Earthgang's 2020 Inspirations: Jay-Z, Stacey Abrams, Michael Jordan - Rolling Stone
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Year in Review: So, How Was Your 2020, Earthgang?

Atlanta hip-hop duo celebrate the most inspiring people, records, and TV shows of their year — from The Last Dance and Jay-Z’s Blueprint to Stacey Abrams and Chadwick Boseman

earthgang year end survey

Simon Chasalow*

So, How Was Your 2020? is a series in which our favorite entertainers answer our questionnaire about the music, culture, and memorable moments that shaped their year. We’ll be rolling these pieces out throughout December.

Olu and WowGr8, the two rappers who make up Earthgang, spent much of this year hunkered down in West Atlanta recording Spilligion, their excellent debut album with Spillage Village — the hip-hop collective whose other key members include J.I.D, Mereba, 6lack, Hollywood JB, Benji, and Jurdan Bryant. (For much more on how that album came to be, see our recent Spillage Village feature.) The LP ended up becoming one of this year’s most unusual and rewarding listens, with elements of classic ATL rap, neo-soul, gospel, folk/Americana, and more all coming through the mix on standout songs like “Baptize,” “Mecca,” and “Hapi.” Earthgang also turned in an eloquent remix of Brittany Howard’s “Goat Head” and appeared on one of the best songs from Gorillaz’ Song Machine: Season One this year — and next month, they’ll be up for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for “Collide,” their song with Tiana Major9 from the Queen & Slim soundtrack.

The duo strike a positive note when they call from Atlanta to talk about their experiences in 2020. “I just pray that this year, we all found a way to give back whatever we got — whether that means helping somebody out in your community, helping somebody out in your family, or helping a stranger out on the street,” Olu says. “We may not have a lot, but whatever we’ve got, it’s enough, and if we find a way to give it back then we’ll be all right.”

The album I listened to the most in 2020 was: 

WowGr8: More than anything this year, I’ve been listening to Yes Lawd!, the Anderson Paak and Knxwledge project [from 2016]. It’s a very soulful project.

Olu: For me it’s The Blueprint by Jay-Z. I love the production on the project, I love the stories on the project, I love the energy. It speaks to the hustler’s mindset: Anybody who wants to make it happen for themselves, for their family, for their community, that album is for you. I feel like that’s needed in this time. Everybody’s taking things so hard. It’s not easy for people right now, and you’ve got to feel good on the inside before you’re able to actualize. That album is for all Americans right now.

My favorite TV show to stream during quarantine was:

Olu: For me it was the Michael Jordan documentary [The Last Dance] and the barbershop talks that LeBron did with Maverick Carter [The Shop]. You’ve got to understand the story of greatness in order to achieve it. You’ve got to see what these people went through — the work ethic, the determination, the people that they put around them in their lives, the things that they overcame. I identified so much with both of their stories. Those shows kept me focused during quarantine and after quarantine, just seeing two black men defy the odds.

WowGr8: The Last Dance, The Masked Singer.

The song that will define “2020” for me is: 

WowGr8: “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness.

Olu: “Thick” by DJ Chose.

I’d define my current state of mind as:

WowGr8: Determined. I feel more balanced than I’ve felt in a long time.

Olu: I’m in the clearest space I’ve ever been in my life. I’m focused. I know what I want. I wake up every morning and think about it, dream about it, find ways to get it. I’m thankful and blessed. I’m just super-open to all the greatness that’s coming my way.

The old-favorite movie I returned to for comfort this year was:  

WowGr8: A couple days ago I restarted Star Wars in the order of the storyline. It’s so epic. I tried to look at it from a grown-man perspective. When I first saw Star Wars, I was probably seven or eight years old, and I took it at face value. Watching it again and seeing how deep the story is — like, Anakin was born a slave. I was like, “Wow, this is a really powerful tale.”

Olu: That’s fire. I definitely know Mandalorian, so I gotta start over. For me, it was ATL, Soul Food, Belly, Remember the Titans — those four movies right there, for sure. We’ve been traveling so much and we’ve been immersed in so many beautiful cultures; now that I’m home, I wanted to dive back into the culture that I grew up in. You see the parallels that connect us all. We as African-Americans are going through so many things. We have so many different styles of life, and so many things that we can be proud of, and so many stories. I was like, “I’m going to watch these movies again and enjoy these moments.”

A new hobby I picked up in quarantine was:

WowGr8: I started going to the gun range more than I ever have before in my life. I’ve been taking a kick-boxing class. I bought a bow and arrow the first week of quarantine; I’ve got a couple of foam animals that I placed in my backyard, and I hit them with the arrows. All that apocalypse talk didn’t scare me, but I was like, “Hmm, what could I do in an apocalypse?” I already owned guns, but I didn’t shoot them like that. So I’ve been practicing marksmanship and that kind of stuff.

Olu: Definitely went to the gun range. I’ve been working out more. I’ve been doing yoga a lot more. Stock market. And I’ve been doing a lot more reading and planning. I’ve just been doubling down and elevating it up.

The celebrity I’d most want to quarantine with is:

WowGr8:  Pharrell. I feel like we’d make a lot of music, be creative, [feel] a lot of peace, and wash our faces. And Dave Chappelle! Me, Pharrell, and Dave Chappelle — that wouldn’t even feel like quarantine. These are two guys I respect, and we’d be creating a lot.

Olu: Jay-Z. I feel like we’d then have everybody on speed dial and we’d be FaceTiming everyone.

The most interesting thing I learned to cook during quarantine was: 

WowGr8: At the very beginning of quarantine, I made a vegan pasta dish that was pretty good. I used a vegan version of a pesto sauce, with some vegan parmesan and some vegan chicken. I was like, “This is pretty good, I would serve this to other people!” It was palatable.

Olu: For me it was a spicy fusilli pasta, with the garlic, the tomato paste, the shallots. I put the coconut milk on there as a twist. A whole lot of spices. Roasting the tomatoes. That was cool for me. I don’t cook that much; I used to cook a whole lot, but since we’ve been on the road, it died down. Since I’m back here, my sisters come through and take care of me, and I’m super-thankful for them. But when I do it myself… I cook a little pasta. My French toast is banging. I ain’t gonna hold you, my French toast goes stupid, bro.

The best book I read in quarantine was:

Olu: I read The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday all the time, that’s one of my favorite books. I just read The Circle of Fire by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Best of Simple by Langston Hughes. Sacred Woman. The Hero and the Outlaw. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates was definitely one of my favorites. Some of them are stories, some of them are books on branding, some are just about health and wellness and getting your life together. Embracing the stories of mankind and womankind.

Something positive that happened to me that nobody noticed was:

WowGr8: Being at home and being connected with my family and working to strengthen our family ties.

Olu: Same as WowGr8. Strengthening our family ties.

The biggest hero of 2020 was:

WowGr8: My biggest hero of this year was my mother. As soon as the pandemic started, my mama went down to her sewing machine and started sewing masks for everybody that she knew. She made a bunch of masks by hand. I was very proud that she did that. My other hero is Stacey Abrams. Georgia went blue this year. I never thought I’d see the day. It’s incredible to me, all the people she’s been able to inspire and convince that they are part of a process that they thought they weren’t part of. I’ve got to give a big shout-out to her.

Olu: For sure. She’s definitely on my list. I have three heroes, and Stacey Abrams is one of them. After what people perceived as a loss for the governor’s race, to come back and stay so focused with the tenacity, like, “That’s just one move. We got many more moves to make”…She’s one of my heroes for sure.

So is Chadwick Boseman. It brings tears to my eyes to see that man’s dedication, and the things that he was able to do in such a short amount of time, and the humility. The power that he was able to wield, and to do it with such grace and such poise, and to represent what he did to the highest point, I really appreciate him. I’m so thankful for him.

And lastly, myself. I ain’t gonna hold you, straight up, myself. I say that with as much humility as possible. It’s a lot of things that I had to take a look at and I overcame. Lot of places where I’m still growing and still learning. Every day I take it upon myself: “This is where I can grow, this is where I can change and be better.”

A word or phrase I never want to hear again is:

WowGr8: “President Trump,” “fake news,” and “quarantine.”

Olu: “President Trump.”

The thing I’m most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over is: 

WowGr8: Going to a concert. Performing in one for sure, but also just going to one. Seeing people enjoy themselves in a public space and not feeling weird about it.

Olu: Partying. I want to party, man. One of the things that I learned this year was, celebrate life! Celebrate the fact that you’re alive, especially because times are rough. We’re going to celebrate and give thanks at all times. Every small thing, every large thing, we’re going to rejoice and be thankful for this existence. And on top of that, I want to travel. Go to the hood, go to L.A., go to Texas, go to New York, go to Detroit, go to Memphis. I want to go there and celebrate life.

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