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Cee-lo, T-Pain, Aloe Blacc, more recently Maverick Sabre, thats about it.
Very few artists have made the successful transition from MC to Singer, but Plan B has executed the transition perfectly. I’m pretty certain he is the only MC to drop a Rap album, followed by a Soul album, followed by a Rap album ‘Ill Manors’ which drops this week.
Despite his recent phenomenal success, it feels like Plan B has more of a role to play than merely as an entertainer which we talked about when I caught up with him at the Hackney Weekend.
SEMTEX It’s been phenomenal right. The last couple of years have been crazy!
PLAN B Yeah, I’ve been working hard and obviously it’s been paying off. I’ve got a new album, trying to finish it, still not done but it’s coming out next month, man.
SEMTEX You just tore it down on the main stage at Hackney Weekend, how was that for you?
PLAN B I done my best, man. We had loads of technical difficulties and I couldn’t hear myself. That’s the way of things with these shows because you don’t get a sound check, it’s a bit of a nightmare and I think the amp wasn’t working, then God decided to let it rain for just two minutes, to wet up the stage, and then brought the sun back out straight afterwards. It was really difficult to perform the songs how we wanted to on a slippery stage, but we always kind of give it our heart and hopefully that’ll come across when people listen to it.
SEMTEX You’ve done something which is rarely executed in hip-hop, where you’ve done two different styles of music within a short space of time, and I think with the success that you had with the previous album, it’s put you in a different lain, and now you’re going back to an emcee based album, how’s the response been so far?
PLAN B It’s been surprisingly good, I always said I was going to do this, when I did the Strickland Banks thing I said to people that I was taking a vacation from the way I make hip-hop, because as a human being we all have so many different layers. I’m no different as an artist, I rap but I also sing and I also compose music, so for me, regarding Stickland Banks, that whole part of my career I learnt so much from it, musically, and I think I improved as a producer and as a musician. Not a lot of people know I produce my own stuff, most of it. And I do collaborate but in order for me to come from the first album as a raw artist that didn’t really know much because i had never been trained, classically trained or anything like that so everything for me was a learning curve. Stickland Banks was no different but i think now the hip-hop is even better because of me going through that. And what we didn’t know is, are we going to be able to take the same fans from the Strickland Banks in to the whole kind of Ill Manors saga in to my career, and I guess we won’t know until the record comes out, but so far the response has been really good and I guess it’s ironic that I had to do a soul album to get more people to listen to my hip-hop. I’m back doing hip-hop now because I love it as much as writing songs, I love it as much as making films and all those other things. I think there’s a massive barrier in this country where we’ve got a section of people, like a minority of people that understand hip-hop and the rest of the majority here still look down at it, they still think it’s a kind of music that they shouldn’t listen to, and they should, because they’re missing out and the irony of doing the Strickland Banks album is that I’m being able to bring hip-hop to a wider audience that wouldn’t listen to it otherwise.
SEMTEX It’s crazy because, yourself, Maverick Sabre, Example, Pro Green, you all come from a very, very hardcore, hip-hop background and then you kind of learnt, flipped it, took it somewhere else and now you’re either bringing it back or you’re taking your art even further. You don’t really see US artists doing that, there’s a big difference with what’s going on over here.
PLAN B I think in the past, if you’re a hip-hop artist you’re a hip-hop artist and the world won’t let you be anything different. And here, you’re not allowed to be a big selling hip-hop artist. You’re not allowed to make hip-hop in the truest and royalist form and it to sell loads of records. You will find, if you try and do that from the get-go you will get cock-blocked, in many places. And I was the same, a lot of barriers were put up in front of me when I brought out the first record, and then I had to show the world that I can also write songs and I can also sing. You ain’t gotta be afraid of me, you ain’t gotta be afraid of the things I’m saying, in order for me to go back and say those things things to the people that are open listening to them. I love all types of music but hip-hop, for me, was something that you could really tell a story in its complexities and its depths and details that a three-and-a-half-minute pop song can’t do.
SEMTEX It’s educational as well.
PLAN B Rappers that I listen to changed my life, made me grow up, made me see the world in a different way.
SEMTEX Which rappers?
PLAN B For me it was, obviously Eminem. Before Eminem everything was gangster rap and he was like, “look I’m not a gangster, I’m just some piece of white trash and I’m just gonna rap about mundane things, but I’m gonna do it in a way that makes it interesting and funny so that you can listen to it”. And for me, he changed the rap game and the way, at the time, people were thinking about hip-hop music and what hip-hop music should sound like and what it should be. And obviously he had his ‘Slim Shady’ alter ego and for me, what I took on board from that is that I can have as many alter egos as I want, which is why on the second album, I always wanted it to be a concept album, I wanted it to be a story from start to finish but I always imagined it to be a hip-hop record, and the only thing that changed is it ended up being a concept album about a soul singer, and obviously when that idea came to me, was because I never stopped writing soul songs, well before I started rapping I was always a song writer. Then after the first record I needed a break, then I just started writing a load of songs. I would record them in to my phone, I’d then go in to the studio and record them with a band and we were like, “Yo man, it’s a travesty that no one’s gonna get to here this stuff!”
SEMTEX And you told me when you first came on my show you were doing songs as well, you said you were on a Craig David kind of vibe, this is before the first album…
PLAN B Yeah! it’s my escape from hip-hop, because I love hip-hop, but sometimes you’ve been defending it for so long, that sometimes you just need a break, like going in the studio and writing rhymes that were no good, I just thought, “do you know what, I need to stop forcing it, let me go in the studio and just make music, what ever music that comes to me.” And with the Strickland Banks record I just started writing a load of soul stuff and me and the band were like, “wow no one’s gonna get to hear this stuff!” And that’s when I decided to take a risk and just do a concept soul album about a character, because if it’s about a fictional character then we can change the way we look, and the sound can change. And that’s kind of how it worked, but I was only doing it because I wanted to fall back in love with music, I had fallen out of love with music and there’s no point me trying to be a rapper anymore, at that point in my life, to be honest it was like, “I don’t enjoy this anymore!” So it was through doing the Strickland Banks stuff where I just started loving music again and then, Ill Manors was written before I even started Strickland Banks and the only reason it wasn’t made and it wasn’t out there was because no one would give me the money. So with me, I won’t just do one thing, I’ll do a few different things at the same time and what ever takes off first, I’ll run with, and Strickland Banks took off first – I ran with that, but behind the scenes I was always trying to get Ill Manors made and I guess the timing has been good in terms of the film Ill Manors coming out, and the record’s just about to come out and I’ve got that whole fan base to try and tamp in to, and for me, the whole point of me as an artist is to write songs that other people can enjoy and obviously to have a career that I can enjoy but also to change the way that ‘we’ as a society look at each other, because Ill Manors is all about about how people from certain environments look at other environments. It’s perpetuated daily in the news papers. it’s this class war and we fall for it, we let ourselves read stuff in the paper, and then judge each other off the back of what we read in the paper and what I’m saying is: “Nah, come and watch my film, come and listen to my music, come and listen to my album and let me tell you the truth about why some of the despicable crimes that you read about in the papers happen.” Because the papers never tell you why it happened, they just tell you it happened. The great thing about hip-hop music is it says: this is the environment I’m from, this is what’s going on in my environment and this is why this stuff is happening.
SEMTEX …whether you like it or not, you can tell that story!
PLAN B Yeah, and people say, blame the parents, but once you’ve blamed the parents, what do we do then? Cool, what do we do now? These parents aren’t parents and they are not looking after their kids or parenting these kids, so what do we do with them?
SEMTEX And then how do we prevent it from that cycle…
PLAN B Yeah and the only real way we can find that solution is if you can understand the problem and not enough people understand it. And that’s why I kinda hope when people watch Ill Manors and go, “I care, I kinda understand what some people have to go through and it is to do with families. We’re lucky if we’ve got one parent in our life, whether it’s a dad or a mum. Some kids haven’t got either and some of the things they do in their teenage years are a reaction to not feeling that family love, and those things they do, whether it’s a crime they commit or some kind of mistake that they make, it effects them getting a job later on in life, so when they get to their twenties, they feel like, “This is me, this is my life, because I can’t get a job because of what I did when I was fifteen, society judges me because I don’t have a good education, because I was in young offenders when I should have been at school, so I’m finished, that’s me.” And that’s how they feel from the minute they can think and feel anything, because they’re born in to an environment where they’re not being loved and no one’s trying to motivate them, and instead of someone telling them they’re beautiful and they’re special and they can be something. Instead they’re telling them they’re a piece of shit and they’re not worth anything. So it’s like, from someone who doesn’t understand that environment, when they come across a child like that, they just come across someone wearing a hood who’s trying to rob ‘em. And they hate them, and what i’m saying is, even if you get robbed, even if you come across one of these kids that does something wrong to you, try and understand, what made them that way, why is there moral compass down here and yours is up here, like what made them that way because we’re all a product of out environment so something’s made them that way.
SEMTEX Right now you’ve got creative luxury. You’ve worked for it, you’ve done the hip-hop album from the beginning, you’ve done the D&B thing with Chase & Status, you’ve done a soul album, you’ve done the film. A lot of kids look up to you. In the same way that white America looks up to Eminem, you’ve got that status in the UK, you’ve got that respect. Do you ever see yourself moving in to a situation where you can actually make that change, because you’ve got that voice, you’ve got the presence and you’ve got the respect to do that.
PLAN B I think the truth speaks volumes, anyone I’ve ever spoken the truth to, I’ve got young players in my band, I put them in my band. There were nineteen year old kids straight off the streets from Forest Gate. I had to work through a lot of issues with them: family issues, them not turning up to acoustic shows and I’d call them up, “Yo, what the hell, man, I’m paying you a wage!”
They’d be like, “Nah, nah, I don’t wanna do the acoustic show, I feel naked on stage, I feel really self conscious, I don’t wanna do it so I’m not doing it!”
I was getting vex telling them I would smash them up unless they turn up right now and do the show. Other artists, they may sack someone for that but I know where this kids come from, so all I’ve got to do is spit bars of truth in this guys ear and we need to get through these things. Sure enough, they always come through, it takes time, it takes a lot of arguments but you get there because when you speak the truth to someone, there’s enough bullshit in the world, for them to realise what you’re saying is honest and it’s real. I truly believe if more people can change their perception on hip-hop music and would actually listen to my first record, doing some home work on me as a person, if you kind of know me as a person you can listen to my first record in a different way and it’s no different with the Ill Manors record and I’m just trying to break down that barrier, peoples perception of the hip-hop music because there’s so much stuff within the music if they really listen to the bars, it’ll change peoples perspective on the way they look at things. So the more they can do that, the more I can be a voice of the people, for the people. And they can start having their own voice because they’re looking at things in the correct way. And I truly believe in the music I grew up listening to, the films I grew up watching changed me and shaped me as a person and that’s the only ever way I’ll try and make music. In some way it effects the people who listen to it, so much that it changes them and makes them grow in some way, because even the Strickland Banks record which is a soul album, it’s about a guy who’s wrongly accused of something he hasn’t done and has to go to prison. And he’s not a normal guy, he’s a famous guy. So for me, the whole album is an album about fame and the ugly side of fame and so everything I do, no matter if I dress it up in a nice way, or I’m completely raw and completely black and white with it, it all comes from a conscious place, and I’ll always do that with my music, I can’t think of anything worse that me going up on stage and singing something that I don’t believe in. I’ll always do that and I hope through time more people will get me, as an artist and as a human being, get on my wave length, and we can amass enough people to start thinking in a certain way that’s gonna make things better, because that’s all we really need to do. We’re not going to eradicate problems, they’re always gonna be there but we can make things better, make things easier for the youth for the future and the youth are either gonna be running the country one day, or they’re going to be holding the country down; it all depends on how much love we show them now and how much belief we put in to them.
SEMTEX Who are you feeling hip-hop wise right now, who’s doing it for you, who’s inspiring you?
PLAN B I’m really loving what Azealia Banks is doing, been a big fan of Tyler and Earl and all those guys. Obviously I’m feeling Maverick Sabre but I’m waiting for the next UK wave of artists. I worked in that school in Hackney and there’s some real talented kids there. I can’t wait for them to fulfill their raw talents and do their thing. There’s a kid on the show called Clinton, he’s a proper deep rapper, man. Not just for his age, the guy could come and rap with the best of us and that feels me with a lot of hope.
Check me out on BBC Radio 1xtra every Friday from 10pm.
Big up Harvey on the WP!