Writer; Director; Actor; Musician; Songwriter, the list goes on. It’s safe to say that Ben Drew, aka Plan B, has no qualms in turning his hand to any creative endeavours. However, for us, it was his musical pursuits where we first witnessed his genius. For the soundtrack of his recently released feature film, Ill Manors, we see him return to the raw, gritty sound which first made an impact on the world with his 2006 debut, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words…
Album: Ill Manors
Release date: July 23rd
First off, for those of you awaiting the announcement of Plan’s second ballad-filled soul album, we’re sorry to break the news; Ill Manors is uncompromisingly hip hop in essence. That being said, there’s no doubt that he continues to stretch the boundaries of not only the genre, but himself – making the sound of the album that bit more unique. And with production from Al Shux (best known for his work with the likes of Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg and Lupe Fiasco) and the UK’s very own production powerhouse, Labrinth, this comes as no surprise. From every chord struck to every word uttered, the album is sonically crisp, yet, as perfectly unpolished as many of the characters featured within the film; which, if anything, only aids the listener to fully realise Plan B’s vision for the project as a whole, regardless of whether or not they’ve been able to watch the film.
Although Ill Manors may bear many of the dark similarities of his debut effort, this time around, the narrator (Plan B and his various alter ego’s and characters) have aged and are seemingly speaking from a slightly more mature perspective, albeit a similarly bleak one. This is not to discredit Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, which certainly offered an insight in to the minds of Britain’s youth circa 2006; however, after touring the world and venturing far out of his hometown of Forest Gate, he has naturally sought to approach the music in a slightly different manner.
“Life is like a game of monopoly; the ones that get ahead, start, buy a pool of property, start acting like they’re aristocracy and make the latecomers pay the price for not rolling the dice properly.”
It’s no secret, but Drew’s ability to tell a story is perhaps his most encouraging attribute. The album offers a contrast of poetic lyricism, heartfelt vocals and astute criticisms of every day life. On track 9, Live Once - which features Kano - he sums up some of the misfortunes of growing up penniless; “Life is like a game of monopoly; the ones that get ahead, start, buy a pool of property, start acting like they’re aristocracy and make the late-comers pay the price for not rolling the dice properly.” And goes on to bellow some words of hope, “Everything will be OK, (yes it will); come tomorrow, we’re gonna see better days; no more sorrow.”
Highlight tracks include; Playing With Fire, which features Labrinth and sees Plan B tell the tale of Jake, a young working class boy caught in the trappings of adolescence whilst having a complete lack of guidance. He raps, ”He’s just a kid off the estate, they call him little Jake – today he tried to buy weed with his little mate up in the bits; but he’s just a kid.” Other notable cuts include the somewhat uplifting, Live Once, which features grime vet, Kano; as well as the hopelessly desperate, Falling Down, to name but a few.
Some critics are bound to argue that the soundtrack – and everything to do with this project – is only spreading a negative message; however, in our opinion, the songs merely force the listener to confront many of the uncomfortable truths hidden away in every council estate, tower block and broken home of the country. Although it may not be the most comfortable album to pop in to the CD player whilst rolling with your Nan, it is undoubtedly honest and, therefore, unquestionably necessary to be heard, regardless of which side of the fence you find yourself on.
“Social commentator, socially commentating, what I say’s verbatim.”
Far from your generic, minimal effort movie soundtrack, Ill Manors is a delicately constructed, multi-layered body of work which not only embodies the prominent themes of a feature film, but articulates much of the frustrations found by a generation of youth whom, through no fault of their own, find themselves unequipped with the tools to express themselves in a similar manner. Deeply harrowing? Quite possibly; brutally honest? Most definitely.
Pre-order Ill Manors from iTunes. Alternatively, grab a physical copy when it hits shelves on July 23rd.
Reviewed by Ash Houghton