It’s challenging for a rap act from Atlanta to find a place for itself at a northeastern, rock-dominant festival —- but that's exactly what EarthGang accomplished on Saturday at Boston Calling. The festival pushed their hour-long set to the Delta Airlines Blue Stage only two hours after King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard pulled out due to a positive Covid test. Despite all odds, they delivered a performance that left the Boston audience chanting for more.
Before EarthGang had even set foot on stage, the crowd was already hyped to the sound of their DJ playing hits like JID’s “Surround Sound” and Gunna’s “pushin P.” Composed of Olu (aka Johnny Venus) and WowGr8 (aka Doctur Dot), the rap duo came out with a bang to perform “Proud of U.” While WowGr8 donned green shorts and a quilted vest, Johnny Venus shedded his shirt altogether and let his dreads loose, emphasizing the gleam of his pharaoh-themed chain in the sunlight. As proud ambassadors of the slogan “We All EarthGang,” their echoing shouts of “I’m proud of you, and you, and you,” would become somewhat of an anthem for the rest of their performance.
The rappers were well-matched in both execution and delivery of their verses. While Johnny Venus vocalized smoothly in the first half of their 2019 single “This Side,” WowGr8 went hard on the fast-paced, punchy lines in the third and fourth verses. That well-oiled chemistry garnered an awed appreciation from the Boston crowd as they joined in to sing the chorus.
EarthGang’s production style of delivering vocalizations smoothly to the lax beat and then ramping up for the high speed bars in later verses translated beautifully into their live performance. The impressive runs to the deep 808s on “BILLI” elicited head bops, while the chorus of “WATERBOYZ” earned screams for the adlib “What’s up man?” and “What’s up gang?” The rappers milked the fan-interaction in moments like this, often starting chants like “When I say Earth, you say Gang” and orchestrating the “La-la-la-la-la, yeah” adlib during “UP.”
Even though not many festival goers knew all the lyrics, the crowd was definitely vibing with the intimate performance. A large part of their popularity was due to how relatable their lyrics were. “It’s been a crazy year. Ain’t everyone make it to see this moment,” EarthGang said, before transitioning into their most recent single, “All Eyes on Me.” Apparently, that message resonated with the crowd, since they cheered loudest in moments when the duo manifested money and good fortune, like the transition into “BLACK PEARLS,” for example. The addition of songs like “Big Love” with Louis The Child and “Run It Up” with Snakehips also enhanced the performance’s accessibility to a wider audience, their EDM beats syncing with the multicolor strobe lights and making the crowd shuffle along to the house tunes.
Clearly, EarthGang knew what they had to do to appease the Boston crowd, proving themselves to be seasoned and versatile performers.
Paying homage to their label, EarthGang repped Dreamville in a majority of their set. “I know these three years have been crazy as fuck but look at us [...] We made it through [...] Y’all look so beautiful right now,” they said as a segue into “Sacrifices,” which is a Dreamville collab with J. Cole. “Down Bad” — another Dreamville track — was definitely a crowd favorite, notable by the way Johnny Venus started off his verse slow and then sped it up to a breakneck pace. Collabs with JID — a fellow Dreamville artist — were also prominent throughout the set, like “Meditate.” “How does it feel to be in a legal state?” EarthGang asked before launching into “1993,” a performance that left puffs of smoke in the air.
Pulling off a rap performance at a festival like Boston Calling is a challenging feat to accomplish for any artist — especially when they are filling in for another act’s stage. EarthGang accomplished the impossible: appealing to old and new fans alike, interacting with the crowd, catering to their style, all without sacrificing the integrity of their own sound. Not only did they pull it off, they did it with a charismatic energy throughout their performance — goofy faces and likable personalities that elicited crowd chants for one more song for minutes after the show ended.
—Staff writer Alisa S. Regassa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @alisaregassa.