Hampton U.-based Earth Gang blends hip hop with soul

By Brittany Graham

Earth Gang is the name of a hip-hop/rap group comprised of Hampton University students. Far from being affiliated with mother earth fanatics, campus superstars Eian Parker and Olu Fann are proving that it is possible to have their cake and eat it too. The Atlanta natives, both seniors at HU, are juggling academic careers along with aspirations of entering the music industry.

Parker and Fann birthed their musical journey in Atlanta, where the inspiration for Earth Gang came from a tree, under which they first met.

Despite the simplicity of their name, Earth Gang is far from a typical hip hop/rap group. Parker and Fann attend Hampton University on academic scholarships. Parker was offered a band scholarship but declined the offer and is now studying psychology, while Fann majors in graphic design. Both members have been on the dean’s list since their freshman year and are expected to graduate with honors on May 13.

Said Parker, “It’s hard being a student and pursuing a craft. A lot of people look at artistry as a hobby. But my music has always been the only thing I ever wanted to do.” To those that believe pursuing two careers in college is suicide, both Parker and Fann say their music has not affected their GPAs: “We dropped a mix tape,” said Parker, “and got all A’s last semester.”

During their performances, Parker and Fann identify with their stage names Doctor Diego Dot (Parker) and Johnny Venus (Fann). Known around Hampton’s campus as the Hampton Idol winners of 2009, Earth Gang thanks Hampton for the growth in their music.

Senior Journalism major Rosalyn Scriven, a fan and close friend of Earth Gang said, “I knew them before they did music and it’s only up from here, they’ve definitely grown a lot.”

Parker said attending Hampton has improved the quality of the group’s music as well as broadened their view on a variety of different musical styles: “Being at Hampton exposed us to musical elements that we probably wouldn’t have gotten in Atlanta. Hampton is a good representation of music from everywhere, and we got to incorporate that into our music. When we got to HU, our music changed.”

To Parker and Fann, this change in their music has kept Earth Gang from being “one-hit wonders,” which is what Earth Gang believes is the usual trend for musicians coming out of Atlanta. “If we stayed in Atlanta,” said Parker, “which was our original plan, we would have had one hit on the radio, and then probably be done. It’s (HU) helped us because it’s good for networking.”

To date, Parker and Fann have released two mix tapes. Their first mix tape entitled “The Better Party” was released in 2009. Their second mix tape, “Mad Men,” received five stars when it was released in 2010 on datpiff.com, a popular Web site where artists can upload and share their music. Earth Gang’s third mix tape, entitled “Good News” is set to be released in December.

Senior Psychology major Hykeem Gaddis, who is the roommate of Earth Gang member Doctor Diego, says “completely unbiased, I think Earth Gang’s music is slept on; it’s the future. One day people are gonna realize.” With their upcoming project set to be released rather soon, Earth Gang hopes “Good News” will appeal to a bigger audience when it is released to the public. “We have something for everybody” says Parker.

As far as the workings behind the scenes, Parker and Fan are their own management and marketing team. Fann is in control of marketing the group and Parker handles all the management and business operations. In studio sessions, the rap duo work collaboratively to produce all of their material. “We do all the production, sound, and merchandising. All that stuff, it’s an in-house movement” said Parker.

Surprisingly enough, despite the renowned music department on Hampton University’s campus, Earth Gang says they opted out of looking for guidance from the department in efforts to keep their musical freedom.

“They’re on a different musical wavelength,” said Parker. They stick to traditional soul, we like to manipulate soul.”

In the face of being a student body favorite around campus, Earth Gang members Parker and Fann say they’re not favored by everyone. The duo and a number of their supporters believe the group has been blackballed by student organizations on campus. Gaddis said “I wish they were more supported. I wish they (Hampton’s student organizations and administration) would allow them to perform at shows. It seems as if everyone feels Earth Gang doesn’t need their support.”

Both Parker and Fann say in comparison to previous years, their support around campus has changed their senior year. In reference to their support from faculty and students, Parker says “pretty good support, besides this year. The paper (Hampton University’s Script) is boycotting us, we’ve had other interviews but none of them were published in the paper.”

Unaware of how they might have offended the student organizations on campus, Earth Gang continues to connect with students through other outlets. Parker and Fann sell Earth Gang sweatshirts around campus as well as using social Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook to market and promote their band name. Parker says word of mouth helps reaching students as well. Keeping their spirits high, Earth Gang says the lack of support from the campus newspaper is a minor inconvenience. “I’m not gonna write a letter to the paper … Our presence on the Internet is growing exponentially. You can google Earth Gang and more searches will pop up every day, but support from the paper would be cool” says Parker.

In regards to their love/hate relationship on campus, Parker said, “students like us, the only students that don’t like us, haven’t heard us or they’re jealous. We see Hampton students at our shows across the country from Cali[fornia] to Brooklyn, I’ve seen HU people at our shows.”

Outside of Hampton University, Earth Gang last summer was recruited to perform at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival and again at Stanford University’s Black Festival. Thanks to Fann’s marketing strategies, Esteban Serano of the programming department at FUSE TV listened to Earth Gang’s mix tape link provided on Twitter and requested a meeting with the group in New York City. During the meeting, Serano suggested that Earth Gang submit a tape to the Brooklyn Hip Hop festival.

“His recommendation is what got us there,” said Parker. The festival, headlined by rappers Kanye West and Q-Tip, drew thousands. Parker and Fann performed during the indie portion of the festival.

Similar to many aspiring musicians, Earth Gang has had their share of ups and downs on their road to success. The group was in talks for a developmental deal with SONY records; however Parker and Fann were dropped from the label once record label executive L.A. Reid took over the company. Unmoved by the disappointment, Parker and Fann are optimistic. “The way that you can distribute music now,” said Parker, “you can do your thing on the Internet and make your own money, if a label wants you, they’ll pick you up, but you don’t need a label anymore.”

Earth Gang members Parker and Fann say they want to be respected and remembered as legends in the music industry. After graduation in May, Parker and Fann have made plans for an Earth Gang summer tour, with anticipated dates in Houston, Atlanta, New York, and Columbus, Ohio.

The writer is a student at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications