EarthGang Commune with Ghosts and Greatness on 'Ghetto Gods'

BY Luke FoxPublished Feb 28, 2022

Ghosts can, at once, haunt and inspire; they can loom tragic and stir ideas. 

EarthGang's brilliant if uneven Ghetto Gods is heavily linked to the open-minded duo's heroes, most of whom have passed yet swirl wholly present for Olu and WowGr8's deep mediations and flighty escapes.

So, when guest emcee and fellow Dreamville threat JID hops on the bouncy posse cut "Waterboyz" and spits, "I see the evil is in disguise / All of my idols already died," you have to wonder if he heard his pals' entire album and was summing it up in one hot line.

EarthGang continually strive to ground the heavenly to the earthly, and vice versa. There are mentions of attacking life with a "Mamba mentality" (in reference to Kobe Bryant), binging on Nipsey Hussle verses, and rocking boats like Aaliyah. 

Bittersweet single "All Eyes on Me" is, fittingly, precisely the type of chest-pounding, semi-spiritual anthem Tupac Shakur would make if he were still alive and raging against today's machine. The bud-burning break "Smoke Sum" was lit as a coping strategy during their home city's George Floyd protests, and it simmers with high-test Bob Marley vibes. (Heck, even promo single "Aretha" — not included in the studio's finished product, sadly — is a sweet ode to Ms. Franklin.)

"Warriors die, but they live in the sky," WowGr8 raps at one point, grasping skyward from Atlanta, GA.

Spiritual overtones and seeds of legacy drape the proceedings on Ghetto Gods, which wants its listener to shed the lies and fakery, to let their inner light shine. Of course, its authors' writing is too smart and their skills too dexterous to allow this message to come off as corny. The risk-taking production, overseen by Kawan "KP" Prather of Dungeon Family, leans into their home state's swamp-thick hip-hop history.

The four-song run of "Waterboyz," "Amen," "All Eyes on Me" and "Lie to Me" — a moral story rap so soaked in P-funk, I waited for George Clinton to pop up and talk smack about a mothership or electo-booties or something — is as clean and fun as anything in EarthGang's catalogue. 

Then we're given some superb if sombre conceptual pieces. "American Horror Story" picks at the United States' original sin (sample lyric: "There goes the neighbourhood / Now they comin' back to take the hood"). And "Power" drags Goodie Mob's sing-happy Cee-Lo Green back into the rap game.

Still, despite these thunderclaps of clarity, the project's entirety lacks some of the explosive world-building that energized its predecessor, 2019's Mirrorland. The five skippable skits and a sleepy conclusion bog down the second half of a record that sort of coasts to the finish line. And some of the cameos (2 Chainz, Future, Nick Cannon) don't add much beyond brand-name cachet.

Whereas Mirrorland came from a comparatively calm moment in history, Ghetto Gods was created through a plague and a racial reckoning. So, it's understandable that the fun factor and the tempo have been dialled down. Heavy is the pen.

Still, when those heroic ghosts and EarthGang pop in synchronicity, the music is downright out of this world.
(Dreamville Records/Interscope)

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