Less a sequel to a film than a brand extension, this further glorification of thug life was directed by Roc-A-Fella records cofounder Damon Dash, who produced the first film with then-partner Jay-Z. The two went their separate ways in 2005 and Jay-Z kept the Roc-A-Fella name, but while this film features the Dash Films moniker, it's still chockablock with the rappers in Rocawear who made the first film resemble an extended clothing label/music cross-promotion. After a brief recapitulation and revisionist take on the first film's ending, which found Philadelphia drug kingpin Beans (Beanie Sigel, whose name graces his own line of State Property clothes) apparently dead in a pool of blood, the story picks right up. Beans, who bootstrapped himself and his ABM ("All 'Bout Money") crew from street punks to serious gangsters, is packed off to the penitentiary and tries to run things from the inside, using coded visiting-day conversations to issue instructions. But rivals are circling ABM, especially Beans' old nemesis Dame (Dash), who's looking to make his Umbrella Network kings of the Philly streets. With the help of cellmate Freeway (rapper Freeway), Beans forges an alliance with El Pollo Loco (Victor N.O.R.E. Santiago, of Capone n' Noreaga), who grew up in the drug business in Miami and has connections — notably the loyal Biggis (Michael Bentt), who helped raise Loco after his parents were murdered — cash and, most importantly, an imminent release date. He promises to take care of business and get Beans out, but soon after Loco's release, Umbrella and ABM are locked in an escalating series of betrayals and retaliations. Dash and screenwriter Adam "Blue" Moreno abandon the stone-faced seriousness of the first film for a more playful approach, goofing on gangsta' poses and colorful hood-speak. Beans' voice-over narration, a stream of self-conscious tough-guy bons mots, epitomizes the film's tone: When he enumerates the various paths to self-improvement open to inmates, we see prisoners being brutalized and murdered in the kitchen, on work detail and lifting weights. His running riff on "what we mean/what guards hear" sets up the movie's punch line. It's a welcome relief from the otherwise standard-issue gang-banging punctuated by a who's who in hip-hop series of cameos; the famous faces range from Kanye West to the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, and include a one-scene performance by Mariah Carey that's more entertaining than the whole of GLITTER (2001).
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