State Property’s lineup boasts seven Philadelphia emcees, a watertight crew ultimately put together by Roc-a-Fella’s Beanie Sigel. This record is a follow-up to 2001’s State Property compilation that had been tied into the Philadelphia-based movie of the same name. Chain Gang, Vol. II is a serving of Roc-a-Fella’s best, a collection of Philly’s big hip-hop names and an effective tool to introduce the newer voices. But it also represents an existent threat to the gangsta-rap genre. The recent legal disasters associated with the acts on the potent Roc-a-Fella label contribute to the defense of the genre’s detractors while weakening its presence.
Young Gunz are first up to bat this time round, with “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” a track that is familiar to radio listeners. It’s a shout-out to Roc-a-Fella, a pledge to the crew, and a necessary profession of Chris and Neef’s skills with the ladies. Additionally, the two Philly natives introduce the album’s central gangsta rap theme, advising bystanders to keep their mouths shut. A lesson imparted by DeNiro’s character in Goodfellas, the duo reminds the listener: “Never blab / Never brag what you saw / Let them motherfuckers know you just as fast on the draw.” One of the album’s better tracks, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” is backed by particularly minimalist classic beats, abbreviated only by second-long interludes of scratching. This hard-hitting minimalism comes through again via Young Chris, as he closes the album with his bonus track, “94 Bars.”
Beanie Sigel appears on seven out of the album’s 17 tracks, and features a couple of flawless Jay-Z verses on “It’s On.” Peedi Crakk, a newer North Philly face, emerges on “Temporary Relief.” He speedily spins drug yarns throughout, even on “Criminal Background,” a playful beat that’s a Xerox copy of Boogie Down’s “Criminal Minded.” The production here is slick and the mood changes frequently, while Peedi and Young Chris carefully execute both humorous and serious rhyme.
Freeway re-surfaces on the heels of his hit Philadelphia Freeway LP with plentiful doses of his signature-aggravated yelp on Chain Gang. Here, “Rolling Down the Freeway” is another example of his breathless high-pitched blasts of sharp lyricisms. His verse is characterized by chaos, as his vocal punches in and out, a single track doubled only occasionally. He mentions his eighth grade teacher before the second chorus in an effort to let her know of his street cred and deservedly sweet success. Freeway commands attention during every appearance on this record, as his “Roc the Mic” single with Beanie undoubtedly did a little over a year ago.
State Property’s Chain Gang: Vol. II is another example of the exciting roundup on the Roc-a-Fella Records roster. The new voices are as effective as the veterans, and a handful of them even occasionally sound like a young Jay-Z. If only there was more reason to believe in the genre’s stability…
If the central character in the gangsta-rap genre had remained a character, as it was originally intended, longevity wouldn’t be as out of reach. For some of these acts, recent brushes with the law indicate an ill-fated effort to live the life of this gangsta character. Once immortalized in the pop-culture gangster film and written into the hip-hop Good Book, Roc-a-Fella’s predecessors have called this persona a virtually harmless character, nothing more. Clearly, it is no longer a character and more of a testimonial. The label is heads and shoulders above what is being offered in this genre, and setbacks of this nature can only deter its obvious grip on striking production and content. The “harmless” aspects of this very human entity have been all but stripped away, and the role of the gangsta rapper has become its own arch-nemesis, only standing in the way of furthering gangsta rap.