fire. We haven't been on the West Coast since 2016, so it's great to come back out here with all new music and all new merch. A whole new thing to present to the fans and really see them soak it in.
EM: I'm a little bummed. You guys came to LA at the beginning of February, and I couldn't make the show. It was too bad. I saw pictures and heard it was insane.
Dot: Ya, we had the Roxy on tilt, man.
EM: That's a great venue, too. Let's talk about this upcoming EP for a bit. So, we have Royalty out on the 23rd, and you just dropped the first track. How do you feel about the new EP?
Dot: Oh, I'm excited, man, we've been working on Royalty for a minute. It's the culmination of the Rags, Robots, and Royalty journey. You get to this “Royalty” place, and it's celebratory and often feels a little reflective. It has all of the elements of each three projects into it. It's reflective of where you been, which is Rags. The Robots part is about the journey of getting to know yourself better. And then the Royalty aspect is the triumphant return. You're coming back to Pride Rock, or you're coming to your home place where it's like 'yeah, we've arrived.' Especially in the sense that we've arrived like, ‘this is who we are, this is what we are,’ at this current moment. And we're about to take people to this Mirrorland place, to this other atmosphere, to this other dimension. And we want people to go there in high spirits, and with a kind of changed mind and heart just like a changed vibe. That's why I'm excited about this project.
Venus: The new single's got a lot of good feedback, too.
EM: On your past two EPs, you've had great features, JID, Mick Jenkins, Childish Major and SiR and Ari Lennox. Are there any other features we can look forward to on this one?
Venus: We only enlisted the talents of the lovely Ari Lennox on this one. We only work with people who we get great vibes from, you know? And with all the people you mentioned, those were the people we gelled with really well. It's a pleasure to have Ari Lennox on this project with us, introducing people to this next dimension.
EM: So where did that concept come from, the Rags, Robots, Royalty, kind of thing?
Dot: We always knew that when we did our first label album, we'd do an alternate world kind of concept. We've been making music in that direction for a while. As far as concept, we knew we wanted to do a couple of EPs before the album because we hadn't dropped anything substantial since 2015. So, we said, 'okay, let's rev the fans up.' So we decided to put a few EPs out, see how they'd go over and then hit them with the boom. But, as far as the concept itself, it's a play on the Wiz and Rick and Morty kind of vibes. Just being at home and all of a sudden you end up somewhere else. The Rags, Robots, and Royalty are actually named after the characters that helped Dorothy find her way. Without being, directly, Scarecrow, etc. etc.
EM: Wow. I did not pick that up, that's awesome!
Venus: Yea, yup. We got that for you, my man.
Dot: You meet three experiences, which is really just three different experiences and of yourself. And then, you're ready to enter into Mirrorland, which is just another plane. It's all around you. But it's nowhere, and it's everywhere at the same time. Essentially, Royalty is the final piece of the bridge. Rags, Robots, and Royalty is the bridge from Strays with Rabies to Mirrorland. So if you put all three of them together, they are just an extended album. It's like an album before the album.
EM: This question is for both of you, but it comes from one of Venus' lines off of Rags from the song "Redlight." “Seventeen, I thought I was God Nineteen, I could do no wrong Twenty-three, when I met me, Lot a work I had to do from home.” Talk to me a bit about the growth the two of you have gone through. You've been making music for, like, ten years. How is Earthgang today different from Earthgang back then?
Venus: Man, it's all about the growth process. We’ve gone through so much these past ten years. So many things within us, dealing with who we are, our relationships, with ourselves, our friends and our families. Watching people around us grow and change as well. And that's what we try to do whenever we create records. We want to put our experiences into the records and our growth experiences into the records. That's all life is, life teaches you how to grow and how to change. From what you were when you were born to what you're supposed to be the day before you kick the bucket. So that's what we put in our music, day in and day out. It could be little things like today you learned how to paint, and that changes your whole concept of artistry. Or tomorrow, you learn to fly a plane. Or the next day, something crazy happens. You get into a crazy wild car accident, and that made you think about what matters to you and what doesn't matter. And we want to put all those experiences into our music. Even with the whole line, "17, 19, 23" for me, those were some typical years of my life. 17, you’re the big man on campus in high school. You got the whole world in front of you. 19, you’re kind of out there now. You're like 'aight, can't nobody tell me nothing. I'm living on my own,' whether you’re at college or just moved out of your folks' place. You’ve got your own job. Some folks don't go to college; some go to trade school, some are traveling. And then, 23, you're really in the middle of those "20 years." And you're like 'aight, I'm still learning, I'm still growing and getting it in. it's a whole different level.' I read somewhere that every eight years you go through a different life change and a different life phase. So, I mean, 23 is at the end of one, so 23 you're changing. You're starting to go into that next eight-year phase of whatever life has for you. Whatever your experiences are, whatever these threads of life have for you. But whatever's there for you, that's your next step, and you're supposed to put that into your music or whatever you're doing.
EM: That's a great way to look at it. When I first heard the line, it spoke to me. I felt like I went through that. 17 to 23, you realize you're just starting that whole "real world" type shit.
Venus: None of that shit matters at all [laughs]
EM: Exactly! None of it mattered. You're like, 'fuck, I'm really at the bottom right here.' Something else I noticed, on Robots was that it seemed like loneliness was a big theme throughout the EP.
Dot: For real? What makes you say that? I like wondering about people's reactions to our music.
EM: I felt like when I was listening to it, you guys kept referencing "feeling nothing," or "keeping to yourselves" or "feeling alone" or "dealing with artificial people." Am I reading into this too much or can you tell me a little bit about where this all came from?
Earthgang (together): Nah!
Dot: Nah, nah I thought you were going to say something like "Nah, I was just really lonely when I listened to it." But, yea, a lot of stuff was written during lonely periods of life. Art imitates life. There's no shame in having lonely times in life. There's no shame in having times where you're forced to deal with yourself. It's okay.
Venus: For me, even being in the places at those times, it's learning how not to be forced to deal with it. Learning how to invoke a long time. And not just being lonely, but solitude, man. Solitude for a long time is just as important as connectivity and being connected with people. You can kill groupthink and tribe think which can sometimes jeopardize the individual mind and jeopardize the individual thoughts that we can bring to the group in any relationship or situation. So, going on those journeys and going into those in-betweens states is important. You know, it could be a spiritual journey, it could be just 'i'm cutting off my phone for a little while,' it could be 'i'm about to take a walk in the garden' or 'listen to music for whatever.' But, having those times and those moments is super important, especially in this day and age where everything is front and center. Everything you do and everything anybody does is front and center. Everybody's recording everything, everybody's posting everything. You're constantly bombarded with other people's life experiences and what's going on, and it's essential for you to have those times where you can still get in touch with yourself. Because I mean, who else are you going to spend most of your life with, other than yourself? We wanted to put that into the album, as well as all the dynamic relationships between you and friends, or girls or parents or whatever. And we just kind of threw that into Robots. Robots was kind of a concoction.
EM: There's a lot of music out there that serves certain purposes, but I feel like you two are never afraid to touch on human emotions and be open about how you're feeling. It resonates with a lot of people, and I think it's one of the reasons why you guys are so dope, you connect with people like that.
Dot: Ya, the connection is everything man.
EM: Agreed. And going off of that, one of the things I've always appreciated about you two is your music videos. They are always either wacky or poignant or layered. It's interesting though because I've felt that recently, music videos are sort of put away to the side and people didn't really give a shit about them all that much. But you guys put a lot into your videos. What's the thought process behind that?
Dot: I don't think we'll ever miss an opportunity to have a good time doing something. You know? It can maybe feel like a lot of work, but for us, the opportunity to take something past the limit that we want is everything, so we'll always try and incorporate as many elements as we can. And we're both super into movies; the whole squad is into them. We all study film a lot on our own, so we always incorporate those elements into what we do.
EM: I feel like music videos will start to make a comeback and become more important in the scene.You can change a fan's perspective with a dope video.
Venus: Hell ya, visuals are just as important as sound. They go hand in hand; you can't have one without the other. Sometimes, you can have a great song, and it's fire, and then you put the visual to it, and you give it a whole different life. It's regenerative. You get another feel and perception of what this song could be like. Or what this song meant to the artist or what this song meant to you. Every time we do a video, we relish the chance to take this and transform it into something new and entirely different. "Robots" transformation was turning into something new from what you expected, sonically. The whole new story, characters, and ideas.
EM: I dig that you two are putting in that effort because I think it shows. And you're right. As a fan, if you hear a song and you fuck with it, it's great. But then you see the video, and it opens your eyes to what the artist was thinking and helps you interpret it differently, which is fantastic.
Venus: A lot of songs, I saw the video first and was like 'oh shit, what is this? I need to hear this song over and over.' Just because of what the video gave you before I even knew who the artist was.
EM: How much more tour do you have left?
Dot: Two weeks. Counting down. I love touring, but I miss my fam.
EM: Can't blame you.
Dot: I love it though! I wouldn't do anything else with my life; I love it.
EM; That's a dope thing to be able to say. Well, that's all I've got for you so I'll wrap it up here. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the people reading this?
Venus: It's going to change your life. It will change your concept of life, change the people around you, it'll change you. We're excited for you to have this experience.