Shot on video and doomed with drab titles, STATE PROPERTY 1 (2002) & STATE PROPERTY 2 (2005) are actually very interesting little works in the BATTLE OF ALGIERS vein of faux-verite. With their focus on overlapping dialogue and street economics instead of the usual pumped up meaningless sex and violence (though there is that too) and a canonical knowledge of the genre (beyond mere Scarface remake quoting) they bring to mind Howard Hawks and the nouvelle vauge, I kids thee not. These little gems are worth dusting off as evidence of a semi-invisible African American new wave that reputable film journals ignore outright, just on the basis of the trashy company it keeps. (I think Godard would like them).
It’s no secret that many a record mogul has been made through drug deals and one might presume the same of the Roc-a-Fella crew, especially since they’re so casually willing to share the details of running a mob. Beanie Sigel stars as the head of the ABM (All ’bout Money), which is concerned primarily with getting their pockets deepened to “Jacque Cousteau” levels as they take over and unify ala Al Capone in the rumrunning era, and that’s it. With no real morality or voice of sanity to counter-act the casual drug-related violence, the gang’s focus on capitalistic gains over anything else is downright refreshing. It’s about gettin’ paper, not spendin’ it. The only problem is, once they get too big, little up and comers be startin’ trouble, such as kidnapping Beans’ old lady.
With their Hawksian group dynamics (overlapping dialogue and playful pecking order jostling )and in Sigel’s riveting anti-hero presence (he moves and is built like a pit bull, the PROPERTY movies are quietly far ahead of their brethren in the low budget gangsta race. You can tell these guys really do hang out together all the time, such is the natural ease of their group interaction and that alone makes it endlessly fascinating. The cast includes: Memphis Bleek, Jay-Z, Omillio Sparks, Freeway, and Damon Dash. First-time feature film (he cut his teeth on Roc-a-Fella rap videos, of course) director Abdul Malik Abbott skips the bling montages and hand-wringing sermons as if on instinct. Hawks would approve. Don’t forget Hawks shot the original SCARFACE with active participation of real mobsters, including George Raft, and arranged a private screening for Al Capone; and what did the producers do? Tacked on a prologue denouncing gangsters and an ending where Tony snivels his way to the gallows! Luckily Abbotts’ producers are in the damned gang. PROPS 2 is directed by Dash himself, and he carries the gritty flava while adding some cool Guy Ritchie-style flourishes. It’s a sequel like Bride of Frankenstein is a sequel – faster and funnier, with the same talents now one film more experienced.
STATE PROPERTY 2 is in some ways even better, with Beans now incarcerated, working to keep his renegade ABM Crime Syndicate on the map through in-joint deals and visits from his lieutenants (in hilarious code, explained in subtitles). Damon Dash co-stars as a Harlem-born hustler whose “Umbrella network” is unmatched in cash-flow and manpower, dubbing his crew “cake-aholics.” He later partners up with Loco, a flashy Miami playboy about to be released from prison and looking to take over the streets of Philly with a letter of wreck from Beans… it all turns out to be an elaborate scheme thunk up by some back alley playa hata, but whom? Along with Beans and Dash this one co-stars Victor N.O.R.E. Santiago, Young Chris & Young Neef, Omillio Sparks, Oschino and celebrity cameos including Mariah Carey!