State Property: State Property Presents The Chain Gang Vol. II

Marc L. Hill

State Property

State Property Presents the Chain Gang Vol. II

Label: Roc-A-Fella
US Release Date: 2003-08-12
UK Release Date: 2003-08-18

Keepin' it real. This mantra has been the shibboleth of the hip-hop community since gangster rap supplanted the political rap movement of the early 1990s. To be clear, the notion of keepin' it real extends beyond the soul and pre-soul values of honesty and artistic integrity, which have been part and parcel of African American music since its inception. After all, if "keepin' it real" were merely about the existence of a one-to-one relationship between lyrical content and lived experience, we would undoubtedly consider MC Hammer or Will Smith to be among the realest MCs on the planet. Rather, to be truly "real" in the hip-hop context requires a particular lived response to one's music, which is also crosschecked against a narrow rubric of ghetto experience. It is this construction of realness that has contributed to hip-hop's greatest and most tragic moments.

From an artistic perspective, the hip-hop generation's preoccupation with realness has resulted in the creation of some the most powerful and influential contributions to American music in the past twenty five years. NWA's Straight Outta Compton, Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, and Dr. Dre's The Chronic, three classic exemplars of critical ghetto ethnography, provided listeners with access to the underside of post-industrial urban American life, foregrounding "the real" through the telling of ghetto-centric narratives. These masterpieces, which rank among the greatest in hip-hop history, demonstrated the power and beauty of hip-hop as a window into the ghetto quotidian.

Unfortunately, these works also raised the stakes with respect to the assertion and validation of realness. To be "real" no longer meant to simply talk about the realities of the 'hood. Suddenly, a "real" rapper (as opposed to the "studio gangster") was one who was willing to participate in the most pernicious aspects of street life. Tupac, the patron saint of ghetto authenticity, provides an extraordinary example of this phenomenon. It was not until Tupac's "thug life" period that he began to receive the street credibility and eventual legend status that he continues to garner nearly seven years after his violent death. Fifty Cent, the current heir apparent to Tupac's thug stardom, is marketed as much for his gunfight survival as for his lyrical prowess.

State Property, whose latest album Chain Gang was released on August 12, is quickly becoming another example of the frequently tragic intersection between hip-hop art and life. At the time of this writing, the group, a virtual seven man all-star team of Philadelphia MCs, is in grave danger of realizing the full potential of its name and becoming full-time members of the prison industrial complex. Neef, one half of the Young Guns, whose radio hit "Can't Stop Won't Stop" is the first single released from the Chain Gang album, was arrested in May on gun charges. Oschino and Peedi Crakk have only recently been released from jail. Group leader Beanie Sigel, whose solo albums The Truth and The Reason have received uniform praise from critics and fans, is currently in jail without bail on separate gun and attempted murder charges. Already a convicted felon, Sigel's conviction would most likely signal the end to his burgeoning career.

Despite its legal problems, State Property, which also features Freeway, Young Chris, and Sparks, managed to stay together long enough to produce a strong follow-up to their self-titled debut album. The previous album, which also served as the soundtrack to the Roc-A-Fella 'hood flick by the same name, received generally strong reviews but generated few sales, despite the popularity of Beanie Sigel and Freeway's "Rock the Mic" single. This time around, the Roc-a-Fella camp provided the group with much stronger production and several potential singles. In addition to Chris and Need's "Can't Stop Won't Stop", Beanie Sigel, Peedi Crakk, and Dirt McGirt (née Ol' Dirty Bastard) collaborate on "When You Hear That", which borrows from KRS-One's "Sound of the Police". While Sigel and Crakk provide strong lyrics, McGirt brings his usual blend of high energy and unpredictability.

On "It's On", a mellow D-Dot production, Sigel and Jay-Z show the Roc's junior members how it's done by laying down yet another superb track that makes you daydream about the possibility of a full length collaboration album. Jigga, who has been on a lyrical comeback since his disappointing Blueprint 2, trades sharp verses with Sigel, one of the few rappers alive capable of outshining him on a song. Despite Sigel's brilliance, this time around it's all Jigga: "Since you was a baby coward / We been sprinkling the world with baby powder / So fresh and so clean / Been a Outkast since I was a teen / But I outlast 'cause I outblast anybody you bring".

One of the surprises of the album is the strength and consistency of Young Chris. Although his Jigga-esque flow and improvisations reflect both his obvious admiration for "big homie" and an artistic immaturity that will develop with time, the more talented half of the Young Guns brings it on every track. Young Chris' verses on "G.A.N.G." and "State Prop" prove that he can hang with the upper echelon of Roc-A-Fella MCs. His "94 Bars" bonus track shows his promise as a commercial success and mixtape monster.

A major challenge when constructing an album with more than three or four rappers is finding enough bars for everyone, particularly when everyone performs at such a high level. Consequently, Freeway, fresh off his impressive solo debut Philadelphia Freeway, appears on only three tracks. Otherwise, the album features an evenly distributed mix of Roc-A-Fella's next generation of stars. Despite the album's generally predictable themes of sex, drugs, and violence, the diverse talents and styles of each rapper give the album a fresh feel. Unlike many label all-star records (Ruff Ryders, Violator), which have an individualistic mixtape feel, Chain Gang sounds like the work of a legitimate and cohesive group.

Like most hip-hop groups, however, the major challenge will be keeping State Property together. Unlike other talented groups, like Wu-Tang Clan, the Fugees, or A Tribe Called Quest, the cause of a split will not be a personal, creative, or financial disagreement. Ironically, it is State Property's most appealing quality that is simultaneously undermining its promising future together: each member's willingness to "keep it real".





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.