Plan B: ill Manors
- After some interesting years in the late 80s and early 90s as English hip-hop was still finding it's feet, the first 5 of so years of the new millennium seemed relatively promising for a country that had already pretty much mastered pop, rock, punk & electronic music, c'mon what's the hold-up? Amongst the millions of people literally crammed into low income council housing and with the added fact it's always cold and overcast and generally a bit depressing you'd think that British youth would have a lot to get worked up about and the emotion and strength of will to make it stick - and they did at some point - with it's most prolific and exciting talent making strong early moves; Dizzee Rascal, The Streets and self-professed godfather of grime, Wiley, all came on strong and made some pretty major waves that hit even down here on shores. Whether from crossing-over and selling out, fading away or simply just being a little more average, most of those would-be heros fizzled before the next generation had really had a chance to take notes and suss out some kind of game plan: most British hip-hop of the last few years has been a watered down, sterile mixture of pop, electro and rap - with notable artists like Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah or Sway never showing more than the slightest redeeming qualities. They're neither household names nor underground diamonds in the rough. Because of this lack of creativity and momentum, the last five or so years has seen the once fledging curiosity of Aussie hip-hop catch up to and smother British hip-hop, leaving it to rot in the rain, despite the mother country's rather decent head start. In Brit-hop's darkest hour London rapper turned director turned soul singer turned back into rapper, Plan B wasn't the guy that I thought was going to lead an, even small resurgence of sorts, but here he is, the 28 year old upstart putting out a third full length. Coming after the aforementioned and actually quite enjoyable foray into soul that was previous effort, The Defamation Of Strickland Banks, a fictitious tale about a "sharp-suited British soul singer who finds fame with bitter-sweet love, only to have it slip through his fingers when sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit." It sounds a little naff really, but it was actually a bit of an unexpected treat- a successful experiment that gave Plan B a showcase for his diverse set of skills. When this new record appeared I honestly didn't really care: that last record was good, but I've grown up Plan B, I don't know if we're still going to be on the same level anymore. After some reluctance I slammed new long-player, ill Manors, into my metaphorical stereo and braced for impact, or perhaps should I say, lack of impact. Will I ever tire of being wrong? There's no shortage of bang here, Plan B delving deeper than ever before with an album grittier and darker than anything he's done. It's a surprisingly realistic and honest look at the fringe elements of the new lower-middle class, something that Frank Skinner used to be so good at before some combination of the fame, money and success clouded his mind and lead him off the cliff of failure. With ill Manors Plan B continues to increase his influence on the overall sound of his records, being directly involved in the production of all but two of the tracks here as well as his usual duties putting pen to paper. Props to him because the production is the crown jewel here: always interesting and compelling enough to stand alone regardless of vocal accompaniment. Most of that Plan B takes care of himself with only a select number of guest appearing, all of them doing a pretty rad effort of not stepping on toes. They add a little spice to the whole affair and just get out. No one more so than the always slightly baffling but undeniably engrossing John Cooper Clarke, a man most famous for his heroin-fuelled, domestic partnership with the Velvet Underground collaborator Nico and his distinctive off-beat poetry, something showcased on "Pity The Plight", one of the most haunting songs on the record and one of the best examples of Plan B's ability to weave verbal imagery. Not to be paternalistic or nothing, but that song's just so dark, I might save you from the psychosis it'd throw most of our listenership into and I'll leave you with another tasty little nugget, the opener and title track, "ill Manors", it quickly picks up steam and just about blasts off - an appropriately high octane first showing from the increasingly mature and worldly son of a gun. Plan B might not be able to carry British hip-hop on his shoulders, but he's giving it a decent crack all the same. Good stuff.
- Jay Edwards.