Plan B: A second look at his protest song
Plan B has always positioned himself as a provocative artist. One who seeks change. Equally he is not scared of shying away from big, thorny issues. His new single iLL Manors has received great praise from both The Independent’s Tim Walker and The Guardian’s Dorian Lynskey. Fearful that the artist has overlooked those he is trying to represent, whilst wildly contradicting an editorial he wrote in The Sun in the wake of the riots, I feel it’s worth listening to the track anew.
Today Plan B directs his protest at the demonisation of the working classes with the track opening, “Let’s all go on an urban safari / we might see some illegal migrants / oh look there’s a CHAV / that means Council Housed And Violent.” Adopting the media buzz word. Then, “got a hoodie yo, give him a hug,” shifting his cross-hair to David Cameron. This might lend the impression Plan B (real name Ben Drew) is speaking out against authority. But it wasn’t always this way.
In an editorial he wrote for The Sun following the riots he said, “…it’s madness because people are going to get hurt and [the rioters are] messing up this country’s economy…I think they’re doing it because they want some free stuff because they ain’t got any and they’re angry at that.” Facing up to them with, “Would they like to live in a world where everybody was poor and everybody was selling crack and everybody’s mums were on crack?”
At the time he’s clearly in split minds, castigating the rioters as selfish, “You think about all the insurance companies who are going to go bust now, that means banks are going to go bust. I don’t know and maybe I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but surely there’s a chain reaction going to happen — and why? To make everyone as poor as them?”
He’s clearly changed his tune. On this latest track he justifies the violence, “feed the fear…feed the fire and let it burn,” then lists the closure of community centres, the Olympics, the Major of London, prison, and the, “broken” political system, as further reasoning.
In my opinion, covering so many buzz topics the track finds itself engulfed in cheap discourse rather than giving a voice to the mouths behind the masks. Plan B asks the audience to look beyond cliché’d misconceptions but all he can offer is a cliché riddled attack on politics that feels calculated, impersonal, and disingenuous. His analysis greater resembles that of a rolling news pundit’s rather than the voice of a rioter, using media events as stepping stones in order to make a self-edifying point.
The most revealing line in the track, “It’s politics, ain’t it all smoke and mirrors,” simply illustrates the disinterest shared by many young people. The track shows Drew positioning himself as one of these young people but with a greater interest in political discourse. Similar an earlier track, Mama (Loves A Crackhead), where he highlights domestic implications of drug use, or his observation at TEDx of Damilola Taylor’s murder (“This is a child killing another child. I didn’t agree with that.”), we are subjected to vanilla commentary shrouded by shocking content, leaving us with a pastiche of protest music.
The impersonal nature of the lyrics is disappointing. Early in Plan B’s career he recorded vocals on a mixtape by DJ Wonder of Grime collective Roll Deep. Grime artist Wiley has argued before that the whole basis of grime lyricism is to connect to the audience through the use of the personal. Today, grime artists in the ascendancy such as P Money will revel in the personal in order to find his audience. After all, the personal is the political. Comparatively Plan B has always hidden behind his music, whether it is in offering characters in the narration, or trite political arguments he veils himself from the audience.
Whilst assuming the voice of East London he has eschewed the lyricism that is indigenous to the area. Even the backing track he opts for is taken from a German pop sample of Shostakovich. The whole song takes on quite an alien aesthetic to the people it alleges to represent. What’s more dangerous is that it offers to give them a political voice, despite many commentators including DSG, the Deterritorial Support Group, highlighting that it is the lack of political framework amongst the rioters that made their actions so terrifyingly political. On iLL Manors he sanitises the actions of the rioters he alleges to be one of, to the less terrifying state of contrived analytical discourse.
When speaking at the TEDx conference he said, “One thing [my school peers and I] shared in common is that we didn’t have any respect for authority, whether it be teachers or police.” If only he would communicate these humble ideas in his music and do away with the bombast.Tagged in: grime, Ill Manors, music, Plan B, protest, rap, Riots
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