In August, the eclectic rap duo EarthGang visited a number of Atlanta landmarks while filming a music video for their song “Down Bad.” In it, the Mays High School graduates—Olu “Olu” Fann grew up in West End, and Eian “WowGr8” Parker in Ben Hill—ride down North Avenue, hang out in the unofficial Olympic Torch near the Varsity, and eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos outside of West End Mall. In another video, for “Up,” a young boy on a field trip to Fernbank Museum touches a painting and the exhibits come to life.
The visuals offer a glimpse into the hyperlocal raps of Olu and WowGr8 featured on their recent release, Mirrorland. Recorded in Atlanta and released by J. Cole’s Dreamville label, the album is rife with Old Atlanta relics and nods to the city that shaped them. Naturally, they’ve drawn comparisons to another versatile Atlanta rap duo: OutKast. But EarthGang, who tour New Zealand and Australia in December before embarking on a U.S. tour (they play here at Center Stage on February 26), don’t want to recreate the work of their hometown idols. They want to add their perspectives to the ones that have showcased the city to locals and outsiders.
To Olu and WowGr8, Atlanta is the all-black Land of Oz from The Wiz, the 1978 retelling of The Wizard of Oz. Album opener “LaLa Challenge” quickly spirals into a dizzying ode to home, with an organ line recorded at Olu’s family church in West End, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, while a woman places an increasingly specific hot wings order. “Under [the order], we were chanting, ‘strip club, hot wings, studio, club, church,’” Olu says. “That’s what people do in Atlanta all day.”
When the duo isn’t on tour, they often hang out at the West End studio of WowGr8’s cousin Big Oomp—known for working with local artists like DJ Unk (“Walk It Out”) and Baby D (“ATL Hoe”). It was during one of these visits that WowGr8 created the song’s hypnotic hook, which J. Cole suggested they shorten to what fans hear today. “Beyond just being a fun record to make, it was relationship driven. We both got drunk and vibed,” WowGr8 says. The song became a fan favorite: When They See Us actor Asante Blackk danced to the cut at an Emmys party.
On “Fields,” WowGr8 reminisces on hooking up with a girl inside the now-shuttered Magic Johnson Theatre near Greenbriar Mall. “That was the only place for a long time, when I was like, little-little, my mom let me go by myself,” he says. The lo-fi cut transforms into a brassy homage to West End, South DeKalb, and Cumberland malls—and the fashion the two saw in these spaces: airbrushed T-shirts and gold grills.
When the duo set out to make “Wings,” Mirrorland’s final track, they wanted to go beyond the Atlanta that people might know from the current trap-music era. In the first minute, Olu shouts out Georgia 400, Underground Atlanta, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and the 2017 I-85 bridge collapse. “We got what Atlanta looks like to T.I., Migos, 2 Chainz, Young Thug, [and] Lil Baby,” Olu says. “It’s our turn to show y’all what Atlanta is to us.”