EarthGang Brought Intimate Spirituality to Their High-Energy Toronto Show

History, May 26

Photo: Matt Forsythe

BY Vernon AyikuPublished May 27, 2022

It is an old but true adage: two is better than one, and with equally commanding stage presence on this summer's Biodeghettable tour, hip-hop duo EarthGang are not playing fair. Since the release of 2019's Revenge of the Dreamers III, a compilation album by J. Cole's Dreamville label, Olu (a.k.a. Johnny Venus) and WowGr8 (a.k.a. Doctur Dot) have been clear standouts amid their very talented labelmates. Since then, the duo have released two major-label albums, 2019's Mirrorland and this year's Ghetto Gods, as well as Spilligion (which they made as part of Atlanta-centric rap collective Spillage Village, also featuring labelmate JID) and D-Day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape (another Dreamville comp).

Clearly very busy these last three years and with a lot of pent-up energy after their Mirrorland tour was cut short due to the pandemic, Venus and Dot proved last night in Toronto (May 26) that they are high-octane MCs in the most powerful sense, commanding the crowd and putting on an unforgettable show.

Kicking things off with songs from Ghetto Gods, Venus and Dot started the night off strong and only got stronger, slowly building off the crowd's energy as they surgically performed the hits off their various projects in three-to-four song mini-sets. During their Ghetto Gods set, they went straight down the tracklist, moving from the title track to "Billi," then to "Waterboyz," and finally culminating with "Amen." Putting their hippie-like generosity on display during their performance of "Billi," the duo invited local opener Akintoye — selected by music blog Pigeons & Planes, who curated a local opener for each date of the tour — to spit a verse, a unexpected highlight of the show. (Akintoye's whole opening set was an unexpected highlight in and of itself — he killed it to such a degree that the decision to have him return could have been based solely on how well the crowd received him.)

Halfway into the show, between their Mirrorland set and their Revenge of the Dreamers set, Venus paused to explain the meaning behind the title of Ghetto Gods. With an echo in his voice, he said, "No matter where you come from, there is a god in you; it doesn't matter where you're from. We all have the light in us. Tonight, let's try and soak up all the goodness we can." At that moment, one thing was very clear: something about what this duo does on stage is spiritual. It can be hard to see through their hook-heavy singles and weirdo trap bangers, but live, EarthGang are clearly on a woke, "we are one people" vibe, making for an intimate and inviting show even in a larger venue.

However, with Ghetto Gods being a relatively new project, the crowd was clearly there to hear songs off Mirrorland and Dreamers. EarthGang's Mirrorland set was the absolute high point of the entire evening, particularly their performances of "Top Down" and "Bank" (especially Venus's verse on the latter), when the crowd reached a fever pitch that could not be duplicated. It served as the perfect time to slow things down with the "Kumbaya" vibes of "Proud of You" and "Strong Friends." This is where the more spiritual side of EarthGang's discography shined, as a willing crowd unapologetically and without fear of judgement raised their hands and submitted to the moment, singing in unison much like what you would see at a Black church. While the trap bangers are likely what brought much of the noticeably young and white crowd to the show, they will likely most remember these moments.

Venus and Dot have two very different approaches to MCing: Venus is a more talkative hype man and Dot a more facially expressive physical performer of few words. However, together they form a machine that can probably tour off this set alone for a few years. Closing the show, the duo performed "Up" — though not their most popular song, it's a track that served as an entryway to more casual hip-hop fans, and felt fitting as they hopped into the crowd, with the band still playing, to greet them and sign autographs.

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