INTERVIEW: From pioneering the Spillage Village movement, to GTA-fuelled sleepovers with Young Thug, to making music with Mac Miller, EarthGang have forged a marvelous path.
Few songwriters are as uniquely brilliant as Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot, known collectively as EarthGang. The Atlanta duo have been putting in work since high school, inserting themselves into the expansive pantheon of Atlanta greats. Alongside fellow lyricist J.I.D, the group formed Spillage Village, taking their live experience to wherever might have them. From there, patience and passion paid dividends. People began to take notice from Mac Miller, to Ab-Soul, to J. Cole. Now, the pair have joined the ranks of Dreamville, playing a pivotal role in one of hip-hop's most celebrated rosters.
They'll likely outrap your favorite rapper, all while retaining a razor-sharp sense of humor and melodious joie de vivre. Conceptually, the pair remain elevated. Their upcoming album MirrorLand has been likened to a movie, and their three-act trilogy of Rags, Robots, and Royalty showcased a vision beyond the here and now. And yet, that sense of gratitude, of love for the art of making music, remains evident, even after their rapidly expanding success.
When I spoke to EarthGang, the pair had recently returned from the KOD Tour, where they shared the stage alongside J. Cole, Young Thug, and Jaden Smith. Throughout their time on the road, many stories developed in turn. Some hilarious, others tragic. Yet the gratitude was evident in their respective voices. In fact, their outlook was infectious in its optimism, translated in their lively reflections on past and present. Whether talking about music, their come-up, fellow artists, or the late Mac Miller, EarthGang ground their words with a deep-rooted sense of admiration for the craft, and those that practice it.
HNHH: Hey, this is Mitch from HNHH. How you guys doing?
Johnny Venus: Chilling, Chilling.
How was tour?
JV: It was amazing. It was flat out incredible. Everything we could have wished and dreamed for.
Doctur Dot: This is like one of the best tours we ever did.
JV: Like the Too High To Riot Tour with Bas was one for the books but this one right here. It’s just stuff that legends are made of. It’s just like stuff you tell your great grandkids and stuff. One for the books.
The crazy thing is it feels like you guys are still only getting started. You guys have such a prolific rate of dropping music. I feel like the best is yet to come.
Venus: These amateurs are really doing it!
Nah, man! You guys are great.
JV: Nah, I feel you though! It’s really cool. It is really cool for so many people to be put onto us and it’s their first time and we’re on stage with Thug and Jaden and Cole. It’s like “I never heard of these guys before!” We’re presented next to these names so we kind of gotta bring it.
Absolutely. I mean, your material speaks for itself in my opinion. You’ve got a great body of work. I’m sure it was a great experience. But before we start talking about the KOD Tour, I’d like to take a look back at the Spillage Village movement. How did you guys come together?
DD: Yeah, speak on that, man! I love to talk about that. Spillage Village was an idea that me, Venus and JID came up with when we was up in Virginia. We were all homies. We were three homies from Atlanta in Virginia, in school rapping. We were all hanging together and rapping together, and we were like we should really make this a thing. We should commit to it and we started calling ourselves Spillage Village. It was just something we would just always say when we would go to parties and go to the studio. Then when we got home back to Atlanta, we really made it into a movement. We started doing shows all around the city under the name. All of us together on stage together.
JV: Yeah. Every time we come home, people ask us like do you have any advice for upcoming artists? I be like, first thing is, don’t stop. Because whatever we was going through, we kept making music. We just kept making music and then we got home, we just kept performing. Like any type of show. Pay to play type of shows? Yeah bro, we did that. Every Monday we would perform at Club Crucial, spend like $30-50.
We were working as camp counselors. We were struggling college kids like everybody else but we would take whatever money we had and go perform these two, three songs and folks would look at us like who are these guys? Who are these weirdos? But the name stuck. It traveled and that’s all that mattered like consistency.
DD: Yeah. Picking up on what Venus said, that Club Crucial, I don’t know if it’s still the same, we been away for a minute, but it was T.I’s club, bro.
JV: Folks still be in there performing.
DD: Yeah, I know people still be in there doing shows. We was in there doing open mics and freestyles and all types of shit. Off the top doing freestyles and shit in there early, just because we heard people be getting picked up and blowing up out of there. We didn’t know no other way. And we from the Westside, but we was like, we in that shit.
You guys were really grinding back then.
JV: Yeah! When I got home like last weekend, I was calling this Uber and this dude, we were just talking and I’m like it’s so crazy, I just got back home and I was like, “we was on the road with J. Cole.” And he was like “hold up, you ain’t EarthGang is you?” I was like, yeah bro. And he like “man that’s crazy, I remember when y'all was performing at Apache!” Apache is like one of those spots, like a nightclub where they do open mics and we would come in there and like literally pay to play!
He was saying the same thing. Like, “I’m so proud that y’all still touring and y’all kept it up”. Because a lot of people get side tracked. A lot of people be like, man this just ain’t for me. Yeah bro, for that to come full circle, it’s just amazing.
I read you guys were doing some engineering on your own material too. Just kind of really like a DIY approach to it.
JV: That was straight a necessity, yo! When we went to College, even back in Atlanta, when we was recording in High School, the only reason we had access is because of two of our partners. One was named Dex, we went to High School together, and another one of our partners, Mercy, he’s like a producer out here. He makes great music. He went to middle school with me.
They both had studios at they crib, and like me personally, this is my first time ever seeing a studio, let alone a studio in someone’s house. So, I was like, you know, “oh wow, this is where we recording.” But when we went to college, we didn’t have that, so, that whole first year, we was making our own records, we was sneaking into the liberal arts school because they had their own studio in there.
We would leave a rock at the door and like one, two in the morning, we would just open the door and sneak into the studio. We’d just be there until we left. The custodian was cool, he would come in there every now and then and be like oh “y’all just in here recording y’all cool.”
Nice. I know you guys have a lot of influences outside of hip-hop, and I was wondering if you feel like there are advantages that come from expanding your taste to include other genres.
DD: Yeah. I think expanding yourself in any way to help enhance your growth is an advantage. It’s easy to get one way and get stagnant.
JV: It’s really straight up about curiosity and inquisitiveness. If you always searching and always trying to learn more and trying to expose yourself to more, you’re going to forever be a conduit, you know what I’m saying? Whether its energy, whether it’s musical knowledge, whether it’s money, networking. If you are always constantly seeking further knowledge, you’re always going to have more and be able to give more.
Like even when we decided to go to school, we were like, nah we wanna go to school outside of Atlanta. Now our path is different from let’s say a Migos path, or a Young Thug’s path because they came up recording with Gucci in the city. That’s a beautiful thing, but we was like, we doing something different because this is what we want to do. It’s paying off for us in a beautiful way.
No doubt. I wanted to actually talk about some of the stuff that’s going on in Atlanta. I saw Cyhi Da Prynce tweeted out that the greatest lyricists alive right now are from Atlanta, and I think without saying anything, he’s enveloping you into that mix. So, I’m just wondering, do you feel like he might be onto something there?
JV: Man, he just know what the city is about! We just scrappers, anybody from Atlanta, we survivors bro! Put us anywhere, we gonna survive. We gonna come out on top. So, it don’t matter what we do. If we artists, musicians, mayors, doctors, we gonna scrap, we gonna come out on top. We gonna do it our way, so for sure, I agree with him 100 percent.
So, on that note, in terms of lyricism, I was doing a deep dive through your catalogs. Really kind of getting to know all of the lyrics and really paying attention to writing because I find honestly, from a writing perspective, some of the best out right now. Super thought-provoking. There’s a lot to unpack there. I gotta ask about your writing process.
DD: It’s crazy bro! We really be tryna be funny bro. That’s the honest thing. We wasn’t tryna be clever and that’s the thing! [laughs]
The humor is definitely noted. But I’m just curious, when you guys sit down in a studio session and you hear the beat, what’s the process like. Are you together? Are you doing this on your own? Is it more of an internal process, or is there a lot of back of forth?
JV: It’s anything man. It can go any way. It’s like being in a chemistry lab and having a different experiment to try everyday. It’s a bunch of tools, a bunch of elements. It’s kind of like you got a blindfold on and you just walking around grabbing things and you like, oh this what we got? Like Macgyver style. Let’s do it, let’s make something with it. I feel like that’s what creativity is about. Creativity is about using what you have and making new things out of.
For sure. So, looking back at the KOD Tour, any memorable stories you’d like to share?
[maniacal laughter from both]
DD: I got one! This is a good PG rated story I can share. When we was in Texas, first time we ever met Lil Uzi, we in the green room, we got hella weed, we got hella Texas girls walking around. It looked like an old school Paul Wall video in there. I’m in that bitch. I got the tattoo artist in there. I’m in that bitch getting tatted up like people are watching and filming me getting tatted. Who walks in the room? Lil Uzi. When he come through, he dap niggas up, we chop it up for a min. Get jokes cracking. It was great.
JV: Uzi walked into the dressing room kind of like a superintendent or something! He had his hands behind his back, like he just walked in, like “what y’all up to!” He was dolo.
DD: It was just crazy. After Uzi walked in, everybody just knew EarthGang green rooms was lit. Now we green room legends for all tours forever and ever.
That sounds pretty legendary. Do you guys have any plans to link up with Uzi in the future to make some music?
JV: For sure. Definitely. Most definitely. We got more stories. When we was in Minnesota. So, like during the show, we’ll go to the riser to watch Cole’s performance because everybody support everybody. Thug was there, we were there, Jaden was up there. Next thing you know, Thug and his people just take off from the risers and they head through the corridor through the whole facility.
We following, everybody walking, there was just this big commotion, like this big ol’ fight when we was going outside the place. We walked past the place, we walked past the fight, it was all tense, we keep walking, we following, we don’t know where we going, it’s like twenty, thirty people walking. We going up escalators, through little backdoors, hidden alleyways.
DD: We crossed a bridge!
JV: Yeah, we crossed over a bridge! Next thing you know, we pull up in the Timberwolves practice facility. They shut off all the lights and they just throw like thirty basketballs on the floor. All our camp is out there shooting hoops. And it’s just like man, people don’t get to see this side of artists, or this side of tour life. It was just great for everybody. This was like the fifteenth, twentieth city. It was great for everybody to blow off some steam and shoot hoops.
It just kind of gave us that time to bond and play horse. That fool Jaden don’t even play basketball yo. Fool hit the half court shot. Everybody was like “Ohhhhh!” It was like bro, you really lit right now. It was just great times.
On that note, I want to kind of take it back to the past for a second, you guys toured with Ab-Soul and the Black Hippy back in 2014. How would you say these two tours have compared?
JV: Yo, the first time we met Soul, we all came on the bus. It was us and G. Them fools gave us just like so much weed just off top. It was like “what’s popping? It’s good to have y’all on the road. Here’s weed. Enjoy.” It was dope because a lot of people don’t know, we didn’t get paid for that tour, they just gave us that opportunity and if you really about your grind, you gonna take that opportunity and make the most of it.
So, we was packed like seven deep in a Chevy Traverse with luggage for like a month. But they really reached out to us on day one like we glad to have y’all, bearing gifts. It was kind of the same thing this time, except for like we can eat, we didn’t have to be packed. But like Thug sent us bottles and stuff, like everybody was just showing love.
All the tours we been on man, everybody just been showing love like it’s a communal atmosphere like whether it was with Soul, or the late great Mac Miller, with Bas, with Thug, with Cole, everybody just had a communal atmosphere. It’s been beautiful. Sometimes we were struggling like with Ab Soul, and then sometimes you got catering like with the KOD tour, but it’s still love like nobody treating anybody like they less than. Everybody respecting everybody.
Awesome. I didn’t know that side of tour life. You take the camaraderie for granted when you look at it as a fan. You know what I mean? But you guys are out there for months.
JV: Yeah. For months. Like you see people everyday and this tour specifically, people were going through so much. Like my father passed two weeks before I went on the road, and a lot of people don’t know that.
I’m so sorry to hear that.
JV: Thank you. I appreciate that. A lot of people didn’t know that. Word started to get around, people were just checking in on me and making sure I was alright. Then the last week, the last two weeks, our DJ told us, he was like man one of the light dudes, the graphic dudes, his father passed while we were on the road. He ain’t get a chance to go home.
We were really able to bond on common things like hold each other up during hard times. People don’t understand like it’s really tough on the road. You get to build to that family. We had sleepovers with this man Thug on the bus, like playing GTA, like that regular stuff.
JV: Yeah. Thug got all the cheat codes. He hopping over buildings and shit!
Who’s the nicest at GTA though?
JV: I mean all you doing is robbing people and beating people up with cheat codes. It’s not that hard. But Thug was fire with it though. He just rampaging. It’s just chaos.
I've been there with Grand Theft Auto. But I wanted to ask about something, on more of a somber note. You mentioned Mac Miller, Rest In Peace. I know you guys collaborated with him on “Monday.” Is there anything you’d like to share about the experiences you had working with him.
JV: Aw man. Mac was literally the first super famous person we ever met. We done shook hands with people, but Mac was like the first person that was like, Oh that guy can’t go to the mall with us. He can’t just go out and walk around with us. But on the same token he was like, the most genuine person. He invited us to his home, he invited us on the road with him. Just strictly off the fact that the artistry and the respect for the artistry was there.
He respected the people who were around and they respected him. It was a family atmosphere. Like he was our brother, he treated us like brothers. He sent us beats and stuff. When we made records with him, he didn’t charge us nothing. It was just like yo, let’s just make music, let’s do it. I respect y’all, we can smoke, kick it like we brothers and we didn’t have nothing bro! We didn’t have no type of deals, no type of fans, all we had was our music.
DD: We didn’t have nothing to offer this man. Nobody even looked our direction until he shed light on us. He tweeted out the “F Bomb” video, and off the “F Bomb” video we were able to tour with Ab Soul and off that, we were able to meet Cole, and after meeting Cole, we was able to sign to Interscope. He pushed the domino.
JV: He was the first person!
DD: On everything.
JV: Everybody else that saw us was like, “wassup. Keep grinding.” Even if they knew us or didn’t know us, it was like “wassup, keep grinding.” Mac was like yo, I’m opening up this space. We was chilling in his garage out in Malibu until like five in the morning just blasting music, making records, writing. Like this my first time ever being in Malibu. Like Malibu, nigga I’m from Southwest Atlanta! I don’t go to oceans! Ain’t no oceans around here! Ain’t no beaches around here, bro. I’m in Malibu with Mac Miller?
DD: That was my first time in a G wagon. In Mac Miller’s G wagon.
JV: You know what I’m saying, we riding around with this man! We didn’t have nothing and he was just like super benevolent, super generous. I want to make sure people know that about him. Like he was a great dude.
DD: Still is great. Still blessing us.
Thanks for sharing that. He was nice on the mic too. Like very versatile.
DD: He was so good at different instruments, bro. Like even when we went on tour with him. That tour was like a really good tour for us. It was us, him, Michael Christmas, Cousin Stizz, we still cool with those guys from that tour. Stizz came out on our Boston date. All them relationships was built because of Mac. And the way he would have people around and neutralize a vibe, that’s something you’re just born with. It just feels organic and it feels purposeful and how it’s supposed to be.
JV: Yeah. We all chilling.
DD: To make people feel like they’re supposed to be around no matter what, is fire. Everybody can’t do that.
The game lost a good one. I remember hearing that while working...It was upsetting. Took a while to sit in.
JV: And the crazy thing that you even saying that, is like we was on the road when that happened. We had just got to Vegas. We just saw him in LA a week before. He came to the show! Everybody who was on the KOD Tour rocked with him. He came to the VIP room, he was sitting there with everybody. This is Mac Miller, bro. He was sitting there with everybody. People who bought their people in, their fans, whatever, he was sitting there kicking it with everybody. So when we got to Vegas. Doc called me and told me. I was fucked up bro. It just so happened that everybody on the tour, we galvanized each other. We held each other up.
DD: I was crying so motherfucking much.
JV: We was in the dressing room crying before the show in Las Vegas. Just tears, weeping, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to say. That’s my friend. It ain’t even about rap shit. That’s my friend. He went to high school and shit with our managers and stuff. That’s our people. We was blessed to be around that community and that environment on this tour where we could get through it.
I never met Mac, but he’s an artist and I think he’d take some comfort in knowing that you guys all bonded together and kept each other going. You know, fellow artists. I think that’s something to be said about that. I remember after it happened, J. Cole actually tweeted out some uplifting stuff and some positive messages. It kind of reinforced his place in the game, as a role model. I’m just wondering what’s your guys’ relationship with Cole?
DD: That’s the homie man.
JV: He like the big brother I never had. I’m an only child. I come from a large extended family, but I had to get a lot of things on my own. But he like a big brother that I never had like and it’s cool because, you know how sometimes big brothers be all in your head, tryna tell you to do this and that, it ain’t even like that. He’s just as excited as we are.
I got somebody that been through some things along this journey I can reference it from. It’s just a blessing. That’s our partner, he gonna get crazy with us, he gonna get wild, he gonna crack jokes, he gonna do all the same things that we do, but he just seen a little more. So it’s like alright this is coming up next so keep your eyes open.
DD: Yeah. Cole is good for the road maps. That’s one thing I can say about Cole. He predicted my son was gonna be born. On some weird stuff.
That’s crazy. When was it, out of curiosity?
DD: November 21st. He didn’t say the exact date but he said it’s gonna be the day you get home. And it was the day I got home from tour.
JV: Yeah. We was on the road with J.I.D. It was the Atlanta date. The Atlanta date was the last day.
DD: We was getting closer and closer to the birth of my son. It was like well within the time limit, like low-key a little late. Cole was like don’t worry about it. It’s not gonna happen until you get back. And I was like what? And it was literally the day I got back. Soon as I got back. It was crazy.
EarthGang - "Stuck" ft. Arin Ray
Man, congratulations! It’s funny you mentioned J.I.D because I was gonna just say, basically every time you see EarthGang and J.I.D on the same track, I feel like it’s gonna be good. Great chemistry there. Clearly you guys have gone way back, and I was just wondering, do you guys, maybe a little preview, you have anything lined up for the future, perchance?
JV: Hey man. Surprises out here!
I figured. I had to try.
DD: Look out for that DiCaprio 2. It’s an amazing project. That’s one thing I can say.
JV: For sure for sure. It’s a great project. With great features. Surprise surprise.
I've been looking forward to the last quarter releases. There’s a bunch of good music coming out. I’m hoping for some MirrorLand personally, but I understand.
JV: I’m hoping too. We all hoping. We hoping wishing and praying.
It’ll be a good one. I have a feeling. You gave us some great music recently. We can’t get greedy. That’s gonna be good. What can you tell me about MirrorLand?
JV: It’s a movie. It’s a trip. It’s an LSD trip. It’s a coming of age trip. You gonna be shown who you are, who you wanna be and the endless possibilities of who you can be. All in this project.
DD: And how far light can bounce!
Well damn, I’m looking forward to it! I’m glad you had a great tour and thanks for sharing everything. I really appreciated this conversation.
JV: Thanks man.
DD: Where you at Mitch? Where you located?
I’m from Montreal, Canada.
JV: Ohhh!!!!!!!! We love Montreal. Montreal is the place.
DD: We were just there!
You had a good time?
They showed us good love man.
Canada just got the legal weed, so a lot of people are excited about that.
JV: Montreal is a beautiful place.
Doc: Y’all are one step closer to the future.
Yeah. Well, I mean, you’re welcome back anytime.
JV: For sure. For sure.
DD: I used to low-key hate Canada but now I love it.
JV: I’ve always loved Canada, yo. The first time I was in Toronto, it was just mind-boggling, bro! Toronto is such a global city, like coming from Atlanta. Atlanta is a fire city but Atlanta is changing into a global city. It’s like a global-southern city, but when you go to Toronto, you see people from like all over the world. Vibing and co-existing and it’s just like man, I can’t wait until that energy comes to the South. The people from the south got a lot to offer. Black people from the south got a lot to offer the world. I can’t wait until Atlanta becomes that global city.
I think you guys have a good foothold on culture right now. Atlanta is putting out great music!
DD: Yeah. Shoutout to the direction Atlanta is going in. Atlanta is going in a really good direction right now. I’m really proud of what’s happening. I love seeing this shit.
JV: It’s beautiful.
It’s going in a lot of directions too. You’ve got more lyrically based artists, some great trap music, it’s just a combination of everything. Super well-rounded.
DD: Films are being shot here. A lot of movies.
JV: Great music.
Absolutely. Well what do you guys have planned for tonight?
JV: [sung] Bout to go “Six Flags: Fright Night!” Bout to go to “Six Flags: Fright Night!”
DD: It’s kind of cold. I think I’m going to watch that movie Ferdinand.
JV: I need to watch Nightmare Before Christmas. Everybody make sure you do that.
That’s a classic. Anyway, guys, enjoy your night!
DD: Alright man, be safe.
JV: Thanks man!
Likewise. It’s been a pleasure.