Dynamic Twins – Above The Ground (1996)

I’ve been covering a whole lot of Christian rap this past month that I’m sure most of you could care less about. Thanks for sticking with me through it regardless, and rest assured that more secular reviews are right around the corner…you little heathens.

The Dynamic Twins were a Christian rap duo comprised of the Bronx-born, California transplant identical twin brothers, Noel and Robbie Arthurton. The last and first time we checked in with them was on their 1991 debut album, Word 2 The Wize, which was a train wreck, despite Sup The Chemist doing everything in his production power to make it work. As I mentioned in my W2TW review, Sup’s involvement with the project was the main reason I bought the album. The fledgling Urban Christian music label, Brainstorm (once the label home to other Christian rap groups like SFC and Freedom Of Soul) on which W2TW was released, must have really believed in the Dynamic Twins, as they would release two more albums on the imprint, No Room 2 Breathe in 1993, and 40 Days In The Wilderness (which I think I owned on cassette back in the early 2000s) in ‘95. Brothers Arthurton would part ways with Brainstorm after 40 Days, beginning the next chapter of their career with Metro One (the same label that T-Bone would release his first three albums on), releasing their fourth album, Above The Ground, sometime in ‘96.

Sup The Chemist would have absolutely nothing to do with sculpting the sound of Above The Ground, as Noel and Robbie would handle the production for most of the album. Above The Ground would be the only album the Dynamic Twins would release on Metro One. Years later they would release music on their own label, ironically named, Above The Ground.

With Sup’s production absent from the album and me not being a fan of Dynamic Twins’ raps on their debut album, you might wonder why I even bought Above The Ground. I promise I’m not a glutton for punishment, but I am curious to hear if they improved since their debut. But the generic album cover artwork has me nervous about that.

Intro – The album begins with the most cliché regally triumphant sounding music that a Casio keyboard could conger up, followed by a single strike of thunder. This all sets the tone and mood for God the Father (not to be confused with the Godfather) to share a few words about blessings and curses, life and death, accepting his son, Jesus, as your personal Lord and Savior and if you reject him, prepare yourself to eternally swim in a lake of fire. The Father ends his short soliloquy by randomly shouting out two of his selected servants, yes, you guessed it, the Dynamic Twins, followed by the barest and most basic drumbeat ever created to close out this asinine intro that doesn’t even exist according to the liner notes and the tracklist on the CD jewel case back panel.

H.G. Funk – The first song of the evening finds our hosts bringing the funk, fueled by the Holy Ghost. The duo takes turns rapping about the goodness of Jesus and the Holy Spirit over the competent G-Funk groove, while a Roger Troutman-inspired voice repeatedly tells us what he and DT want on the refrain. Noel and Robbie both sound like they’ve improved lyrically since W2TW, but the music overpowers the vocals, making it nearly impossible to understand all of their rhymes.

Ways Of Cain – The Brothers Arthurton build this song’s concept around the story of another brother duo, Cain and Abel. The twins use the story outlined in Genesis Chapter 4 to address the modern-day dilemma of jealousy and envy, two attributes that lead to brothers killing brothers, and not just brothers in the biological sense. Like the previous track, this one also suffers from poor mixing of the music with the vocals. But the menacing backdrop goes kind of hard.

Laughter & Tears – Noel and Robbie swap cautionary tales about a computer-savvy young man who chooses a life of crime over education and hard work (wait…was “computer-savvy” even a thing in ‘96?) and a straight-A female student whose one night of mischievousness turns into a teen pregnancy by a young man who gets the hell out of Dodge before the baby is even born. I like DT’s moral message, but the backing instrumental was boring as hell. No pun intended.

Ready Or Not – The Dynamic Twins profess their readiness to stand for Christ while patiently awaiting his return because if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. DT borrows a line from Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under A Groove” for the hook and the instrumental sounds like it was produced by Tinkerbell. Dead ass. It even samples the same chime that the Ring camera uses when it sends you a phone notification.

Relaxin’ – The Dynamic Twins use this one to stress (no pun intended) the importance of getting rest and spending leisure time with family and friends. When Brothers Arthurton aren’t on the road rappin’ for Jesus and trying to save souls, they don’t waste their downtime on broads, blunts, and brew like a lot of their secular contemporaries. Instead, you can catch them spending time with their wives, eating barbecue, sippin’ Arny Palmers, playing basketball, chillin’ at the beach, watching sunsets, and capping the day off by watching their man, Rocket Ismail (who still played for the Raiders at the time) play on Monday Night Football (the Dynamic Twins actually made an album with Rocket that I found a few months back while rummaging through the used CD bins at one of my spots). The chill summertime-ready vibes in the instrumental, along with the soothing vocals of Melissa Untalon on the hook will definitely put you in a mood to unwind and enjoy life.

The Blood Cries – DT uses this one to address the issues of violence and race relations in America, hoping for the day that we can all come together and live as God’s children in peace and unity (twenty-seven years later and we’re still waiting). The lyrics for this song are the lone song lyrics written in the album liner notes, which made me wonder why they didn’t put the title track lyrics in the liner notes, but whatever. I wasn’t crazy about this one, but it’s not a terrible record, either.

Little Robert Anthem – Our hosts step aside to let Little Robert get off a quick verse dedicated to the non-believers, where the self-proclaimed “Christian criminal” is “eatin’ demons up just like mojos” and tying up the devil like laces. Undersized Bob’s performance is amateurish at best and the sleepy drums and drowsy guitar licks that back him don’t help matters.

Above The Ground – The title track finds our hosts sharing an inspirational message of being able to rise above and overcome anything life throws their way, through Christ Jesus, while Melissa Untalon returns to sing the hook. It’s a mid record with good messaging.

Dying To Live – This one begins with one of the twins gettin’ off a poem that sounds like something Oswald Bates from In Living Color wrote, while the other brother clears his throat and burps, rudely interrupting his twin’s random rambling (once the song begins, we find out that the seemingly random rambling is part of first brother’s verse). Then a pensive backdrop carried by ruggedly beautiful guitar licks is brought in, as Brothers Arthurton profess their willingness to live and die by the word of God aka the Bible, which also means dying to some of their fleshly urges. Again, the mixing makes it hard to follow their rhymes, but I did enjoy this instrumental.

I’ll Be There – The hook on this one reminds me of and makes me want to sing the refrain from Tony! Toni! Tone!’s “Whatever You Want,” which I’m sure DT’s hook was inspired by. But everything else about this record was extra uninteresting.

Critical Styles – The Dynamic Twins close out Above The Ground by inviting Soul Food Live to jump on a track that they’re also credited with producing. The raps are forgettable, but the sexy xylophone loops used in the instrumental are guaranteed to make you want to Samba, Cha Cha, Tango, Rumba, Bachata, or any other dance form that requires sultry hip movement.

As I briefly touched on during my write-up of LPG’s The Earth Worm, when it comes to Christian hip-hop, there are two types of rappers: Christian rappers and rappers who happen to be Christian. The rapper who happens to be Christian is the emcee who was writing rhymes and possibly making music, fully enthralled in the culture, long before he decided to walk with Jesus. The Christian rapper is the guy/gal who may have been a casual fan of the genre, but never seriously considered rapping until they came into the faith and saw it as a cool tool to witness and win souls for the kingdom. Generally, there’s a huge gap in the rhyme quality between a Christian rapper and a rapper who happens to be Christian, with the advantage heavily favoring the latter. The Dynamic Twins definitely favor the former.

The production on the Dynamic Twins’ debut album, W2TW, was decent, but it was the twins’ rhymes and mouthfuls of marbles that heavily hindered the project. On Above The Ground, the rhymes sound a little sharper and the marble count has decreased, but the mixing is a huge issue. For a large portion of the album the music floods out the Dynamic Twins marble-light monotone voices like God did the earth in the days of Noah. If you strain your ears, twist your head just right, and resist the urge to blink, you can understand about half of DT’s rhymes. I used that formula a lot while listening to this album throughout the past few weeks, but if you have to listen to music like that, are you really enjoying it?

Even if the Dynamic Twins were blessed enough to have the incomparable ear and hand of Dr. Dre mix and master Above The Ground, it still wouldn’t be a great album. There are a handful of solid instrumentals and some good messaging, but much of the music and the twins’ rhymes just aren’t…dynamic enough to hold the listener’s attention.


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