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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 VERB

A fez + Raiders cap = Slept on golden era hiphop...

           Around 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 Doctor.

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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