Two Kings in a Cipher
Pyramids to Projects
Two Kings in a Cipher, one of many afrocentric rap groups to spring up in the early 1990's, were made up of Ron "Amen-Ra" Lawrence and Deric "D.O.P." Angelettie. Later in the 90's, the two made their name as tw..
|Two Kings in a Cipher: From Pyramids to
Projects by DJ
A fez + Raiders cap = Slept on golden era
here, we often like to play a nice game of "Where Are They Now?"
For this installment of Rewind, I'm gonna bring it on some "Where
Were They Then?" Two Kings in a Cipher, one of many afrocentric rap
groups to spring up in the early 1990's, were made up of Ron "Amen-Ra"
Lawrence and Deric "D.O.P." Angelettie. Later in the 90's, the
two made their name as two of the major brains behind Sean "Puff
Daddy" Combs' infamous Hitmen production team, scoring hits and classics
like Biggie's "Hypnotize," The Lox' "Money, Power, Respect,"
Puff's "It's All About the Benjamins," and tons of other bangers.
D.O.P. (Known as "D-Dot" during the late-90's) was especially
influential, having been with Bad Boy Records from the beginning as an
intern, then moving to booking shows, managing tours, heading the label's
A&R department, and eventually becoming captain of the Hitmen. Like
many a rap veteran, the two friends started off as humble partners in
rhyme trying to make noise during rap's golden era.
D.O.P. and Amen-Ra met while attending Howard University (where they
would also meet Puff Daddy) and decided to form a group. On paper, they
looked to have it all. Both had lyrical and production skills. They had
a cool name as well as an Outkast-esque image going on. D.O.P. dressed
in straight-up b-boy style, while Noble Amen-Ra, true to his name, represented
with a fez and a distinctly Northern African flavor. The name of their
debut album was also one of the freshest at the time, as was their logo.
These cats should have had it made, right? Well, since a lot you reading
this probably muttered to yourselves, "Two Kings in a Who?"
it's obvious that they didn't. One problem was the label. Bahia was a
small little subsidiary of RCA. It managed to implode shortly after the
release of From Pyramids to Projects,
so you know that there was only so much strength they could put towards
the success of TKIAC.
The other problem was they just weren't dynamic enough to really shine.
Sure, there's some fire here, but it never really hits you like THAT fire.
Lyrically, the duo is competent but not especially amazing. "Definition
of a King" has got nice flows, but the generic 360-degrees-do-the-knowledge
lyrics are straight out of the afrocentric rap cliche book. The stripped-down
"Comin' Atcha" and the stomping "TKO'n," on the other
hand, provide right flavor, as does "Daffy Wuz a Black Man,"
a humorous comparison of the career of the titular cartoon duck to the
plight of the black man throughout history. My favorite lines portray
Elmer Fudd as the oppressive White Man, calling him a "god-damn bloodclot,
so how'd that sucker own a mansion and a yacht?"
As unique as D and Ra appear, they actually
sound their best when they're sounding like someone else. D.O.P. has a
serious Microphone God complex, resembling the one Rakim Allah on more
than one occasion. It peaks out a little on the rugged "How U Figga?,"
but then comes full throttle on the awesome "Kemit-Cal Reaction,"
which sounds like a lost outtake from Don't
Sweat the Technique. Lines like "I thought Einstein was the
biggest step/But the tombs tell me Imhotep" show that their Afrocentrism
can pack a punch if they let it. Elsewhere, the Two Kings sound more like
Erick and Parrish Makin' Dollars. The funny club-related story rap "So
What I Can't Dance," with its verses about getting dissed for doing
the Smurf and the Robot in 1991, is highly reminiscent of EPMD, while
the massive old-school throwdown "Movin' on Em (Remix)" finds
the Kings going out of their way to imitate the Funk Lord and the Microphone
Lyrically, they come off, but the emulations
hurt their chances of developing a unique voice, which they were having
trouble doing already. They do get a little bit of help from their DJ
Tone, who steals the show on "Kings are People Too" with a verse
that should have secured him a permanent lyrical role in the group. I
also have to give props to the slowed-down spoken word affair "The
Brothers Who Ain't Here," which counters smooth vocal arrangements
with cool Last Poets-style rhyme tributes.
On the production side, I offer the same critique: the shit is good, but
not dope. "Definition..." pairs a boom-bashin' drum loop with
a funky, ascending clavinet line, and "How U Figga" flips The
Meters nicely, but neither one comes close to classic material. The already
EPMD-esque "So What I Can't Dance" is made more so by the beat,
which shares a bassline with "You're a Customer." Also on the
"Where have I heard that before" tip is "Kings are People
Too," which uses the same loop of EWF's "Runnin'" that Organized
Konfusion would use on "Walk Into the Sun" a mere five months
later when their debut dropped. The Kings used it first, but Monche and
Po flipped it way better.
Other production outings here range from
the mediocre (the James Brown retread "Daffy..." and the unimaginative
Teddy P loopfest "You Know How to Make Me") to the downright
unnecessary (the "jazz version " of "Brothers Who Ain't
Here," which merely adds some live sax to the original.) Once again
I have to big up "Kemit-Cal Reaction." The big horn stabs, the
large bassline, and the eerie drone looped from the beginning of the theme
from Scooby Doo help to make
this relentless track the album's crown jewel. If there were more songs
like that one, I might be singing a different tune. As it stands, however,
the Kings weren't being creative enough, and as a result, much of their
production work here is regrettably forgettable.
In the final anaylsis, D.O.P. and Amen-Ra
failed to take it to the fullest extent. Their positive, afrocentric raps
lacked the punch and inventiveness of the Poor Righteous Teachers or the
Jungle Brothers, while their beats were just too derivative to generate
that much excitement. If the lack of TKIAC success was a sign, then the
Kings definitely saw it and heeded it, focusing their talents to become
two of hip-hop's more important beatsmiths. Most one-album-wonders fade
away and become nine-to-fivers. Amen Ra and D-Dot, fortunately, have not
only stayed in the game, but they've stayed paid. D-Dot even made a little
noise on the side with his album recorded as The Madd Rapper (watch for
that album in a Rewind episode
near you!), so it's really all good. The new-jack lesson here is: A tight
image and competent lyricism doth not a hit album make. You have to step
your game up if you want to get your cake up.
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