Southern hip-hop duo Earthgang—comprised of eccentric yogi Olu and mystic WowGr8— have accomplished a lot for two friends who bonded over a shared love of music back in high school. Since signing with J. Cole’s Dreamville in 2017, they’ve released several projects, solidifying their knack for making trippy, melodic odes to life in their native Atlanta, including last year’s Ghetto Gods , the 2020 Spillage Village album Spilligion (alongside JID, 6lack and others), and 2019’s Grammy-nominated Dreamville compilation Revenge of the Dreamers III. Their new EP, RIP Human Art, is the start of a longform project—but music is far from their only concern these days.
When we meet up in early October, they’re not in rap star mode despite attending the BET Hip-Hop Awards the previous night. Instead, the pair are indulging their other passion: environmental justice. The duo’s new organization, The Earthgang Foundation, was created to create community-based approaches to solving issues such as food insecurity and climate change. The duo have ambitious, global goals for the nonprofit, but they’re starting their efforts in their hometown. When they arrive at the Hands on Atlanta office, as a group of students volunteering with the organization have just finished packing food kits full of organic spaghetti noodles, granola bars, cans of tomato soup and black beans, and more. They speak with the kids about communal responsibility and even answer a few questions about their plans for new music from the nephew of a peer who is among the group. Olu—who chuckles and says he recently visited this building to complete some court-mandated community service—commends the kids for volunteering.
Afterwards, I sat down with my fellow southwest Atlanta natives to discuss the work their nonprofit has done in the community, as well as how recent industry conversations about AI inspired their most recent EP, RIP Human Art.
What inspired the RIP Human Art concept?
WowGr8: Algorithms, playlists, the likes you get on social media…all of these things are created by these equations that no one had a say in. Why is our value reduced to these numbers when we came out the gate with our talents from God? It’s about the human element. We wanted to celebrate that and the intangible factor of art.
Olu: Even with the writers’ and actors’ strikes and what’s going on with them trying to use their likeness without their consent and completely do away with the human element of creativity. I believe that’s why we’re put on this earth…to create. If we take that purpose away from us, a lot of people are going to live purposeless lives and you know what that leads to.
Do the AI-created songs, images and even videos of artists freak y’all out as musicians?
WowGr8: I do enjoy it. I’m a futurist. Now, do I want to maintain my own dominating presence in my art and my career? My view has always been you gotta find the best way to use it and make a tool stay a tool.
Olu: The songs I’ve heard , [they] don’t hit. It sounds fake.
The dystopian view of the EP continues with y’all having your own funerals in the “Die Today” video.
Olu: It’s about the musical aspect of what we said about creativity and the strikes. When artists die, that’s when people show them the most love and they get the most followers. They did that with Sinead O’Connor…
…We’ve talked about it in regards to Mac Miller before…
Olu: Yeah, people would turn them into outcasts and pariahs when they were alive, but once they die the government starts recognizing them and they have national days and stuff. On the flip side, sometimes people feel like the only way to get stardom is to damn-near fake their own death. We just wanted to jump into that in the video.
WowGr8: What I didn’t want to jump into was that motherfucking casket. I was traumatized.
Yeah, the casket scenes freaked me out.
Olu: It didn’t freak me out. I don’t know why. I just looked at it like actors in a movie. Actors play dead in movies all the time. I didn’t want to keep doing it everyday. We don’t need to take it on the road.
WowGr8: You definitely suggested taking that on the road!
Olu: I did not! [Our manager] Barry said that. Olu did not suggest taking it on the road.
In the video, you see your songs shooting up the charts and all of this posthumous success. I think it makes sense that fans want to listen to songs when something tragic happens. What’s the line between commemorating someone and it being disrespectful?
Olu: Someone’s stream’s boosting, I understand that. But a n****a’s Instagram followers going up? That’s weird..
Do posthumous features bother y’all?
WowGr8: Personally, I make a lot of fucking music. I’m not going to be alive to see it all get released.
So if someone took a verse of yours after you died and attached it to a new song, you wouldn’t mind that?
WowGr8: At some point, I said [those lyrics]. I felt that. It’s going to come out however it comes out.
Olu: I don’t think it freaks me out, but like you said, it’s a fine line between “this was the artist’s intention” rather “than this is the person who is now in control of [their catalog].”
Talk about your nonprofit and what y’all are hoping to do with it.
Olu: The whole purpose is empowering small communities to have an impact on climate change, food insecurity, sustainability and things like that. We want to go to communities where we know our fans and supporters are and assist them with things they want to do.
Another big project we’re working on is creating a database for people across the world to be able to exchange ideas about what they’ve been doing on their homefront to combat climate change or community problems.
WowGr8: A lot of us don’t realize how many things we suffer from are based on local decisions.
The last time we talked about the org, y’all had started the community garden near southwest Atlanta’s Young Middle School. How is it going?
Olu: We had a relaunch and moved the garden [onto] school grounds. That’s been amazing because the kids can come outside of class and come right to the garden. They were excited to come out and get their hands dirty. The mayor pulled up. We’ve been having a lot of support. We’re excited to see what it’s going to grow into.
There are many communities in Atlanta that suffer from food insecurity. Is that something y’all were impacted by growing up?
WowGr8: Farmers market trips with my dad used to be a real thing. We used to drive really far to go to the farmer’s market. I used to always think about that. As I got older, one thing that stood out to me pretty seriously was you don’t even see certain grocery stores below I-20. You’re not seeing Whole Foods or Sprouts. It’s a very clear line of demarcation and I always wondered why.
Olu: Growing up, my church would provide the kids breakfast before they went to school.
Breakfast programs like that are historically such a huge part of organizing within the Black community.
Olu: Yeah, the community is ultimately responsible for providing ourselves with high quality, healthy food that’s going to have us perform and live better. I think the first step for us was to put the garden there and let the kids experience what it’s like to grow your own food.
This EP is a part of a larger album, right?
WowGr8: We like to think of it internally like a deconstructed album. We’ve had successful EP series before and that was fun to do. It’s a lot of music out in general right now. We’re going to break the whole thing down.
Olu: People’s attention spans are so short these days so we want to make sure…
WowGr8: …and the fandom has never been more industry than it is right now.
Fans definitely have a lot more opinions about the business aspects than they did before. Is that weird for y’all?
WowGr8: It’s like a bunch of A&Rs. It’s very lame. Everyone who watches wrestling doesn’t feel like they can wrestle.
Olu: …Or like they can teach people how to wrestle.